Saturday 24 February 2018

Cars that brought out the devil, the crank and the boy in me

Jaguar F-TYPE
Mercedes S-Class
Peugeot 2008
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

I'm sitting here having the loveliest cup of tea and a couple of milk-choc biscuits. I've been reflecting on a strange, amazing, sad, funny, thrilling, challenging 2013 and one absolute truth has momentarily deferred my resolve to have another cup.

It is this: cars bring out the boy, the devil, the crank, the sensible, the puzzled, the Scrooge, the snob, the irrational in me -- I could list plenty more.

Wide-eyed, I've driven an extraordinary Jaguar costing €100,000+ and, smiling, a €100+ Skoda 'banger' with 820,000+ kilometres on the clock.

Each experience was unique. Each left an impression easily conjured even at this remove.

As I flick through my diary I don't know where the time went.

Thank you all so much, by the way, for your ever-increasing number of emails, comments and constructive criticisms. I love hearing from you; really do.

So let me put some of those cars for you in a different sort of context.

The standout drive was the Jaguar F-TYPE. I was behind the wheel of three different-powered versions of it in northern Spain and the couple of days were as good as two weeks in the sun. If I had the money -- it costs a fortune -- I would buy one. It brought out the boy and the devil in me. What an experience sweeping along the narrow roads around Pamplona -- and screaming around the race track.

The 2002-reg Skoda Octavia brought out the Scrooge and, strangely, the sentimentalist, in me. My daughters wanted to buy it there and then. A former taxi, it is still going strong, has passed its NCT test and we viewed it as a reliable old workhorse that just kept plugging on and on.

The Dacia Duster -- a family crossover for around €16,000 -- appealed to what is left of sensible in my nature. Sure, it is not bang up to date with technology and there are elements I'd want improved but you know what? I see a lot of them on the road and there is not much else out there to beat it at that price.

I didn't really know what to make of the MINI Clubvan. It brought out my puzzled side. Yes, it is cute and clever and smart but really who wants a MINI van? Seriously? Sorry, getting cranky there as well.

The Range Rover, and especially the Range Rover Sport, brought out the snob -- and the devil -- in me. The 'main car' is a wonderful piece of work but give me the Sport with the red leather upholstery and let me loose on good, twisty roads. Please? I also drove its rival, the new BMW X5, and have spent the last while trying to pick the winner of the two. I need to get the Beemer on to Irish roads before doing that -- please God soon now. That's me being impatient.

At some stage they put me in a Peugeot 2008 crossover in France and pointed me at an extensive, sloppy, bottomless-looking lake of mud. The car had this piece of technology that gave the wheels extra traction and grip and stopped them slipping but I had my reservations. Well, I swanned through. The Suzuki S-Cross is another to give you 4WD traction when you need it -- but only when you need it. I love that. Brings out my wonder at man's ingenuity.

The Honda Civic and CR-V 1.6-litre diesels were others to appeal to my Scroogeiness. Drove them hard. They will do 55mpg. Honda says they will do a lot more. I agree -- but not the way I drive.

The Mercedes S-Class is not really a car. It's a kind of floating carpet. Funny I should say that because it has technology that lets it prepare the suspension for the road ahead called 'the magic carpet'. That said, for such a large car, I thought there would be lots more room for rear passengers. A touch of awe and disappointment.

Driving the electric and madly powerful Audi R8 e-tron around a circuit in Germany was fun. I think I drained the batteries and my passenger, whose first and last words were: "Let it drift, Ed, let it drift." I did. Some would say I spent my life doing that.

Elsewhere in Germany, I took the BMW M6 Coupe on a stretch of no-speed-limit autobahn. Easily the fastest I've driven this year. Never felt nervous -- thanks to a fantastic chassis. The price unnerved me, however.

Then to the reality of a different sort with the Audi A3 saloon -- a good mix of posh and practical. Not a bad price either.

Driving the Citroen Picasso had me in a pickle because I had to get some kilometres under the belt before filing a First Drive report.

It was a close call. Good car, award winner. Seven-seater here this month.

But the Cranky award of the Year goes to BMW. We went to Germany to drive the new 518d saloon and ended up with no choice but a gas-guzzling 335i. Waste of time. Whinge, whine.

Early in the year, nobody paid much heed to the new Toyota Auris diesel. I did. Doesn't break moulds, won't break the bank, but will be going when a lot of others will have yielded to wear and tear.

There was also a lot of attention around the Volkswagen Golf. Rightly so. Fine car. Will be around for a long time. As will the new Skoda Octavia. In many ways it is the pick of the bunch: far roomier and less expensive than the Golf. The Octavia is the best Skoda have done. The smaller Rapid is easily the worst.

My daughters loved the Mercedes CLA four-door coupe. My long, and often aching, back detested the low rear roofline -- so I just drove it. I like the front. They like the lot.

Back to the future with BMW's i3 electric car. Wonderful drive in Amsterdam. Dublin drive soon. Will people buy a car with limited range even though it is a different sort of Beemer? I'm puzzled.

Now I'm looking to the future and the impatient in me breaks out again -- I can't wait to drive the new Nissan Qashqai, MINI, BMW 2-series, Mercedes C-Class, Ford Mondeo . . .

Right now, I'll have a second cup of tea and two more biscuits. Like cars, a 'sweet tooth' can always manage another spin around the taste buds.

Happy New Year.

Irish Independent

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