James May on the Volkswagen Up
You saw it on last night's show, now read Captain Slow and Paul Horrell compare it to the Fiat Panda
Posted: 17 Feb 2014
James May (summing up...)
In terms of real-world consumer advice for those ‘normal people' who simply want a low-priced car, it comes down to this. The VW is actually smaller, so is crucially a bit more parkable for city-dwellers. The Panda is, well, a bit bigger, so carries more, though mainly in the boot. The Panda can seem more expensive, but only if your judgement is somewhat clouded by the presence of the trendy (and therefore slightly overpriced) TwinAir engine option. Choose a regular engine of 69bhp, and the pricing is pretty close. The Up has a dependable feel to it, because it's a VW, and the Panda feels a bit more chilled out, because Italians came up with it. They're both good cars, and each will do the job.
But what of the ‘want of courage' that Horrell talks about? There's some evidence of it here. The Panda has grown too much, so there is no longer a truly small Fiat in the world. The 500 is pretty big as well, and its packaging has been compromised by fashion. The VW is commendably short and still works as a four-seater, but it's hardly utilitarian. The hose-out car that only just qualifies as one is a thing of the past, it seems.
But here's the problem. A car can never be a disposable item like a ballpoint pen, because even a cheap car is only cheap for a car. It's still a lot of actual money. What you'd save by having deckchair seats and no rev-counter would amount to a hill of beans, because the expense is in the engineering and design, and a small car needs as much engineering as a big one, just less material.
The only viable way to produce a truly cheap and basic car is to make the business of manufacturing cost less, something that might be possible with Gordon Murray's iStream process.