Magazine article The Spectator

Changing Dilemma

Magazine article The Spectator

Changing Dilemma

Article excerpt


Mrs Ward, of Surrey, was well pleased with her new automatic Citroen CS V6 estate. Rightly, because it's a very good car. It had, as she puts it, all the whistles and bells and, most importantly - for a back sufferer - it was comfortable. Having a bad back, she favours automatics.

One day, forced to pause on the ramp in a multistorey car park, she did what most of us do when pausing in automatics: left the car in gear, with her foot on the brake. When she came to pull away, however transferring right foot from brake to throttle, trusting that the engine on tick-over would hold the car for the half second or so before she built up enough revs - `The car rolled quickly back, as if free-wheeling.' She just avoided hitting the vehicle behind.

She returned to the supplying dealership, who found all well and assured her that 'this is what they do'. It is also, she discovered, what automatic Renault Lagunas and Mitsubishi Galants 'do'.

The dealership was right, in that this is a feature, not a fault, of some modern gearboxes. More traditional automatics, whose ability to hold the car on hills is a virtuous but probably unintended consequence of their design, are less efficient and use more fuel. The dealership was wrong, however, in not explaining this feature before Mrs Ward bought her car. They were more seriously amiss in selling a car with a handbrake that was too stiff to use during brief stops, assuring her that there was `never, really, a need to use it'.

If Mrs Ward had driven her automatic with both feet, as some recommend, it might not have happened. But many of us dislike that: emergencies could tempt you to press both pedals; you're anyway more likely to press harder with the right foot and it could be dangerous to return to a manual gearbox. Also, Mrs Ward's back is such that she tries to avoid pressing hard with her left foot. She ended up trading in her CS at a loss of several thousand pounds and is now happily driving a Rover 75 Tourer, an excellent car with the more traditional automatic.

For the reverse of the good product/less good dealership story, I need look no further than my own Land-Rover Discovery. It was three years old when I bought it from Caffyns of Lewes, in Sussex. They extended the warranty for another year. Thank God. Within a month it needed a modification to stop the seat rattling and had stranded me on the M25 with a fault in the ACE (active cornering enhancement). …

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