My car history part 15: What next?

Leona and I aren’t getting along as well as I had hoped.

Don’t get me wrong – the Leon is an excellent car and the reasons I bought her for were all good, and the criteria has more or less been met.

Let’s recap those points.

  • Sensible – yes, spacious hatchback, storage cubbies, drinks holder etc
  • Fuel efficient – yes, the 1.9TDi VAG engine is probably the best diesel in that price bracket
  • Reasonable power – yes, 150bhp is plenty to safely overtake, convenient for motorway miles
Leona (Seat Leon) and Maggy (MX-5)
Leona (Seat Leon) and Maggy (MX-5)

Yet strangely enough, I’m not comfortable in her – I’ve been struggling with back ache. Ok, the back ache was due to sitting / sleeping in awkward positions on a couple of long haul flights, and having an awful new office chair – but Leona wasn’t helping. I decided to use the MX-5 one day, and despite the small cabin, and the fact that the aftermarket cup holder (there isn’t one as standard) is inconveniently placed so that for the first 20 minutes of my morning commute I’m having to change gear in a very awkward manner to avoid knocking over my coffee cup, my back was actually happy for the first time in days.

Perhaps all these years of driving daft sports cars has moulded my back so that I’m more comfortable in a sports/low coupe type car?

As it was, I had the seat set low in the Leon for that ‘sportier’ feel. However, it wasn’t very comfortable – it felt like even though I was fairly close to the wheel and had a good arm reach, my left leg had to travel a long distance to fully engage the clutch; and returned to it’s rest position was bent up too much. I even started getting pins and needles in my right leg!

However, I’ve found that a lot of adjustment can be made to the seat, especially with the height. Bringing the seat up to almost maximum height has more or less resolved the clutch pedal issue and I’m no longer getting pins and needles in my other leg. But the higher seating position is less ‘fun’, and I’m still not as comfortable as I’d like to be.

Moving onto fuel efficiency… well, it seems I can get 54mpg… but OMG I have to drive like an old aged pensioner to achieve it. I tried it for a week but the depression I suffered wasn’t worth it.

Driving ‘realistically’, and trying to change gear as soon as I can without spoiling all of my fun, and at prolonged speeds of – well, let’s say, ‘typical UK motorway speeds’, then we’re looking at somewhere around 45mpg, max 50mpg.

That’s not bad – but not quite as good as I’d hoped.

Because, moving onto the third point, power: is the mpg figure good enough to justify having a less powerful (than cars I normally have) diesel (when I prefer petrol)?

Possibly. But I started having a look at other options out there… just in case.

The conclusion I came to previously, and that I’m still arriving at, is that the 1.9TDi diesel engine still is the best you can buy for the money, in terms of power vs efficiency. The diesels that came in after 2005 to meet new legislations are less efficient (although admittedly more environmentally friendly) and prone to problems. The latest diesels are excellent, but out of my price range.

Or are they?

I’ve decided that having a 10 year old car – and one that was out of date for its year anyway (it having been around 4 or 5 years and the new shape having come in the year later) – as my daily commute is fine – but not as pleasurable as I’d like.

Loving cars as much as I do, I feel that I’d like something that bit ‘nicer’.

I’d set my budget for the Leon at 3 to 4 grand, and had purchased Leona bang in the middle at £3500.

Looking at the market and what options are available, I’ve decided to save up over the next few months and treat myself to something in the £10,000 price range early next year.

Is that enough to buy me one of these ultra efficient, powerful, diesel cars?

Sadly, no.

But it does open up the option of some newer petrol engines which offer a reasonable amount of performance for the ‘claimed’ MPG figures.

Besides, I’d prefer a petrol engine – I’ve had two diesels now, and the big heavy rumbly lumps aren’t winning me over… yet. I’m very interested to see how Jaguar’s new XE with it’s lightweight aluminium body and lightweight Ingenium engines fair… but it will be some time until they are affordable to me!

So… what cars do I like? What meets my criteria?

I’m thinking a smart/sporty looking coupe, with a spacious yet sporty, low seated cabin, with hatchback/decent boot practicality.

Something with between 150 and 200bhp, probably a 1.8 or 2.0 turbocharged petrol engine?

Hyundai Coupe S3
Hyundai Coupe S3

I’ve always liked the third generation Hyundai Coupe, the S3. I owned a first generation model – it was a tad unrefined, but fun. I looked into the S3, but was disapointed with the engine range – you either have a lacklustre unit that’s also not particularly efficient, or an over the top V6 that drinks petrol like my best friend drinks beer (far too quickly).

How about the Honda CRZ? That’s an ultra funky looking thing… and I like to be different. But it’s way too underpowered for my liking.

A Beetle? Too cute.

A Mini? Too – well, not too small – mini’s these days are pretty large – and I did used to quite like them. But for some reason, they just don’t appeal to me any longer. I guess they’ve become a bit too popular.

An Audi TT? Ah… now we’re talking. Nice lines, a bit different looking, comfortable cosy and sporty cabin… there’s even a diesel option. But I’ve ruled that out… it’s the same 2.0 unit my brother experienced numerous problems with in his A4, and not really to my liking either. But the 2.0 petrol unit looks pretty good – claimed combined figures of 34 mpg – is that good enough??

Not sure… would have to check the ‘real world’ figures – and it’s motorway cruising efficiency.

I actually raised an interesting question on pistonhead regarding reduced fuel efficiency at higher speeds, and the effect of drag – worth a read at Cars economy.

Besides, the TT’s are a little common… and ‘hairdresser’ ish. Although can I actually say that, when I love MX-5s so much and I’m on my fifth??

Moving swiftly onwards…

Audi A5? I loved these when they first came out. I still like them. There’s a 2.0l petrol option with reasonable economy I’d consider. I love the amber/terracotta leather they do in one model… but otherwise the interior is a tad dull. Would an A5 be ‘interesting’ enough for me?

I considered the more luxurious options… how about a Lexus? Nothing takes my fancy. A Merc? The CLC is quite nice… more sporty than most Mercs. The problem I’d found before is that most Mercs are autos, and I prefer a manual gearbox. However, the CLC does come in a manual version. There’s a good range of engines, with power and MPG figures in the acceptable ball park… should I get a Merc?

Quite possibly. But how about a Jag? I’d love to own a Jaaaaag (the way Jeremy Clarkson pronounces it). The XF is a lovely looking car – although I prefer the facelifted front end version, and that’s out of my price range. The other issue is the engine options; realistically the only desirable option for me is the 3 litre diesel. This is one time I’d consider a diesel again – 240bhp and 42mpg? Sounds great! The other issue though with the XF is that’s its an auto only car.

So a diesel, and an auto? Not really my cuppa tea, luv.

There’s something about the XF though, something unshakable. Perhaps I should test drive one, just to be sure.

Desirable... the car's not bad, either (GT86)
Desirable… the car’s not bad, either

What about my good old friend Toyota? I’ve already had a Celica – and they’re too outdated now… it’s replacement is the GT86. I would love a GT86… that’s right up my street. But they are still too new, and expensive. I will have to wait a few more years.

Then I found a car I would never had considered before…

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