Motoring: Faults that make me fume

I'VE BEEN driving the most innovative car of the Nineties for the past week. The Renault Twingo, recently a big success in France, marries a colourful cabin and a cute but not contrived exterior shape to a wealth of clever touches. It looks a bit like a Metro-sized Renault Espace, is fantastically space-efficient, and attracted a huge amount of attention in London. Yet even this ingenious little car - which may never come to Britain - is littered with infuriating faults.

They are infuriating because they're so common in today's cars; because they'd be so easy to fix; and because even the small, skilful team of engineers that developed the Twingo - a relatively low-budget 'niche' vehicle - made the same silly mistakes as the big committees that developed Fords, Vauxhalls, Peugeots and mainstream Renaults.

Surely engineers who can perfect anti-lock brakes that modulate pedal pressure 10 times every second, invent airbags that inflate in 25 milliseconds, and come up with prototype petrol engines so clean that they filter city air rather than pollute it, can give us pockets and bins to hold envelopes and coins and credit cards, and rain gutters that stop water spilling on to the seats and carpets when the doors are opened.

The Twingo, to be fair, has a bin on top of the dash, and another shelf beneath it. But go around a corner, and your letter or coin or credit card soon slides off, ending up on the carpet and then usually under the seat. There are door map-pockets, but as with most cars, they are thin and shallow, and awkward to get to in a hurry. Glove boxes are also hard to reach, particularly with your seat-belt on. Centre console bins are probably the best bet for storing oddments. Trouble is, they are usually too shallow, too small, or completely given over to storing cassettes.

Probably the best manufacturer at offering good space for odds and ends is Vauxhall. For this, we can thank the fleet market (it is probably the only thing for which we can thank the fleet market: in general, the proliferation of company cars has massively lowered the standard of driving, and made the choice of cars duller and more uniform). Vauxhall sells a disproportionately high number of its cars to the fleets. Drivers who spend whole days inside a tin box like the convenience of being able to store their fags, crisps, coins and mobile phones nearby.

The loss of rainwater gutters - old cars used to have them - and the consequent dampness of seats and carpets is the fault of aerodynamics: or rather the maker's obsession with it. Those gutters offered air resistance. That meant there might be more wind noise at 80mph, and you might lose 0.5mpg on a motorway run from London to Manchester. Personally, I'd rather not get wet.

At least the Twingo avoids that other aspect of the fashion for a slippery shape: low rooflines. Modern cars offer considerably less headroom. In my 1953 Citroen Light 15, which I sold recently, the rear passengers sat upright, as in a big lounge-chair. Modern cars - apart from the Twingo and one or two others - have much lower roofs, which require more reclined and therefore less comfortable rear seats. Such a position is also less space-efficient. The human body needs less room, fore and aft, if sitting upright than in partial recline. My old Citroen had a shorter cabin than, say, a Ford Sierra, yet in real terms it offered more leg and knee room.

If I have one great grievance about car detailing, though, it is radios. They are, almost without exception, appallingly badly designed. For starters - and this is the fault of the car makers, not the radio firms - they are normally stuck at the bottom of the dash, not at the top. To use them you have to stretch awkwardly and take your eyes off the road.

There are a few exceptions, particularly Volkswagen, which usually puts its radios up handily high. Honourable mention must also go to Renault, whose remote-control radio stalks - little wings on the steering column - allow tuning without taking your hands off the wheel or your eyes off the road. Top-line Renaults have the feature; it is optional on cheaper models, and not offered on the Twingo.

More galling is the difficulty in using modern car radios. The specially designed Grundig in the Twingo has tiny buttons that are far too close together. The Philips unit in my wife's Renault Clio is similarly blighted, as were Becker and Blaupunkt units in recent pricey German cars I ran. On/off buttons are often almost impossible to find, partly because there are so many superfluous buttons. And at a time when normal transistor radios and cassette players are so cheap, it beats me why car radio/cassette players should still be so expensive.

I could go on listing the things that irritate me about modern cars. If you've got some favourite things you hate about cars, drop me a line at the Independent. I'll run a selection next month.

News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

    £28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

    £40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor