Our cups don't run over, yet
When testing three small cars, the approach to cup-holders seems to tell its own story
By their cup-holders ye shall know them. At one time, a cup-holder was the height of design for some cars. Then the fashion for drinking water the whole time took over and vehicles had to have a myriad of bottle holders along with a place for the cups.
But some cup-holders spoke volumes. The smartest were those of Saab which pirouetted out of the dashboard at the touch of a button; it very much was the car - sporty and tasteful with a real je ne sais quoi. I still lust after them - both car and cup-holder.
In my search for a new car for Spray Towers, as well as a desire to get away from some of the big beasts which have been taking over my garage and this column, I have been testing some of our smallest fry. Strangely, it was the cup-holders, or absence of them, that gave the biggest clues to their personalities - if indeed they had one at all - and their performance.
First up before Christmas was the DS3, the upmarket brand which has been hived off the Citroen mothership.
I had hoped for a lot from this car, but it frustrated from the off. Not only was it just two doors, but there was a lot more style than substance, with performance, comfort and convenience hampered by the desire to make a visual impact both inside and out. Yet it does make Citroen look very ordinary by comparison. But it committed the cardinal sin for a car being tested by us on our regular Sunday outing. Within minutes of setting off, and definitely before 12 bells, we have to be at Insomnia and buy two takeaway coffees. I'm the one who has to stand in the queue and get the booty, including a roll for our picnic and a cup of water for Sam.
On my return, this time, I stood patiently at the passenger door while my partner searched for the cup-holders. Eventually, I bad-temperedly said I'd find them. But soon my words and a hot coffee had to be swallowed before we set off. However much we prodded the fascia, grappled with the doors or looked around the centre; of cup-holders, there were none. Apparently with a Gallic shrug the DS3 people thought they should be an extra. "Zut alors, c'est un auto ne c'est pas un cafe."
The car was a head-turner but perhaps not what we wanted and at prices between €21,345 and €27,795 - before cup-holders - it's a very expensive option.
I didn't think the Volkswagen Up! would be good for us either and again it showed off an arrogance bred of its Teutonic heritage. There were two cup-holders all right. One under the dash was hard to navigate while the one behind the handbrake was useless for those in the front seats. But at least the Germans were being absolutely fair and functional, unlike the rear windows which only opened the smallest amount despite having a full four doors.
Yet we were lucky in having the High Up! version, although the Honey Yellow colour might frighten the horses. The 90HP engine gives a lot of fun, which so exceeded my expectations and the car is absolutely packed with spec. But at two coffees off €18,300, it is an expensive proposition and those two pop-out rear windows would drive any passengers, let alone a needy dog, mad.
However, it totally outclassed in many ways the Ford Ka+ which succeeded it. The Ka has grown mightily, almost to Ford Fiesta size - even exceeding it in height which seems to point to a certain target audience. It now has five doors and, in the Zetec version which I was driving, an awful lot of spec which would put many of its competitors to shame. And costing from €13,050 for the Studio version - the test car with options was another €2,490 - the range does make a good impression on the cost-conscious, especially with Ford's new seven-year warranty.
But the performance, road-holding and noise are woeful compared with the Fiesta, which is almost the best in its class. Despite the high roofline, we felt squeezed, and three adults in the back would be unbearable, while in cars like the Hyundai i10 it is a real possibility. The Up! and the DS3 give up altogether and only have two belts in the back. The Ka's 1.2-litre petrol engine is nowhere near that of Ford's 1.0 Ecoboost and quickly runs out of steam out of the urban crawl, where at least the gearbox is flexible enough to keep you moving without many changes.
But guess what? There are eight possible cup-holders in the Ka+. It's a car that has gone into storage overdrive. No doubt you need all the coffees to keep you awake making awfully slow progress up any sort of incline. Maybe half the occupants will be dead before the top of the hill anyway. I nearly got out and pushed, and that was with only three of us aboard - I'm told the dog must always be counted as one.
It's a pity, as on paper the Ka+ seems to offer a lot but really fails to deliver as in their own ways did the other two.
They all had some interesting points but the whole was never as good as some of the parts. The cup-holders told their own story.
So with a double espresso con panna and a large latte with unsweetened soya milk - extra, extra hot - we will go on searching.