Clarkson on executive saloons
I can't imagine for the life of me why anyone would want an executive saloon car, but if you decide that you do, you have a choice of four. The new Audi A6, the Jaguar XF, the BMW 5-Series and the Mercedes E-Class. These are motoring's poached eggs on toast and all of them are excellent. So how do you choose between them?
If you are a taxi driver in Geneva, you will take the Merc, obviously. But if you are not, what do you do? The motor industry has had more than a hundred years to get the saloon car right, and it has. So each of the four is reliable, economical, reasonably comfortable, well-equipped and fitted with the same-sized engines and the same sort of suspension and the same basic price tags.
Choosing between them then is like choosing a location for your honeymoon. Now that the Seychelles is only of any use to those who want to know what it would be like to be eaten by a shark, you've a choice of four island paradises. The Caribbean, Mauritius, the Maldives or Tahiti. And how do you choose between that lot?
There's no use looking in the brochures, as I wouldn't be surprised if all tour operators use the same photograph of the same palm tree to illustrate each one. It's the same story with the models. They're always dressed in linen, and they are much thinner than the actual people you encounter in the traditional honeymoon resort.
The brochures all paint the same picture too, of romantic evenings at a table for two set up, especially for you, on the beach. Let me tell you something about eating on a beach at night. It's not romantic. It's windy. And there is nothing on God's green earth that kills the testosteronic urges quite so dramatically as a Force Four. This is because your new wife looks like Worzel Gummidge, and everything you put in your mouth is full of sand. Including your new wife.
Then there's the sea. It always looks amazing in the pictures. Turquoise and inviting and calm and lovely. But I have never been on a tropical holiday when someone in the party hasn't emerged from the oggin at some point in considerable pain.
Usually, they've trodden on a stone fish, which will cause some know-all on the beach to whip out his gentleman sausage and offer to urinate on the wound. Again, this is quite bad on a honeymoon. Especially as urine doesn't help. You need vinegar, which will make your bride smell like a fish and chip shop.
Sea lice are bad, too. They are quite invisible, but you know when you've swum through a swarm because, all of a sudden, it feels like you are on fire. And that's before we get to the rays that like to stab you in the heart, and the jellyfish. Get stung by one of those, and on the beach there'll be so many people offering to wee on you, it'll feel like you've woken up in a German porn film.
The worst thing in the sea though is the coral reef. It looks so beautiful in the pictures, and you can imagine spending many hours snorkelling around, looking at all the fishes and the pretty colours. I like to do this, too. Which is why I know that at some point, you will accidentally brush against something that's apparently harmless, and it will damn nearly kill you.
Even normal dead coral is lethal, because if a piece punctures your skin, it will never ever heal. Very slowly, you will bleed to death. I'm still bleeding now from a small cut I sustained in 1984.
To take your mind off the many perils and the great discomfort to be found in the environs of the shoreline, many honeymoon hotels like to offer idiotic luxury features which sound great in print, but which really don't work in practice.
For example: in Tahiti recently, I stayed in one of those thatched cottages that are built on stilts over the lagoon. And I was offered a choice in the manner my breakfast was delivered - either it could come on foot down the walkways or it could be brought by a man in a canoe.
I chose the canoe, and I'm really not sure why, because if you actually stop and think, it's impossible to deliver a breakfast this way. Especially if the waves are more than two inches tall. Which they were. The poor man did his best to try to keep the sea water out of the scrambled eggs, and the rose petals in place, but since he had to paddle as well, really, he would have needed the anatomical properties of Kali if he were to stand even half a chance.
I chose to have my breakfast brought to me by canoe... I'm not really sure why, because if you stop and think, it's actually impossible to deliver it like this"
I'm in the fortunate position of having stayed at all the four major honeymoon locations, and I can tell you that while each resort may offer a slightly different set of options - swimming with dolphins, having your breakfast delivered by hovercraft and so on - they all basically offer the same thing. Too many petals, too many candles, too much sunburn and nowhere near enough vegetables.
Which brings us back to the Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Jag. To try to win you over, the Audi is available with a device that nudges the steering slightly if it detects you are straying out of your lane on the motorway. Is that what's been missing from your life? Well, since it only works below 40mph, I don't think it is.
The BMW, meanwhile, comes with a satnav system that gives you a GoogleEarth-style view of the area. Is this enough to win you over? I'm not sure, since it would only be of any use if it worked when the scale is down to 200 yards, or so. But it doesn't. As you zoom in to get a closer look on the screen of what you can see out the window, it reverts to a standard map. What's the point of that?
The Mercedes, of course, has one very good feature. You will be able to sell it to a man whose job is taking Dale Winton to the airport. But is that enough of a reason to buy a car?
The Jag? Well, hell. This now comes with a knob instead of a gearlever. And isn't that where your life has been leading? How many times have you climbed into your car and thought: "Tsk. I hate this gearlever. It's so awkward"? No, me neither.
I'm afraid that you will choose between these cars in the same way that I choose my holiday location. It's the Caribbean. Why? Because I like it.
And with the car? I'd have the BMW, because the bonnet's a nice shape.
Except I wouldn't. Because while the executive four-door saloon is now, after a hundred years of solid development, about as perfect as it can be, it's dull and predictable. Much better to buy a hot hatch or an SUV or something a bit more adventurous. In the same way that if you are choosing a honeymoon location, it's much better to go to Capri.
Why? Because no one else does.