Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Cars are shrinking ... at least, mine are!

AiB's shrinking cars

I’ve noticed that my taste in cars is shrinking.

About eleven years ago I purchased my first car. A red VW Polo. As a 1.4CL model, it was perhaps slightly overpowered - at least for me at the time. But eleven years ago, a bit of oomph under the bonnet, electric windows and a decent radio (albeit with cassette) was attractive. We only let go of the Polo a few months ago, and until this year, it was very reliable.

Then there was a Mini. A company car. Yellow - to be easily spotted in the airport car park - and a joy to drive. The radio still had cassette and no CD - too expensive to get it added at the time. But on its fourth birthday, it came of age and was reclaimed to go to the great fleet sales auction.

The Smart Roadster was a bit of an accident. Never quite getting around to ordering another company car in time to meet the twelve week lead time, I ended up giving the Mini back without having anything else to drive. Translink and the bus service didn’t overly appeal. But there was a Smart on the reallocation list - cars given back by people leaving the company that aren’t yet four years old - and it seemed like a fun idea for six months.

Fun = wet seats, automatic transmission (which I at first hated and now love) and ice on the insides of the windows when it gets cold.

But it had the virtue of being small. Though its shortness in length was better than the incredibly low driving position which you get used to after the first time you nearly drive under a lorry in the queue at traffic lights.

The Smart is being MOTed this week, which means it’ll be coming of age in August. I’m going to miss the electronic speedometer - I like knowing that I’m driving at 31mph, rather than just a shade over the thirty mark. I’m not going to miss the car radio that I still can figure out how to programme the stations into the buttons, and the front boot that holds shopping as long as you don’t buy a baguette!

With six weeks to go, I needed a plan. I hadn’t realised that Charles Hurst ran the vehicular equivalent of Disneyland down at 62 Boucher Road. You could nearly test drive a car without leaving their premises. Showroom after showroom after showroom.

Having dispensed with the fanciful notion that I should order a Mini Clubman, I ended up wanting a small, repeat small, five door car, the choice became a simple one between three identical cars: Peugeot 107, Citroën C1 and Toyota Aygo. Identical, in that the mechanics are the same. Built in the same shared factory in Czechoslovakia the Czech Republic, the cars only differ in the bundles of accessories and pricing. And they share the same £35/year road tax.

Having test-driven all three within 18 hours ...

  • The Toyota Aygo felt the more comfortable drive - probably down to some tweaking of the gears/pedals and slightly more carpet which baffles the engine and road noise.
  • The Citroën C1’s drive felt really basic, and the salesman didn’t really have the people skills on Saturday morning to sell me a car. Their accessory bundles weren’t appealing either. Despite the three cars having identical dashboards, Citroën managed to replace some of the black plastic trim with shiny chrome that really looks out of place in a bottom-of-the-range car!
  • The Peugeot 107 was nice, and drove quite well.
Toyota Aygo Blue

But the Toyota Aygo ended up a better overall match, with a package that included indoor goodies and minimised the external flash-ness. (After all, I can’t see alloy wheels when I’m inside the car, so why would I want to pay for them!)

It’ll be blue, and it should be waiting for me to pick up when I give back the Smart in August.

Did I mention the £35 a year road tax?

And the pattern is that my cars continue to get progressively shorter.

Hopefully in seven-ten year’s time, I’ll be looking for suggestions for another car. I’m guessing that by then the market will be concentrating on chasing the small car market, rather than the tanks and 4x4s that are the current fashion.

But is there a point where cars can’t get any smaller and still stay practical?


Norwin said...

Yes there is, and you're already past the point where your cars are practical :D

John Self said...

An excellent choice Alan, very economical and CO2-light, which is all that matters in buying a car so far as I can see. (I remember being baffled when choosing my Mini as to why anyone would want a Cooper, which is exactly the same as a One except that it is less fuel efficient, having 135bhp instead of 90. Bizarre.) What is the fuel economy like on the Aygo?

Happy hypermiling!

Alan in Belfast said...

But wasn't the internal spec/finish of the Cooper better than the One?

The Aygo literature alleges 61.4mpg and 51ish for urban driving.

But in the real world, long term test drivers are quoting figures like 46.7mpg and 49.5mpg.

jamesbrownontheroad said...

Great choice... small cars are always the most entertaining and in your case you've had the chance to drive three of the best designed small vehicles of recent years. One minor detail, on behalf of my Slovak acquaintances... the cars are built in Kolin, which is in the Czech Republic, not Czechoslovakia. The Slovakians can't take any credit due to their independence in 1993 :)

Stephen Barnes said...

Just been through the company car renewal myself, and couldn't help but think that the VRD was completely meaningless for me. What do I care if it's £35 per year, or £35000 if the company pay for it?

What was concerning me more was the CO2 emissions (which affects my tax liability). Given that I wanted a big car, I initially thought I would go for a Mondeo as they were within my monthly budget, but when I compared them to a BMW 318i it was costing over £150 per month in tax. That's £150 I could spend on gadgets for me (like internet access, sat nav etc)

As for Charles Hurst - I refuse to buy a car from them after one test drive which literally was inside their compound.