ESM’s 2012 Car Buying Predicament #1

The problem of being someone who writes about cars, and is generally consumed with thoughts of an automotive nature, is that it makes picking your own vehicle difficult. For instance, in the past twelve months I’ve owned the following:

  • 2006 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 TDI Sport,
  • 2008 Fiat Panda 1.4 100HP,
  • 2006 Volkswagen Polo 1.4 SE.

The Jetta was the biggest, quickest, and the one completely underutilised by my lifestyle. The Panda was fun, but became annoying to live with on a daily basis. And the Polo? Well it exists, that’s pretty much all I can say about it; 1,200kgs of car that moves me from A-to-B. As you may be able to tell from the tone of this article, I’m looking to change cars again.

The Gods of good fortune have smiled upon me, and subsequently I find myself in a position where I can consider a better, newer car. But trying to narrow down exactly what I need, what I want, what I should have and what can have is not particularly easy. To try to help, I made a list of criteria which went something like this:

Essential Criteria

1. 0-60mph in less than 10 seconds. Like athletes, the 10 second barrier dictates the difference between quick and slow. I realise other important things matter like 50-70mph in gear acceleration, torque curves etc. But if you want to summarise performance in one simple nutshell, the 0-60 time matters. Less than 10 seconds is good, less than 9 is warm-hatch territory, less than 8 warmer-hatch and less than 7 is the real hot-hatch arena. The Polo resides in the 12 second category; it is not quick.

2. A 120mph+ top speed. This is probably even more academic than the 0-60 time. However, having owned the Panda which hit 60mph in 9 seconds, but flat-out would only manage just over 110mph gives an indication of the aggressively high gearing it had. In addition, a higher top speed means on a day-to-day basis you’re using the car well within its performance tolerances. There’s also the, childish, element of bragging rights too.

3.Real world mpg of 35+. I realise in the days of hybrids, eco-diesels and electric cars that 35mpg is a relatively low aim. It is, but it’s a realistic one. Achieving 35mpg on a daily basis with my driving style, is good. Essentially it marks the divide between a car becoming a burden, and a car helping lighten the load on the wallet.

4. 3-Spoke steering wheel. There are a few car nuances I just cannot cope with; a steering wheel with 2 or 4-spokes is one of them. Perhaps subconsciously it’s because when I think of performance cars, I think of them having tri-spoked wheels. They also are easier to hold when turning lock to lock in a very unapproved arms crossed stylee.

5. Air-conditioning. As a car enthusiast I know I should eschew complexities and additional weight. But when you’ve owned a car with air-con , it becomes difficult to imagine how you’d cope on that one hot summer’s day without it. Yes it can knacker your fuel economy, and opening a window is probably cheaper, but this is the 21st century so I expect some modern enhancements.

6. No longer than 4.4 metres long. This is mainly dictated by the size of my drive, along with the fact anything bigger falls into the “why do I need a car this big?” category. See the Jetta.

7. Affordable insurance. Car insurance is expensive at the best of times, but once you hit those higher groups it become ridiculously so. I don’t have a hard and fast rule for this, but basically the car needs to justify the payout to the insurance company.

So those are the things my next car must have. I also came up with some “added bonuses” which I’d be pleasantly surprised to have:

Desirable Criteria

8. Six-speed gearbox. I’m male, therefore 6 is infinitely better than 5 when it comes to gears. It’s the reason manufacturers will now sell you an 8-speed transmission; don’t be taken in by the talk of better economy and performance. But in all seriousness, a 6-speed ‘box generally means better low down acceleration, but longer top gears which give a more relaxing motorway experience.

9. Steering wheel mounted controls. I had these in the Panda, and the ability to change radio stations, adjust the volume, cycle through pointless menus without taking my hands of the wheel is addictive. It also makes me feel ever so slightly like a Formula 1 driver.

10. A sport mode. Given the name of this website, this should be fairly understandable. Generally, all they do is sharpen the throttle response and weight the steering up to make you feel like you’re driving sportier, without any real performance boost. Either way, I like the option of tailoring the car to suit my driving mood.

As you can probably see, this begins to narrow down the options somewhat substantially. There’s also the issue of the fact I won’t own anything built in France, nor something with a Vauxhall badge on the nose. Having owned a string of VAG products I also have quite high expectations when it comes to interior quality.

So herein lies my predicament; what car exists in the automotive world, which will tick all those boxes above but cost no more than £8,000?!

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