Motoring: The class of '99: and this year's dogs are...
From the small, cheap and cheerless to the large, expensive and clueless. James Ruppert looks at the year's worst cars and finds red faces everywhere
Saturday 27 November 1999
Other cars launched this year are clearly surplus to requirements, either because they are plainly inadequate or there are far better alternatives around already. So here is my deeply prejudiced guide to what's wrong with the class of '99.
Comebacks are always a bad idea. The Kia Pride had certainly outlived its welcome when it quietly disappeared from the price lists a few years ago. Unfortunately the Korean company has decided that we want more of the hopelessly outdated Pride, which was based on the undistinguished Mazda 121 in the first place. Maybe they think buyers will tolerate the bouncy ride because retail prices start at pounds 5,495. Well, for that you don't even get a radio. The warranty appears very generous, lasting for either three years or 60,000 miles, whichever comes first. But it isn't enough.
Buyers would be very stupid to shell out for a five-door 1.3SX costing pounds 6,495 when, for pounds 55 less, they could get a thoroughly modern Korean built Daewoo Matiz SE. It has plenty of mod cons, including driver and passenger airbags, power steering and metallic paint. Not only does it carry a three- year warranty, but the servicing is free for that period as well.
Road tax for the Matiz is just pounds 100 for a year while the Pride is taxed like a big car at pounds 155. Not a lot to be proud of then. And, while we are sticking the boot into Kia, they have also foisted a couple of other budget models on us in the shape of the hatch-backed Shuma and Clarus saloons. They might be able to boast power steering and airbags, but you would still be better off in the Daewoo showroom.
Not all bad cars are small, cheap and cheerless. Some are large, expensive and completely clueless. Take the Cadillac - and the sales figures indicate that few buyers have. Here is a stupid luxury saloon that should have stayed on the other side of the pond. Conveniently, Cadillac have positioned the steering wheel on the right (the first one in 50 years), but apart from that there are few concessions to British or European tastes. The ride is far too soft and the tacky interior furnishings inappropriate for something aimed at the upper end of the market. Surprisingly for such a huge car, rear seat passengers will find space at a premium. The pounds 39,755 price tag is not outrageous for a luxury saloon, but bottom-of- the-range Jaguar XJ8s, BMW 7-series and Audi A8 are all way ahead in terms of style, finish and shear ability. Only buy a Caddy if you own a nightclub or have a deep need to be publicly ridiculed.
Indeed, another way of enjoying the same experience is to saddle yourself with another unwise Yankee import - the Chevrolet Corvette. It's a legendary name, with plenty of V8 grunt, but it is left-hand-drive and isn't so special. The other cheaper Chevy import, the Camaro, is much better. However, we have lots of home-grown muscle cars and the TVR is the pre- eminent boys toy brand. Accept no substitute.
Obviously, the Germans have never been known to make a bad car, apart from East Germany's cardboard, oil-burning Trabant. Then again, there was the case a few years ago of the Mercedes A Class which fell over while avoiding a Scandinavian Elk. Mercedes revised the car and A Class sales are stratospheric, but Mercedes still shudders in corporate embarrassment at such a public cock-up.
Now it is the Volkswagen group's turn. It owns Audi and the underpinnings of the Audi TT coupe are essentially VW Golf. Fatalities in Germany and a crash in the UK have indicated that high-speed handling may not be the TT's strongest point. Even though there is evidence that driver error played a part in some of these incidents, clearly all is not right with the TT. Audi is revising the suspension for the 1,000 or so owners who took delivery in the UK this year. The TT may be a desirable and distinctive model, but an inadequate suspension system makes it a very bad car, until every last one is sorted out.
High-profile German embarrassment doesn't end there - take BMW. Its British subsidiary Land Rover has been having trouble building road-fit Freelanders. After almost two years in the market place, 1999 is the year when owners started to complain loudly. It is a brilliant on- and off-roader with lots of clever touches and bags of style. But they do seem to break down rather a lot.
British car builders get it wrong too. Reliant still makes the costly and indefensible three-wheeled Robin, but now it has made matters worse by importing nasty French microcars. Popular with teens across the Channel, the ridiculous Ligier Ambra, at pounds 6,495, makes a Kia Pride look like the bargain of the year.
Not all bad cars are brand new either. There are plenty of dreadful used cars in circulation (I wrote about them earlier in the year). They included a Mercedes that had been "clocked" by an astounding 170,000 miles and a BMW that was an insurance write-off.
When it comes to new rip-offs though, just about every model on sale is a bad buy, for the simple reason that they are overpriced. This was the year when the consumer finally woke up to the fact that cars in the UK cost too much.
The Competition Commission's report will be out soon and it may well contain bad news for almost every car manufacturer.
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