Tyresome

s-l300Following the Catastrophic Pothole Incident, I have been paranoid about the car and the tyres and the wheels and the suspension. The Touran vibrates at speed. I was especially aware of this on the continued motorway journey home, but wasn’t sure if the vibration was being caused by the roofbox and the high winds. You never know.

I don’t use the car much in the UK, but when I went out shopping in it, I was still convinced that it was vibrating, so I took it to the tyre place in MK to be checked out. Two of the alloy wheels, they told me, were borked, both beyond repair, one of them, “Like a 50p piece.”

“Yeah, he said it had been vibrating.”

“Well, it would.”

I happen to have a set of VW 16″ alloys that I took off the Polo, because driving a car with low profile tyres on these roads is a mug’s game. But they were just the wrong size. So.

I wanted a benchmark for replacements. Ebay has sets of 4 – used – for around £200, but caveat emptor and all that: I could be replacing damaged wheels with damaged wheels, and that’s if I found the right size. I phoned the local VW garage. Volkswagen’s price for replacement OEM rims? £480.

For a set of 4? you ask.

No.

For just two replacements, then? you ask.

No. That’s the price for each wheel. So to replace the two damaged wheels, the best part of £1000. VW do offer after-sales rims, starting at £130 each. Or steel wheels, starting at £80 — plus, they would want to gouge you for £40 for a branded wheel trim. Or hubcap, as we used to call them. You know, those things you see lying in the grass at the side of the road.

£40 for a set of four wheel trims? you ask.

No. That’s the price for each one. Making a steel wheel plus trim cost more or less the same as an alloy.

Anyway, I was just benchmarking. A quick internet search turned up a set of steel rims for £133, so that’s what I’m getting.

£133 for each wheel? you ask.

No. That’s for a set of four.

I’ve never understood the fetish for alloy rims. You can’t see them when you’re sitting in the car. Sure, they’re probably not as precisely engineered as alloys, but I don’t think it’s really much of an issue. But it’s the last days of the Roman empire, isn’t it? They continue to sell pups and we continue to buy. Have you seen the state of Teslas? They look like they’ve been bolted together by blindfolded chimps wearing mittens. Their stark interiors look as inviting as a building site portaloo, and the giant touch displays look like someone threw a cheap television at a Model T’s dashboard. As for the leather seats: have you heard about the DFS Sale?

Volkswagen’s price gouging is no worse than any other manufacturer, I suppose, though I’m still bitter about the extortionate amount they want for replacing the old 30-pin iPhone adapter with the Lightning equivalent. I read last week that BMW are trying to charge people £80 a year for Apple Carplay, which Apple supply to manufacturers free of any fees, so good luck with that. And in the days of Google Maps, the fact that built-in sat nav can cost up to £2000 is a joke. The latest hilarity is the premium they charge for fitting a £5 Qi charging mat to a modern vehicle.

So, the increasingly shitting looking Touran will look a tiny bit shittier, and my unalloyed disdain for motor manufacturers endures.

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Volkswagen, you’ve changed

File photo dated 07/01/09 of new VW cars waiting on the docks near Sheerness in Kent, as a transport lobby group suggested that millions of cars on UK roads could be recalled as a probe into rigged emissions tests on Volkswagen models in the US threatened to reach Europe. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Tuesday September 22, 2015. The German car maker apologised after America's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found the company had cheated clean-air rules before ordering it to recall nearly half a million diesel models built in the last seven years. See PA story TRANSPORT Volkswagen. Photo credit should read: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

I’ve been meaning to post something about the VW situation. The only thing worse for me, as a fully paid up brand fanboi, would be for Apple to suddenly start to dominate their industry… oh.

My affection for the VW brand has always been based on its boringness, that dull reputation for reliability. I always liked the way its engines worked their best at lowish revs, the unflashy design, the plain but functional controls. I liked the slow evolution of both the Beetle and the Golf, the kind of incremental evolution that Apple makes with its phones and laptops. I liked the way the Golf was a genuine everycar, looking as good parked on a gravel drive in the country as it does on the street outside a city terrace.

My wife has owned other brands (a Ford, a couple of Fiats), but I’ve driven nothing but Volkswagens for over 30 years. In order:

  • Beetle 1200
  • Beetle 1303
  • Polo Saloon
  • Golf 2
  • Polo Saloon
  • Bora
  • Passat Estate
  • Golf 5
  • Polo

In addition, my wife has had a Polo, a Lupo and now a Touran. That makes 12.

So, this diesel business. I always knew the diesel engine never had the foothold in the US market that it has in Europe. The Americans, it’s fair to say, do not present a united front when it comes to CO2 emissions, but some states have had stringent air quality standards for years: California in particular. And yet…

Somehow voodoo marketing and sleight of hand have meant that concerns about particulates and nitrogen oxides sank into the background while society focused on CO2 emissions and methane. But the evidence of our own eyes should have warned us something was up: that perpetual haze, the rarity of clear days. You can see the Alps from the bottom of our garden in France on a clear day. The last time I saw them clearly was about two years ago.

So they’ve been lying to us, and maybe some other manufacturers have too, but we’re also culpable because we decided diesels were okay, and that concerns about particulates etc. were unimportant. And we end up with London as one of the most polluted cities on earth: which shouldn’t be happening, should it, this far into the 21st century, with us all driving greener and more economical cars than those that they used to make in the 70s?

How do I feel about VW now? My main feeling is that it’s diesel that should be over, and that my next car (of whatever brand) should have a petrol engine (I’d buy a Tesla in a heartbeat if I had the money). I’m pretty sure that VW are going to be punished enough for this scandal, and that anything I say or do will be meaningless. Am I pissed off with them about this? Yeah, like the fox is pissed off with the scorpion I am. But my feelings about the company have changed because of something else.

If there was a difference between the VW brand and its Audi subsidiary it’s that with Audi you not only pay a premium for the prestige but also for absolutely everything over and above the car and its engine. Things that are standard across other ranges cost extra on an Audi. One of the directors of my old company had an A4 a few years ago: nice looking car. But in the back seat: manual window winders and a bench seat that was about as hard as a park bench.

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 19.28.07I was on the VW web site the other day, and I noticed that, when configuring a Golf, only one colour doesn’t cost you extra. Whereas you used to be able to spec a red or white (sometimes black) car without penalty, your only choice now is urano grey. Urano. Even the name seems calculated to give offence. And it’s a disgusting colour, too. The current fashion for white cars (driven, in large part, by Volkswagen themselves who made both Scirocco and Golf look good in white) has given them an opportunity to gouge their prices.

So regardless of the diesel emissions scandal, I’m pissed off with VW for this practice. So fuck ’em.

Polo: the most uncomfortable car

I was interested to note, in one of the Telegraph’s frequent “Top 20” galleries, that the Mark 4 VW Polo is among the 20 worst cars on the road, according to the Auto Express Driver Power Survey.

Yesterday, I spent the day with one of the latest Polo models (not the Mark 4, the 5). If you know me you know that I love Volkswagens (especially their dullness, before you chip in), because both our other Volkswagens were in for a simultaneous service.

The loan Polo was a petrol-engined model with a manual gearbox. Petrol engines are traditionally smoother and quieter than diesels, with more low-end pulling power. This one wasn’t, because it was the 3-cylinder engine that VW stick in at the bottom end of their range. It sounded as rough as a diesel, without the turbo powered advantage. You have to stir around in the gears a lot to keep it moving, which brings us to the second problem.

Both our cars are DSG-gearboxed automatics. I love this gearbox – it’s generally smooth and seamless, efficient, and economical (I regularly get 60 mpg in my Golf). I’ve also had hip pain for over 20 years, so not having to depress a clutch is great for me.

Unused as I am to changing gears manually, I did find the Polo painful on my hip. Worse than this, though, there was actually no room for my left leg to change gears easily. The steering wheel, set as high as it would go, got in the way of my knee, as did the cavernous centre console (cavernous only so you can have two giant drinks in it). It was impossible to find a good position for the seat – so that, for example, your arms were comfortably relaxed and your face not too close to the airbag, but you could also change gears and reach the pedals with your feet.

The ergonomics were terrible.

As for the centre console with its cavernous capacity to drinking cups, I would assert that nobody driving a little 1.2 polo really has much of a need for a 2-litre diet or regular coke. I’m sceptical about the obsession everybody seems to have with having a drink close to hand at all times. Even on long journeys, you can stop every couple of hours and have a drink. Nobody’s going to die, nor even dehydrate.

All in all, screaming, unrefined, agony.