I was considering a choice of eight different cars.
Three Japs, two Germans, a Swedish, a French and a Brit.
Quite a mix. The only common aspects were:
- I liked the aesthetics
- Enough power for my regular motorway commute, without being excessively thirsty
- Comfortable bucket/sports seats – which seemed far better for my back problems than standard cars
The contenders were:
- Peugeot RCZ 1.6T 200
- Nissan 350Z 3.0
- Mazda MX-5 Mk3.5 2.0
- Volvo C30 2.5
- Mercedes SLK 1.8
- BMW Z4 2.0
- Toyota GT86
- Jaguar XF 3.0D
Unfortunately the GT86 was ruled out almost immediately. I spent 15 minutes wrestingly with the seat controls in a Toyota showroom before giving up – I just couldn’t get comfortable. I didn’t even take it for a drive. Admittedly it was out of my budget too – but it’s probably one of my most desired cars at the moment, ever since I first saw one; and if it drives anything like the old Celica, I’ll love it.
But my poor back was protesting; I needed something more comfortable.
The Nissan 350Z next then. This was my second fave in terms of looks. But it was also the least practical – I wasn’t going to get a great amount of miles per gallon out of it’s 308bhp engine!
Still, I spotted a perfect example and managed to arrange a lengthly test drive. For a good 30 minutes or so the owner took me for an impressive test drive. It felt comfortable; my upper and lower back were nicely supported.
But when it came for me to take the wheel – disaster.
Somehow, in the drivers seat, the seating position meant that I was putting pressure on my injured coccyx (tailbone). It wasn’t even the ‘new’ or more recent back pain (which had stemmed from sitting poorly due to the original coccyx injury) but the more acute ‘pain in the arse’ (almost literally) original cause of all my back woes.
It wouldn’t do; I tried all sorts of seat combinations, but something about the overall seating position of the car meant that with my hands on the wheel and my feet on the pedal, my tailbone took too much of my weight and yelled out in protest.
I’d liked the car a lot; ok, I prefer the ‘kick’ of a turbo rather than a linear powertrain, but the three hundred odd horses on tap pretty much compensated for that. I even looked into the possibility of fitting different car seats in it, but realised that they it could be difficult and costsly, and there were no guarantees it would work.
I went back to the RCZ. I’d already had two test drives, and couldn’t quite make my mind up. It only had a 1.6 engine, but the turbo charged ‘standard’ version still packed 156bhp, and felt nice and nippy. The 200bhp version was even more fun. And it’s quirky looks and funky interior held my interest. But was it comfortable enough?? Maybe. It was more comfortable than the Leon… but it wasn’t as comfortable as my MX-5.
The main problem though was that I was having a image concious issue – I didn’t want a Peugeot! I didn’t want a French car!
My girlfriend suggested I try a Volvo C30. A Volvo?!? But they’re for old men!
Well… not really these days. Especially the C30. But then is it getting a bit too girly, or a bit too much of a Teenage Vampires car??
I figured it was worth a shot, and test drove a 2.5 turbo model.
I was impressed.
The seats were awesome; very supportive. The 220bhp engine pulled aggressively and eagerly. Handling – not bad. Not bad; but it felt a little heavy, a little ‘high’, somehow. It was trying to be sporty… but not quite making it.
Ultimately I decided that it wasn’t really the car ‘for me’, despite it being a damn good little car. I respected it.
Then I drove a Jaguar XF. Silly choice really, after deciding that the Volvo wasn’t sporty enough – the Jag is a huge beast! But I was tempted by it’s luxury – surely this would be a comfortable and practical car for the commute? And the 3.0 diesel boasted around 260bhp yet could still get around 40mpg – very tempting!
To get one in my price range though, I had to look at high mileage models. I found a beaut in a gold colour with 140,000 miles on the clock. Too many? Hmmm. The motor was a proven solid lump (Ford engine) so should be good for much more. I took it for a spin.
First point: they’re all autos. I much prefer a manual. Yet it has the flappy paddles to be able to downshift and have some fun when you require.
And fun I had. After being stuck in a traffic jam for 20 minutes, we finally got onto some back roads and let rip. She flew! Ok, there was the slight hesitation from both the huge diesel lump and the turbo, and the auto box – even with me manually flicking down with the paddles – but I could live with it. The growl from the engine was incredibly satisfying too.
What I couldn’t live with was it’s sheer weight & size, and the terror I felt going through the corners at speed.
Yes, it gripped well, but it still felt like a elephant on roller skates whizzing through a narrow canyon.
Perhaps I’d get used to it… as we worked our way back to the dealers, the traffic built up again, and I found myself getting irriated trying to squeeze it’s bulk through the narrow streets and gaps in the traffic.
Truth be told, I much prefer smaller cars.
And suprisingly, I wasn’t finding the seats very supportative – my back was aching after our 45 minute spin.
Another one ticked off the list.
What about an MX-5?
I didn’t mean another 20 year old MK1 – I was on my fifth and (hopefully) final! The gear ratio, small engine and thin soft top meant it wasn’t suitable for my lengthly motorway commute; too much loud high rev howling for a relaxing daily journey.
But what about a more modern version?
I’d hired and driven a MK3 when I’d taken the Transfagarsan Highway through the Romanian Transvaal mountains a few years before. I’d found it underpowered, as the MK3s are significantly heavily than the original MK1. I double checked though; it seemed I’d hired a 1.8 model, and there were 2.0 models available.
Would a newer, more powerful, more modern geared, improved softtop be suitable? I’d read that wind noise was much less.
Only one way to find out.
I found a suitable model at a dealers about 40 mins from home on a bright Saturday lunchtime and headed over, to be greeted by a rather lovely 20 something lass who took me out for a spin. Trying not to be distracted by her chatty flirtatiousness and shapely legging clad legs, I tried to concentrate on what could end up as Maggy the Sixth.
I loved it.
The seats were just as comfortable as it’s predecessors.
The engine was eager and compensated for it’s weight gain over it’s earlier brethern. It even made a nice noise.
The gears were better spaced… but…
Not enough. I hit 70mph and she was stil revving highly; not as much as my 20 year old beloved (and I’ve talking about Maggy now, not the hottie beside me) but it was still going to prove inefficient on a motorway run, and annoying – yes, the wind noise was reduced, but not so much.
If something happened to Maggy… and I had a sensible commuter car… then yes, I’d have one of these. But to have two MX-5s, even with their differences, wasn’t really the answer.
Six down (although I was still considering the RCZ at this stage), two left.
I found a suitable Mercedes SLK 200; the 1.8 supercharged model, in Derby. It was a 2008 model with the slight facelift and the improved 184bhp, up from 163. I.e. not particularly powerful compared to some cars I’d been looking at, but it was small and light.
What concerned me was it’s ‘German-ness’ – every German car I’d driven had lacked “soul”. I was also concerned by the thinness of its sports seats; the shape would be good for my particular back issues, but they might be too firm.
I slipped into the seats and felt like Cinderella’s foot must have felt slipping back into that lost glass shoe – it was the perfect fit.
I took her for a spin.
And soon had a huge grin planted all over my face!
It was so much fun. The little Merc was a German with a wild side! The handling was swift and responsive, the supercharged engine eager and nippy. Sure, it lacked grunt at the top end – but would suffice for the commute. The hard metal roof meant there was no road noise issues either.
The problem was, I didn’t want this car.
Well, not this particular one. It was way too much (14K – I was looking more at 10, 12 at a push) and the wrong colour.
So I started looking around…
The pre-face lift model was all I could afford. But it was nowhere near as pretty, and potentially underpowered.
Back to the drawing board?
No: one more option: The BMW Z4.
I found one very local to me, at a bargain price… 2.0 engine in a car that size… this had to be a go-er!!