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A field guide to the fine art of buying a car

I SPENT a Saturday morning just over a fortnight ago going car shopping with my niece. She’d decided she needs a car of her own and she thinks I know a bit about the subject, so she asked me to come along.

Last time I went looking for a new car I already knew what I wanted – the make, the model, the options and the budget – so I hit the dealer and negotiated something I was happy with and that the salesman could live with. When I look back on it, it took me less time to buy that car than it did to buy a new outfit for the last gala fund-raiser event I was invited to (pre-COVID-19, of course)

But it’s a different story when you’re not sure what you want except that it has to be green and it has to have shoe storage. To a car salesman it’s a signal that they’re dealing with someone who might not be quite as automotively literate as they could be. In other words, they’re ripe to be ripped off.

‘We all know what it’s like when a female walks into a car showroom: the assumptions, condescension, the patronising (and sometimes comically inept) explanations of the difference between torque and power, and so on.’

Not knowing exactly what you want also adds considerably to the legwork involved. Even though we headed to a location where there are six or seven dealers within a few hundred metres of each other, we still had to walk to each one of them and after a couple of hours I was exhausted.

My niece was also exhausted, and she was confused as well. She’d reached the stage where all the cars she’d looked at started to blend into one amorphous vehicle that was the right colour and had all the options she could wish for. No such actual car existed, of course, but in her head it was sitting in one of the showrooms we’d just visited. She just couldn’t remember which one.

Over a shared pot of green jasmine tea and some raisin toast we reflected on what we’d seen and been told over the previous few hours. She was still insistent on the colour and storage; but now she was discussing options like electric seats, sunroofs, sound systems and LED headlights. She’d picked up a lot but was labouring under an information overload. So we took a deep breath, sipped our tea and took stock.

It took probably half an hour but slowly a clearer picture started to emerge of what she thought was important (I could not convince her that lack of shoe storage shouldn’t be a deal-breaker) and what was not important – what were essentials, as it were, and what were just nice-to-haves. Then we compared her list to what we’d seen.

Nothing fitted the list exactly, but a several fitted reasonably closely. We compared prices for the options she was interested in, as best we could, and flagged a couple as potentially too expensive. And really, really importantly, we resolved to not make any hasty decisions.

During the following week an interesting thing happened. Through some possibly subconscious process, she filtered through what she’d seen, been told and thought about, and defined a shortlist of three cars, one of which had been flagged as possibly too pricey but worth revisiting, just in case a deal could be done. We set out on a second Saturday morning to finish the job.

We all know what it’s like when a female walks into a car showroom: the assumptions, condescension, the patronising (and sometimes comically inept) explanations of the difference between torque and power, and so on.

Memorably, on one occasion when I took the Companion with me to a showroom the salesman conspicuously snubbed me and directed all of his attention and energy at him. When the salesman finally got around to asking what car he was interested in, The Companion replied that it wasn’t he who was buying a car. By the time the penny dropped for the salesman I was already leaving the showroom and I’ve never been back, even though at last count I’ve bought two cars from other dealers for the same manufacturer. There’s no excuse for being a sexist pig – any time.

I can report there are vestiges of this attitude that remain, but for the large part the salespeople – two men and one woman – treated my niece with respect and listened to her carefully. One did try to upsell her (it’s his job, and good on him for taking a swing) but armed with her list of essential and non-essential options, she was well-equipped to resist.

When the issue of price came up she was polite but immovable. And then something even more interesting happened. The salesperson floated the idea of doing a deal on the car my niece had tagged as potentially too expensive.

Now my niece has a car she is over the moon about. It has space under the driver’s seat for her shoes. It has parking sensors, and a good sound system. And it’s green. It’s also the car she thought might be too expensive.

She’s learned some valuable lessons: don’t do anything hastily; think carefully about what you really need and what you don’t really need; try, try, try not to get emotionally attached to anything too soon (this is the hardest part of all); and don’t underestimate the willingness of a salesperson to get you into one of their cars, provided it’s at a price you’re both reasonably happy with.

I’ll try to remember these things myself next time I’m looking for a new car of my own. I can’t guarantee I’ll have quite the same discipline as my niece. But that’s the thing about young people: they’ve got their heads screwed on tighter then we sometimes give them credit for.

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Hypercars evolve as same, same but different

I think most of us can agree that evolution is a pretty good theory. You might prefer to believe a divine entity created every living thing, all in a hurry, about 6000 years ago, in which case all power to you, even though you quite possibly regard The Flintstones as some sort of documentary series.

For the purposes of this column, however, we’re going regard creationism as an idea not entertained by sane people. No offence intended. The idea underlying the theory of evolution is that life changes to best adapt
itself to its environment. Over a very long period of time, life becomes very
well suited to its environment, and often highly specialized.

Every hypercar is, at the end of the day, designed to the same brutally simple brief: go as fast as you possibly can.’

The term “survival of the fittest” was coined to help explain Charles Darwin’s
theory of natural selection, and it is sometimes misunderstood to mean only the
biggest, fastest, strongest (or whatever) survive; but what Darwin meant it to
mean is those life forms that are most fit-for-purpose tend to survive and pass their genes on to the next generation.

If being the biggest, fastest or strongest is what gives you the best chance of surviving then you’re more likely to survive and pass those traits on to your progeny, but it could be that being small, or a particular color or developing some unique way of opening coconuts is what gives you the best chance of surviving, and it’s those traits that will be passed on.

It’s “fittest” as in “best-suited”. This is, I think, why hypercars are all starting to look the same. Well, they are to me, anyway.

 

The Mercedes-AMG One, Aston Martin Valkyrie, Bugatti Divo, Hennessey Venom F5, SSC Tuatara, Pininfarina Battista, Rimac C Two (for quick photographic
evidence, look here).

Add to the list the Maserati MC20, released this week.

They  all look absolutely delicious and I’d have any one of them in a heartbeat. But
like men in tuxedos, while they also look delicious and I’d have almost any one
of them in a heartbeat, they all look a bit like all the others. Sure, there’s variations, but every hypercar is, at the end of the day, designed to the same brutally simple brief: go as fast as you possibly can. It is also desirable to be safe while doing it – which means it has to be able to go around corners occasionally, and to stop. 

 

Over time, much like in the animal kingdom, hypercar designs have converged on a basic shape, set of relative dimensions and a layout that produces the optimal combination of factors to fulfil the design brief. They’ve evolved to this end point in the space of a few decades rather than in the space of a few million years.

Even so, evolution is an excellent analogy of how hypercar design has been refined and refined and refined and, along the way, discarded anything that’s superfluous or which detracts from becoming as fit for purpose as it can be.

Until the laws of physics change, there will be a certain way of designing and building a hypercar that inevitably makes it look like the others. It’s for the same reason all fish look broadly similar, why birds (those that can fly) share some fundamental similarities, and why a man in a tuxedo cannot be improved upon.

 

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Wake Up To Yourself, And Give Me A Break

wakeup yourself

This column is written for the man I met at a cocktail function in Melbourne last week who bragged about how he could do the journey from where he lives in Melbourne to where his kids live in Sydney in just under eight hours. You know who you are.

Last time I drove from Melbourne to Sydney it took me about 10 hours, observing the speed limit and stopping every now and then for refreshments and relief. I remain puzzled by those who insist they’ve done it in under eight hours. Either they’re lying, but I’m not sure what point they’re trying to prove; or they’re telling the truth, in which case they’re idiots. Take your pick. (I suspect that if you live in a separate city from your teenage kids, you’re probably the kind of man who is always trying to prove a point anyway, and you’re also a liar.)

If Google Maps is to be believed, the time it takes to drive from Melbourne CBD to Sydney CBD is about eight hours and 50 minutes. Let’s call it nine hours, in round numbers. So an eight-hour trip can only be explained by speeding. If you want to complete a nine-hour journey in eight hours, you have to drive faster – almost 12.5 per cent faster. It means doing 67.5 km/h in 60 km/h zones; and it means doing 123.75 km/h in 110 km/h zones. That’s up to you, of course, but at Madam Wheels we would never condone such a thing. (Do what the hell you want on a closed road or a track – that’s a different proposition entirely.)Say you agree with guidelines on avoiding driver fatigue that it’s a good idea on a long trip to stop every couple of hours for a break – say of 15 minutes. Get out of the car, stretch your legs, get some fresh air and switch your mental processes to something other than driving and listening to The Companion’s interminable prog-rock albums.

‘I suspect that if you live in a separate city from your teenage kids, you’re probably the kind of man who is always trying to prove a point.’

That means every two hours you extend your travel time by 15 minutes. There are four two-hour blocks in a nine-hour journey, and four times 15 minutes is an hour. That’s the 10-hour trip time, right there.An upside to electric vehicles that I had not considered until now is the limited range. I’d always thought of that as a disadvantage. But the former Labor minister and friend of Madam Wheels, Stephen Conroy, reckons that driving from Melbourne to Sydney in an electric car can’t be done easily, because of the frequent need to stop and recharge. That might be a good thing. The ABC Fact Check unit estimates that doing the trip in a Tesla (I mean, what else?) would require four stops to charge up, at 30 minutes per stop. That adds two hours to the trip time, but if, as discussed, we are already stopping for an hour anyway, the Tesla takes only an hour longer than that. The ABC says taking multiple breaks as recommended my suit the drivers of electric vehicles, but “multiple stops for recharging may not appeal to people used to stopping just once — and only briefly — to refill their petrol tank”. We’ve already discussed those sorts of people.To do a nine-hour trip in eight hours or less means speeding and not stopping, not even for petrol, and if you’re going at 120 km/h+ for a good part of the run you’ll be guzzling the stuff. Absolute madness. If you’ve ever done that, then I’m not going to pull any punches: you’re an idiot. And worse, you’re a hazard to others on the road. Wake up to yourself. And give me a break.
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I Had One But The Wheels (Almost) Fell Off

Beware if you drive a 2019 Mazda 3. If you’re a Madam Wheels reader you probably don’t, but maybe one of your kids does. Mazda issued a recall on July 3, concerning “an issue with the wheel studs that connect the wheels to the car”. They’re not done up tightly enough and the wheels could fall off.

The wheels won’t just fall off, of course. Mazda tells us there will be “a rattling noise” and then the wheels will fall off. So that’s reassuring. The fix is to take the car to the dealer who sold it, for “repairs”. They’re not really repairs – essentially what Mazda will do is tighten the wheel nuts. It’s something any owner could do, if they could only locate the jack and the wheel brace in the boot. Many years ago, when I was young and stupid, I was asked to drive a male friend’s (not a boyfriend’s) Ford Escort RS 2000 from Bundoora in Melbourne to Sunbury, north-west of the city. It’s not far – about 45 minutes on a good run today and probably faster then, because the area was nowhere near as built-up as it is now. But this trip had quite a lot packed into it.

‘I found the wheel brace and jacked up the Escort, then removed one nut from each of the other wheels, and put them on the front passenger-side wheel.’

It started off with me being unable to find the car in the car park of a local shopping center where its owner, Rob, had parked it earlier that day before commuting to the city. The search took a good 15 minutes, and remember this was in the days well before mobile phones so I could not call Rob to ask for better directions.I had a piece of paper with a description of the car and its registration number on it. But the description – given to me by Rob’s actual girlfriend – said the car was green and in fact Rob’s car was yellow; it was purely by chance I saw the registration number and realized what she’d done. To this day I maintain it was deliberate. She says it was a mistake. She may have been telling the truth; she certainly was stupid enough to make it.

About 20 minutes into the drive I started to feel wheel-wobble through the steering wheel. RS 2000s were fairly sporty cars, but they were, after all, built by Ford, in the late 1970s, so there was a bit of lively and sometimes unexpected feedback through the steering wheel and, unless I’m mistaken, a reasonable degree of chassis flex and the windows actually rattled. It looked just like this one. So a little vibration through the steering wheel was nothing to get agitated about, I thought. If I went a bit faster it seemed to get better for a while, but then started to get worse again. And suddenly it got terrible. Something was clearly and seriously amiss. At first I thought I had a flat tyre.

But when I got out to look, the tyres all seemed fine. It was then I noticed the passenger-side front wheel was at an odd angle. And on closer inspection I realized that all four wheel nuts had come off. I shudder to think what would have happened next. I figured I’d been doing about 80 km/h, or about 20-something meters a second, so if I could remember how long ago I’d noticed the wheel-wobble I could work out how far I’d have to walk back along the road go to find the missing nuts. But the thing had been shuddering like a wreck virtually since the get-go, so yeah, I’m probably not going to walk that far.

And then, in a flash of inspiration that I remain proud of to this day, a solution struck me. I found the wheel brace and jack in the boot and jacked up the Escort. Then I removed one nut from each of the other wheels, and put them on the front passenger-side wheel. With the wheels thus secured I completed the journey to Sunbury and explained to Rob in an only modestly expletive-strewn explanation exactly what his shit box of a Ford had just put me through.

I’ve written before about why I think it’s important that when you teach kids to drive you should also teach them the basis of maintenance and things like how to change a wheel. In that moment I was very happy that I’d been taught. Mazda’s recall notice suggests that changing a wheel may be a skill the typical Mazda 3 driver does not possess. After all, why would you have to go to all the trouble of a recall and pile up all that work on the dealers if the problem could be solved with the simple instruction to your consumers to get out there with a wheel brace and tighten their nuts?

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The Grand Unified Theory of Roadworks

I have a theory. Bear with me – it has to do with roadworks. And it formulated in my mind recently because the end of a financial year seems to be when there are more roadworks taking place than at other times of the year. Someone who knows about these things – she seems to know everything about everything – told me it’s because councils, who are responsible for much of the stuff going on, work on the basis that if they do not spend all of the money they’ve been allocated in any given financial year they won’t be given more, and in fact may get less, next year. So they spend 10 months of the year spending it here and there and then two months of the year shoveling it out of the door as fast as they can to make sure it’s all gone by June 30.

Anyway, there’s one particular set of roadworks not far from home that has been underway for – as near as I can tell – about 60 years now. It hasn’t really been that long, of course, it just feels like it. But it’s been going on for a while.

The stretch of road that they seem to be slowly digging up and relaying before slowly digging it up and again and then relaying it again, and then repeating the process, covers about three kilometres and a fairly busy intersection. It was pretty bad before they started – the surface was very rough, and the traffic lights at the intersection appeared to the casual observer to be working on a more or less random sequence. Something had to be done. But as bad as it was before, it’s immeasurably worse now. And this is where my theory kicks in. When they stop the roadworks and remove the barriers, and when they reveal the spiffy new road surface and the spunky traffic controllers have moved on, the road and the intersection will feel vastly improved. But here’s the thing: it will be better than it was during the roadworks, but I can guarantee it will be scarcely better than it was before they started. Our expectations have been so dramatically shifted over the past 14 months (I just looked up when they really started) that they are no longer anchored to the pre-roadworks state of the road.

‘If I’m behaving badly now, all I have to do is behave worse, then go back to my old way of doing things.’

Yes, they’ve improved the surface, so that’s something, but the odd angles at which the roads converge on the intersection – and which I reckon led to the peculiar traffic light sequencing in the first place – are still the same. Actually redirecting a road, rebuilding an intersection and reprogramming traffic lights is far too much like hard work. Nevertheless, every motorist who passes through the intersection in just a few weeks’ time will think to themselves: what a great job the council has done; I can see where my taxes and council rates (and probably speeding fines, for all I know) have gone and it’s Money Well Spent. When you think about it, it’s a kind of genius. The council gets to spend money and employ people to do things, and to look busy and productive and concerned about motorists; but it doesn’t actually have to improve anything by doing so. It can just make a bad situation worse, and then make us feel like a return to the bad situation constitutes an improvement. It’s a concept I’m considering applying to the relationships in my life. If I’m behaving badly now, all I have to do is behave worse, then go back to my old way of doing things. I’ll let you know how I go with this one, but you’ll know if it’s worked when you hear my friends starting to say: hasn’t there been an improvement in Jemima? Don’t hold your breath, though – you’ll be waiting longer than at a red light at a poorly designed intersection.
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Let Me Slap Your Face And Call It A ‘Luxury’

I don’t know if you’ve ever strapped yourself into a Lotus Evora, or one of McLaren’s vehicles – say, the 720S, or something even more maniacal like the Senna – and given it a bit of a push. But let me tell you, when you do you’ll be feeling the effects of it for days afterwards.

If, like me, you are not built like, well, a McLaren F1 driver, you’ll have a stiff neck (especially if you’ve worn a helmet), sore shoulders and for good measure have given your core a good workout. In other words, it’s about as luxurious as a slap in the face. But feeling like you’ve been worked over by one of Kim Kardashian’s bodyguards must be what our politicians believe passes for a cushy time, judging by the fact that the 720S, like any car valued at more than $66,000 or so, is subject to the federal government’s “luxury” car tax (LCT).

The muppets in Canberra have long conflated the concepts of “expensive” and “luxury”. Luxury and expensive are not always or even necessarily the same thing. And we can see in places other than the car market where this is true. A dilapidated three-bedroom fibro box that sells in Sydney for $1.85 million is expensive, sure, but it’s certainly not luxurious. The Oxford Dictionary (just so I’m not relying on Wikipedia here) defines luxury as “a state of great comfort or elegance, especially when involving great expense”.

Let’s parse that sentence and take note of the words “comfort” and “especially”. The primary clause in the definition is that luxury is “a state of great comfort or elegance”. Let me refer you to the Evora, above. However, it is qualified by a secondary clause, “especially when involving great expense”. “Especially” is an adverb used to single out one person, thing or situation above all others – so in this sentence it means that while great expense can denote luxury, expense is not a precondition to luxury. In other words, something that is expensive is not automatically and necessarily luxurious. It’s like what I said about getting a sore neck in the McLaren – it’ll happen, especially if you’ve been wearing a helmet. It will still happen if you don’t wear a helmet. Wearing a helmet isn’t a precursor to getting a sore neck. It happens that many luxurious items or experiences are expensive, but that’s because luxury is a desirable characteristic and people who have a lot of money often have little sense. They’ll pay through the nose for something with the “luxury” tag on it. But it’s clearly possible to pay a lot of money for something that is decidedly non-luxurious. Anyone who’s stumped up what it costs for a guided ascent of Mount Everest knows what I’m talking about.

‘The LCT can’t accurately be described as an expensive car tax because $66k, frankly, buys you very little car at all these days.’

Cost is not a necessary precondition to an item or an experience being luxurious. Or, to put it another way, luxury has nothing to do with price. Which brings us back to the luxury car tax. It’s not a tax on luxury cars at all. It would be more honest to call it the “expensive car tax”, but since honesty is not a quality commonly associated with politics, that would appear unlikely to happen. The problem here is that the LCT applies to cars with a value – including Goods and Services Tax and any customs duties – exceeding about $66,000 (or $75,000 if the car is deemed to be “fuel efficient”), so it really can’t accurately be described as an expensive car tax, either, because $66k, frankly, buys you very little car at all these days. The threshold needs to be reviewed. LCT is calculated at 33 per cent of the value of the car above the LCT threshold. So a car with a GST-inclusive price tag of, say $100,000 attracts LCT of about $11,333 – that is, 33 per cent of the $34,000 by which it exceeds the threshold of roughly $66,000. Then they add that tax to the price so your $100,000 car gets inflated to $111,333 (plus other dealer-related costs). So back to the McLaren 720S. It’ll shake your fillings out and smack you around like an MMA cage fighter. And of the $670,000 drive-away cost, about $140,000 is the “luxury” car tax. That’s another kind of slap in the face.
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HIGHWAY TO HELL

highway to hell


 

Happy New Year to all Madam Wheels readers. The Companion and I are now safely back home from the Christmas road trip but we’ve made a resolution to never again venture out in peak holiday highway traffic. For some reason, this year seemed much worse than any other year.

‘Not one of the Top 20 Dumbest Things We Saw On The Road over the holidays was perpetrated by a P-plater. Just saying.’

We lost count of the number of near-misses we witnessed, caused by people’s inability to safely change lanes (and in one stunning incident, changing lanes and apparently forgetting they were towing a trailer); how many packed-to-the-rafters, roof-rack-laden SUVs full of families and dogs went past us as if we were standing still; and how many people we saw actually on their phones – not just texting, but actually engaged in conversations – while driving.

Tailgating, slow cars in the overtaking lane, cars doing 85 km/h in a 110 km/h zone suddenly speeding up to more than 110 km/h when you try to overtake them, cars going past us downhill at 130 km/h and holding everyone up by going uphill at 80 km/h … we encountered the lot.

 

luxury car

It’s not as though there was no police presence over the period to try to rein in some of this lunacy. We saw umpteen patrol cars prowling the highways, nowhere more so than between Canberra and Sydney; and, of course, there’s no real way of knowing how many unmarked cars we encountered (just like you never really know how close you’ve been swimming to a shark at the beach). The police do what they can and do a great job, but they can really only deal with a tiny fraction of the sheer volume of idiocy that manifests itself on the road every hour of every day.

Curiously, however, we saw more red P-platers pulled over than any other kind of driver, but not one of the Top 20 Dumbest Things We Saw On The Road was perpetrated by a P-plater. Just saying.

If there’s one thing I cannot stand (let’s be honest, there are quite a lot of things I cannot stand) it’s people who do not respect the craft of driving. I’m not talking about trying to attain Formula 1-level skills and capabilities; I’m talking about the simple ability to negotiate a journey from point A to point B without speeding, randomly changing lanes without indicating, or having to check Facebook or Instagram or make a phone call during the few hours between rest stops.

Rest stops! If one more person tells me they did the run from Melbourne to Sydney non-stop in seven hours I swear to god I’m going to scream. If you did that then you’re a moron. And if you didn’t really do that, and you’re just saying that you did, then what exactly is it you’re trying to say? That you are a moron?

When people claim that speed cameras and breathalysers are just revenue-raising exercises by state governments, I reply that they’re also a tax on the stupid. When people say random breath testing is not worth the effort expended to catch only a few motorists over Christmas, I say talk to the mother of the kid killed by the drunk driver and then have a crack at explaining why it’s not worth trying to stop them.

Recently I read in “From Roadside to Recovery”, a splendid new book by Richard Bragge and Russell Gruen, that more than 1000 people were killed on the roads in Victoria in 1969 alone. The very next year the state introduced the world’s first seatbelt legislation. Thanks to that, and to advances in car design and medical technology since then, the fatality rate on the state’s roads had declined by 85 per cent, and down south they’re seriously talking about hitting a road toll of zero. That result would be nothing short of a miracle, based on what I saw while I was away.

Anyway, time to take a deep breath. We’re home, we made it, and we had a great time while we were away. We caught up with family and friends, and ate too much and drank too much (but didn’t drive afterwards!). The Companion found the space to hone his drone-flying skills; the weather did precisely what he said it would and so we took exactly the right car, and enjoyed a lot of top-down cruising. Touring through some of the most picturesque landscapes in the country really was magnificent. When we were the only car on the road it was heaven, because when it comes to driving, hell really is other people.

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Victoria’s Secret Not What I Imagined It To Be

range rover classic

As Enthusiastically and unexpectedly as I have taken to television streaming services recently, I still like to read as much as I can. The production values and the creativity and imagination of the best shows available on TV are very high indeed, but there is ultimately no substitute for your own imagination – and if you want some evidence of this idea I invite you to compare the book and film versions of 50 Shades of Grey (as just one example).

The thing is, imagination is wildly untrustworthy. It leads to unreliable conclusions and beliefs about things in the absence of actual facts to fill the void. And the downside with reading extensively and widely is that you’ll sometimes come across a piece of information that jars with what you think you already know, or believe.

I understand behavioral psychologists call this “cognitive dissonance” – the discomfort you feel when you’re asked to simultaneously hold two contrary or contradictory ideas or beliefs. It’s why some people can so puzzlingly dismiss any notion that human activity contributes to climate change: their belief that it does not is so strong that overwhelming scientific evidence and consensus to the contrary causes them so much discomfort that they reject the science and cling tightly to their beliefs.

LUXURY C AR

Intelligent people, on the other hand, adopt the position that when the facts change, they change their mind. Or to put it another way, while you’re entitled to your own opinion (and to let your imagination run riot), you’re not entitled to your own facts – especially not to “alternative facts”.

‘One of my favourite lines about the Range Rover Evoque is that it looks like someone – I like to imagine it was Victoria Beckham – picked up the clay model from the designer’s desk and dropped it on its roof.’

And so a bad case of cognitive dissonance means it took me some time to digest something I read recently about the involvement of Victoria Beckham in designing the Range Rover Evoque being neither as extensive nor as decisive as I’d imagined.

range rover classic
LUXURY CAR

She had the title of Creative Design Executive, and I had imagined her sitting in design meetings, talking to engineers, overseeing road tests and liaising with suppliers. But Victoria’s input was apparently restricted to making such vital decisions as which one of two alternative colours should be used for stitching. She was “consulted” the same way I often “consult” The Companion: give him a restricted range of decisions to make, so they happen quickly and do not radically change the way I wanted things to work out in the first place. The honour – if that’s the word – of being the car’s actual designer goes to Gerry McGovern, Land Rover’s design director.

Now I’ve digested this minor bombshell, I consider this new information to be a shame, and an inconvenient truth. One of my favourite lines about the Evoque is that it looks like someone – I like to imagine it was Victoria herself – picked up the clay model from the designer’s desk and dropped it on its roof, and they put this squashed clay model into production. It’s the only reason I can think of for why it looks like it does.

But no, it’s a deliberate design and had nothing to do with Victoria, which is disappointing on both counts. She’d kept it quiet though. I suppose we could call it Victoria’s secret.

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How To Stay Calm Under Pressure

One the newer vehicles in my garage has a dashboard display you can dial up with a twiddly knob on the centre console that shows the temperature and pressure of each tyre. It’s driving me mad.

The two rear tyres seem to be OK. The display shows me they’re close to the pressure I think I’ve put into them. Being slightly old-fashioned, I still think in pounds per square inch – (PSI) rather than kilo pascals (kPa); but then, I also still think in terms of miles per gallon (MPG), rather than litres per 100 km (l/100 km). But the front tyres? The display says the pressures are all over the place, and so are the temperatures.

‘There’s a limit to how much technology that was developed for the racetrack is necessary for the enjoyment and safety of road cars.’

There’s a limit to how much technology that was developed for the racetrack is necessary for the enjoyment and safety of road cars. I readily accept things like seat belts, disc brakes, various high-tech materials and certain design concepts were developed on the racetrack and found their way into road cars and have made life better, and safer. But do I really need to know, on demand, how many Gs I am pulling (and in what direction) on the run up the hill to the farmhouse, or what my tyre pressures and temperatures are? Especially when the readout is dodgy, all it does is stress me out. To be honest, I can probably barely detect the 1.5 psi difference the display tells me there is between the left and right front tyres. A better driver than I am would tell you the car is pulling one way or the other, or that its braking or how it turns into corners are being affected as a result.

luxury car

The only reason I know – or I think I know – there’s a difference is because the read-out on the dashboard tells me. It distracts me; and I can’t even be sure it’s correct. The air was put into each tyre with the same device, and inflated according to that device to the exact same pressure, yet the read-out tells me the pressures vary. I rang the dealer’s service centre to have a chat about this. I suspect that when they see my number come up on the screen of their phone system they scatter to all points of the workshop and the person left closest to the phone has to answer it.

This time it was Dom’s turn, and he was relatively patient as he explained to me that these sensors a have a range of accuracy and it’s not unusual for them to return different results to a central processing unit, which is under the floor of the boot. To which I inquired, if they’re known to produce incorrect results, why bother with them? I know tyres are important and yet I get grumpy at the expense when they wear out and need to be replaced. I know that looking after them – not over-inflating them and not under-inflating them – is the way to maximize their life; but I never really know what pressure to put in.

I always get this particular car back from the dealer with what I think are ridiculous pressures: 45 psi in the front, 40 psi in the rear, last time, when the placard on the door frame suggests 40/38 front/rear, respectively. Really, I think someone, somewhere, is guessing at this stuff. And the built-in display is not helping me work out who that is. Perhaps the best course of action is to ignore it. After all, they say that on commercial airliners, nine times out of 10 when a warning light comes on it’s a faulty light.