Opinion: today's rubbish cars are much better than rubbish cars of old | Top Gear
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Opinion: today's rubbish cars are much better than rubbish cars of old

Not everything was better in the old days. Apart from Double Deckers...

My first car was a 1984 VW Polo. It was very cheap, and it was very terrible to drive.

It rusted. It leaked. The brake pedal and brakes had clearly experienced a significant falling out many years before, and remained on strictly non-speaking terms. Acceleration was... well, it wasn’t. At motorway speeds – if you ever succeeded in attaining them – its front wheels would occasionally lift clean off the ground. (Good: feather-light steering. Bad: everything else.)

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It was a dog, that Polo. And this is where I’m meant to say that yes it was objectively awful, but I loved it anyhow because it gave me true freedom, and we formed a glorious, memorable bond blah blah. But we didn’t. After a couple of months in my stewardship, the Polo met its maker, courtesy of a slippery country lane, a large ditch and an utter absence of driver talent. But in our brief time together, trust me, it was crap.

That’s not mere hindsight speaking. Even at the time, to a 17-year-old with very low standards (not just in cars), that Polo felt like an ancient car. And it wasn’t uniquely awful. My mates all had cars of similar age, similar value, and similar terribleness. Fiestas, Clios, the odd Citroen AX: all devoid of brakes, power or basic mechanical integrity. They all felt ancient.

When did Double Decker bars get so small? What’s going on with that?

But here’s the thing. At the point I acquired it, my Polo was 16 years old. That’s the equivalent, for someone passing their test today, of buying a car built in 2006... 2006! I can’t get my head around that. A 2006 car isn’t ancient! It’s basically new, right?

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That’s not even a MkI Ford Focus. It’s a MkII. It’s the ‘spaceship’ eighth-gen Honda Civic. It’s the year that saw the arrival of the Volvo C30, the Kia Cee’d and the first Audi R8. OK, so not many newly qualified drivers today will have an R8 as their first car, but the point still stands: those aren’t, to my eyes at least, pensioners. Today’s old cars look much less old than old cars of old, if you see what I mean.

Maybe not. Maybe – as my wife helpfully suggested – it’s precisely the sort of out-of-touch observation you’d expect from someone rapidly approaching middle age, and failing to deal with the relentless march of progress (and also, when did Double Decker bars get so small? What’s going on with that? Back in the day, size of a baseball bat, they were). Maybe, to the youth of today, an early C30 does look like the product of a bygone age.

But even so, you can’t deny that today’s 16-year-old Polo, or Corsa, or Fiesta – even a properly daggy one – will be a much better car, in every way, than its equivalent from a couple of decades back. Or, to put it another way, crapboxes nowadays are much less crap than crapboxes used to be. The arc of the car universe is long, but it bends towards progress. Things weren’t always better in the old days. Apart from Double Deckers.

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