Always Worth Saying’s Car Review, Part Three

After boring Puffins and Mr Thrifty’s car hire with my vehicle history and a sorry tale of having to rent a car for a Cheshire Set party (while mine was being repaired following an Act of God involving a trampoline), the latter took pity and presented me with this:

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
© Always Worth Saying 2024, Going Postal

Very nice, apart from the colour. The problems started when I tried to get it to move. You need the key to get in but not to start the engine. There is a start button but it’s hidden near the steering column and behind the steering wheel. Problem number two is getting into gear. Rather than a gear stick, there’s a stalk on the right-hand side of the steering column behind other stalks.

The stick goes both up and down and in and out. Pull it about randomly until it’s in drive. Impossible to tell from the stalk, look for the letter D in a box tucked down to the right on the flat-screen display that these days replaces dials and gauges. Once in gear, release the parking brake, which is also hidden near the steering column.

Having done that, with your foot on the foot brake, it’s time to remove the error messages from the digital display. There’s an ‘X’ in the top right of the messages box. Touching as if to close the window does nothing. Never mind. Drive home and look it up on YouTube. The actual driving about was ok but preparing the car to set off was a challenge. Or rather, irritating beyond belief. An Indian gentleman on YouTube explained how to get rid of the error messages, but my drop-down menus were different to his.

Eventually, I worked out that you press a button on the centre consul which brings up the automatic parking screen – complete with an overhead map of the car and the view from the rear parking camera. Press a button at the bottom left of this screen over and over until the error message disappears. Then find the button that clears the parking screen and set off.

What a fiddle!

How do you turn the radio on? Good point. The radio is not included under communications – that section brings up mobile phone clutter. I eventually realised you can scroll sideways on the centre display and here lies an option which displays the radio. How do you change station? No idea. How do you listen to it? Another excellent question.

The volume was all the way down. A volume slider on the steering wheel toggled between mute and one pre-set volume which was too low. Two days later, when it was too late, my daughter found a volume roller on the centre consul next to the automatic parking button. Oh, boy.

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
Err, the radio?
© Always Worth Saying 2024, Going Postal

When mentioning this, and much more, to Mr Thrifty upon returning the car he said I should have talked to it. Oh. ‘Mercedes: lose the error messages. Mercedes: do the radio thing.’ Apparently, even the most battered transit van for trade, recuperating in the corner of the lot, has voice recognition and a screen and camera replacing those anti-diluvian things old people like me call rearview mirrors. Speaking of which, the rearview mirror on my hire car was just gloom. No more than a dark splodge. ‘Tinted,’ preferred Mr Thrifty. Is there a button or a lever to lighten it? I’ll never know.

For the technically minded, I’d been doing 15 automotive rounds with a brand spanking new Mercedes Benz CLA 180. As the name doesn’t suggest, powered by a 1.3-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged engine producing 134 hp and 200 Nm of torque. The trying-to-sell-you-one department informs me,

‘The engine is mated to a 7G-DCT dual-clutch automatic. This combo pushes the stylish body from 0 to 60 mph in just 9 seconds and reaches a top speed of 135 mph. The dual-clutch gearbox reacts incredibly quickly and gets you to the most comfortable RPM in a matter of milliseconds. What this combo of low-end torque and ultra-fast gearbox translates to is an amazing sense of responsiveness that gives a far better feel than the numbers on the paper would suggest and delivers a thrill few non-performance 1.3L engines give. The shorter wheelbase allows for better handling and steering responsiveness when driving.’

Also on the hand that sits at the end of the arm opposite all the niggles, the wing mirrors contained a little warning triangle for overtaking. If you’re like me and overthink speeds and distances on the motorway and um and ah about overtaking, this is invaluable. When the triangle shows green it’s safe to make your manoeuver.

Likewise, the speed limit indicator on the dashboard was handy. More of a mixed blessing, there’s a tug on the steering wheel to keep you in lane. Annoying on the motorway’s long road works clogged narrow lanes as it tugs away on both sides at once. On the other hand, a useful warning of nearby traffic in narrow carriageways.

Aided by the roadworks which kept me at a steady 50 mph for long stretches, we only used two-thirds of a tank of petrol for a round trip of over 300 miles. And those 300 miles were effortless. At the party, they asked how long it had taken me to reach the Cheshire Lanes from the Debatable Lands. Bit more than an hour I replied without thinking. Of course, it hadn’t. On reflection, it took nearly three hours. But it felt like an hour and a bit because the car was so nice to drive and so easy to handle.

Another plus was the climate control. Just set it once when setting off and then forget about it. My damaged Polo has no such thing and on a long drive, especially on a sunny day, the dial and vents need to be fiddled with all the time to stay comfortable.

It’s also fun when throwing around those Cheshire Lanes – if you can see them. The headlights were another nightmare. With everything automatic, they automatically didn’t light up the road.

You can put them onto main beam by pushing the stalk away from the steering wheel with your knuckles while holding that side of the wheel with your thumb and the rest of your palm. But I don’t want to.

While trying to light up the countryside between the Premier Inn and the golf club, my mind wandered to simpler times. My first Mercedes was one of the instructable C180 C-Class tanks. Built in Bremen in the days when 180 really did mean a 1.8-litre engine, it was refreshingly short of equipment.

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
Off to the golf club.
© Always Worth Saying 2024, Going Postal

You even had to buy your own radio cassette to slot into a hole in the dashboard. Second hand, when they brought out a new jelly mould shape with double headlights overlapping into each other, I fancied one.

Since these things cost a fortune to deliver I thought I’d go to the factory to be shown around, treated like royalty, pick it up and drive it home while feeling as though they were paying me to do it. Usefully, Bremen is in the north of Germany, half-wayish between Dusseldorf and Hamburg.

In the British bit after the war, Puffins with Army bratt relatives may have enjoyed a day trip while staying in a spare room at the giant council estate that was Osnburck Garrison. An interesting part of the world, in the 1980s the QEII was also visitable during a 179-day-long refit at nearby Bremerhaven.

The bad news being my new one (because it was a right-hand drive?) was being built in a factory in East London. Not that East London, although one with a similar ethnic mix, the East London on the Indian Ocean coast of South Africa’s Eastern Cape province.

And it showed, knocked out at a price close to the £20,000 top line of competitor Jaguar X Type – itself penny-pinched by using then-owner Ford’s Mondeo chassis. Tugging at the old C-Class did nothing, picture that grainy Movietone newsreel of a Tiger tank driving through a house. Tugging at the new one made things wobble and even come off in your hand. On the other side of the argument, C180 now meant a 2-litre engine which made the car very nippy.

Fortunately, while I was looking at brochures and half-planning a trip to South Africa, Mrs AWS kept bashing out babies. Within 18 months we needed something bigger. Not keen on people carriers, the obvious choice was the E-Class estate with folding child seats in the estate section. It did over 100,000 miles in 15 years and the kids loved it.

Not painless motoring, there was nothing wrong with the engine but the steering, suspension and one of the onboard computers cost me money. The Airmatic suspension was excellent but when it began to fail, no matter how hard one tried to juggle the parts and labour, the repair wasn’t worth it.

Another car sat on a plinth begging me to buy it. A bad choice followed.

To be continued…

© Always Worth Saying 2024