Magazine article The Spectator

Big Beauty

Magazine article The Spectator

Big Beauty

Article excerpt

My cousin's company car is a fourlitre Jaguar Sovereign. He needs something comfortable because his business mileage is 30,000-50,000 miles a year. From 2002, however, Gordon Brown will tax him to the tune of L7,200 a year out of already taxed income for the privilege of driving his mobile office. Unsurprisingly, he ain't gonna do it. He'll still need a company car but he'll get something under two litres, which carries a lower CO2 and price-related tax burden, and put up with the increased noise, vibration, pressure, back pain etc.

This puts me in a difficult position. On the one hand, there are my natural cousinly sympathies, my liking for big cars and disapproval of any increase in taxation; on the other, there is awareness of how the large British company car sector has for years worked against the interests of the private buyer, both in quality and price, and also a smidgen of mean-spirited gloating because I've never been able to get my own sticky hands on one.

All this was much on my mind during the contented week I spent with the new L49,075 Mercedes S320 saloon, the successor S Class to the big slab-sided model associated with Eighties and Nineties fat cats (The Spectator, 7 June 1997). In fact, that earlier model always reminded me not so much of fat cats - who anyway tend to be rather trim these days - as of an elegant designer tank, minus tracks, turret and gun. That was not, to my eye, a drawback, but Mercedes evidently thought otherwise because they've made the new one smaller, smoother, rounder and more discreet. They reckon they've done this without compromising interior space and comfort, narrowing but lengthening the cabin. There is also a galaxy of technical improvements, ranging from increases in engine power and economy (it averaged a surprising 27 mpg during our week together), through electronically enhanced cornering and ride control to a device that permits you to enter, start, drive, stop, lock, alarm and leave the car without using a key.

There is a key, though it doesn't look much like one, and there is a hole into which you can put it if you can't kick the habit. But attached to it is a small chipboard which, carried in your hand, pocket or handbag, enables you to open the car merely by touching the door handle with any part of yourself and to start it by pressing down on the gear-shift (with your foot on the brake). It's the sort of unnecessary convenience that, as with tea bags and sliced bread, I begin by despising and end up using. …

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