A book I wrote got a sniffy review on Amazon the other day. I considered tracing the amateur critic and posting him some waste matter and a copy of my next book as a punishment, but after some moments' reflection, I decided to look on it as a blessing. A shitty review is a useful thing for someone like me who takes cheap shots at inanimate targets like cars every week. Unlike book or film reviewers, car critics can pretty much let rip, safe in the knowledge that the modern industrial process renders the object of their derision, for the most part, impersonal.
Most new cars are a team effort, often encompassing a rainbow nation comprising engineers, designers, aerodynamicists and grab-handle damper technicians. My petty grievances are dispersed relatively harmlessly among them. When we journalists bring down entire car companies, as happened with Rover (though their crappy cars might just have played a part) it reminds us that real people are involved. Fortunately this happens rarely.
Occasionally, though, a car comes my way that is clearly the brainchild of one person. The VW Phaeton, for instance, was intended to be the crowning glory of the VW range by the then company boss, Ferdinand Piëch. Among other criteria, he personally demanded that it should be able to be driven all day at 186mph with an exterior temperature of 50C and an interior temperature of 22C.
He said it would be the best car in the world but people simply weren't prepared to pay that much for a VW badge. Snobbery put the kibosh on Phaeton sales, particularly in the States, where it is not even sold any more.
But my regard for the Phaeton has only grown over the years. It's redoubtable and posh in a discrete way, but – I must steel myself to be honest with Herr Piëch – the new V6 version that I tried recently was a duffer.
It couldn't pull the skin of a milchreis and rode like it was on millstones. A Phaeton should have the staggering W12 engine, or nothing. Still, I probably wouldn't have the guts to tell him to his face.Reuse content