Well, here's what I thought of what I've test driven recently, in ABC order. I need a new car. I've actually been driving my housemate's autocross-spec Porsche 914 around lately, and it's tuned so high that I don't blip the throttle at lights to show off, I do it to keep the car running. Audi A4: (Driven: 1.8T, 3.0CVT)
-Classy, understated styling inside and out. -Nice engines, but not spectacular. -Softer edge than BMW 3er, but not as numb as the Merc C. -Manual nice with a hint of Teutonic notchiness, CVT a bit slushy but the wave of the future. -Interior materials feel luxurious and solid, except for -Asinine red digital climate control readouts -Decent but unexceptional stereo. Verdict: if they ditched the idiotic climate controls and put in simple knobs, I'd have taken this one home. BMW 3er: (Driven: 330i in US, 330td in Europe)
-drives wonderfully, with outstandingly sharp handling and braking, even though the best non-M model (the 3.0L turbodiesel 330td that has like 220hp and 400 lb-ft of torque while delivering 40mpg) is not available in the USA. -will look like crap in five years because the interior materials quality is Prada-grade at best. -Mediocre stereo Verdict: THE young wealthy twitmobile, built to be replaced every three years and to make young not-as-wealthy twits who drive older ones look cheap. Infiniti G35 (Driven: G35)
-Pretty, especially like the headlights. -NICE kick from the V6 at 3500rpm. -Interior a step up from the BM or Merc, but not exactly in Audi territory. -Suspension almost as nice as BMW's. -Steering wheel radio and cruise controls very nice, with soft switches but very positive action. -Is the centre console ceramic? It feels cooler to the touch than plastic. -Slushbox only. -Not my idea of good sounds from the stereo. -Cheap n' nasty stalks for turn signals and wiper. Verdict: Awesome car let down by stereo, some controls, and lack of a proper transmission. Infiniti Q45, used (Driven: 1997 Q45t, 1997 Q45, 1999 Q45)
-Very high quality materials in and out. -The wiper stalk brilliant, with a creamy ball-bearinged smoothness to the speed control that reminds me of 1980s-era S-Class Mercs. -Climate control readout digital but at least controlled by a knob instead of by pushbuttons. -V8 pulls even more smoothly than a classic Jaguar XK inline six or HE V12, phenomenal. -None of the four I drived had a service record showing anything but routine maintence, and they all had complete records. Verdict: Imagine a Lincoln or Caddy made with outstanding materials and workmanship, and you've got a Q45. I'll get one when I turn 50. "Jaguar" X-Type (Driven: 3.0)
-Acres of Plastikwood forests cut down for these dashes. -Ugly, with way too much front overhang. -Cheap, nasty tacky plastic all inside. -Floaty, wafty ride nothing like a real Jaguar. -Needs a proper Jaguar engine, not a Ford Duratec. -Could not drive out of the dealer's lot onto the road because I was too disgusted by the interior and the ride. Verdict: Too bad the Ford Mondeo 4x4, with which the X-Type shares engines, drivelines, and suspensions, is unavailable in the US. It's a much prettier car, and hopefully drives less like a Lincoln, too. Mercedes C-Class
-Three pointed star residuals -I love the keyless entry: open the "switchblade" key and the doors unlock. -Numb handling -No manual transmission -Interior materials and design bested by any VW, let alone Audi or Volvo. -Wretched stereo. -Ugly headlights Verdict: The only things this car has going for it are the badge and the well-conceived keyless entry remote/key. Volvo S60 (Driven 2002 T5, 2003 2.4T)
-Beautiful styling that doesn't look bad from any angle. -Very nicely crafted interior. -2.4T not as taut as the BM, Merc, or Audi, T5 a little harsher but wonderful control for a front-driver. -Nice pull from both turbo 5s, but a little bit of lag. -Intelligent controls, including a BRILLIANT CLIMATE CONTROL SYSTEM THAT USES SIMPLE KNOBS WITH SILKSCREENED INDICATORS.
-I can actually fit in back. -Amazing stereo. Verdict: Every car company in the world should be forced to copy Volvo's brilliant and inspring climate controls. Oh, and the rest of the car is pretty much the top of its class, too.
Here are the controls that should be copied: Volvo S80, used (Driven: 1999 T6)
-Horrid residuals make a really nice car really cheap. -Much bigger than the others, except the Q45. -Not as smooth looking outside as the S60, but even better interior. -Butter-soft leather that feels wonderful but probably needs to be fed Lexol or Connolly Hide Food weekly to keep up its wonderfulness. -Why don't more companies make twin turbo straight sixes? This engine is glorious. -Seats as comfortable as my Eames chaise lounge. -Wiper and turn-signal stalks a close second to the Q45 -Same brilliant climate controls as the S60 -One of the best stereos I've ever heard, and 4-disc in dash changer too. -Wider turning circle than it should have. Verdict: I bought one, but sadly it was totalled within half an hour by an idiot in a "sport" "utility" vehicle who went across 4+ lanes of road to take me out.
Draw your own conclusions. As you can tell, details don't just matter to me in clothes.
Peace, JG PS: I've all but decided to buy my fiance a car for Valentine's Day. She's driving a 1993 Opel Corsa that's crude and unsafe. But her parents drive Opels, so an Audi or Volvo would be seen as extravagant. I'm 99% that this is what I'm going to get her. Citroen C3 Pluriel saloon/spider/pickup
The only other one I'd consider is the Peugeot 307 Coupe Cabriolet