Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A note on cars and driving in Great Britain

As many of you know, I'm a bit of a car nut, so I thought I'd sure my thoughts on the cars here, the different cars that I've seen, and initial thoughts on driving.

There are so many cars available here that are not likely to be on sale in the US any time soon. There are entire niches and classes that do not even exist in the United States that are here. It's nuts! Obviously, there are a ton of small cars that are not in the US, but I am a bit surprised I've not seen a bunch of smarts. We've seen some, and a lot more than I would in the US, just not as many as expected. There are cars in the same class, or really close, that we have seen quite a few of. The Toyota Aygo, Ford KA, Fiat 600, and the like. I dig them, they fit a specific need and even more so than in the US address the needs of most of the drivers on the road.

Moving into the compact classes, it's amazing the variety here and it also shames the brands that are available in the US. Looking at the Ford UK and Vauxhall (General Motors) divisions based in the UK it's easy to see why their American cousins are struggling. The model Ford range in Europe is smart, sexy, and from what I can see, affordable. The Focus is part of that range, and obviously enjoyed great success in the States, but the other offerings here (the S-Max, Fiesta (just now in the States), Mondeo, KA and Fusion (different than the US Model)) are excellent examples of great cars. Through in just about any car from Vauxhall and you've got two excellent marques that could potentially dominate in the US. Instead, we get watered down versions of a few of these cars, and then pathetically reused Ford Tauruses, Chevy Impalas (seriously? GAG!) and a stable full of cars that no one particularly likes and just buy because they are "American", yet they are most likely built in Mexico or Canada.

On top of these two brands are a plethora of other choices that we don't have. MG still makes great looking cars, and hopefully they aren't still using Lucas to make their electronics for them. Puegot and Fiat both carry heavy ranges here, and you see them everywhere. Citreon and Alfa Romeo are definite contenders in their specific niches. I could go on and on.

And this isn't including the cars that are available in the US, but rarely seen. I've seen more Bentleys, Aston Martins, and Lotuses in the last week than I've seen in 3 years. It's incredible.

This is how great the market is here. We were upgraded to an S-Max when we picked up the car. This is our car:



I love it. It's really sporty, got great lines, and got a ton of room. It took me until the 3rd or 4th day of driving it to make a realization..... IT'S A MINVAN!!!!!!!!! WTF? I like a minivan? It doesn't fit the mold for American minivans, but it has 3 rows of seating, a tall front seat, and is nearly tall enough to be classified as that. It's not really a crossover, so, to me, that makes it a minivan! Weird, huh? Nice looking car too.

That's not to mention the truck and SUV Market. Mitsubishi L200 Pickups (PREOW!), Delica 4x4 microvans. Nissan Terrano, Suzuki Jiminy, and a handful of other mini-SUVs with true 4WD and solid front and rear axles. They look fantastic to boot! Plus, you have to love all of the Land Rovers that are everywhere. Classic Series II trucks that are still on the motorways, Series I trucks parked next to fields as a farmer works, and Defenders out the wazoo. Gotta love some Defender!

I don't even not what to say about bikes, except that they are everywhere. When we were at Woodhenge on a very cold and icy morning, I heard one on the road below us. I only caught a glimpse of it, but I think it was the ever-popular SV650. Those things are everywhere. Seen quite a few motards about, some dual sports, and a bunch of naked street bikes. There popularity must be partially driven by cost as they often seem like a persons only transport, but it's great to see them all.

Driving here is actually easier than I thought it would be. My first street was a bit weird and I bailed out at the end into a parking lot, but it all makes sense. The roundabouts are great. You can be cruising with traffic at 60mph, roll up to a roundabout, see that it's clear and hit it doing 30 without any reason to stop for a redlight. I totally get it, and it's great. Driving on the left was a bit weird, if for no other reason than you are judging distance on a side you don't normally, but I think I struggled with that more due to the size of the rental versus my daily car. I've handled it all fairly well, except one small incident. As we left a interstates services area, the road setup was a bit different than normal here. I pulled across my lane and into the oncoming lane. Just as I realized I was wrong, Karen commented on it, and a white BMW appeared coming around the corner. No biggie, and it wasn't even close, but still a little scary. Apart from the car seeming quite wide and some places that I feel the posted speeds (which are still not quite clear to me, it seems that when you go above 50mph the speed is not posted, and when you exit a village the speed goes up without any indicator) are faster than I want to drive, resulting in someone riding a bit close, it's been quite alright.

Btw, I think that the Nissan Micra is probably my favorite new-to-me car. It's small and designed to look like a classic British sedan. It's pretty cool looking.

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