Always Worth Saying’s Car Review, Part Four

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
Mercedes CLA.
© Always Worth Saying 2024, Going Postal

Throwing an irritating but irresistible Mercedes CLA around the lanes en route to a Cheshire set party at one of the better Northwich-Knutsford-Sandbach triangle golf clubs, allows a gentleman to reminisce upon his car history. My old E-Class estate automatic with folding child seats in the estate part did a job of work but didn’t last forever. Towards the end, the school run took me past a dealership displaying a cheap SEAT Ibiza on a plinth beside the main road. But first, as this was happening during post-credit crunch austerity, a trip to the cheapest place in town.

The Dacia I had my eye on was an export model for Algeria which arrives in a crate after which you put it together yourself with your bare hands. Why not? My father built his motorbikes from tea chests dispatched from Franco’s Spain after his money order had been cashed in a Barcelona post office. Let alone not getting a radio, the Dacia didn’t have paint. Dawb it yourself or, as an Algerian might, live in a rust-averse desert. On the other hand, don’t be silly and buy a proper car.

Upon inquiring about the SEAT, I was told it had been pre-registered to hit a sales target after which nobody wanted it. Too expensive for the second-hand market and not exactly what anyone wanted for a ‘brand spanker’ customer, it sat in the rain to be further discounted once a week until someone might bite.

I bit.

The test drive wasn’t great. A manual, I struggled to drive it. But think of the money saved and bear in mind the advice of the salesman, ‘After a couple of weeks you’ll have got the hang of it.’ When I went to collect, horror of horrors, the plinth was empty and the car was in the showroom.

‘We’ve cleaned it for you, and don’t want it dirty again,’ explained the too-considerate salesman.

‘Drive it outside for me, please.’

‘I can’t, I have to operate the door.’


A tiny door revealing a narrow gap to put your new purchase through after you’ve navigated a minuscule space between expensive brand-new motors who whisper ‘scratch me, scratch me’ as you bounce past while melting the clutch.

‘Thanks a lot.’

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
The unloved (by me) SEAT Ibiza.
2017 SEAT Ibiza SE MPi 1.0,
Licence CC BY-SA 4.0

Which reminds me of another clutch-wreck story. I had to rescue a relative’s Citroen from a supermarket car park after he’d been taken ill. The clutch suffered. Reversing out of a bay was hard enough with people about but then busy roads and a steep hill led to a cul de sac full of kids, dogs and badly parked cars. By this time smoke was coming out of the bonnet. ‘What’s that smell,’ asked his wife, fortuitously a non-driver, as I handed over the keys. The biscuit factory. Jammy Dodgers every third Sunday afternoon in spring. Got away with it.

Back in the Ibiza, after bunny hopping past half a million pounds worth of new metal to reach the main road, I couldn’t face the busy by-pass roundabout with its obligation to my first hill start in 25 years. I set off into the countryside and struggled anyway.

The struggle continued. With fewer children at home but still a five-seat car full, the school run became a nightmare. I decided I must be too old and would give up driving, but during the pandemic I needed to rescue young people from universities. Unable to face a seven-hour round trip to Hull in the SEAT, I hired a reasonably priced executive vehicle from Mr Thrifty. Partway through the run, in a new BMW 3-series, I realised I could still drive and enjoyed driving but I’d bought the wrong car.

The BMW being too big, next time I took a Golf GTI. Too expensive and sporty, Mr Thrifty suggested a Polo, much the same car as the SEAT but with an automatic option far more popular than the Ibiza automatic and therefore likely available on the second-hand market.

About the SEAT. Just because I hated it doesn’t mean you have to or that there was anything wrong with it. As above, it might be the right car for you and every other consumer except me. The passengers loved it. But an interior of hard grey featureless plastics and difficulty changing the gears wore me down. As things worked out, by the end of the final pandemic lockdown I had tried for fifteen months – more than long enough to conclude something isn’t working and it’s time to move on.

I spent the last part of the pandemic looking at Polo’s online and when the last lockdown lifted, raced to the VW dealership and shouted I must have that one! Not the best bargaining position but the price was reasonable, not least because one or two things were wrong with it. Although two years old and still in warranty, due to continuing COVID restrictions long delays occurred between repairs.

Eventually, all was fixed and for a spell (on paper at least) was worth a fair bit more than I paid for it. For starters, it was class 1 insurance (the CLA is 23 out of 34), another money saver but in part a reminder no one wants to steal one.

The SEAT did have built-in SatNav, which I liked, whereas with the Polo you use the Apple (or Android) Car app on your phone which takes over the Polo’s digital display.

The CLA had built-in SatNav which was useful when returning home the day after the party. Sunday road closures meant a detour away from the motorway and through Knutsford. At which point, despite driving a brand new £35,000 car, I felt like a pauper. The good people of Knutsford must dread ‘levelling up’, when their lifestyles will be reduced to that of Knightsbridge oil sheikhs and oligarchs. The CLA also had lots of USB ports, but they were all of the Apple Thunderbolt type (USB C). The little adaptors are only a couple of pounds but it’s one more irritating, fiddly thing about the Benz.

More annoyance; daft advice – as you turn it off, a message appears saying don’t lock people or animals inside. When you finally find out how to switch the radio on, another message tells you not to be distracted by fiddling with the radio.

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
Beautiful rear end concealing irritating parking aids.
© Always Worth Saying 2024, Going Postal

The rear parking camera twists the view out of shape to a wide angle covered in confusing red and yellow boxes and lines. Don’t tell Mr Thrifty, but you can still hit something while within the yellow. Before we set off, Mr Thrifty gave me a quick seminar on the alloys. Don’t think about scratching them, and if you do, don’t suppose it’s a cheap repair to have the damage ground out. It’s not. Remaining with the alloys, one supposes the silly amount of cabin noise on rough surfaces is because of the wafer-thin tyres wrapped around them.

When I mentioned all these niggles upon returning the car, Mr Thrifty was crestfallen and apologetic. After I likened the car to an irritating spouse, he responded (rightly), ‘But it goes like the clappers.’ Perhaps, remaining within the metaphor, a reference to a gifted Mrs Thrifty.

Don’t apologise, I replied, as with the irritating spouse, I love it. Nippy. Effortless motorway miles. Handles beautifully. Overtaking and cornering a joy. Nice to look at. ‘In fact, I’m going over the road to the Mercedes franchise now this second on the off chance they’re half price, or better still – being given away.’

Which brings us to the prices. Second-hand models with the digital display (i.e. after 2020) from my local Mercedes dealership started at about £25,000. New ones start at £35,000. Would I have one given? Oh, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yesssssss. Would I buy one? Maybe. I am tempted. I’m not getting any younger. The next car I buy may well be my last, and will be if I keep it for the 15 years my old E-Class lasted. Why not waste my money in the company of a beautiful, irritating, plastic, rubber and metal spouse?

© Always Worth Saying 2024