Friday, 23 November 2007

Test Drive - Renault Mégane Scénic

The concept of practicality is a very flexible and malleable thing. When mountaineering, for example, the practical notion would be to adorn yourself with a lovely warm coat, some kind of rope gizmo and a nice pointy set of crampons. Attire yourself in such a way at the beach, however, and you’re probably going to have a pretty rubbish time; you’ll get all sweaty, kids will tie your ropes to nearby groynes and you’ll probably spear some voluptuous young beach maiden on your spiky shoe. Nightmare.

The point is that it’s hard to find a suitable catch-all solution to anything beyond a narrow set of parameters. Cats – good as pets, bad as kitchen utensils. Pencils – handy for doodling, unsatisfying as cushions. The Mégane Scénic – well, what’s this good for? Primarily, it’s very accomplished at hiding stuff. If you need to get a few pounds of heroin across the border, this is the car for you. Trust me.

You see, this thing has cubbyholes everywhere. Lift the dinky handles protruding from the carpet, you’ll find little boxes for your sandwiches under the floor. Pull out that plasticky thing from under your seat to reveal a voluminous storage drawer. That’s useful, isn’t it? You can put your cds in there, maybe a small map or something too. And what’s that little black cylinder wedged in the cupholder? Ooh, it’s a removable ashtray. Super.

It’s not bad at shifting people about either. We managed to get five rambunctious and fidgety adults plus numerous suitcases and posh wedding outfits into it with relatively little shoehorning and almost no faces pressed against glass. Considering that it’s not even the biggest of the big Renaults that was reasonably impressive, in an ‘I’m driving a small van’ sort of way. The bold styling is also very welcome in a sector dominated by the we-think-price-is-everything Citroën Xsara Picasso.

So, a practical car, then? Hmm… it is and it isn’t. Sure, it has Tardis-like load swallowing capabilities, but all this melts away when you actually get to the act of driving: it’s just one irritation after another. Program the satnav – no problem. The clever little box can direct us to a tiny and remote hamlet via the complex déviations of central Lyon. But how do you get the bastard to play a cd at the same time?

After ten minutes of fiddling, you just have to give up and resign yourself to the fact that there is to be no music. The lovely aircon’s kicking in now, and the cool wafts keep you sanguine. Snick it into first, reach for the handbrake… and it’s not bloody there. But of course, why would it be? It’s far more logical to have a mini handbrake – a fingerbrake, if you will – by the door under the dash. There’s a little lever to pull, a button to press, a light to extinguish; sod it, it’s probably off, let’s go. You put your foot down. And nothing happens.

Nothing’s still happening.

You count to five.

Suddenly the turbo comes on boost in a tidal wave of thrust. This lasts for a good second and a half before everything gives up again, you shift up a gear and have another excruciating wait for action. The dCi 130 engine is an impressive unit in terms of frugality, don’t get me wrong – in fact I’m reasonably sure we didn’t actually use any diesel at all throughout the entire weekend – but it was clearly designed by a gaggle of moronic cack-handed berks with no interest in useable dynamics or driving pleasure whatsoever. The gut-wrenching chasm of turbo lag is enough to make a grown man weep; in truth it’s borderline dangerous. The fact that the ludicrously floppy gearbox gives you no clues as to what ratio you could end up with next makes the whole experience tremendously frustrating, although in fairness to Renault this may not be their fault. It’s a hire car after all. People will have abused it. I know I did.

The stupidest thing of all is that, from the driver’s seat, you can see so little of what’s going on behind you. The beyond-inadequate wing mirrors are tiny enough to seriously imperil any motorcyclists in your blind spot (the blind spot being any part of the scenery that isn’t directly in front of you) while the glass area is oddly small, the thick and chunky pillars preventing you from having any idea of what’s going on around you. It’s much like driving a Transit van really – you just have to remind yourself not to give a toss about anyone else and simply follow your own agenda.

So, it’s big, it’s frugal, it can take a lot of cargo and an equal amount of abuse. But is it practical? Well, mostly. It served more than adequately as a well-equipped runabout for a small gang of inebriated ne’er-do-wells and it didn’t misbehave. Wasn’t any fun though, and a car that serves no thrills is fundamentally pointless. What the Scénic really needs is the old V6 Clio’s tweaked 3-litre unit – you might as well embrace the fact that you’ve got no idea what’s behind you by getting the fuck away from it as swiftly as possible, right? Go ahead, take your crampons to the beach… at least no-one’s going to mess with you.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Test Drive - Vauxhall Astra SRI

Life is full of little disappointments. Godfather III, Coke Zero, the last three Manic Street Preachers albums – all tame imitations of strong and impressive origins. The worst kind of disappointment, however, is the really niggly little one that spoils an otherwise joyful and satisfying experience. The kind of situation where, for example, you meet the girl of your dreams in a bar; supermodel flawless, brewery heiress, private racetrack in the grounds of her mansion, can recite verbatim every Monty Python sketch… and then you discover that she has rampant halitosis, or she laughs like a freshly wounded hyena trapped in a bagpipe, or she used to be called Kenneth. The one little irritation spoils the entire experience and you’re left thoroughly unsatisfied.

If you’ve driven the new Astra (or, indeed, the new Vectra) then you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to. It’s the indicator stalk. It’s what’s known in the world of motoring journalism as ‘a right little bastard’. But we’ll come back to it later, it’s not really fair to introduce the SRI on such a negative note.

You see, against all the odds, the new Astra is a genuinely good car. Astras of yore have seldom been anything to write home about; granted, I’d truly love to own a mkI GTE (for its retro eighties angles alone), and the late-model mkII GTE had a superbly naughty 16v XE engine that thrived on revs and was virtually unbreakable. Unfortunately, there’s no escaping the fact that the vast majority of Vauxhalls of the eighties and nineties were fundamentally, well, shit. Inexpertly nailed together, formed from funfair-grade steel with integrated rust accelerators, wired by vagrants with severely impaired vision and upholstered using the offcuts from a ropey wild west saddlery, there’s a reason why most Vauxhalls you see on the road are sitting on un-hubcapped steels with comically faded paintwork and arches you can waggle your fingers through. But something has changed. Vauxhalls in the 21st century are good. Seriously.

It’s not just that they’re actually stuck together properly now, but the design work is little short of revolutionary. Honda Civic aside, you can’t name a current hatchback that’s as mould-breaking, striking, and with as much sheer road presence as the Astra. Even as a five-door (because obviously three-doors are much cooler), this one cuts quite a dash. But it’s far from a simply cosmetic marvel – it’s actually really rather pleasant to drive too.

On paper, the power figures aren’t that mindblowing. 138bhp from an 1800cc 16-valver? My old Renault 19 16v offered that, and she was built in 1993. Still, there’s clearly something special going on under the bonnet, some form of magical trickery or euro-stardust under there that gives an impressive combination of immediate acceleration and a broad spread of torque from 2000rpm upwards. In fact, this 1.8 feels much peppier than Renault’s current 2.0 16v engine; alright, it lacks the throaty roar as you approach the redline but you can’t argue with the thrust.

The handling is, again, not Astra as we know it. A pronounced history of cribbing notes on chassis development from Lotus is evident here in the way that the ride is compliant and everyday-smooth, yet creates very little body roll through the corners and displays almost none of the understeer you’d expect from a spicy front-driver. Contrary to expectations, those ultrasexy 18” alloys don’t destroy the ride with the 17-year-old-seafront-cruiser-with-Nova-on-nineteens overkill that seems so inevitable; they just directly follow the laws of physics – the increased rubber contact with the road exponentially increases grip, and that’s all there is to it. You simply point and squirt in the corners, it goes wherever you want it to.

OK, the dashboard is horribly plasticky and seems to have coagulated together from the greyish runoff of a Haribo production line, but to its credit it doesn’t rattle or squeak and feels solid enough. The driving seat is (as long as you fix your gaze outside of the car) an enjoyable place to be. The seats are excellent, gripping you in all the right places without being restrictive. The steering wheel is small and thick, giving a real sporting feel. The gearbox is a peach – slick, precise, superbly judged ratios. The stereo’s even clever enough to display track names on a Fratellis CD. It just all comes down to that indicator stalk. I can’t even bring myself to describe how annoying it is. Try one for yourself and you’ll see how one simple thing can totally ruin a perfectly good car.
It’s an excellent machine, truly it is. Attractive and alluring, marvellous fun to drive, well engineered, reasonably exciting without being overstated… just don’t buy one. Trust me, that little stalk will drive you mental.

TVR Sagaris

Blackpool. Jolly old Blackpool, default holiday destination for the unimaginative masses. ‘It’s got a huge tower,’ they pointlessly opine, ‘and a pleasure beach.’ These people are to be ignored; the grim seaside outcast has little to offer – tries to make it look exciting by being bright pink (Christ, they must be wacky and interesting), but have a look at their ‘fun stuff’ section. An aptly sparse metaphor for the locale itself.

I actually like Blackpool, for one important reason: TVR. Ever since Trevor Wilkinson set up shop there making fibreglass kit cars in the fifties, those three evocative letters (rather less sexy when you realise it’s an abbreviation of the founder’s first name) have represented originality, quirkiness, good old honest-to-goodness British engineering. Using a selection of domestically-sourced engines over the decades – MGA units, Ford crossflows and Essex V6s, Rover V8s – shoehorned into lightweight bodies over tubular chassis, TVRs are no-compromise machines for enthusiasts. Current models shun the Euro-imposed guidelines of fitting ABS and front airbags to all new cars… why would a TreVoR need all that? It adds weight. Just make sure you don’t wang it into a tree.

The nineties were good to TVR, the launch of the Griffith in 1992 heralding a new era of outlandish design. With good public reactions to the styling, combined with the knowledge that you can do anything with fibreglass, they charged headfirst down the ‘let’s make it look like a spaceship’ route with the Cerbera, the Tuscan, the Tamora and the Typhon among others. 2004 saw the release of the most extreme yet, the Sagaris - the first car released under the reign of Nikolai Smolenski.

Depending on perspective, Smolenski is either the company’s saviour or an utter bastard. He brought much-needed cash to the company as well as stringent and rigorous quality control, keen to exorcise the appalling-build-quality-demons of, well, every TVR ever built. (TVR ownership before Smolenski involved a lot of sitting on hard shoulders and grumbling.) He did also, however, sack loads of old-timer employees and move production out of Blackpool, having sincerely promised that he wouldn’t. Well, honestly.

So the Sagaris… one of the most brutal-looking cars on the road today, but it’s by no means all show. Under the bonnet is TVR’s bespoke Speed Six engine, which is mounted as far back as possible to achieve a front-mid engined layout akin to the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti. Its outrageous roar is backed up by 400 staggering horsepower which carry it to 60mph in 3.7 seconds. That’s very quick. And it’ll do 100mph in second gear.

In appearance it is genuinely scary up-close; the series of chunks that have been slashed out of the front wings, the perspex rear spoiler, the gargantuan exhausts that poke sideways out of the back – this car has surely been styled by somebody who swats at imaginary flies and doesn’t own any matching shoes. This is a car that wants to eat your soul.

In short, the Sagaris is the quintessential TVR. It stays true to the founding ideals of the company – lightweight, uncluttered, straightforward engineering, staggering performance – yet leads the charge in terms of what modern sports cars should look like. The most astonishing thing is that a new Sagaris costs under fifty grand. It baffles me why there aren’t more of them on the road.

Classic - BMW 2002 Turbo

There are many reasons to dislike BMW owners. The fact that they will always sit in the middle lane of an empty motorway. They’ll never let you out of a side turning. They have absolutely no awareness whatsoever of where the indicator stalk is. These facts (and they are facts), however, are a question of cultural prestige and certainly not the fault of our Bavarian chums. Sure, Chris Bangle may have gone a bit loopy with his Etch-A-Sketch of late but there’s very little you could do these days to stop people buying Beemers. It’s a pre-requisite of London life that you must either drive an X5 or at least be near one at all times. Jesus, what if someone pulls out in front of you? It’s your duty to plough through them as if their puny econohatch were made of marzipan.

Things weren’t always so rosy for BMW. In the early 1960s Bayerische Motoren Werke, a company known principally for creating incredibly pricey roadsters and peculiar little bubble cars, needed to find some common appeal. The Neue Klasse saloon was the car that saved the company, but it was the 1602/2002 series that achieved true icon status by providing a sensible little three-box saloon with a decent four-banger under the bonnet and, yes, just a little bit of sauciness to boot. It sold in spectacular quantities and inevitably had a very successful racing career, mimicking the wonderful Lotus Cortina trick of cocking a front wheel in the air under fast cornering.

Now, picture yourself as a BMW bigwig in the early seventies. Your previously ailing company is now going from strength to strength, your product is internationally renowned for it’s technological innovation (the 2002’s independent rear suspension, for example, making the back end of a Ford Escort look terribly dated), your balance sheet has never looked beefier. What’s the next step? Well, come on… you work in the motor trade for a reason. There’s more than a little 4-star in your veins. You want to make the car faster.

Forced induction had never successfully entered the mass-produced mainstream prior to 1973. Talk of superchargers conjured up images of Blower Bentleys hammering around Brooklands, turbochargers were just something that got bolted to diesel locomotives to make them marginally less turgid. But of course, BMW have always liked to stay one step ahead of the field. Why not bolt a turbo to the old M10 mill in the ’02? Why not see what happens? So that’s exactly what they did.

It scared the shit out of everyone.

You see, production turbocharging was (of course) in it’s infancy in 1973; nobody had really experienced turbo lag before, so it was just accepted as part of the package. Trust me on this – there are few things scarier than suddenly coming on boost half way round a blind corner. You can’t lift off, you can’t brake, you just have to grit your teeth and hold on. And once you’re a few miles closer to the horizon and you’ve managed to prise all of your fingernails out of the back of the steering wheel, you really want to do it again...

The 2002 Turbo was a revelation. It proved that the Germans weren’t staid, dull corporate suits obsessed by function over form and sales over renown. Look at the front spoiler – that isn’t a reversed photo. BMW deliberately wrote ‘turbo’ on the front of the car backwards so that lesser motorists would see it coming in their mirrors and know they’d have to dive out of the way. This confrontational bravado so incensed the German authorities that they banned BMW from applying the stickers.

This cheekiness sums up the whole ethos of the 2002 Turbo. It looked kind of like your auntie’s shopping car, but it’d happily chew you up and spit you into a tree. Still, it’d make a beautiful coffin and there are much worse ways to go than gripping that chunky wheel, planting your right boot and waiting for the…


Friday, 2 November 2007

Spyker D12 Peking-to-Paris

Having children is, I’ve heard, quite a life-altering thing. For the first year or two you won’t get any sleep and you’ll be up to your elbows in dinky little faeces. The next few years will be consumed by irritably correcting their rubbish grammar and packing them off to school where they can be mercilessly bullied for the cheap shoes you bought for them in the market because, hey, kids are expensive. Their teen years will herald a relentless pursuit of stealing from you, hating you and mocking you in the presence of their grubby little friends. Sooner or later they’ll move out, leaving you to consider quite how disappointed you are that they didn’t grow up to be neurosurgeons or beekeepers or something worthwhile. The most annoying thing, of course, is that you yourself have to grow up and be sensible. Urgh.

Well… this isn’t strictly true. There’s nothing to stop you getting your mid-life 911 once they’ve flown the nest with your Barclaycard and your plasma telly, but isn’t it tedious having to ferry them around in some soulless Espace or Previa while they’re growing up? You could squeeze them into the back of your cheeky little coupe, but you’ve got nowhere to store the toys. And they’ll probably damage the tilt mechanism on your front seats through overuse as well, the little bastards.

A depressing inevitably of parenthood? Nonsense. You need to think laterally. What’s big enough to transport the family, but sufficiently rapid to scare them into being quiet at the same time? It can’t be the Zafira VXR, because then you have to drive a Zafira. The Cayenne’s out of the question because people will spit on you in the street (and rightly so). Ditto the ghastly BMW X5 and ML-class Mercedes-Benz. But wait - what’s this rearing it’s odd-shaped head, open-mouthed and looking a bit like a diver’s watch? Why, it’s the snappily-monikered D12 Peking-to-Paris from Dutch aeronutters Spyker…

Bit of an odd entity, Spyker. The company motto – ‘Nulla tenaci invia est via’ – is Latin for ‘For the tenacious, no road is impassable’. Right. Like to see how far their tenacity gets them on a Welsh forest stage in a C8 Laviolette. Still, they’re interesting folk, handbuilding their sumptuous little masterpieces under the name of a Dutch coach-building and aeronautical company founded in the 1880s – a company that Spyker Cars, founded in 1999, actually has nothing at all to do with. But don’t let the details get in the way of the perceived heritage. It’s a lovely excuse to sprinkle the cars with little propeller symbols (rather more effectively than BMW do).

The D12 is an unusual mix of contrasts and contradictions which really shouldn’t work as a cohesive whole but somehow, well, does. It’s a substantial and surprisingly large SUV, but with all the character and styling cues of a coupe. It’s capable of tackling rugged terrain, yet is so intricately and exquisitely formed that you’d feel a tremendous sense of guilt even taking it out in the rain. It weighs nearly two tons, yet will accelerate to sixty miles per hour in five seconds dead and power on to the saucy side of 180mph. The interior is a mind-boggling blend of the sporty and the luxurious, with individual competition-spec bucket seats trimmed in sumptuous cream leather.

In short, it’s a pretty weird piece of kit. Named for the Peking-to-Paris race of 1907 – one of the most ridiculously unlikely motoring events ever, in which an original Spyker competed and took second place – the hyper-SUV is a riot of absurdity. Power comes from Volkswagen’s 6.0 W12 engine in a 500bhp state of tune, whilst final drive ends up at the gigantic 24” Aeroblade wheels. The steering-wheel is an almost F1-esque multifunction affair, and lurking behind it is a triple-faced dashboard styled to resemble an airline cockpit. Paddle-shift, air suspension, carbon-ceramic brakes… and a price tag of €230,000. Of course, the kids will probably smear their chocolatey hands all over your gorgeous creamy seats. Best to get a Golf for the missus and keep this little treat all to yourself.

Classic - Ford Escort XR3

There’s something brilliantly satisfying about being the underdog. Obviously there’s a weight of pressure from being severely outclassed, but this just serves to make potential victory all the sweeter. Look at David and Goliath – normal-sized man throws rock at colossal bastard, colossal bastard goes down, normal-sized man drives the girl back to his penthouse. Or something. Robert the Bruce surprised a few people at Bannockburn. The British fleet clawed some rather significant chunks out of the supposedly invincible Spanish Armada. Basically, odds that appear insurmountable are never quite the brick wall that they seem to be.

Optimism in the face of adversity was very strong in Dagenham in the early eighties. At the turn of the decade, Ford had done the unthinkable and given the latest iteration of the Escort a front wheel drive layout. At the time it was unimaginable, and it’s still looked on by enthusiasts as an improper classic; if it doesn’t steer from the rear, it just won’t do. Nevertheless, Ford were determined to maintain their exemplary motorsport credentials. After all, the mkI and mkII Escorts were celebrated heroes on the racetrack and rally stage – performance models were part of the process.

With the dawn of an entirely new Escort, it was decided to leave the old sporting monikers in the past and usher in the new: Mexico, RS1800 and RS2000 were out, XR3 was in. This is another point that irked the purists. Not only was it front wheel drive (with a goddamn fairyboy transversely mounted engine), but the old Pinto was ditched in favour of the shiny new CVH – complete with wobbly cambelt and weird ability to swiftly turn oil to sludge. And it was only a 1.6 – where was the fire-in-the-belly 2.0?

As if all this heckling wasn’t enough, there was a whole emerging breed of fwd hot hatches to contend with. The Golf GTI led the charge and was a formidable opponent; lithe, sleek and unstoppable on a b-road by all but blue lights or stray foliage. Ford have always been canny though, and they had an ace up their sleeve...

You see, the XR3 was a superb car. For starters, it was cheap. That always helps. But it was also really rather attractive. With the simple addition of front and rear spoilers, a pair of spotlights, some aerodynamic add-ons at the trailing edge of the arches and a set of rather sexy cloverleaf alloys, the plain-jane mkIII was transformed into an aggressive and purposeful little beastie. This wasn’t all, of course – it could handle too. Really well.

It was an unusual learning curve for the Escort aficionado. With the rear-drive Escorts of yore, the technique generally involved lots of revving and gearbox-stirring to keep the Pinto singing, combined with deft Scandinavian flicks to swing the tail out through the corners. The XR3 involved turning into a corner, putting the power in… and that was it. It just gripped. Then you’d have to take the corner again, just a little bit faster. And again. And again… over and over until the grip limit was reached (surprisingly suddenly) and you found yourself 40 yards into a ploughed field wondering how to explain your actions to your fleet manager. Marvellous.

The inexorable stomp of progress led to the development of a fuel-injection system in 1983, and a change of name to XR3i. This did wonders for performance and tractability, but for the purist there’s nothing quite like the savage suck of a Weber carb at full chat – and of course the original carbed model is so much rarer now.

The XR3 was quick to win petrolhead hearts. It may not have had the ruthless efficiency of its German contemporaries, the temperamental charm of the Italians or the playful tomfoolery of the French, but it was a good honest motor, and people appreciate that sort of thing. Simple, cheap and bags of fun… the spritely little scamp that shouted and bruised and took its rivals down a peg or two. How very Essex.

Porsche Cayman S

Ambition is a troubling and incendiary attribute. Defined as ‘an earnest desire for achievement or distinction’, it can also be interpreted as self-involvement, one-upmanship, arrogance and contempt for one’s rivals; a list that effectively reads as a mission statement for Porsche. In general, ambition is the defining notion of all that the company has achieved over the years… or at least it was until the Cayman came along.

Realistically, this is a car that is wholly lacking in any sort of ambition to fulfil its potential, which is disappointing coming from a company renowned for turning their designs up a notch, stripping away the chaff, replacing that sprocket with a carbon-fibre one, then turning it up once more. It’s little more than a mundane, moribund hatchback (sorry, coupe), and there’s something rather unsettling about that.

Perhaps I’m being a tad unfair. Taken as a stand-alone creation, I’ll concede that it is pretty impressive. The mid-engined layout adds, by its very nature, a sublime and perfectly poised set of handling characteristics that are a world apart from the tricksy, rebellious pendulum swing of the little Cayman’s big brother. The engine itself is a peach – the S variant (we won’t talk about the bog-standard base model Cayman, there’s no point) shares the Boxster’s 3.4-litre flat-six which, as you’d expect from Porsche, is strong, durable, tractable, rev-happy and delivers epic usable power in spades. Being the smartarses they are, the spec sheet brims over with impenetrable and improbable sounding devices and developments; VarioCam Plus, Porsche Active Suspension Management, Sport Chrono, resonance intake, ceramic composite brakes, stability management, blah blah, whatever. There’s a very strong feeling throughout the car that every single component, every nut, every flange, every switch has been analysed to an absurd degree by a Stuttgart boffin with a sonic screwdriver, an empty social diary and a particularly limited concept of reality. Whether or not you admire or deride this overly obsessive engineering is, I’m sure, determined by the size of your offshore Cayman Islands bank account.

The biggest problem that the Cayman suffers lies in grappling with its own identity. Is it a hardtop Boxster? Well no, the pricing would suggest that there should be rather more to it than that. Is it a baby 911? Hmm, it’s not quite as quick and the engine’s in a sensible place. So is it just a slightly reworked Boxster that they’re cynically positioning in an ill-conceived and probably fictional gap in an already bloated market? Oh, surely not. They’d research it a little better than that, wouldn’t they…?

You see, the positioning is a paradox in itself. Porsche are loathe to admit it, but the reason that the Cayman is not available with a limited-slip differential (for ‘not available’, read ‘definitely, categorically, 100% never will be available and if you ask again we’ll follow you home and batter your family’) is that it would be faster than a 911. No ifs, no buts – believe me, it would. In testing, the Cayman S has already proved to be several seconds quicker around the Nürburgring than a 911 Carrera – imagine the potential of a fully sorted lightweight Cayman S Turbo with a trick diff. Actually, you don’t need to imagine this – countless racing teams are building cars of this description for competition use. Why? You get all the trademark power, engineering excellence and tractability that you’d expect from Porsche, but with much more predictable handling. Because the engine’s not hanging off the arse end like a giant boil.

Now this is where the question of ambition comes in. As consumers, enthusiasts or (internally at least) just dribbling, lusting schoolboys, we take our reference points from the pantheon of performance pioneers. At the top of the scale we find such names as Pagani, Koenigsegg and Bugatti, moving down through Ferrari, Mosler, Lamborghini and Aston Martin, past Maserati and Ascari and on to Porsche, who seem to be increasingly aligning themselves with BMW and Mercedes-Benz. (I ask you, a Porsche off-roader? Puh-lease, what’s next? A diesel 911?) These are names we trust to relentlessly pursue automotive perfection, whether it be in terms of beautiful design, revolutionary handling or balls-out grunt. Porsche, however, have lost their way. The Cayman is nothing more than a cash cow. Rather than stay true to the core values that the company has held dear since old man Ferdinand made friends with Hitler and built him a nice little runaround to mobilise his iffy regime, they’ve decided that they don’t want to make the best car that they possibly can. Not this time. Good enough is just about good enough; as long as they can make a few more deutschmarks to cram into their already over-stuffed coffers then it’s a lovely green light for an early lunch. For shame.

Thinking about buying one? Don’t. They’re entirely anonymous on the road – people who don’t know what it is will barely notice, people who do will think you’re a prat. Trust me, buy a Nissan 350Z instead. It’s much prettier, significantly more powerful, far cheaper and no-one will spit on it. Unless you feel you need the cachet of the Porsche badge, of course… in which case you’re exactly the customer they seem to be going for.