NO-HEADLINE

What should family cars offer? If you said they must be spacious, practical, versatile and as inexpensive as possible, you would be right. But not all manufacturers would agree: on the evidence of the cars they currently serve up, they obviously believe that family cars should be stylish sex symbols aimed at image-conscious trendies who don't give a fig for practical, rational values.

The daft car ads give us a clue to the car makers misguided priorities (Volvos that go faster than Ferraris, Mondeos that make your heart beat faster, naked supermodels). Even more revealing is the cars they serve up. Cars nowadays are designed to look sexy and stylish first, and hang many practical values. Interiors are cramped, even in supposed family cars, with rear seat room being especially derisory.

I remember pointing out as much to a Rover high-up some years ago (after Rover had reduced the rear seat room of the Metro) and he told me that people don't travel in back seats any more, so it didn't really matter. Rover's change, from the maker of the world's most space-efficient cars (in its Austin/Morris days) to a manufacturer of cars that supposedly put style before practicality (but still fail to be stylish) is perhaps the most extreme example.

My dad owned an Austin 1800 in the late 1960s. It was a supremely roomy and comfortable car, designed from the inside out. In other words, it was designed, first and foremost, with people in mind. Everything else was of secondary importance. Nowadays, cars are apparently designed from the outside in. Style sells, so the fact that back seats usually have insufficient headroom for tall men, or insufficient leg or knee room, or preposterously short cushions, or that back benchers often have to sit in heavily reclined chairs is deemed of secondary importance.

Today, there is no family saloon which offers outstanding rear room. None is anywhere near as space efficient as my dad's marvellous old Austin.

Ten years ago I owned a classic car I'd long wanted - a 1954 Citroen Light 15, sometimes known as the Traction Avant. It is one of the most beautiful and technically intriguing cars ever made (the reasons I wanted one), yet it was also supremely roomy and comfortable in the rear. It was comfortable because, as with my dad's old Austin, rear seat occupants sat upright in luxurious, large chairs, such as you would expect in a family lounge. I remember trying one of the then-new Ford Mondeos, towards the end of my stewardship of that fine old Citroen. I was amazed to find the rear of the Mondeo profoundly less comfortable, partly because of the much lower roof, necessitating a more reclined riding position. And yet the two cars were almost the same length, and covered much the same area of road occupation. Of course the Mondeo was faster, more refined, more fuel frugal and safer - all evidence of the huge strides made in recent car engineering. Yet comfort - surely the primary role of any family car - had been sacrificed in the interests of sporty styling and "emotional" appeal.

The irony is that truly great cars offer both function and form - the latter flowing from the former. The Mini was never really styled. It looked the way it did because that was the most practical way to clothe a small car that was designed to seat four, and yet be as small as possible. It was a great design, not a pretentious style statement. The same could be said of my old Citroen, of the 2CV, of the first Range Rover, of the Fiat Tipo and of a variety of old Renaults. Car makers would do well to learn from them.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
  • 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

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

    £13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

    £18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

    Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

    £20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power