Top 100 Cars 2014: Introduction by Jeremy Clarkson

Of course it’s flawed   but I still dribble with lust

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I HAVE just left a man in near-hysterics in the street. I was climbing into the new Volkswagen Polo as he approached and he simply could not believe his eyes. “You,” he stammered, “in that.”

And then he started to laugh the sort of laugh that builds and builds until you start to worry that he may never stop breathing out. His knees went first and then bits of what appeared to be offal started to come out of his nose. Yup. The poor chap was laughing up his own lungs. He’s probably dead now.

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We must mourn him of course because the very idea of me, Field Marshal Octane McTorque of the Heavy Horse Regiment, dribbling around town in a 59-horsepower vicar-mobile is as ludicrous as Cara Delevingne emerging from the Chiltern Firehouse in a Lady magazine twinset.

Or is it? Because what exactly is wrong with the Volkswagen Polo? The short answer is: nothing at all. Which leads us on to another question. Why don’t we all have one?

As you may know, I would gladly sell one of my legs if it meant I could have a Lexus LFA (below). It is a car that makes me dribble slightly. And yet it is far from perfect. It has a petrol tank the size of a Zippo lighter’s, it has no cupholders and if you ever poke its V10 engine with a stick, it makes such an almighty shrieking noise that passers-by tend to call the police to say that someone in the area is torturing a dog.

“Of course the very idea of me, Field Marshal Octane McTorque of the Heavy Horse Regiment, dribbling around town in a 59-horsepower vicar-mobile is ludicrous. Or is it?”

It’s much the same story with all of the world’s most desirable cars. I am hugely fond of the little Alfa Romeo 4C. I make strange whimpering noises when I think of it. I’m making them now. And yet it has no power steering or satellite navigation and it follows the camber of the road so vividly that often you feel that gravity is actually at the helm, not you.

The new Range Rover? Yup. Excellent. By far the best off-roader the world has seen. But have you tried to park one in a normal street? It’s not going to happen unless there’s been a bomb scare. Or you’re on Sark.

The Ferrari 458 Italia? The dashboard is unintelligible. The BMW M3? If you
put the steering in Sport Plus mode you will crash. The BMW i8? Wonderful, but on a not-very-hard drive to North Yorkshire recently I achieved 28mpg. Some way short of the 135mpg that’s spoken about in the marketing blurb.

I could go on and on — so I will.

AMG Mercs are tremendous, but that guttural exhaust noise causes people to think you are a gigantic dipstick. The Jaguar F-type’s ride is silly and the car’s too expensive. The Porsche 911 GT3 is on fire. The Volkswagen Golf R is a bit boring. And so on and so on. All of the world’s great cars have something wrong with them.

There is, however, nothing wrong with a BMW 530 diesel estate. I challenge anyone to emerge from a drive in this car and say, “I’ll tell you what I didn’t like about it . . .”

Top 100 Cars 2014 - lexus lfa

If you had even the smallest bit of common sense, it’s what you would buy whether you wanted something that was fast, comfortable, good-looking, economical, reliable or safe. Because it’s all those things.

And yet if you want something that’s all those things, why would you not buy the much cheaper Volkswagen instead? No, really. It’s a serious question. Why?

The honest answer is: because your neighbours will laugh at you and imagine you have some financial difficulties. In Britain a car is still, even today, seen as a measure of a man’s standing in life and possibly even the size of his manhood, and that, I’m sorry, has to stop.

When you encounter someone who’s wearing a watch that’s about the same size as an early John Harrison longitude experiment, and about as elaborate, do you think, “My. This man must be very interested in timepieces”? No, of course not, because the chances are, he isn’t.

Or what about when you meet someone who’s wearing a shirt with the name of the man whose staff designed it emblazoned on the breast pocket? Does this mean he enjoys fine tailoring and good-quality cotton? Or has he just bought something because it says Dolce and whatever the other bloke’s called on it?

Not that long ago we were praying to gods that didn’t exist and dying aged 24 of rickets. Now look at us, paying £400 for a £4 jumper and then taking it home in a car that’s 6ft longer than necessary simply so people we don’t know realise that, for us, life is good. How tragic is that?

“Not that long ago we were praying to gods that didn’t exist and dying aged 24 of rickets. Now look at us, paying £400 for a £4 jumper and then taking it home in a car that’s 6ft longer than necessary”

I spent most of the summer in Italy, where pretty much everyone has a small grey battered hatchback. The boss has a small grey battered hatchback. Her husband has a small grey battered hatchback. Her assistants have small grey battered hatchbacks and so do her children. You may imagine that the staff car park at Ferrari is a riot of colour set to a soundtrack of wailing V8s. But no. It’s full of yet more grey battered hatchbacks.

This is because no one wants to look rich in Italy in case it arouses the suspicions of the tax authorities. But it gave me an idea . . .

At present, people who like driving and enjoy the feel of a well-engineered car often feel disinclined to buy something that suits their taste because it may appear they are showing off. How can you tell the real petrolhead from the man who’s bought a Ferrari simply because his carpet warehouse is doing well and he wants his mates at the lodge and the golf club to know it?

Only recently pictures appeared on the internet of a Bugatti Veyron onto which someone had spray-painted — how can I put this? — a gentleman sausage and its accompanying vegetables.

The suggestion is that a class warrior of some sort assumed the owner was a terrible show-off with a big watch and decided to teach him a lesson. Which may or may not be fair enough, depending on your politics.

But what if the owner had remortgaged his house and sold his children for medical experiments so that he could enjoy the thrill of a car that accelerates as though the world has stopped and we’ve all just been catapulted into space? Why should he be punished for that?

VW Polo

It seems to me that we need some new rules. You may have a nice car only if you can prove to a new authority that you are genuinely interested in it. If you cannot, you must have a VW Polo.

I intend to roll this out to cover watches as well. If you know how they work, you may have something half an inch thick with many dials. If you don’t, you must have a Casio.

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Top 100 Cars 2014: the fine print

Top 100 Cars is compiled by Andrew Frankel, Joseph Dunn, Dominic Tobin and James Mills. Prices are correct at the time of going to press; fuel-economy figures are for the combined urban and extra-urban cycle (source: Newspress); electric-car prices quoted include government grants where applicable.