Hidden Desires

Hidden Desires #3 – Chrysler Crossfire

Sometimes there are cars you harbour a fondness for, despite all the sensible parts of your brain telling you it’s wrong. The Chrysler Crossfire is one of those vehicles featured here as part of our Hidden Desires series. 

2004 Chrysler Crossfire Coupe 001

Cast your mind back to 1998, and the merger between Daimler-Benz and Chrysler Corporation, forming the DaimlerChrysler company. What was dubbed a “merger or equals” turned out to be a marriage which was only equal in that it seemingly served no benefit to either party involved. The nine years of the DaimlerChrysler merger produced very little to show in terms of automotive synergy. Perhaps the only real legacy of that time is this one car; the Crossfire.

2004 Chrysler Crossfire Coupe 003

Built on the first-generation Mercedes-Benz SLK platform, the Crossfire shared almost 80% of its components with the Merc convertible. However, at its time of the Crossfire’s launch in 2003 the R170 chassis was already 7 years old, and due to be retired by Mercedes. The Crossfire was therefore hardly cutting edge, but that was at least in keeping with the retro-influenced styling.

2004 Chrysler Crossfire Coupe 002

Clarkson once described the rear as akin to a dog squatting to take a dump. Other commentators were slightly kinder, suggesting that the Crossfire was reminiscent of the American Motors Rambler Marlin with its fastback appearance. (more…)

Hidden Desires #2 – BMW X5 4.8iS

With this week’s announcement of the new third-generation BMW X5, I felt it was time I owned up to the irrational inclination I have towards wanting to own the original iteration.

#2 – BMW X5

Way back in 1999 when the millennium was just around the corner, Bill Clinton was President of the United States and Lou Bega was popular (I know!), BMW still owned Rover. More importantly it also owned Land Rover, which meant it was able to use technology such as LR’s Hill Descent Control to produce its own range of off-road vehicles. BMW had offered 4WD versions before in the shape of iX branded 3 and 5-Series models, but the X5 represented a substantial leap forward into the field of Sports Activity Vehicles.

In the UK it’s fair to say BMW’s “X” models do suffer from something of an image problem, especially if offerings by Sniff Petrol are anything to go by. It’s also fair to say that it’s 4×4 abilities are wasted on most of the people who buy one; unless they’re attempting to escape from the police by going cross-country. But, for some unknown reason, there is part of me that would like one. In particular, it’s the rather rare (and even more pointless) 4.8iS version offered from 2004 to 2006.

Taking the N62 4.8 litre V8 engine, later found in other creations such as the Morgan Aero 8 and Wiesman GT MF4, BMW endowed a rather large SUV (sorry, SAV) with more power and torque than a contemporary Porsche 911. A slick shifting 6-speed automatic box transferred 360 bhp and 369 lb ft to all four wheels. The end result was a large off-roader capable of hitting 60 mph in under 6 seconds, whilst propelling itself onwards to 153 mph flat-out. Sitting on 20″ wheels with wide grippy rubber, the uprated suspension of the 4.8iS meant Evo found it was “far more agile (and more fun to drive) than logic and physics” should allow.

That is possibly the reason why I have a strange yearning for an X5 4.8iS. The logical car enthusiast part of my brain tells me it is all wrong; there is no need for such a thing to exist. An SAV like the X5 has questionable purpose in the first place, making a performance version only furthers the doubt as to its existence. But there is something strangely compelling about the NASCAR soundtrack, the oversized bodykit and wheels, and the fact it could easily shame any hot-hatch at the lights.

Yes, it only averages 20 mpg (officially), yes it’ll make you look like a drug dealer and yes similar era 545i Touring is probably a much more sensible proposition. But you cannot talk practically about a testosterone-heavy 4×4; it is illogical, it doesn’t make sense and the ridiculous nature of it only adds to the appeal.

Back in 2004 the X5 4.8iS would have set you back at least £58,000 plus all the expensive options you’d have wanted. Today you’ll need less than £9,000 to put you behind the wheel of a 100k mile black example, whereas a lesser mileage version in M5 style Le Mans blue is only £10,000. If I could allay the fears of bankruptcy, or falling into a life of petty crime, due to its fuel consumption I would happily own one. Although there would always be the knowledge that it wasn’t the fastest first-generation X5 ever produced by BMW.

For that you would have to convince the guys in Munich to part with the one-off X5 LM. Using the engine from BMW’s 1999 Le Mans winning prototype, a specialist team inserted the 6 litre V12 engine into an off-the-shelf X5. Due to the LMR V12 no longer needing to run air-restrictors to comply with Le Mans rules, the result was an X5 packing 700 bhp. A top speed of 176 mph was on offer if you were crazy enough to dare (Hans Joachim Stuck was) although the lack of ABS might concern most. It’s difficult to encapsulate the X5 LM in words, so here is a German video which may help:

So the 4.8iS might not be the fastest X5 made, but you can at least buy one. Next to the LM version it also starts to look slightly more sane…

Hidden Desires #1 – Vauxhall Corsa VXR

Last year I ran a short feature called “Crap Cars I Like” on ESM. The aim was to explain my love for cars which automotive journalism, the internets, or society as a whole had shunned. However, I decided the name did too much of a disservice to the cars featured. So, instead, this segment is now going to be known as “Hidden Desires”. In a nutshell, these are the cars that I cannot help myself from liking, even though deep down I know I shouldn’t.

#1 – Vauxhall Corsa VXR

The inspiration for the first car to be featured came during a journey with ESM’s OH just the other day. Whilst sitting at traffic lights opposite a used car dealership in Gateshead, I spotted a tidy Arden Blue Corsa VXR sat on the forecourt. It’s fair to say the Corsa isn’t a bad-looking little car, and with the VXR adornments it does look genuinely sporty.

Granted, the triangular exhaust tail-pipe is a bit naff, and the big block colour grill irritates me, but on the whole it looks good. I like the triangulated fog light surrounds, the cheeky vents in the front and rear bumpers and the fake diffuser at the back-end. If you were wanting to produce a miniature hot-hatch, ticking all the styling benchmarks, then the VXR does this in spades.

It’s also pleasing to note that the VXR easily has the firepower to back up the looks. With its turbocharged 1.6 litre engine chucking out 192bhp and 192lb-ft of torque, this Corsa has some serious bite. Autocar managed to drag a 0-60mph time of 6.7 seconds from it during a road test, backed up by a 0-100mph in 16.8 seconds. No matter how you slice it, that is quick. All that power is transferred through a six-speed manual gearbox, with the handling said to be confident and surefooted. Ignore the real-world mpg of 28, and it makes for a decent package.

Objectively, the Corsa VXR ticks all the boxes you (or I) might want from a small hot-hatch. Granted, new prices have swelled to over £18,000.00, but decent used ones start from as little as £7k. So why, given it would meet a lot of the requirements for what I need, am I not rushing out to buy one? For what reason could I overlook such a seemingly competent car? The badge, obviously.

I admit it; I am a badge snob. Blame it on the stream of Vauxhall company cars (Carltons, Cavaliers, Vectras and Omegas) that my Father had when I was younger. Blame it on the fact that, when I was in my late-teens, the Corsa was the car to have if you lived in Teesside and wanted to Max Power your motor. Or, just blame it on the fact that having owned a string of Volkswagens, I struggle to see myself in anything un-German.

Oh, and there is the interior as well:

Vauxhall-Corsa_VXR_2008_800x600_wallpaper_03

I know it has Recaro seats in there, I know it has a standard-specification others would charge huge amounts for. But the problem is that clock at the top of the centre console. That was the clock/temperature gauge in the Vectra and countless other 1990s Vauxhalls. Plus, it also looks like the person who designed the dashboard only communicated with the person designing the door card, by telephone.

Should you choose to buy, or already own, a Corsa VXR I do not judge you. I salute you for not being bothered by the snobbery of people like me, and for instead picking a competent supermini with prodigious performance. It is just a shame that I am not enlightened enough to do likewise.

Crap Cars I Like #2 – 1992 to 1998 Mk3 Golf GTi

If the first CCiL feature involved cruelly berating an essentially well liked and positively received car for its poor sales, then this one will certainly make amends. The Mk3 Golf GTi was always destined to be universally unloved and unwelcomed by the motoring press and the wider car buying public. Following in the footsteps of the iconic Mk1 and the even more legendary Mk2 (widely acknowledged as the hot-hatch) the Mk3 was always going to have its back against the wall. But when it emerged from the Wolfsburg factory doors in the early 90’s the disappointment for GTi enthusiasts was perhaps even more profound than expected. For a start, just look at it compared to its older brothers:

“Are we seriously all related?”

Under the pressures of the demands for better safety measures, greater refinement and stricter pollution controls the Mk3 left VW with a number of competing demands. (more…)

Crap Cars I Like #1 1997 to 2001 Honda Prelude

I’ll be honest, this is a slightly inauspicious start for the Crap Cars I Like feature. Labelling the 5th generation Honda Prelude as “crap” is possibly a little bit strong, and does disservice to a rather commendable car. But then again, just look at it:

Yawn, wake me up when we reach the other side

Buying a coupe should be an episode in taking the stylish route in favour of practicality; aesthetics over boot apertures, looks over legroom. But in designing the 5th gen Prelude this seemingly went out the window in the Honda drawing office. Existing against competition such as the rakish Fiat Coupe, the new edge Ford Cougar or even the previous Prelude model, this one just looks a little…limp? It might part way explain why this version only sold around 60% of the numbers its older brother managed, and also why Honda didn’t bother to replace it.

I’m lost for words….lost in a sea of blandness

(more…)