Friday, June 09, 2006

Y#27: New Car Musings (Part One)

Time to start the hunt

It’s funny that I should be getting to writing this now, as on Monday something remarkable happened. The BMW passed its MOT. Having had the brakes rebuilt – once again – a couple of weeks previously, it sailed through the test with only an advisory or two to blight its name. So there’s progress: I might be getting it back at the weekend.

Why funny? Well, because the plan is still to try and find a replacement. I’ve made a few posts on this topic already, but these have all involved contemplating the merits of another cheap-as-yesterday’s-chips second hand car. But my dad had kind of a radical suggestion – why not get something brand new?

My initial reaction was one of incredulity – affording this was a problem for starters. However, as I began to think about it a bit more, and given my current attraction to small cars, it dawned on me that it might actually be quite interesting to see what’s available for an enthusiast-minded person such as me at the bottom end of the new car market.

My dad’s suggestion was triggered by the outlandish deals offered by manufacturers like Fiat and Citroen, and the temptation of a New Car [sparkle, glint] warranty. He even mentioned the Hyundai Getz at one point (I dissuaded him on the basis that its 0-60 time could almost be counted on a calendar). Never being one to take the easy route, anyway, I decided that this was all worth a bit of a look.

I’ve also never been in a position to purchase a new car before. And while the depreciation fiend looms large in the mind when contemplating such a decision, the novelty of owning a vehicle untouched by another human hand also has a strange kind of appeal – not that I’m suggesting assembly line workers and delivery drivers aren’t human, you understand. I also thought that from a journalistic point of view this would actually be an interesting exercise, because when faced with the possibility of spending your own money on a car you don’t necessarily buy “The Best One” – you buy the one you like.

And as an extra proviso, I also have to bare in mind that if I do go down this route, the car may eventually end up in the hands of my mother. (Depreciation not so much of a concern then, as we’ll probably keep the car for quite a long time…).

Now, I’ve had a pretty eclectic bunch of vehicles – but not in any kind of obvious sense. My first car, when I was learning to drive, was a Y-reg Saab 900: two litres, twin carbs, crap brakes and a chassis you could have held a house up with. It was also this weird kind of beige that looked pink or grey depending on the light. It eventually blew up when a belt powering the engine fan slipped off and the engine overheated.

Next was an E-reg Nissan Sunny 1.3LX, only one owner from new – and no, it wasn’t the set-square coupe, but it was that model line. The car was immaculate, a nice green three-door, and did without power steering. Perhaps not the best handling tin box in the world, but remarkably rapid considering – especially at the top end on the motorway, helped by the absence of a fifth gear. Great in the wet, too. It finally died a couple of years ago, by then belonging to my sister, when somebody drove into it.

We never got rid of the Nissan, but I did stupidly buy a MkII Volkswagen Scirocco GT as a replacement vehicle for myself. This car very nearly put me off VWs for life (thank God for the Mk V GTi), but in hindsight I can acknowledge that it was all my own fault; I wanted something good looking and sporty, and thought the Sirocco was it. How wrong I was. Not very fast (though the speedo over-reading by 10mph meant you could scare people pretty easily), not very fun to drive, and overly expensive to insure, considering the almost entire absence of performance, this was an awful, awful car. And that was before it started going wrong.

Amusingly, since we’d tackled virtually every conceivable area of ailment – which included having the fuel tank removed and flushed, replacing all the fuel lines, lavishing huge amounts of attention on the carburettor – when it was finally sold it started first time. And this after having been laid up for over a year because the insurance was too ridiculous; all that was needed was a fresh charge in the battery. Bloody thing.

More recently I’ve had a couple of BMWs. This is merely coincidence, before anyone starts wondering: the first was a dark metallic blue E30 316i Touring Lux, which I paid too much for really, but looked bloody fantastic with its BBS rims and big bumpers; the second was the aforementioned £800 white whale of a 520i. The E30, wasn’t a bad car. I much prefer the look of that series in the estate; if I really had to fault it the interior was pretty uninspired. And compared to the 520, it certainly lost out in the value stakes – I have said it before, but I don’t suppose I’ll ever get as much motor for my money as I did when I bought that white Bimmer two Christmas Eves ago…

Which leaves rather a lot for any new car to live up to. A reasonably high priority is that it needs to be something that’s a little bit different – but it also wants to be good enough that I don’t feel short changed stepping out of the five series.

I think I already have the solution, but in a typically irritating cliff hanger manner, I’m going to leave you guessing – perhaps even as long as next week. Answers (and suggestions) on a postcard, please…

[And those of you who already know, I implore you upon your honour to keep it quiet!]


R#23: The Simple Life [internal]

Y#25: Small, Light and Fun [internal]

Spot the obvious "mistake" [internal]

Y#22: Mk V Volkswagen Golf GTi [internal]


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