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A decade of highs and woes

FROM the best car to the biggest waste of money, the Noughties had it all. Here are five of the decade's highlights.

1. Best car of the decade: Audi R8

Audi had a dazzling decade, producing a succession of the best-designed, best engineered and best finished cars; but the R8 supercar transported the company into a new dimension of excellence.

So tractable that a learner could drive it confidently, yet, at the same time, so sumptuous in its powers that it could outperform a Porsche, the R8 -- especially in its V10 form -- became the automatic choice for the car that you would rush down to the showroom to buy in the event of a lottery win.

2. Worst car of the decade: Rover City-Rover

It was nothing more than a re-badged Tata Indica -- the most unpleasant car brand since Lada -- which MG Rover shamefully contrived to make even worse.

But when this woeful agglomeration of mechanical tat appeared under the once noble Rover name, the final end of the British car industry became a merciful release, ardently to be longed for.

3. Car company of the decade: Skoda

The Czech outpost of the VW empire began the decade with two outstanding value-for-money cars (the superbly finished and reliable Fabia and Octavia) and continued with a succession of ever more ludicrously named products until they ended up with the marvellous Yeti which ought -- if there were any justice in the world -- to have been named this year's European Car of the Year.

4. Collective stampede of the decade -- the rush to go green

The readiness of the world's most powerful productive industry to surrender, en masse, to its openly declared enemies in the eco movement was one of the weirdest anthropological studies of our age.

The late Rudolf Bahro -- the obscure East German ex-communist and puritan aesthete who was the ideological architect of the Green movement -- must have been scratching his head in the afterlife to see every major car company scrambling to dress itself in sackcloth and ashes, and declare itself greener-than-thou.

5. Most grotesque waste of money of the decade -- White House subsidies to General Motors

How much did Bush and Obama jointly spend on propping up that fallen industrial dinosaur in the few months before it finally declared bankruptcy?

Was it $30bn? $50bn? Compared with the Lehman Brothers' collapse, the bail-out of the banks and the Bernie Madoff scandal, those gestures may look meagre but, when the final accounting comes in, they may be judged the fastest burning of tens of billions in history.

And here are five resolutions for the 2010s.

1. I shall not be ashamed of cars

Congestion is misery. Pollution is foul. Road traffic deaths and injuries, especially in the developing world, are appalling. But these political and social problems do not, in themselves, signify that the car is, per se, an evil. On the contrary, the car remains among the greatest creations of industrial society and in every sense -- design, engineering, safety, emissions -- it is better today than it has ever been, and improving beyond our highest expectations.

2. I shall not look kindly on cyclists who flout the rules of the road

Don't ride on pedestrian pavements. Do not ride through red lights. Do not presume that God has given you a licence to menace other legitimate road users just because you are on two wheels. I shall happily see you in court.

3. I shall keep to the speed limits

One of the revelations of advancing age is to discover that journey times remain exactly the same if you keep to the speed limits as they would be if you hurtled from one hold-up to another.

This wonderfully relaxing realisation removes about 70 per cent of the stress of driving (not least through knowing that you cannot be endangering your licence).

4. I shall buy a Mazda MX-5

This will be the decade in which I finally achieve that 20-year-old ambition and reward myself with the indulgence of owning, pound-for-pound, the best two-seater roadster ever.

5. I shall spend more time in Munich

Because its network of underground, trams and buses all running on a single fare system make it easy to enjoy, without the expense and nuisance of keeping a car -- the best city in Europe.

Sunday Independent