Guilty pleasures: Cars we love but perhaps shouldn't

Fiat Punto Evo - hero front

We’re not proud about being fans of these particular motors – our writers explain why

Sometimes a car isn’t great, or even particularly good, but you can’t help liking it. Time for the Autocar team to reveal their irrational objects of desire.

Kia Soul – James Attwood

There’s nothing irrational about liking the new Kia Soul EV. But before an all-electric makeover infused with Kia’s new-found sense of style, in its first two generations the Soul was an odd-looking, weirdly shaped compact crossover. It was pitched as ‘urban cool’ but mostly looked a bit odd. It wasn’t even all that spacious: while the boxy shape offered plenty of head room, it had limited leg room and a deceptively small boot. It didn’t ride very well, either. Despite that, it somehow worked. It was compact, with wheel-on-each-corner handling that was amusing if not dynamic. Perhaps that ‘funky’ styling worked: I wanted to like it and was prepared to look past its flaws. Happily, the new Soul doesn’t require such blinkered thinking: it’s become the great car I always knew it could be.

Rover Streetwise – Matt Prior

Embarrassing Dad is an enduring television trope. “What’s this? It’s got a good beat,” says Hugh Dennis, trying to still be down with the kids. In a motoring context, Embarrassing Dad would call a car ‘Streetwise’. The 2003 Streetwise, based on the likeable but dated Rover 25, was MG Rover squeezing the remaining juices from the lemons BMW left behind when it sold the company. And it was good to drive, retaining the inherent character of the 25, a fun, nimble hatchback. So spare a thought for the Streetwise. It’s got a good beat.

Ford S-Max 2.5T – Matt Saunders

There were some utterly daft family cars around when I first started out reviewing. A Ford S-Max with a warbling five-cylinder Focus ST hot-hatch engine sounded pretty daft even back in the mid-noughties, but I was totally sold on the idea before I’d got near one. That Volvo engine had the accessible torque to move a heavy car, after all – and the S-Max had a chassis that deserved the compliment. Today, you could pick one up for well under £5000 and ferry the kids around in it over distances that make 25mpg seem easy to swallow. And at that price, you wouldn’t think twice about getting the engine remapped, either. I’m told you can get close to 300bhp and more than 300lb ft from it without a major mechanical overhaul.]

Suzuki Jimny – Rachel Burgess

Objectively, the Jimny is quite terrible. If you were to consider key desirability factors of a modern-day car, the Jimny may be one of the worst cars currently on sale: loud, inefficient and let’s not get started on the steering. Yet the day my long-term Jimny departed, I was truly sorry to see it go.

Once you adjust, the Jimny is an utterly charming companion – perfect for driving around town (and, crucially, parking) and for bumbling around country roads. Its superb visibility and compactness won me over. I was happy every time I stepped into the car, although over time I learned to avoid motorways. (If you stick to 60mph in the slow lane on a still day, it’s doable but never enjoyable.)

But the Jimny excels off road. That’s the reason for its existence. Driving it in a quarry was the most fun I’ve had off-roading. For that reason alone, I sincerely hope Suzuki can justify producing the Jimny for a long time to come.

Aston Martin Rapide – Steve Cropley

Okay, it’s at the end of its life, but I still have a soft spot for the Rapide, because of the brilliance of its styling-versus-packaging. A car so low and voluptuous shouldn’t have viable rear room, yet I (not known for either compactness or agility) can fit into one of its rear bucket seats in reasonable comfort. Better still, the car looks great. To me, it’s more identifiable than some of Aston’s more recent creations. And it certainly drives well. Sure, it’s no Nürburgring record-breaker, but it’s fast, it’s comfortable and it has lots of road presence.

Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid – Kris Culmer

Yes, it’s the South Korean version of the Toyota Prius that in recent years has, largely thanks to private hire drivers, become just as ubiquitous as the original hybrid hatchback. It’s very comfortable to ride in, with an impressive deal of head and leg room for what is essentially a family car, but I enjoy driving it even more. I once spent a few weeks tooling around in an early Hybrid model and thoroughly enjoyed the initial burst of acceleration from its electric motor and its relaxed demeanour thereafter, especially in hellish central London. Oddly, though, my standout memory is of how comfortable I found the driving position.

Fiat Punto Evo – Mark Tisshaw

For much of its long, 13-year life, any mention of the last-generation Punto was met by the words: ‘Is that still on sale?’. And it’s remarkable that it was, given how frankly unremarkable it was even when new. Ford had three different class-leading Fiesta generations on sale in that time. Yet the Punto had one saving grace. In 2010, it was renamed the Punto Evo for its first facelift, which brought with it the 1.4-litre Multiair engine (a motor I’m fond of, as you can tell from my homage to the 124 Spider). Even 10 years on, I still remember just how brilliant that engine was. It had a fantastic wide spread of torque and loved being revved to the redline. It sounded good yet always felt smooth at the same time, and no matter how much of the 133bhp and 152lb ft you used, you’d still get more than 40mpg. The rest of the car was guff, mind – but my, that engine…

Volvo 360 – Richard Lane

When I was very young, the Lanes were a two-Volvo household. Wild times. Dad mostly drove a 240 GL estate, and I spent much of my time being carted about in the 360, which is about as uniconic as they come. But it’s the 360 that’s the more interesting car.

Consider the ingredients: only three doors, a radically sloping hatch and a rear-driven chassis complete with transaxle. All things considered, it actually was wild, and today you’d need to look at the Ferrari GTC4 Lusso T to find something, er, similar in concept. While Volvo is now shifting its reputation for stolid design values, that reputation was unjust anyway.

Audi A1 Citycarver – Felix Page

Some will see the A1 Citycarver as nothing more than a cynical marketing ploy – a blatant attempt on Audi’s part to tap into the public’s unquenchable thirst for SUVs and convince us that its supermini has off-road ability. It doesn’t, of course. Not really. But let’s look at this oddity for what it really is: a bit of fun, and how often does Ingolstadt offer that?

Save for the Ford Fiesta Active, you can’t really get this close to the sky without stepping up to a proper compact SUV. It’s hard to say how successful the Citycarver concept will be, but you don’t see many Volkswagen Polo Dunes around these days…

Vauxhall Combo Life – Lawrence Allan

Enthusiasts will find it easy to dismiss the Combo Life – and its fellow PSA van-with-windows siblings – as undesirable, unattractive boxes for people who have no interest in cars. They couldn’t be more wrong (although I’m not going to argue that these things are design classics). What they are is the thinking person’s family SUV. With more versatility than any jacked-up hatchback, a compact footprint and an affordable price, they’re perfect for kid carriers and lifestyle types alike. Plus, they’re easy to drive, thanks to huge mirrors, flat sides, deep windows and an innate sense that they’ve been designed to take whatever punishment you throw at them.


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Source: Autocar

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