Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The car chase Pt2

Shortly after my last blog the insurance company finally confirmed I needed a new car. While the clarity was welcome, the fact that they’d left it until the day before the courtesy car hire period wasn’t. The hunt resumed…

After the two Alfa 156s I made a vow to be sensible and consider more affordable, practical transport. It was, after all, to be a load-lugger and motorway car to complement my TVR. This lasted around 24 hours.

The day in question started well. I’d made an appointment to visit a company with a selection of Ford Focuses - the leftover stock from an ex Ford dealer who’d sold up. The cars were all very smart, low mileage examples – perhaps a little too smart for my utilitarian requirements, as they were priced accordingly, so I pressed on.

The next car I was due to see was a 306 D-Turbo which, while showing a lot of promise as a design was clearly a knackered example. The dealer explained in reverential tones that it was his teenage daughter’s own car. And I don’t doubt it. It certainly felt like a strapped-for-cash student had owned it.

The next target was Renault Clio Dci, about half an hour’s driver away in St Albans. I headed off, but it wasn’t long before I got distracted.

I stopped at a petrol station on the way and something to the left caught my eye. On the edge of the forecourt was a bright red Prodrive-tweaked Alfa Romeo Brera S. After paying, I moved my hire car to the side and decided to have a nose.

It had taken me this long to realise that there was in fact an Alfa dealership on the other side of the fence. I had a quick look at the Brera - surely the most desirable car you can get (new) for the money in its 'S' trim - and then I wandered into the showroom.

Sadly my budget doesn't currently stretch to a brand new anything, let alone a top of the range Brera. However, they did have a gorgeous looking, very well specced 1.6TS 147 within my budget, so I asked if we could go for a test drive. The salesman sent me indoors to fill in some paperwork whilst he brought the car round to the front.

After about five minutes he returned looking rather sheepish to explain that his two year old, low mileage 147 wouldn't start. I stifled a bit of a snigger at that moment - I know the stereotypes are a little unfortunate, but I also suspect he spends a lot of his time trying to explain this to people and it seemed to be a little too ironic.

It was a final reality-check for me as I carried on to the diesel Clio, which proved to be a somewhat mixed experience. It handled well, went acceptably and promised extremely impressive fuel economy. However, it was just too small inside and the ergonomics left a lot to be desired… even my Westcountry gene pool hasn’t left me as a 5’2 hunch back with size-three feet.

With that final test drive complete and time rapidly running out, at last, I had a clear winner: The Focus. True, the 306 was cheaper, the Puma handled better and the Clio was more economical, but it offered an all-round ability that none could match. It was a spacious hatch back with 40mpg potential that would cost peanuts to insure and still prove a reasonably entertaining drive.

The example I’d seen earlier also had a variety of enticing options, such as air con, sports suspension, a 6 CD multi-changer and heated leather seats that were a huge improvement on the standard items. It was also barely run-in at 37,000 miles with a full service history and the fabled one lady owner.

I managed to negotiate twelve months free road tax and a small discount and arranged to pick it up the following day. Two weeks on, the car has proved faultless. The only minor annoyance is the choice of tyres that the seller had put on the front. They’re an oriental make I’ve never even heard of before and their performance is best described as amusing.

As I approach the second fill-up, the time is nearly here to calculate the first MPG figures and see whether it really was the sensible choice. Needless to say, I’ll post an update.

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