Alexei Sayle: Oversized and over here

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Indy Lifestyle Online

When even the best, most engaging US sitcoms move their storylines to the UK they inevitably become awful.

Years ago I auditioned for the American show Married With Children, which at its height could be a wonderfully unpleasant evocation of blue-collar life. Although they offered me the job, in the end I was unavailable and they gave the part to Bill Oddie. I was glad they did as the episode set on the Yorkchestershire Moors was the most idiotic and shabby thing I'd ever seen. Similarly the edition of the normally reliable Friends set in London is appalling, and even The Simpsons when they came to Britain produced a lamentably limp show full of dreadfully stereotypical images of Olde Englande.

The same also seems to be true of US cars. Drive any old American motor in the States and somehow it feels fine. On those slow-moving highways and long boulevards lined with garish, endlessly repeated fast-food joints, the hard plastics, velour seats and dodgy aesthetics of a Chrysler Neon or a Ford Crown Victoria are entirely appropriate, but suddenly when they are imported to Europe it's like a bright light has been shone on their faults. They look ridiculous and cheap.

Yet US manufacturers still try to sell certain of their models on this side of the Atlantic, and recently I've driven two of them - firstly the new Grand Cherokee Jeep and then the Cadillac CTS. The new 4x4 retains many of the styling cues of the outgoing model, and though neater retains many of its flaws - wide, unsupportive seats, cheap-looking external hinges on the tailgate, a thin, flimsy handbrake and wood trim that looks fake even if it isn't.

Also being a big, brash American four-wheel drive, I was expecting, with the bad publicity these things have been getting, many hostile looks from people. Nevertheless, judging by how many of the old model you see around there is a big demand for the Jeep, and in the time that I drove it I received nothing but admiring glances.

On the same weekend as the music festival at Glastonbury, I drove the Cadillac CTS 3.6 V6 down to the Goodwood Festival of Speed, which is a sort of Glastonbury for bastards. Actually that comment is both ungrateful, since I took full advantage of the Goodwood organisers' ample hospitality, and unfair, in a 1980s punkish sort of way. After all there were 148,000 people there and plenty of them were ordinary folk enjoying the vintage cars, the racing and the associated events. As for those in the VIP enclosures such as myself - well, possessing money and status doesn't automatically make you a bastard, though Bryan Ferry was there.

When I'd seen the CTS in movies and photographs I'd liked it very much indeed, but somehow in the metal the car was a tremendous disappointment. Perhaps it is colour sensitive, but in the dark blue that the Cadillac was delivered to me in there was no visual excitement, rather the car had the appearance of a big, duller Vauxhall Vectra rather than the BMW 5 series or Jaguar S-Type against which GM is trying to pitch the Caddy. Whatever I felt about it, the CTS certainly failed the passer-by test since in the entire week it was in my possession I never noticed anybody giving it a second glance. Though perhaps to say it went unnoticed at Goodwood is unfair since in the car-park of the cheap Radisson Jarvis on the outskirts of Chichester where I was staying there were two Maybachs, four or five Ferarris and half-a-dozen new Aston Martin DB 9s.

To drive, though, it was also a disappointment. There didn't seem to be the same silent composure as in the sporting saloons with which the CTS is trying to compete, a great deal of road rumble from the tyres was a constant and tiring companion on motorways, and the interior, apart from air vents lifted from the Saab 9-5, is not particularly pleasant. It was really only when I took the Cadillac on to empty roads in the leafy British countryside that I found I was able to enjoy the power of the V6 and the excellent StabiliTrak stability control system. But it can't be right that a US car is best on English B roads! It's a crime against nature!

motoring@independent.co.uk

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