Courtesy Cars

I love my car. It’s now official.

In the space of a couple of months I’ve had two courtesy cars and was impressed with neither. Stepping back into my Accord this afternoon was just heaven.

It all started back in March when I needed a replacement clutch, but it couldn’t be completed within the day. I therefore ended up with a courtesy car of a Honda Civc saloon. Now I’d already driven the new, angular Civic hatch and was less than impressed. Rear visibilty was poor, the diesel engine felt leaden, and the dash was starting to date horribly already. The engine was a real sore point, given that the same unit shoves my Accord along very happily, despite weighing about quarter of a ton more.

So I got this Honda Civic, but it was the saloon Hybrid drive system. This means an automatic gearbox (actually CVT) coupled with an electric motor and a little petrol engine. Normal gentle town driving uses the electric motor, heavier stuff brings the fossil fuels online.

Driving it was just weird. The first oddity was the fact that the engine switches off if you’re sitting at a junction with your foot on the brake (no clutch remember). That’s odd if you’re not used to it. Especially as there’s a definite jolt runs through the transmission when the engine does fire back up.

The main beef was the CVT gearbox, whose only purpose appeared to be to disconnect the engine completely from the wheels. Plant your foot at 60 and the engine just whined loudly with no extra progress being made. Nudge it along gently in traffic and the addition of the electric motor made it feel like it was permanently stalling. There was a rev counter, but I’ve no idea what that was supposed to be there for.

The Honda Civic was at least well-made, though. My next foray into guest vehicles was the devastatingly cheap Chevrolet Matiz (originally the Daewoo).

This is engineering on a severe budget. The model I received was the “deluxe” 1.0 SE version. This produces 64 bhp and 67 lb ft of torque. Put it another way: that’s around half the power and a quarter of the torque of my normal motor. Inside there are little in the way of creature comforts. Air con, electric front windows, and electric passenger mirror are about the limit of things. You can’t adjust the steering wheel in any direction. The driver’s side wing mirror is adjusted with a wiggly stick thing. Seats are a fully-manual affair.

But I really do get that. It’s all down to money and weight. I paid a reasonable sum of money for my car and got some nice options. I wasn’t disappointed, however, to find that my Accord didn’t have the gadget-list of a £100k Mercedes S-Class. In the same vein, I shouldn’t be disappointed with the Matiz when I’m missing a couple of motors for the chronically lazy.

Same with weight. Lighter means easier to move with a smaller engine. Smaller engine means cheaper and more fuel efficient. But that’s not my problem with the car. It’s aimed at being cheap, basic transport. No-one who buys this car will be under any impression that it is anything else. For cheap transport you expect thin, low quality plastics and very few trimmings.

My main problem is that nothing inside makes sense positioning-wise. For example, I’m just over 6ft. and obviously the seat needed to be right the way back. To operate the handbrake, I needed to move my arm so far back that my elbow poked past the seat backs. Now if you’re a 5ft 4in granny who drives with her nose on the windscreen, then I have absolutely no idea how she is to reach back that far.

To make things easier to transition between left- and right-hand drive versions, the speedo, rev counter, and fuel guage are all in the centre console at the top of the dash. Fair enough. But how much more money would it have been to make two versions of the mounting plastic – one which points it to a LH drive and one which points to a RH drive? As a result, the Transit which is currently up your arse on the M3 can read your speed more clearly than the driver.

The heater and vent controls are again, very basic. But why put them effectively on the floor, when there’s plenty space higher up the dash? I was reaching downwards to turn the heater down. And you can’t see the air-con button either because of your knee.

Just above the pedals is a small shelf designed to store something. No idea what, because it’s too small to be practical and secondly you’re going to die anyway. To drive this thing, you need to hook your feet underneath this shelf to get to the pedals. Thankfully I didn’t need to stop quickly, because I might not have got my feet out of the way fast enough.

And why could they not have got a clutch which was adjusted correctly? Only the top 3/4” of pedal travel provided the bite – after that the clutch was simply “off”.