Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson

Clarkson on: beating the system

Apparently, making cars is the third biggest industry in the world, after cocaine and arms.

That’s arms, as in guns and missiles, by the way. The global business in arms, as in arms, is extremely small. In fact, I’ve just looked in the Yellow Pages and there isn’t a single shop in all of Oxfordshire that could set me up with a new one.

That said, there is also not a single shop that could set me up with an AK47, even though we keep being told that after a 60-year production run, enough have been made to equip one in six of the world’s population.

I’m not sure about that. I’ve racked my brains all morning and the only person I know who has one is... er... me.

What’s more, you can buy an AK these days for as little as $3 – though not in Chipping Norton, where they can be anything up to £300. But even so, you’d struggle to buy a car for that. And it’s the same story with cocaine. I don’t know how much it costs but unless it’s £20,000 a gram – and judging by its popularity among school children these days, I bet it isn’t – it would struggle to be a bigger business than cars.

So no. After much extensive research, in my head, and Yellow Pages, I have decided that in fact, the car industry is much bigger than the industry for both kinds of arms, and drugs.

You’d imagine then that such a big business would have ensured in its 100-year history that every single stone had been turned, and every single niche filled. You’d imagine that whatever sort of car you might want, someone, somewhere would be making it. And someone else would be making an alternative that costs slightly less.

This is certainly the case with the mini MPV. Designed exclusively for people who are mentally dead, almost every mainstream car maker in the world is able to sell you such a thing. And there’s more. They can even offer you mini MPVs with four-wheel drive. Which means they are making mini MPVs for people who are mentally dead and who want to go to the woods at weekends. In other words, the car business is making motors for mentally dead murderers. And there can’t be more than five of those on the whole planet.

Then you have track-based sports cars. I see. And who are they aimed at exactly?

In order for track days to make sense, you have to live in an over-governed police state (Britain) with lots of race tracks (Britain). In other words, there’s a only a tiny number of people who want to whizz about in a flurry of noise and expense, but the choice of cars they can use is endless. Porsche alone makes eight.

Small cars? Thousands. Off roaders? We’re up to here in them. You even have a choice of downmarket, quasi-British four-door saloons, even though no one has actually bought one since Terry and June went west. Strangely, however, the choice of large, luxury saloon cars is very small.

No. That’s not true. They are ten a penny. But though the car industry is huge, and run by people who might want to go home in such a thing, there’s something wrong with almost all of them.

King of the hill is the Mercedes S-Class. Laden down with an extraordinary array of gadgets, it’s silky smooth, good-looking in a discreet way and, after a period in the quality doldrums, beautifully made as well. It is the obvious choice.

Unfortunately, because it’s the obvious choice, every bugger’s got one. Come out of a fancy London party and there is a row of chauffeur-driven S-Classes that stretches to Luton. So I’m afraid if you buy one, everyone will assume you’ve rented it. Or that you can only make ends meet by moonlighting for Madonna, and Ant and Lard.

"For track days to make sense, you have to live in an over-governed police state (Britain) with lots of race tracks (Britain)"

BMW 7-Series? In many ways, this is an obvious rival for the Mercedes but something went wrong in the design stage and it’s easy to see why. The engineers had been told to build a large, comfortable car for top-notch businessmen who just want to waft home after a hard day’s lunch.

But, this being BMW, the designers couldn’t help themselves. They built the large comfortable car and then they took it to the Nürburgring where they decided it needed fat tyres which sit on the rims like licks of paint, and suspension with the give of a table. The result is a good car to drive, if you’re 18, but since the typical 7-Series customer isn’t, it misses the mark by a margin not seen since I last attempted to kick a penalty.

This brings us on to the A8 which has the same problem. Audi has shown with the RS4 and the R8 that it now understands suspension but when the A8 was on the drawing board, plainly, they didn’t. So it jiggles.

And so, having dismissed most of the Germans we move south to Italy where we find the new Maserati Quattroporte. My God, this is a good-looking car. But it’s not quite handsome enough to overcome the faults.

To begin with, it was available only with a hopeless flappy paddle ’box that just didn’t work. So now they’ve fitted an auto. And that doesn’t work either. Not since the Escort XR3i Cabrio have I driven anything that feels so... flobbery.

Sure, you would put up with small problems to have a car that looked like this, in the same way you’d put up with some small problems if Angelina Jolie decided one day that she’d had enough of Brad and fancied being married to you. But if one day you came home and found her doing something mad, like cleaning the cooker with her tampons, you’d leave.

Sure, you would put up with small problems to have a car that looked like this, in the same way you’d put up with some small problems if Angelina Jolie decided one day that she’d had enough of Brad and fancied being married to you. But if one day you came home and found her doing something mad, like cleaning the cooker with her tampons, you’d leave.

Obviously, the Rolls-Royce Phantom is an easy escape route, but it costs a quarter of a million pounds. And I can’t take the Bentley Flying Spur seriously. It looks far too much like a Rover 75.

If it were me, I’d have either the Jaguar XJR or a VW Phaeton, but I quite understand why you would cross a continent to avoid both of them. When you step into a Jag, it feels like you’ve inadvertently stepped into 1954 and the VW is more anonymous than a LibDem leadership race.

And so, eventually, we arrive at the door of the Lexus LS600h. In many ways, it is even more forgettable than the Phaeton. You could easily buy one and get home to find you already have one in the garage. But the toys – wow! It’ll even self park, if you have a month or two to read the instruction book. And you’re young enough to understand it – i.e. you’re 12.

It is also extremely quiet, fast and by all accounts, built to an even higher standard than the Mercedes. But the best thing is that little “h”. This means that buried deep in the car’s underbelly, it has a hybrid drive system.

You don’t know it’s there. It never makes itself felt. But it means you can sail right past Uncle Ken’s congestion cameras without bothering to pay. And that is taking the piss.

No really. There’s something sanctimonious about a hybrid Prius which you buy exclusively to show the world that you’re, like, ‘green’, man. But with the Lexus, you are buying a large luxury saloon that chews fuel and consumes whole housing estates when you turn it on. Not paying the congestion charge is a side effect.

In other words, you’re playing the system. Beating bullies at their own game. It’s not perfect, but it did something that’s rare in the world of luxury saloons. It brought a smile to my face.

 

Jeremy Clarkson, Column

What do you think?

This service is provided by Disqus and is subject to their privacy policy and terms of use. Please read Top Gear's code of conduct (link below) before posting.