THERE’S GOLD IN THEM THAR HILLS

Find­ing a car that’s packed with pluses is a sim­ple task. Dis­cov­er­ing a dire set of wheels is a dif­fer­ent ket­tle of fish...

Car (South Africa) - - COLUMN -

N our line of work, be­ing posed with car rec­om­men­da­tions is pretty much par for the course and is met with a va­ri­ety of re­sponses. I’ve had my opin­ion re­ceived both grate­fully and with a com­bi­na­tion of keen nods and fur­rowed brows, only to be quashed by what one of the blokes down at the golf club had to say. And that’s fine. But it’s al­ways the same story. “What’s the best car for R250 000?” (Hon­estly, this is the most quoted fig­ure I’ve en­coun­tered bud­get­wise – I must be in the wrong line of work.) What’s the fastest? What’s the most ex­pen­sive?” All su­perla­tives.

I wait with bated breath for the day I get asked a more cere­bral ques­tion along the lines of, “What’s the most toe­curlingly hor­ri­fy­ing car you’ve had the mis­for­tune of spend­ing the evening with?” Why? Be­cause it’s a prop­erly chal­leng­ing one. Truth be told, these days you have to look very hard to find a gen­uinely rub­bish car. Yes, some of the Chi­nese cars that ply our roads smell odd, feel brit­tle and drive as though their pow­er­plants were sourced from Moulinex. But they’re easy meat in a mar­ket that’s chock­full of cars with virtues rang­ing from ac­cept­able to ac­claimed. Sim­i­larly, it’s a mat­ter of opin­ion. And, even worse, my opin­ion.

The Mahin­dra Thar that we tested in last month’s is­sue is a prime ex­am­ple. Most mem­bers of the team emerged from the Jeep clone with rib­ald oaths about er­gonomics that

Isee the speedome­ter ob­scured by the steer­ing wheel and a shoul­der belt so oddly sited that it’s more com­fort­able to wear un­der­arm. They sucked on thumb­nails bruised by a gear knob po­si­tioned to bear­trap said digit be­tween it and the hand­brake when se­lect­ing re­verse, and gin­gerly pat­ted shins snagged on an in­tru­sive steel ridge that you had to step over to get out of the thing. All of this was of­ten done in a loud voice, deaf­ened by the pro­to­type hard­top that rat­tled like a tin roof in a hur­ri­cane. Its ef­fect on those who drove it was so pro­found that I sim­ply had to try it.

And boy did it de­liver. As I wres­tled this prim­i­tive ve­hi­cle along a twist­ing coun­try road at night – at speeds that were hardly face­dis­tort­ing, I might add – mar­vel­ling at the wor­ri­some de­gree of play in the steer­ing while squint­ing through the wind­screen to dis­cern sur­round­ings dimly il­lu­mi­nated by head­lamps about as ef­fec­tive as a kerosene lamp in a sand­storm, my feel­ings on the Thar were mir­ror­ing those of my peers.

The same knocks, scrapes, dis­com­forts and aroma of plas­tic fumes in the cabin that made me ir­ri­ta­ble enough to have a fight with my girl­friend were all present and cor­rect. Although I’m not the ma­cho out­doors type – hell, the great­est con­tri­bu­tion I could make in a sur­vival sit­u­a­tion is if you ate me (and even then I might not taste that great) – I’d still feel jus­ti­fied in claim­ing that. even in the hairy

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