Motoring: Why Tom, Dick and Harry fill me with off-road rage

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The Independent Online
LASER TARGETING is one of the marketing industry's latest buzz phrases. With car companies, however, these lasers have about as much accuracy as a blunderbuss fired by a man wearing a blindfold.

Most cars are designed to appeal to Tom, Dick and Harry, as well as the wives, girlfriends, grannies and (if we're talking Volvo) labradors of Tom, Dick and Harry, as well.

The vast majority of cars have four seats (five if the backbenchers have skinny bottoms) and needlessly vast rear boots, are made from heavy steel, and are all styled from the same template, with minor changes for grilles, lights, door handles and all the other identifying jewellery. Just occasionally, someone dares to break the mould, as Ford has done with the new Focus. However, for all this make's excellence, the Focus is essentially just another TDH (Tom, Dick and Harry) car, one that is designed to be all things to all people.

There have been a few tentative steps taken down the specialist path, even if most - coupes and estates, for example - are merely rebodied hatchbacks or saloons.

The off-roader is probably the best example, never mind that it is a speciality that, logically, nobody should want. After all, what's the point of making cars that are good on muddy tracks and whizzing across fields, when most people are quite happy to leave such conditions to tractors and sheep? Yet, for all this want of logic, manufacturers are jumping on to the 4x4 bandwagon. And to prove what a funny old world the car business is, many people are buying them - and then not using them off-road.

It's the same twisted reasoning, perhaps, that prevents manufacturers serving up specialist cars that the public, logically, should want. I live in London and it is full of TDH cars that are ill-suited to heavily congested, narrow, traffic-restricted streets. Most Europeans live in cities. Yet where are all the specialist city cars? There are hardly any.

The stylish Ford Ka is too big (underneath all that style it's just a rebodied Fiesta). The Fiat Seicento is closer to the mark, if not perfect. Rather than a bespoke city car, the Seicento is simply an inexpensive all-rounder that just happens to be quite good in town. The Mercedes- Benz A-class, which is one of my favourites, is another contender because it packs so much space into so small a shell. However, the A-class is still Fiesta-sized and so is clearly too large to be the perfect about- town flyer.

The best city car, by a country mile (the only rural thing about it), must be the new Mercedes-Benz Smart car, which has just gone on sale in mainland Europe. It is the only car truly designed for the city, rather than being expected to fulfil multifarious other roles to boot. The Smart has only two seats and is a couple of feet shorter than the Mini, once the world's shortest car. It is the world's greenest car and does 60mpg with ease, is highly manoeuvrable, and two of them can fit into a single parking bay. It should sell to trendy urbanites (old and young) if Mercedes decides to bring it to the UK. Of this there is still some doubt, not helped by poor press and TV reviews.

It is quite true to say that the Smart is somewhat short on all-round virtue. It is, for example, unsuitable for a London-to-Manchester dash, it has no back seat and it will probably cost as much as a Ka or a low- spec Fiesta should it get the UK go-ahead. However, like any well adapted creature, it excels in its chosen habitat. Excelling in the city, where most of us live and work, strikes me as being a fairly worthy peculiarity - rather more praiseworthy, for the average Brit, than being able to cross green fields without getting bogged down.

The Ford Focus has won the European Car of the Year award - Europe's top motoring prize. Fifty-five of Europe's top motoring journalists from all over the Continent vote for the Car of the Year award. Forty-two of them ranked the Focus as number one, including five of the six British judges. One of the British judges is The Independent's very own Gavin Green.

The Focus scored 444 points, out of a maxiumum of 550, easily beating the Vauxhall Astra (272 points) into second place. Third place was taken by the Peugeot 206 (249), which was followed in fourth and fifth places by the Audi TT (235) and the Volvo S80 (175).

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