30 December 2015

The conservative guide to buying a car


Now Christmas it is over it is time to reflect on the major decisions in life and for me that means replacing our family’s beloved VW Passat Estate. Nothing exposes the inconcistencies of conservatism to the elements so unforgivingly as buying a car. The Left side of the conservative brain would be happiest with a refurbished Aston Martin DB5, circa 1965, or a muddy Land Rover Defender; the Right wants to embrace new technology and the promise of driverless cars advocated by Ryan Hagemann on this site recently.

For we ordinary mortals, the closest you get to the nirvana promised by Google’s foray into transport is typing “which family car should I buy” into the search bar. We also want the following: real keys (not those electric things), spare tyres (not those glue-kits), hand brakes (not buttons), and, above all, SILENCE (not a car which gives you endless health and safety instructions in your own driveway). Sadly, these brilliant features have gone, disappearing into the mist like the Imperial Fleet at Scapa Flow.

After a two week search, here is my backwoodsman’s guide to car brands:

Land Rover. Nice sensible British name, but since it was bought by the Indian Tata family it has become somewhat overweight and flash. If Simon Cowell was a car he would be a Range Rover Vogue. One is also inherently suspicious of their automated “keyless entry system” which means many Land Rover owners now use those yellow steering locks I used to have for my third hand Metro when I was a student. Fine for the export market.

Volkswagen/Audi/Mercedes/Porsche/BMW. In 2015, these have gone from being safe and reliable to provoking an existential question. Can we trust the Germans after the VW emissions scandal? Is it right our biggest national trade deficit is with Germany, amounting to some £30bn last year, mostly made up of cars? Should the middle classes – me included – have spent the last 20 years driving around in German imports? How should I vote in the EU referendum?

True Tories now entertain an additional layer of contradiction by managing to be both emissions-sceptic and euro-sceptic at the same time. But whatever the rights and wrongs of the emissions scandal, it is obviously going to result in George Osborne imposing higher tax on diesel cars.

Bentley. A WAG mobile. Combines the flashness of new Land Rovers and being designated a German on the trust and emissions scale. They are also ludicrously expensive.

Skoda. Too dull.

Renault. Too French.

Jeep. Too big.

The best option then, is to go Asian. Many of these vehicles are built in Britain after the Lady herself lured over Honda and Nissan from Japan in the 1980s. I would go for a Nissan Qashqai, made in Sunderland, but my admittedly irascible fishing companion keeps shouting at his because of its electronic boot, which “has a mind of its own.”

The KIA Sorento has legendary reliability and amazing seven year warranties – the longest of any car on the market – but is only available in a 2.2litre diesel. So it is especially vulnerable to an Osborne assault.

After much angst I think we are going for a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, a plug-in hybrid which runs off both petrol and electric engines and apparently does 140 miles to the gallon, assuming I can persuade Wandsworth Council to let me install a home charging unit. It also generates lower tax liabilities than Starbucks. Hybridity, I tell myself, is not only the future but the perfect automotive euphemism for small ‘c’ conservatism, that jalopy of a philosophy which delights in apparently contradictory opinions, coexisting happily together.

George Trefgarne is founder of Boscobel & Partners, a communications firm.