As previously reported on PetrolBlog, Rob Griggs-Taylor's love affair with a Nissan Primera didn't last long and he was soon on the hunt for something to reignite the flames of automotive desire. But rather than opting for something from Mills & Boon, he instead turned to Laurin & Klement. Read his story here....
Some things enter your life in a disruptive way. Things like children, who turn every single facet of your life to face in a different direction, pausing only to tweak your bank balance into an unremitting sea of red numbers. Or Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs who allocate you a National Insurance Number once you reach adulthood and then, just when you're relishing the documented proof of your new status, use that number to start hauling money from your salary each time you get paid.
Other things slot in as if there was a gap in your life exactly their size and shape, redressing the balance.
If you've been following recent reports on my Nissan Primera you may have noticed a passing reference to the fuel consumption not being particularly great. I thought a mid-sized petrol car wouldn't be too bad, but the Nissan drank unleaded at the surprising rate of 34 miles to each gallon. That was the average over 4,447 miles, much of which was motorway mileage at around 65mph. After working out that my new job, fifty miles from home, was costing us nearly £500 each month in fuel when combined with normal weekend running around, I started to look at the options. My Kawasaki 750 averages 40mpg so that was a cheaper option, but you'll have been aware of how un-summery the weather has been this 'summer' so I didn't fancy using that every day. And its small tank means you have to fill it every day which is a good way to get to know your local petrol station attendants. Mrs G-T didn't want to swap cars despite her Puma returning nearly 2mpg more than the Primera. I can't understand why not.
A chat with Mrs G-T ensued and the hunt was on for a diesel car. There are many articles at the moment questioning the premise that a diesel vehicle is cheaper to run than the comparative petrol one, but trust me - when you're looking at cars in the sub-£2,000 bracket to do a mileage in excess of 20k each year, diesel is almost always going to win that particular argument. Why two grand? Simple - I don't like taking out loans and will only use cash we can actually spare at the time.
So I need a car that's big enough to seat five people in reasonable comfort, with a boot big enough for the detritus that is a legal requirement of having a family, and something that I'd enjoy driving. Scribbling figures on the back of a handy laptop suggested that lifting the 34mpg average to 44mpg would save us about one hundred quid each month so the agreement was that I could spend the money from the sale of the Primera plus £500 from our savings on a suitable diesel which would, in effect, pay for the difference in six months.
To the search. What to look for?
I did the normal PetrolBlog thing of starting at the extreme end and eventually deciding that common sense and logic should perhaps play some sort of role in the process. The 525d and 530d BMW models were rejected on the grounds that ones I could afford were old and not very economical. I stumbled over a few 330d BMWs in my favourite E46 saloon shape, but they were all automatic, had mileages that clearly involved inter-planetary travel, and they weren't economical either. They were FAST though!
At this point, a friend told me that his dad was selling a 2003 VW Passat TDi estate for £1,350. This failed my criteria by being boring to drive. And being an ex-taxi. And having 328,000 miles on the clock. To be fair it had obviously been cared for, the service record showing that it had had oil changes about every eight weeks. But it was still dull, and had a lot of holes where taxi equipment had been fitted and subsequently removed.
I briefly considered a Mercedes C-Class but dropped that idea in a way that suggested the Cadbury's Dairy Milk one was about to insert into one's mouth turned out to be made of a somewhat different brown material, after finding out the potential faults due to Mercedes' woeful quality control in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The Renault Laguna dCi was comprehensively ignored after brief searches on internet forums revealed a variety of reliability issues that I still struggle to comprehend feasible. The badge appears to be the only part that doesn't prove problematic, possibly because at some point it seems likely to have fallen off.
I went back and forth on Volvo's S60 D5. It's a very good car, with the most comfortable seats of anything I test drove, but conversations on twitter with owners suggested the fuel consumption wasn't brilliant. The opportunity to drive one for sale near home was taken up and I loved the sound of the unusual 5-cylinder diesel. However there were problems up front at motorway speeds, which could have been simply wheel balance or the mismatched tyres. At this price level, you don't make optimistic judgements though; it could just as easily be something significantly more serious and/or expensive so I reluctantly walked away. Plenty more cars on the web, to spoil a well-known proverb.
It is slightly depressing trying to buy a desirable car when one of the key requirements is economy, and you don't want something like a small base model hatchback. That's a depressing idea in a whole different way, but owning the Primera was a suitable reminder that a dull car is, well, dull. Back to the drawing board.
After much thought I eventually wrote a list of what I both needed and wanted. Official economy figure of at least 40mpg in the urban cycle because that cycle appears to be pretty much what I get in ordinary driving. Cruise control is an absolute must in these days of average speed cameras. A hatchback is versatile, and four passenger doors so that ingress and egress is suitably convenient for all passengers. And heated seats for winter would be nice. Speaking of winter, front-wheel-drive is a nice option when you have to balance economy with the ability to travel in all weather conditions.
Saab's 9-3 thus fell to mind as it met most of these requirements, but as the esteemed editor already has a much loved 9000 I thought it would be a tad difficult for us to write sufficiently differing running reports. Such are the problems of the writer, knowing that your boss is able to steal all your good similes and publish his story first*. My local garage also told me that spares were already proving problematic due to the drawn-out death throes of the Swedish manufacturer.
After more thought and research I ended up with a short list of three available models.
The first was the Ford Mondeo TDCi, which is a genuinely brilliant car. I've already owned one and my general car-buying style is to try not to repeat myself. Nonetheless, it's a sensible choice, and if I could find a Ghia X model I'd even end up with the heated seats. I managed to find two for sale within one hundred miles of home. One, the nearest one, was already sold when I rang, and the other was being sold by a dealer who offered me less for the Primera than the laughable amount that webuyanycar.com proffered.
So I moved on to the second choice. This was much nearer home but I was hesitant. I didn't think it would be much fun to drive, but you couldn't argue with the economy and it had the cruise and heated seats. It was more an estate than a hatch though, and Mrs G-T wasn't a fan, but the potential economy won through so I rang the seller. It was sold. Scribble out the Volvo V40 SE from the short list, admittedly with some relief.
This left me with one remaining car to look at, not a great position when you need something fairly urgently. I had never considered buying a Skoda, although I had my worst ever car crash in a Felicia so I knew that they were much better built than in the days of the Estelle. An Octavia came up in the search results of a well-known Internet site when I blithely selected all the desirable options I could, so I travelled to Birmingham to take a look.
When buying cheap cars it can be small things that make the difference between buying and walking away. With the Octavia I decided to buy it on the spot because all four tyres were the same high quality brand. On a ten year old car with over 130k on the clock this suggests the previous owner cared. In addition the selling dealer was happy to accompany me on a 45 minute test drive and went out of his way to get me to a motorway so I could check all was well at higher speeds. Obviously I checked a whole lot more than tyres and drive, and it seemed like it was in decent shape so I did a bit of haggling with the dealer, opted not to trade in the Nissan and paid cash.
It's a thirty-foot car; it looks great from about that distance but dings and scratches become more and more apparent the closer you get. On the plus side, it has all my desired facilities, and adds leather upholstery, an electric sunroof and a towbar. It even has a stamped service book with only one missing service. As my friend's dad's Passat has comfortably passed 300k miles on what is essentially the same engine I wasn't too concerned about the mileage.
So now I'm the slightly bemused owner of a Skoda Octavia 1.9TDi Laurin & Klement. Mrs G-T isn't overly impressed so far, but thats largely because although the exterior was shiny and clean, the gold and Caramac coloured interior bears interesting shades and smells resulting presumably from the previous owner being an engineering company. I may lash out on an interior valet to see if that improves matters. The Primera is for sale at my friend's garage (thanks Lee!) and once it sells we'll see if this gamble comes good, or whether I have to renegotiate terms with Mrs G-T! I've also transferred on my personal registration plate to disguise the age a little.
On my first day at work with it, a colleague asked if it was the 16-valve model. As I mentally composed my retort, he answered his own question with the words, "you know - four in the engine, twelve in the radio." Leaving aside his stunning lack of knowledge of the principles of combustion and electronics**, it seems clear that Skoda still have a little work to do on their image. Let's see if PetroBlog can help in that mission.
*yeah, right. The day I come up with a better simile than Gav will be like the day when... ummm.... something amazing... errr... happens. Could you pass the thesaurus? Or tell me another word for 'happens'?
** I chose not to volunteer that my car is equipped with a cassette player at this juncture.
You can follow Rob on twitter @robgt2.