Longtime readers of Autocar may have noticed an uncharacteristic absence from this week's issue. Writer-at-large's Chris Harris' regular column somehow went the way Amelia Earhart, Glenn Miller and the majority of Ken's Congestion Charge revenue; it disappeared. The current thinking is that, at some point during the inky machinations that Autocar goes through every week, it was sent on a round trip via a particularly foggy moor and possibly the Bermuda triangle.
The good news is that it has returned and, for one week only, Chris' musings appear exclusively here. Ladies and gentleman... pray silence for Monkey.
Chris Harris: This was the year that was
The diary reliably informs me that January 2004 was at times very cold, that the boiler broke twice, that I failed to shoot an antagonistic squirrel and that my Lamborghini Gallardo had averaged 13.1mpg over 1200 miles. It was a quiet month, but we all knew that the coming year would make up for it. Unprecedented is an overused term, but new VW Golf, Vauxhall Astra, Ford Focus, Aston Martin DB9, BMW M5 and a heap of other metal seemed to merit its use.
First surprise of the year came down in the south of France. With Gallardo and Porsche 911 Turbo in attendance, the Aston DB9 won. Yes, its ride is marginal in the UK, but as a package it’s stunning. I left thinking the bad car was surely a thing of the past.
The BMW X3 begged to differ. I didn’t see the point of it in March, and I certainly don’t now having seen the crippling depreciation they’re already suffering. The superb, and similarly priced, 530d Touring I drove a few weeks earlier proved that the soft-roader in general remains a nonsense I can do without.
Most aspects of the new Golf were remarkably promising. Having now spent hours behind the wheel of both it and the new Focus, I really struggle to say which I’d personally recommend: they’re equally fine cars. Which means it’ll come down to badge and styling, where you’d have to say the Vee-Dub wins. Shame.
Badge-snobbery and the rapid erosion of mainstream goodness has become a pet hate of mine in 2004. Where it will all end is anybody’s guess, but in the name of festive cheer, here’s my punt. BMW, Audi and Merc will continue to push more cars to market and their residuals will gradually slip back to Ford and Vauxhall levels. At this critical point people will realise that the only way to strike a remotely original (stationary) pose on the M25 at 5.30pm is to drive a Ford. Neophiliacs take note: mainstream will become the new prestige by 2009.
The BMW M5 is now faster in a straight line than a new Porsche 911 Carrera S. It also rides better than a boggo Five on run-flat tyres. I thought the Mercedes A-class a more ingenious small car than the BMW 1-series, and I think the Land Rover Discovery’s kerbweight is just a step too far. But one car caught my eye above all others in 2004: the Dacia Logan. Showroom-fresh wheels for £4000, and I even like the shape.
Chris will be back in his rightful place on January 4th