27 JULY 1996, Page 44


Six of the best

Alan Judd

Asked to choose the best new car on sale in Britain, you would probably hesi- tate, saying it depends on why and by whom it is to be driven. It would be easier to choose best estates, best sports cars or whatever but if compelled to choose best overall you'd either have to select accord- ing to your own idiosyncratic criteria (hat- room, back-friendliness, subsonic speed at sea-level, eternal reliability and so on) or fall back on general considerations unrelated to specific use, such as perfor- mance, manufacturing quality, engineer- ing and aesthetic design and the degree to which it fulfils its maker's aspirations.

It was those sorts of criteria, I imagine, that were deployed by the experts — 'the most thorough testers in the business' who listed the 100 best cars in Britain for last week's Autocar magazine. Number one was the BMW 528i. Others in the Top Ten were, in order: Lotus Elite, Peu- geot 406 2.0, VW Polo 1.4 CL, Ford Mondeo 24V, Ford Fiesta 1.25, Peugeot 306 1.6, Mercedes 5500, Fiat Cinquecento Sporting, Ferrari F355.

I was curious as to from how many cur- rent models these best 100 were selected and started counting those listed in Park- er's Car Price Guide, giving up at 437 after two and a half pages, with another 12 to go. No wonder there's an over-capacity

problem in the motor industry. Previously contented owners (if any) of Tata Gurkhas, Mahindra Indian Chiefs, Maserati Quattro- portes, FSO Caros, Daewoo Nexias, Kia Prides, Nissan Serena 2.3Ds, Saab 9000 Griffins, Suzuki Baleros and Alfa 146 I.6s will be interested to know that theirs are rated the ten worst cars, missing by a mile even the bottom of the top 100 (that place is filled by another BMW, the 740i).

Best budget car was the Fiat Cinquecen- to Sporting, best hot-hatch the Peugeot 305 XSi, best coupe the Alfa GTV, best sports utility the Toyota RAV4, best estate the Audi A4 1.8 Avant, best sports the Lotus Elise, best cabriolet the Porsche 911, best limousine the Mercedes S500L, best MPV the Ford Galaxy 2.8.

Now, I've no doubt that these most thor- ough testers know what they're about. Autocar is a serious magazine and its writ- ers know their stuff; you can generally trust their judgments. What I do doubt, though, is whether experts are sufficiently like us, whether their criteria for judging have much in common with the criteria that most of us would choose, or be compelled, to use. For instance, that BMW 528i is going to set you back around £30,000; how many people who buy their own cars are in a position to write such a cheque without being able to set it off against a business? What will a new silencer with its wretched CAT cost after three years? (A colleague has just been quoted £1,000 to replace that on his three-year-old Vauxhall Senator). What are the costs of insurance and tyres?

My point is not that Autocar's judgment is in any way awry but that its relevance for most who have to pay for their own four wheels is limited. For those people price, reliability, running and maintenance costs and utility are more important than corner- ing, high-speed handling, technical sophis- tication or noise at 100 mph with the windows down. The best car is not neces- sarily the best — nor even always a possible — buy. Many in the motoring industry, including motoring writers, are blissfully free of having to buy and run their own vehicles.

They are often not the punters and so their judgments can be less earth-bound than ours. Nonetheless — to argue against myself — the Autocar Top Ten includes cars very much cheaper than the BMW and when they tell you that the Ford Mondeo 24V (no. 5) is a very good car, you can safely believe it. It's just that other Mondeo models are cheaper and so far as many of us are concerned, not necessarily any less comfortable, useful, dependable, etc.

The same edition quotes Rolls-Royce research as showing that Rolls and Bentley owners typically run a stable of six cars. I've nearly achieved that once or twice but they've been rather different cars in various stages of illegality, immobility and disinte- gration. It set me thinking, however, about which I'd choose if I was granted six of the best, with cost no object. In this week's

mood I'd tend towards the Bentley Turbo R (Motoring', 23 March 1996), a Series 1 Land Rover, the new Range Rover, an XK 120 Jaguar, a Mark II Vicarage Jaguar and a mid-Fifties Rolls-Royce Silver Dawn with, if I may, an old Fordson Major trac- tor in attendance, one of those big blue jobs with no cab that you start by depress- ing on the side. I'd find a dozen daily uses for it, fussing around my fleet.

`Motoring' and 'Not Motoring', are to appear monthly from now on. Time, per- haps, to test one or two of the best 100, or maybe the worst 10. I'll report back.