Driving Torque

Articles, reviews and opinions about cars and all things automotive

Archive for the month “May, 2011”

Anyone for Golf? Why Volkswagen’s Hatchback is truly a car for the people

Volkswagen Golf mks1 - 6

The Volkswagen Golf through the ages

Whenever anyone asks my advice regarding what car they should buy, I have a one size fits all answer. Without the need for any further questioning, I can almost guarantee that there is a car which in one of it’s many guises will suit your needs. It may come as no surprise to some of you that this seemingly magical automobile is, drum roll please, the humble Volkswagen Golf. I know, I know, surprise surprise I hear you chant but I truly believe that there’s a Golf to suit every need and I just can’t shake my own personal desire to own one.

I’ve recently decided that, excellent as it is, it’s time for the Audi to go. I can’t fault this truly amazing car but I’ve owned it two and a half years now and anyone who knows me will testify that this is the equivalent of nearly three decades in Ben’s car ownership years (it’s a little like dog years). As many men grow bored of perfectly fine women and play the field, I find a similar compulsion with cars. It’s a blessing really as changing your car undoubtedly results in miniscule financial and emotional suffering when compared to divorce.

Inevitably, one decision has spawned another question and that is which car to purchase as the Audi’s replacement? I’m fairly certain that I don’t need such cavernous proportions anymore, although reasonable storage is still necessary and five doors is still a must. I’ve made no secret of my desires to get away from diesel but a fairly frugal petrol engine is the only acceptable alternative. Having read many, many car reviews, I’m aware that the Ford Focus is an excellent all rounder, as is the Mondeo and oh my god, who am I kidding, all of this reasoning and weighing up is completely irrelevant because I just know that I’ll end up with a Golf.

I can only put this borderline-obsessive behaviour down to certain automotive perceptions developed during my formative years. As a young child, I was brought up on a strict diet of Jaguar and Ford but as my more opinionated teenage years loomed menacingly, the quality control departments at both marques were seemingly redundant. The German brands however were all conquering with their seemingly effortless cool and their reputation for indestructible build quality.

But what was the big deal about the Golf? On the surface it appeared to be an ordinary hatch like any other but we all knew that this couldn’t have been further from the truth. If you wanted ordinary, you bought an Astra or an Escort, buying a Golf simply screamed that even in an every day family hatch, you demanded excellence, and that was the fundamental difference.

Back to the present time, in my head I know that many of the Golf’s competitors are in many ways its equal, some have even surpassed it. Unfortunately though, we all know how events in our youth can leave an indelible impression upon us and for me at least, the Golf will always have a special place in my heart.

By Ben Harrington

Smarter Insurance

Fact number one – car insurance is not getting any cheaper, in truth it is estimated that the cost of insuring your motor will rise by 40% in 2011.

Fact number two – males aged between 17 and 25 are the demographic most likely to make a claim on their insurance policy.

Modded R5 GT

Modified Renault 5 GT Turbo

Sorry for the rather bleak news there but I doubt it will come as a surprise to anyone to read these inescapable truths. What we have to do is find a remedy for the problem of soaring insurance costs because, as with most things, it’s the decent, law abiding folk of this country who are finding themselves paying for others’ mistakes. The European Union were their usual helpful selves recently when they banned lower premiums for females as this was sexual discrimination. Of course, this didn’t result in lower premiums for all, don’t be ridiculous! It simply means that the statistically safer female drivers of the world are beaten with the same large stick as everyone else come renewal time.

One solution to this problem was forwarded recently in the form of the ‘Smartbox’. In simple terms, this is a box attached to the underside of your car which monitors everything about your driving habits, from speeds and distances driven to cornering techniques and the time of day the car was on the road. This little supergrass then transmits the recorded information to your insurance company and your premium is adjusted accordingly. Not a bad idea eh? Well, not too bad in theory but the glaring oversight in all of this is that it’s voluntary and I’m guessing that the type of driver who would volunteer to have their driving cross examined would not be the type to make a claim anyway, leaving Johnny Boy-Racer to drive in his usual fashion as he has no box fitted. In short, no fewer people would be making claims but there would be even less in the coffers to compensate any losses.

You’ll be relieved to know that I have come up with a rather ingenious solution to this mess. It would involve a rather simple law being passed; the salient points would be as follows-:

1. All drivers between the ages of 17 and 21 can only be insured on vehicles with two seats or less. 2. All drivers between the ages of 17 and 21 can only be insured on vehicles with an engine not exceeding 1 litre in capacity.

smart-carNot a substantial law I know but the more observant amongst you will have deduced that it leaves very few choices of car for the younger driver. My solution therefore is not so much the ‘Smartbox’, more the Smart Car. If all young drivers were forced to drive a Mercedes Smart Car, it would surely cut insurance claims at a stroke.

Firstly, they’re equipped with the automotive equivalent of bicycle stabilisers – removable plastic panels. These cause less damage when our young driver does bump another car, as they inevitably will and are both easily and cheaply replaceable, leaving a smaller dent in the insurers wallet.

Perhaps more significantly though, they’re painfully slow. The original models would only reach 61mph and achieve 0-60mph in 16.2 seconds, admittedly this is a lot faster than a BMX but it’s never going to set the world alight. The most important factor in my masterplan however is the lack of rear seats. I can confirm from first hand experience that many accidents involving young men occur as a result of that most masculine of pastimes – showing off to their mates. Removing the rear seats would cut this ‘mate factor’ by two thirds, rendering it almost extinct.

Now I’m not saying my solution’s perfect and I’m glad no-one forced me to drive a Smart when I was 19 and tearing around in a 205 Gti  but at this desperate stage, you can’t deny it’s worth a go.

By Ben Harrington

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