Column: What is the 'perfect car'?
The perfect car. It's the eternal conundrum.
Yes, I know it's my job to put myself in the buyer's shoes, but sometimes I wonder. How to evaluate? What constitutes value?
Well, thanks to the last 50 years' worth of inflation and the same period's effect on salaries, let's just stick with relative value, shall we? So this is the puzzle I have recently been faced with when comparing some very focused test cars…
For instance, I recently fell in love with an Eastern seductress.
She lured me in with sensual haunches, an erotic growl and an edge of passion evoked when pushing her hard that will not be easily forgotten. Nissan turned my head with its 370Z. Okay, so this girl was not exactly wearing Prada shoes, but they were stilettos on the right kind of legs.
You instantly knew she was from the wrong side of town, but she was sexy enough to forgive all. And man, had she grown up.
Sports car checklist
What did I want in a sports car? Space? Comfort? Widgets? Nope. What I wanted, what I craved, was a car that lured me to the limit, got me onto a mountain pass and held me in the zone. A car that stretched my senses, and made me feel heroic and euphoric.
Sexy looking too, she's a tasteful vixen with a gearbox that kept her and me aroused... You know where I am going here.
Next, BMW throws another temptress at me - the Z4 sDrive35i. Everything here is from a more expensive store. No nylons in no-name heels, this is all silk and Chanel. You are lured with expensive perfume and traces of finishing school.
Its technology would have awed Bond a mere decade or two ago. Flip up screen for AV, Bluetooth and iPod integration and multiple dynamic settings. You know exactly where she’s from the moment you first lay eyes on her. No bothering with which side of the tracks, or if your friends or family will approve.
Knowing right from right
What do these sporty seductresses have in common? They are muscular, strict two-seaters with skin tautly stretched over sculpted flanks and bonnets that seem to go on forever. Both sirens demand you switch off the traction control, find a mountain pass, turn off their magnificent stereos and listen to orgasmic engine notes as you push them to their and your limits of sideways, oversteering, heroism.
We are talking personality, intelligence, legs, cleavage and trouble here. Keyless go on the pair will get your motor running pretty damn fast. Both are quick enough to get to a 100 and lose points on your licence in around five seconds. Although 370Z could take bags for a dirty weekend, the Z4 is strictly overnight. How to choose?
Value? Well, the Nissan is a couple of hundred grand cheaper. Deal done, right? Not exactly.
What do you get for the difference? A level of refinement and appointment and er, well, one more small thing. While the 370Z is a gorgeous coupe, the BMW has a very sexy folding hard roof. Coupe and convertible bliss.
The convertible 370Z, when she arrives, will cost quite a bit more; probably about one hundred grand more.
That, and the BMW's twin-turbo engine and twin-clutch gearbox, and the levels of refinement all round, conceptually close the price differential quite considerably.
For the Plus 1
For the family man? Nah, these are for the confirmed bachelor. How to choose? Leave it to your bank manager.
So what does the well heeled corporate man, complete with wife plus pearls and two kids look for? It's large family sedan time.
Do you go the Lexus route? All bells and whistles, it's automotive perfection. Very, very sensible, this is what happens when very, very talented and competent engineers design and build something.
Luxury in terms of almost wood-like panelling and touch-screen technology, and enough gadgets to keep Q busy for hours, even if some are hidden in the Cressida flip down control panel.
Don’t get me wrong; they know how to build a car. It’s just that if you look a little deeper, it seems that passion and emotion may have been accidently left off the spec sheet.
Dig deep and green. Go Hybrid with them. But get the GS450h and you might not get frugal economy.
The only thing the hybrid system truly saves the planet from is guilt.
This is still a big, gulping, fossil fuel-consuming car. It is a good first step though. So besides that misplaced feeling of saving the planet, you do get a ridiculously large kilowatt count. Yummy. If only you could use it all at once. Damn overachieving engineers!
Go for sexy?
So off to Jag and its gorgeous XF.
It's a little more sporty and seductive, with layers of elegance and sensuality thrown in. Textured metal panelling, elegant leather and trees might even have died for the wood. More night at the opera than picking the team up from rugby practice and little Timmy can muck up this one’s touch screen with his greasy sausage dog-enhanced paws too.
First impressions matter here. The keyless entry and how this car wakes up for you is a true bit of showmanship, which, in the time spent with her I amazingly never tired of.
A press of the electronic heartbeat awakens her purring. In the XF the paradigm is Sir William Lyons’ famous comment about Jaguar; "grace, space and pace". He would have been proud.
The standard vehicle is well appointed, tasteful and with intuitive, easy controls. One does not once wish for an aide to demonstrate how to use a feature or look for some button, it just works.
The driving experience is one of sophistication. While the supercharged model is not a slow living room like some previous offerings, it is not quite a sports car. There's no misbehaving in this one. Sir might go a little fast, but sir should get there safely without upsetting sir's attire. Punch pedal to plush carpet and some wheel spin is detected to 3 000 r/min when it becomes obvious this potential monster has been tamed by the nannies at Jag and all is brought sensibly under control. No amount of tweaking the traction control settings will allow more than a little oversteer through.
When reason prevails
To compare, neither allow hooligan, smoky, oversteering bliss; these are spaces to behave in.
Unruffled long distance cruising and the rush hour freeway parking lot? Sure. Value comparison? Impossible. Does one just dump the analysis and go all German into the predictable Teutonic minefield with Audi, BMW, Mercedes and their endless options lists?
And then that little voice pipes up...
Enough delicious, luxurious, ostentation. We are in a post-consumerist, anti-materialist state anyway. Stuff it all, I want a city car and voila, the Daihatsu Sirion arrives in the driveway.
How does one go from sports car, to consummate pointless hybrid, to performance saloon, to a silly city car like this? Man, I should hate this one. Thing is, I like it. A lot.
It is sensible, cost effective, practical, frugal, spacious even and simple.
It is totally underrated, easy to park and good to drive at all legal speeds.
At this end of the market, it's solidly built but we don’t get to measure this one in terms of handling, or performance, or gadgetry.
Compared to the rest, I don’t miss a damn thing.
The Sirion is just plain, practical decency. Oh hell, am I growing up?