Victoria Summerley: Town life

I'm all for protecting the environment. But let's not assume that it's only the big, new, shiny cars that damage it
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The Independent Online

My name is Victoria and I am a 4x4 owner. Before you fire up your laptops to send me hate mail, I should explain that this controversial vehicle is not so much a Chelsea Tractor as a Wandsworth Workhorse. For a start, it doesn't even have four-wheel drive - it's sort of a faux by faux. And it's not an expensive marque like Mercedes or BMW, but a cheap-as-chips Honda CR-V.

I bought it for two reasons. I have a bad back so I liked the upright driving position. I also do lots of gardening and wanted something with a tailgate that was easy to load up with bags of manure (or my son's 6ft-plus friends). The fact that it turned out to be the most comfortable and reliable car I've ever owned makes it hard even to imagine driving anything else.

But I am considering buying something else, because I'm getting tired of all the flak that comes my way. Here is a typical example. I gave a friend a lift home the other day. The minute she settled herself into the passenger seat, she remarked: "So, how much will you have to pay when they bring in the gas-guzzling charge, then?" I replied that, since my car's CO2 emissions fall below the figure being considered by Transport for London as the cut-off point for a punitive £25 pollution charge - 226g/km - I was unlikely to pay more than the current £8 congestion charge.

My friend didn't believe me. I told her that my car falls into vehicle excise Band F (for Fuel-efficient), not into Band G (for Gas-guzzler). It produces more or less the same carbon emissions as your average family estate car - a two-litre Vauxhall Vectra, say (also Band F).

In fact, the Honda CR-V produces less CO2 than many of the traditional family cars: the Ford Mondeo 2.5iV6 (251g/km), for example, or even the automatic version of the Renault Espace people carrier (255g/km). Both of these fall into Band G, along with - as far as I can make out - anything with a capacity of more than two litres.

However, although these cars are ranked for road-tax purposes alongside BMW X5 (307g/km), they do not attract the rude remarks, the spitting in the street and the car-key scratches down the side panels.

My friend wasn't really convinced, despite the fact that these figures are obtained from the Government's own vehicle excise-duty calculator. "But your car is so big," she said. Actually, I replied, it has the same footprint as your average family saloon - neither longer nor wider. She still didn't believe me.

Owning anything that resembles a 4x4 these days has become the 21st-century equivalent of announcing at a party that you're an estate agent, or work for a tobacco company. (In some circles, the confession that you're a journalist can be pretty hazardous, too.) I haven't noticed much antipathy out on the road - but then, in London, every motorist hates every other motorist anyway, so it's rather difficult to tell.

So, after endless teasing from friends and colleagues, it got to the point where I began to think about putting a notice on the back of the car. Something along the lines of: "If you're close enough to read this, you will be intimately enough acquainted with my carbon emissions to know that they are below 226g/km."

In fact, I got so fed up that I wrote off to Honda for a brochure on their Accord Tourer estate car (winner of the Auto Express Best Estate Car 2006 award). To my astonishment, I discovered that this car was actually longer than my CR-V. Don't get me wrong - I'm all in favour of protecting the environment. But let's not assume that it's only the big, new, shiny cars that damage it. Let's go green with logic, not with envy.

There are two lessons here, I feel. The first is that, if you're buying a car of the family saloon or estate variety - new or second-hand - look carefully at the carbon-emissions figure. Just because the model you choose might not attract sneers of the class-war variety, that doesn't mean that it won't attract a Band G rating.

And the second is that, before you slag me off for driving a 4x4, at least get your facts straight.

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