Magazine article The Spectator

A Bit on the Side

Magazine article The Spectator

A Bit on the Side

Article excerpt

Prejudices and idiosyncrasies should not be discarded lightly. Indeed, the more irrational or unreasonable they are, the more they should be clung to; they add colour and vividness to our passing and may be what is most memorable about us. I once read of a mediaeval philosopher whose ideas, life, name are lost to me entirely but I do remember that, `though married, he liked to lie hard and alone'.

I used to assert that driving two-seater convertibles is cramped, uncomfortable, inconvenient, unenjoyable and overrated. I'd never owned one, of course, but it was a gratifying little prejudice, pleasing the puritan in me while somehow suggesting that my motoring mind was on higher things. The automotive equivalent, perhaps, of lying hard and alone.

The recent demise of this prejudice is due to the week-long loan of an MGF. I'd never taken much note of them, thinking the shape too stubby to be attractive, and disliking the raised rump that seems to be the fashion in two-seaters. MGBs were OK, perhaps, but the last really good-looking MG sports car was surely the MGA, the lines of which echoed those of the beautiful XK Jaguars.

In this latest MG, the raised rump is needed to house Rover's excellent 1.8i K series engine. The model I had was the more expensive and powerful (145 bhp) WC - variable valve control -- version, which has airbag, anti-lock brakes, electronic power steering, alarms, immobilisers, leather-edged seats, etc., etc. as standard.

Looks apart, I was wary of the finish. The embossed plastic emblem above the dash, the cheap cup-holders, the flimsy sun-visor extenders, the carpet-like cloth insets on the doors, the mix of interior colours all combined to make me think that in three years time this car could be pretty tacky. And what about the bits I couldn't see - how well made was that sophisticated steering and suspension system, what about servicing that seemingly inaccessible engine, how thick was the paintwork? My little prejudice was warming its hands to this new fire.

Then I drove it. To be pedantic, I first got in it and found a two-seater in which I could sit upright with the hood up. It even passed the flat-hat test. The seats - the leather of which smells exactly right, unlike that in the BMW, Lexus and Mercedes recently tested - were a blessing even to my hypersensitive back, despite there being no lumbar adjustment. There is also a thoughtfully placed rest for the clutch foot. The gearbox is precise and easy, though it sometimes took a little force to get reverse, and the power steering a well-weighted, positive pleasure. …

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