Motoring: Hop in and take your prejudices for a drive: Would you choose a Ford Escort over a Porsche 968? Gavin Green sets out to puncture some vehicle reputations and establish others

'HE HAD but one eye, and the popular prejudice runs in favour of two.'

Just as Nicholas Nickleby may have looked askance at Wackford Squeers (justifiably, as it turned out), so British car buyers have their prejudices. These still dictate that anything German is best (if expensive), anything Japanese reliable (if frequently unoriginal), anything Italian will fall apart (although they're stylish), anything French is eccentric (but they're getting more mainstream), while British cars are great (when they go). But in motoring, stereotypes are often wrong.

This selection sets out to kill a few prejudices. It is not a list of the 10 best or 10 worst cars on sale. Rather, it is a summary of those cars that are the most overrated, and most underrated.

OVERRATED

IF YOU'RE after a family car, stay well clear of the new Honda Civic. In hatchback form, it looks cute and drives nicely, but is ruined by its small rear seat and a tiny boot that has crazily impractical access. The plastic trim used to swathe the Civic's cabin is also of packing-crate quality and at variance with its high price.

Tacky cabin fittings are just one of the many failings of the Alfa Spider. It is also surprisingly slow for a sports car, sloppy to handle, badly made (probably the worst assembled new car on sale in Britain today), and miles behind cheaper open-top sports cars such as the Mazda MX-5. Mind you, I still love it. Pity it's such a disappointing car to drive.

Other than the fact that they're overrated, the Volvo 740 and the Alfa Spider haven't got much in common. What irks about the big Volvo is that people assume they're good cars. They're not. They're slow, noisy, ride badly and use cheap and nasty cabin materials.

The Audi 80 has a beautifully furnished cabin, and its body is one of the most cleverly styled and meticulously finished of any car. Shame about the second-rate suspension and four-cylinder engines.

No one pretends that the Porsche 968 is a bad car. No, the 968's problem is that it's yesterday's car trying to compete in today's market. Despite what the Porsche salesmen try to tell you, the 968 is just a reworked version of a 16-year-old design. It is let down particularly by its cramped cabin, its poor ride and its four- cylinder engine, which just can't compete with newer six-cylinder motors.

One sports car that the 968 need not fear is the Mazda MX-3. Mazda has some fine sports cars - especially the open-top MX-5 - but the MX-3 falls down because it is not fun to drive.

The Eighties was the decade of the hot hatch. Recently, there have been a few disappointments in this sector. I've picked the Vauxhall Astra GSi, a pretty enough car boasting a fabulous engine riding on an amazingly incompetent chassis, and the Volkswagen Golf GTi, once the sacred cow of the class but now one of the slowest and least refined cars in the sector. It has become too heavy and fat to be entertaining - rather like many original GTi owners.

If hot hatches are on the way out, and I certainly won't be among the mourners if they do die, they may be replaced by genuine coupes. If so, let's hope they're not like the Rover 220 Turbo Coupe, which is ruined by having an engine that is simply too powerful for this modestly competent car.

Finally, a car that is not merely overrated but plain dreadful. The Suzuki Samurai - the little Jeep-like off-roader beloved by the young and fashionable - is probably the worst new car on sale today. It is noisy, slow, unstable, uncomfortable . . . the list goes on and on. If the owner of one ever tells you a Skoda joke, laugh in his face.

UNDERRATED

CITROEN is one of the fastest-growing marques in the UK, thanks to its excellent, if anodyne, ZX range. But just below the ZX lies a stormer of a small car, often overlooked. Just over a year ago, the Citroen AX got a modest facelift, and a new cabin. More important were massive improvements to build quality. The AX's virtues include its smallness, space efficiency and frugality. It's also fun to drive.

One class up, I'd recommend the Fiat Tipo. It's not the best car in the class - go for the Citroen ZX - but it has many strengths, not least its roominess. It is also well priced and pleasingly different to look at.

Most Volkswagens are overrated, unless your sole criterion is solidity. An exception is the Volkswagen Vento VR6. It is almost a match for the BMW 325i, and its V6 is the smoothest and most sonorous six-cylinder power plant on the market. Its dull looks will deter would-be BMW owners, but are a positive boon when it is parked in areas where youngsters like to make their mark on your paintwork.

From the same family comes the Seat Toledo. VW bought the Spanish maker a few years back and has greatly improved build quality and engineering standards. The Toledo is a nicely made and roomy family car that is better to drive than a new Golf, yet considerably cheaper.

If Volvo means tank to you, then the new Volvo 850 will come as a surprise. It is enjoyable to drive (a first for a Volvo), brisk, handles tidily, and yet still has all those old-fashioned Volvo virtues, such as solidity and distinctive (read ugly) looks.

I've chosen two executive-class cars, from different parts of the sales charts. The Ford Granada has been Britain's best-selling big car for most of its life but, like many successful Fords, sells despite being unloved. I've always found the Granny a fine car. In its latest (Cosworth-tweaked) V6 form, it is fast and

refined.

At the other end of the sales charts comes the Lancia Thema, just about this country's rarest new car. This is unfair. It is a handsome, roomy, refined and an altogether pleasing executive express.

The new Ford Escort Cosworth has been eulogised by just about every motoring scribbler who has driven it. It is a marvellous drive - the fastest and most exhilarating Ford ever - yet is also curiously misunderstood. Take away that garish biplane-like rear wing and the puerile boy-racer image and you're left with one of the most composed sports saloons on the road.

A Ferrari that's underrated? In the case of the Ferrari Mondial, it's true. Whereas everybody drools at the two-seater models from Maranello, the four-seat Mondial gets overlooked. Which is a pity, for it's actually the nicest Ferrari to drive, if not the fastest or (and this is its real problem) the most eye-catching.

Finally, I've chosen the Bentley Brooklands. Most people assume that all cars made by Rolls-Royce are Edwardian relics that have been surpassed by the new techno-wonders from Germany and Japan. Nonsense. There is no saloon more refined, more comfortable and more desirable.

(Photographs omitted)

Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
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

    Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

    £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

    Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

    £40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

    Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

    £70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

    £30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum