You can learn a lot about a country from its attitude to cars. National stereotypes are to be avoided as blunt and crude instruments, but it’s fair to say Germans are known for their common sense, efficiency and cool logic. But try and argue that they should have a speed limit on their motorways and you’ll be met with impassioned howls of protest. An opposition politician was riding high in the opinion polls until he had the temerity to suggest that 120kph might be a safe, sensible and perfectly reasonable for the network of autobahns – but, boy, did he see his ratings plummet as a result. Why have a car that can top 200kph if you can’t take it above 120kph, ran the counter argument – and, actually, you can see the cool logic in that. Then we come to motor manufacturing. In Britain, the bulk of our car production has either collapsed through mismanagement, disastrous industrial relations and vast Government indifference, or it has been sold and rented-out to overseas interests. In Germany they take deep (and deserved) pride in being home to some of the world’s premier marques. VW, Audi, BMW, Mercedes… These cars are popular throughout Europe and beyond, across almost every price range and vehicle specification. Take to the road in Germany and you’ll be surrounded by German cars. You can’t say that in Blighty. But this is not the place to conduct an in-depth analysis of the woes of British manufacturing relative to one of the world’s economic superpowers. Instead, let’s content ourselves with cherry-picking five of the best cars that Germany has to offer…
OK, I’ll declare a personal interest. I bought one of these back in 1999 and, apart from its regular service, it hasn’t given me a moment’s grief – except when it was buried in snow for three weeks and the battery ran flat. I just love the reliability, the chunky but gracious feel, and the fact that the performance is still pretty impressive for a modest 1.6 engine from the last century. I’ll be sad to see it go, but if and when that day comes, at least I’ll get a decent price for it!
Mercedes – any!
I always harboured a dream that one day I’d graduate from a VW to a Mercedes. Didn’t matter what model. Any Mercedes would do. The 560SEL still looks swish, the 300SL with the Gullwing doors was years ahead of its time and would still turn heads. But push me and, hey, I’d go for the E-Class Cabriolet convertible. Man alive, that’s a car…
Audi is what VW does at the weekend, when it’s let its hair down and wants to impress its mates. And the R8 is the embodiment of this attitude. Gorgeous in every respect, inside and out, and performs like a beast. This is why they don’t have speed limits in Germany.
BMW – none!
BMWs are lovely cars. But I could never own one. I simply couldn’t abide the waves of seething resentment that flowed unabated from other road users. And no-one would ever let me out at that tricky junction near my daughter’s school. And I’d sit there, in my quiet, pampered, cool, leather-scented luxury, and simply not know why…
There I was on the motorway, just the wrong side of the speed limit but just beginning to worry about getting to my meeting on time. And I overtook a Boxster on the inside lane, coolly doing bang on 70mph. And I thought, yep, that’s class. He was probably still in second gear and he could have floored it and left me sucking his exhaust, but he clearly felt no need to impress. Admirable restraint. But it’d be the Cayenne for me, if I had to pick a Porsche. If you’re going to drive a sports wagon, go for one with racing car pedigree that’s twice the size it needs to be and monsters through the traffic like a cruise liner through a yachting regatta. I’d not doubt get the same admiring glances as if I were in a BMW… but it’d be worth it.