Sean O'Grady: Why bigger can be better in town

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Indy Lifestyle Online

OK, what do you think makes a better town car: the tiny, made-for-congested-Japanese-streets Daihatsu Copen? Or the pug-ugly lumbering made-for-I'm-not-sure-what Peugeot 4007?

I was slightly dreading the experience of piloting the big 4x4 Peugeot around town, but the truth is that, it has a couple of really big pluses that may account for the popularity of these "Chelsea tractors" on the school run.

First, as with every other SUV I've driven, it treats speed humps with contempt. High ground-clearance and softly-softly suspension deliver a ride that can defeat even the most vicious of the car-haters' traps. I confess that I succumbed to the game I always play when I get behind the wheel of an SUV, and tried to beat my personal best speed over a hump. I am too ashamed of my behaviour to reveal the result, but my point is this: if the town planners want to encourage folk to drive smaller, more environmentally cars that cause less congestion and are nicer to pedestrians in a crash, why do they pepper our streets that make driving a proper town car – Daihatsu Copen, Smart, Mitsubishi i – a living hell? To save your car's suspension and your lumbar regions from damage you have to approach these restrictors at below walking pace, push down the clutch, and hope for the best. Horrid. Speed humps also make cycling and motorbiking more dangerous. What a vile invention. They ought to limit speed in more intelligent ways, such as chicanes and, yes, speed cameras. So, on the comfort test, and the suspension-repair-bills test, the Peugeot beats the wee Daihatsu.

Second, there's parking, and here again the authorities hand the SUV owner another built-in argument for going big. Because parking spaces nowadays are almost all standardised, there isn't much point in buying a small car. Well, I exaggerate, because single yellow lines hand little cars an advantage, but again you take my point. If you want to discourage 4x4s, make standard parking spaces smaller. The fact that Peugeot offers a rear parking camera seals the test. The Pug wins again.

Third, though, for Londoners (and everyone else before too long) Mayor Ken Livingstone is about to deal cars like the 4007 a knockout, even a killer blow. Soon it will cost you £25 a day to have one of these cars in London, and, crucially, the existing exemption for residents will be lifted. This, I'd have thought, ought to be subject to legal challenge. If you bought an S-Class Mercedes on the expectation that any congestion charges would be reasonable, it cannot be right that you should then be landed with a huge bill, even though you've done nothing to provoke it. It seems to defy natural justice, if anyone cares.

The winner, therefore, is the Copen, which is a fun alternative to the Smart, the Mitsubishi i and the G-Wiz. The reason is that it puts a smile on your face when you look at it. Driving in car-hating Livingstone's London you need something that does that, even if it's no use at beating speed humps.

s.ogrady@independent.co.uk

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