Wheel life: I love this leather-lined bully
(Filed: 14/12/2002) The Telegraph
The latest Ranger Rover is expensive, irrelevant, selfish, lists like an ocean liner and is utterly unbeatable in traffic, says Jason Barlow
I once tried to buy an original copy of The Beatles' White Album off a doctor. Beatles treasure hunters will tell you that a mint copy of one of the first half-million pressings of the Fab Four's confused and minimally-sleeved masterpiece is a copy well worth having. But the good doctor told me I was deluded, then cheekily diagnosed Asperger's syndrome, the symptoms of which are anti-social behaviour, pedantry about speech and an obsessive interest in a narrow range of subjects. He'd met the rest of my family, then. And most of my friends.
Guzzle, guzzle: 'I managed 17.3mpg in the Range Rover, which is not good at all'
Actually, they're a balanced bunch compared with me. I didn't get the cherished White Album in the end, but only because my medical associate refused to sell it to me on the grounds that I already owned two copies. A ridiculous cop-out. As with alcoholism and drug addiction, so the first step to recovery here is to admit to the existence of a problem. I haven't taken that step because I haven't got a problem. What I will concede is that becoming embroiled in the world of Beatles memorabilia has proved to be a fearsomely expensive distraction. Help? They said it. Collecting Picasso would have been a more cost-effective pastime.
Still, there are compensations to having a brain addled by useless obsession, especially at this time of year. I think it was writer Nick Hornby who first dragged the list-fixated Nineties male out of the half-light and gave him a designer anorak to wear. I remember practically weeping when I read Fever Pitch and High Fidelity. Suddenly, it wasn't just all right to be a pathetic trainspotter (that's a generic term, obviously, your actual trainspotter being beyond help), it was almost fashionable. Men the nation over were seen openly rejoicing in their hopelessness. We couldn't bang a nail into a wall straight, but we could tell you who was number one in April 1971, or what colour racing overalls Ayrton Senna was wearing when he scored his maiden F1 victory in Portugal in 1985. Women just groaned and battened down the hatches. Again.
So, gentlemen, spare a thought for the ladies. December, by some margin, has to be the most trying month. All those lists. Music lists. Movie ones. Sports personalities graded according to the magnitude of their achievement. News events compiled in order of apocalyptic portent. It might be freezing cold outside, but I could fashion a nice, snug little shelter out of all the lists I've accumulated in the past couple of weeks. Right now, the whole world has Asperger's.
I've boiled it down to this. Album of the year is unquestionably The Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. Actually, that's album title of the year, too. It's a haunting meditation on life and death disguised as one of those Japanese manga science fiction tales, and a beautiful, accessible, heart-warming record. Best film of 2002 has a similarly disturbed but arcadian rhythm to it, Wes Anderson's astonishing The Royal Tenenbaums. Listen to the former after watching the latter and you'll feel inspired by the everyday, truly elevated. Finally, my car of the year is the latest Range Rover. It's a selfish, self-centred, loathsome bastard of a car.
I shouldn't like it, I really shouldn't. It's sitting outside at the moment, and blends into my street with all the steely finesse of the monolith whose presence on primeval planet Earth kick-starts 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is very expensive - Ł60,000 for the range-topping V8 Vogue model - and is masterful at doing things only a minuscule number of owners will ever ask it to do. So it's 2002's most irrelevant car, too.
And yet, the Range Rover is magnificent. People say Smarts are the thing to have for driving around London, but they're wrong - the Range Rover beats everything else on the road into stunned submission. Urban driving isn't about nip and tuck or stealing a cheeky advantage wherever you can. It's about physical intimidation. The Range Rover excels at this - it's legitimised, leather-lined bullying. This morning I barged my way into some stationary traffic and got away with it with ridiculous ease. If London cruelly dismantles your driving etiquette, London by Range Rover finishes it off completely. I'm not proud of myself. In fact, I'm a git. So be it. I've gone over to the dark side. But if I drove a Smart, I'd be scared to step out my front door. A passing Nissan Micra might do me over.
Then there's the Range Rover's legendary thirst for fuel. Drive Honda's brilliant Insight or VW's impressive Golf PD TDI 150 and you become fixated with fuel economy, obsessed with stroking their ingenious engines into ever greater feats of parsimony. This is good for you, good for me and good for the planet. I managed 17.3mpg in the Range Rover, which is not good at all. In fact, I should have been able to get that down to at least 12mpg.
The Range Rover's heated steering wheel must account for at least one mpg of that overall figure. Yes, I did say heated steering wheel. Wait 30 seconds or so, and this little beauty warms the hands more effectively than a small industrial furnace. It's not just the wheel that pampers you, though. The rest of the interior revamps all the tired old wood and leather cliches and repositions them in an appealingly modern idiom. All the hard work was done by BMW when it still owned Land Rover, so its high quality feel will be entirely alien to long-term Range Rover owners. I've driven six different examples now, and nothing has fallen off any of them. Amazing.
Of course, it rides beautifully for such a corpulent beast, and its (BMW) engine and transmission move the 2.5-ton mountain with the expected aplomb. Granted, it still doesn't much care for corners, and it lists like an ocean liner in a force 10 if you overdo it, despite the clever suspension hardware underneath. But I don't care. Because I've got to go out now, and I'm not going to a corner or a racing circuit, I'm going to get stuck in a load of traffic like I usually do.
Tonight, though, I'm really going to enjoy myself.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....