Alexei Sayle: Adding extras takes something away

'You spend more time changing gears but I'm not sure if it's worth it'
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Years ago I had a friend who bought herself a little inflatable model space shuttle when she was on her holidays because she thought it looked cute, then a little later she saw another one done in pottery and she bought that too. That's all she wanted - just the two space shuttles to put on a shelf but pretty soon her friends wanting to bring her a present from their holidays or desperate to come up with an original birthday gift began to inundate her with model space shuttles. They gave her space shuttles of space shuttles made of wood from Malaysia, life-sized space shuttles made out of space shuttle from the US, and souvenir space shuttles from Vancouver made out of bacon. In my experience that always happens. If you imply you are starting a collection then people will shower you with with whatever it is - pottery frogs, pens with pictures of nude ladies in them, novelty tuning forks. So I'd like to tell you now I'm really into collecting stylish two-door coupés with snazzy interiors. The good

Years ago I had a friend who bought herself a little inflatable model space shuttle when she was on her holidays because she thought it looked cute, then a little later she saw another one done in pottery and she bought that too. That's all she wanted - just the two space shuttles to put on a shelf but pretty soon her friends wanting to bring her a present from their holidays or desperate to come up with an original birthday gift began to inundate her with model space shuttles. They gave her space shuttles of space shuttles made of wood from Malaysia, life-sized space shuttles made out of space shuttle from the US, and souvenir space shuttles from Vancouver made out of bacon. In my experience that always happens. If you imply you are starting a collection then people will shower you with with whatever it is - pottery frogs, pens with pictures of nude ladies in them, novelty tuning forks. So I'd like to tell you now I'm really into collecting stylish two-door coupés with snazzy interiors. The good people at Mazda UK have got the ball rolling by giving me their nice RX8 coupé but they're taking it back next week. Nevertheless at least it's a start, and if you're going on your holidays to Italy, if you want to bring me back a Maserati 4200GT or the new Alfa GT, I wouldn't mind and I'll send you a very nice thank you note.

You can see why people are attracted to the RX8, though. It's very impressive looking with a heap of good qualities. There's the distinctive styling and reasonable price; there's the little trick rear-doors that open backwards which make it a genuinely usable four-seater and eliminate the back-seat scramble of so many two-door cars; there's a decent sized boot and of course impregnable Japanese reliability. The interior I would term exuberantly Japano/American with a swoopy circular theme with a central tunnel cosily defining each seating space, lots of different types of leather and plastic and chrome, and knobs with writing on them. All this, while not entirely to my taste, since as you can probably tell I am more a fan of Italian design, is certainly smart and of course very well put-together - not always the case with Italian cars.

The engine I'm less sure about. Being more of a V-arrangement and automatic gearbox sort of a guy, a rotary engine and six-speed box is a different experience. I certainly found it revvy and responsive with a unique engine note unlike anything I've driven before, but fuel consumption seems poor for this size of car and what is it with all the six-speed boxes these days? I'm not sure whether adding an extra ratio is simply supersizing or there's some advantage to be gained. It seems to me that you certainly spend a lot more time changing gear, and I don't know whether it's worth it.

My friend Harry was reminiscing that when he passed his driving test some while ago, he did it in a car with three gears on a column shift, and that seemed more than enough for him. In that case, am I being old-fashioned and crotchety in thinking that five gears is perfectly adequate for all occasions? Will indeed the performance car of 20 years' time come equipped with 11 forward, four reverse and two sideways gears? Which will mean 0-60mph in three and a half minutes, even in a Porsche 911, because of all the gear changing the driver has to do.

Come to think of it, is that the plan? Could it be that the manufacturers of sports cars, aware that driving at speed is now being demonised with suspension-crunching road humps and speed cameras everywhere, are trying to slow down drivers by giving them a huge number of gears to stir through while at the same time appearing to offer them a more sporty drive?

Makes sense to me.

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