Or, an upmarket taxi.
Still, Jeremy Clarkson could not actually fault it in a serious way.
By Jeremy Clarkson of The Sunday Times
Soon, Blair will make us all buy this car
As the government and our increasingly insane local councils
continue to wage their fanatical class war with the internal combustion
engine, we get some interesting news. For the first time there are more
families in Britain with two cars than families with no car at all.
Of course, Gordon Brown would tell us that this is an
unfortunate side effect of his masterful control of the economy and that the
longest period of stability in the nation's history has brought untold
riches to all and sundry. It's a theory for sure, but there are other
reasons why people run two cars. Like, for instance, human beings are
You may have read recently that the beaten up old Fiat Panda
belonging to Michael Howard's wife Sandra was beaten up still further after
it had been left in a station car park. This looked good in the election
campaign. The wife of the leader of the opposition tooling around in a
17-year-old peasant-mobile. But I'm willing to bet this was actually the
family "station car".
You may be unfamiliar with this strange new phenomenon so let me
explain. The idea is that you buy a banger that can be scraped and
vandalised while left in a station car park. Lots of people round these
parts have such a thing, including one chap whose idea of a banger is a
brand new Mini Cooper S. Think about that. He's bought a £15,000 car like
a disposable razor, or a cardboard camera. Something to be used and abused,
bashed, crashed and then thrown away. And he's not alone.
I met a middle-aged woman the other day who couldn't be bothered
to work out how the rear seats on her Toyota Yaris fold down. So she bought
a Seat Arosa as well, in which she keeps the back bench permanently tucked
away. "I use the Toyota for transporting people and the Seat for moving
stuff," she said.
Then you have the Sheridan family from Leicestershire who run a
fleet of five cars. "This way," according to Mr Sheridan, "the drive is
permanently full so passers-by believe we have visitors and will be less
inclined to drop in."
My wife is similarly potty. She recently bought a Land Rover
from the Swiss army. It has four 20ft aerials, whistlers for scaring away
wildlife, a gun, camouflage netting and tyres so wide that turning the
steering wheel is only possible in theory. The sole crumb of comfort I can
take from this insane purchase is that having been a Swiss army vehicle it
won't have seen any action at all.
Obviously I wondered out loud what in God's name had caused her
to buy such a thing. "Well, it'll be useful for picking up the Christmas
tree," she replied, hopefully.
This is undoubtedly true. But buying a car specifically to make
an annual five-mile round trip does seem awfully extravagant. It'd be like
buying a dinner service "for best" or a leaf blower for those troublesome
autumns. And this is what worries me. Because it's now increasingly becoming
the norm. And that means legislation cannot be far behind.
Soon, and I'm going to keep this column in a special place so I
can revisit it at a later date and write a told-you-so follow-up, I can
pretty much guarantee that a pinched-faced class warrior in Whitehall will
raise the issue at a quango. And the next thing you know we will be limited
by law from owning more than one car.
The argument will sound good. We'll be told that the world
have enough resources to let people own cars simply to frighten away
unwanted guests, or because they can't be bothered to find how the rear
seats fold down. We'll also learn that such a ban would be good for
congestion, good for reducing the stranglehold of the global car industry,
and good for the kiddies, who once again would be able to play footie in the
Then they'll ban rugby, dinner parties and leaf blowers as well.
And then you'll be forced to talk with a regional accent. And then they'll
shoot your dog, unless it's a pit bull or a whippet. And then they'll get
rid of the royal family. And then all the animals will be equal.
So if you're only allowed to have one car, what should it be?
Obviously by then we shall also be banned from owning a four-wheel-drive
vehicle of any kind and possibly BMW will be outlawed, too, for being
elitist. Rover will be gone, Audi will still be tuning its suspension to
deal only with the velvet smoothness of the designer's mahogany desk, Jaguar
will still be making concept cars to show which direction it's headed and
you still won't want a hybrid because you still won't be able see the point
of a car with two engines.
So what about the Mercedes-Benz E-class? By rights this large
and expensive saloon car should be viewed in the same way as private
education or business class travel. It should be a target for people called
Dave, and yet somehow, because it's an understudy to the S-class and the
extraordinary CLS I reviewed a couple of weeks ago, few see it that way.
I see it, mostly, as the car from which G-list celebrities spill
at rope 'n' red carpet functions in London's glittering West End. I see it
as a slightly upmarket taxi. Oh sure, the version I tested came with a
creamy 3.5 litre V6 engine, space in the boot for Christmas tree, lots of
dead cow and many electrical functions, but each time I climbed aboard I
felt like I should really be wearing a cheap suit, and that Rebecca Loos
should be in the back. It felt, in other words, like a tool, rather than a
I must say I also found it monumentally boring. The figures suggest it will
go from 0-62mph in 6.9sec, which is pretty sprightly for a car of this size,
but I never once felt inclined to push the accelerator all the way to the
floor. And nor did I ever feel the need to explore its claimed top speed of
155mph, because this is one of those cars that no matter what you do settles
on a motorway to 80.
Corners? Well, since I didn't crash I can only assume that the steering
wheel does have some say in the direction of travel, but not in a way that
encourages anyone to explore the outside of the handling envelope. It's
built to be driven in such a way that Jodie Marsh doesn't drop her alcopop.
And that's why this would be the perfect one car in Tony Blair's one-party
You would certainly never take this car out for fun, and you would never
drive it in an enthusiastic fashion either. You'd cruise into town, park and
then cruise home again, wondering if perhaps you might have been better off
on the bus. If it were a colour it'd be beige. If it were food it would be
lettuce. It is as hair-raising as Enid Blyton.
A car like this is large without being ginormous, and apparently well made,
in a factory where all the water is recycled and all the wood comes from
company-run reusable organic forests. And when you've finished with it your
hand will be bitten off up to the elbow by a London "chauffeur" who needs
something to take Ant and Lard to the Baftas. This means residuals are
This, then, is a car you buy with your head. But human beings have hearts,
too. That's what gives us passion and makes us lunatics. That's why I've
ordered a Ford GT, and why my friend has a Mini Cooper station car. It's why
another chap I know has an old Mercedes 600 Pullman that his wife doesn't
And it's why we scan the second-hand columns of this newspaper dreaming
about Astons and Ferraris.
If all the animals were equal, we'd all have E-class Mercs. But as we know,
some are more equal than others.
Model Mercedes E350 Avantgarde
Engine V6, 3498cc
Power 272bhp @ 6000rpm
Torque 258 lb ft @ 5000rpm
Transmission Seven-speed auto, rear-wheel drive Fuel 29.1mpg (combined
Acceleration 0-62mph: 6.9sec
Top speed 155mph
Verdict As interesting as a lettuce and as hair-raising as Enid Blyton
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