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...
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