Alex Parker has been a motoring journalist for more than 10 years.
Cape Town - One of the questions I am most persistently asked when I tell people what I do is, I suppose inevitably, “what’s the best car you’ve ever driven?”. I always struggle with this because, to be honest, there really isn’t an honest answer.
I’ve been writing about cars for more than ten years and as a result my head is crammed full of largely useless information. Occasionally, something useful slips in, such as where I live and my children’s names and so forth.
But mostly my brain resembles an automotive library that’s been ransacked by #feesmustfall protesters. I can tell you, to pick up a useless fact that I found lying here, that the Volkswagen Amarok automatic comes with an eight-speed torque converter and not a dual-clutch gearbox. I know that CR-V, of Honda fame, stands for “Compact Recreational Vehicle”. I know that Volvo once went touring car racing with an estate car – the 850 – and that it was a beautiful thing to behold for school-run parents the world over. Everybody’s heard of Karl Benz but do you know who Alec Issigonis was or why he matters? I do. And Colin Chapman, Woolf Barnato and Gordon Bashford.
It has to be a Roll-Royce, right?
The sheer weight of this material means I can’t simply say, you know, that the Rolls-Royce Phantom is the best car I’ve ever driven because I happen to know that its turbo-charged 6.75-litre V12 is thirstier than a rugby team after a tough match. I also know that at Rolls-Royce you never say “six-point-seven-five”, but “six-and-three-quarter” and because they’re Rolls-Royce we should all just do as we’re told.
So, the best car I’ve ever driven? That’s like asking me which is better: food or water? I’m rather partial to both, you see, and enjoy the idea that they both exist.
I think the point is that no car is perfect and they nearly all have something they’re good at. The Phantom is truly incredibly good but it’s a trifle pricey for my taste and parking it in Sea Point is challenging and to be absolutely honest, it does handle somewhat like the USS Ronald Reagan. Equally, a Mini fits in Sea Point just fine and schnarfs its way around apexes like a demented ferret but the ride can be firm on those things and the speedometer is in the wrong place.
Porsche 911, Rolls-Royce Dawn, Lamborghini Murcielago... What's the best car you've ever driven? Email us.
So, then, by this increasingly absurd analysis, surely it’s the all-rounders that get close to perfection? That’s surely the case for the average person who wants to be able to take their kids to school and not look silly while doing it and not spend their pensions on petrol all the while driving a quick enough car that doesn’t mark you out as a complete windgat. Those allrounders are everywhere.
Many of them have the name “Volkswagen Golf” written on the back of them. These are the Jacques Kallises of the motoring world. They’re pretty damn good at everything.
The jack of all trades may be the master of none, but that doesn’t mean he’s not massively handy to have around. It’s not like you ask Pablo Picasso to paint your house, Lewis Hamilton to drive your Uber, or Christiano Ronaldo to teach your kids soccer.
Best cars vs top-selling cars
The best cars in the world are those that do what they were designed to do best. By this measure, the new(ish) Toyota Fortuner can’t be far off perfection, because it’s a pretty immaculate piece of automotive packaging. Some will say, for example, that it is slow and that it corners like a Labrador on a polished floor. While harsh, there’s some truth to that. But it’s entirely beside the point because that’s not what it’s for. It’s like complaining that your fish knife let you down in a fencing competition.
What the Fortuner does is take families and their associated gear on epic adventures, be that to the school gates or the Kalahari. I borrowed one over December and my children were genuinely upset when it had to go back. I wasn’t thrilled either.
By this measure the Phantom qualifies too, because for those with garages bigger than Bloemfontein and whose wealth out-strips the health budget of Botswana, it’s absolutely immaculate.
Enter the Tucson
I just spent a week with the new Hyundai Tucson. Mine came fairly high up the range – with front-wheel drive, a 1.7-litre turbodiesel and a manual six-speed gearbox.
One for the Kalahari? No. This’ll cross a desert about as well as a Honda Jazz. Is it one for dropping guys in their GTis at the traffic lights? No. The Tucson CRDi takes a decidedly leisurely 13.9 seconds to crack 100km/h. Is it one to take down to the beach at Camps Bay with the Red-Eyed Cabbages or whoever they are blasting from the averagely competent stereo? No. That would be silly.
But is this a car to get your kids to school in relative comfort and safety? Yes, it comes with the usual safety stuff as well as side and curtain airbags. Does it have a capacious boot for when you need deposit the contents of the local Checkers into your fridge? Indeed, yes it does. Is it urban-proof? Yes, it mounts the kerbs rides the potholes and generally wears the abuse of urban life just fine.
The car I drove came with a perfectly functional sat-nav too. Is it cheap to run? Yes, very. It might be short of shunt but that diesel sips like a dominee at tea-time.
And so, then, to the question I know has been bothering the readers of wheels24.co.za for ever. Which is better, a diesel Hyundai Tucson or a Rolls-Royce Phantom? Actually, it depends who you ask. The Tucson is dull and slow but very, very good at what it’s designed to do. You can get a 4x4 version and a powerful two-litre diesel model too if you want. But don’t do that - that’s not what this car is for.
Consider the two-litre, FWD petrol automatic and, if competent, safe family motoring is what you’re after, you might be very happy indeed. I’d recommend a test-drive in a Toyota RAV 4 and a Subaru Forester as well, but for many families out there the Tucson will hit the sweet spot.