I think that society in general has a romantic notion about how nice it is to be driven – by a chauffeur in particular. Recent experiences have led me to feel that it’s rather a disappointment.
Forgive me if this comes across as just a ruse to write about a problem I have been dealing with recently, but I feel it is worth a few lines. Six weeks ago, I ruptured by Achilles tendon (proof, if anyone reading needs it, that exercise is potentially harmful to you!), and I face another 5 weeks at least with my left lower leg in an Air Cast boot (a rather marvellous innovation, if not one you ever really want to have to experience).
The consultant looking after me signed me off from driving for six weeks, which created a logistical and potential financial problem when I work 65 miles from home and public transport offers little as an alternative solution. My employer, which, unusually, is a family-owned Financial Services company, has been superb about it and put an Executive Car/ Driver service at my disposal – hence, twice or three times a week I have been chauffeured to work and back.
Now, please do not misunderstand me (I think that will be my epitaph), I feel incredibly lucky. The drivers (three in total) have been excellent, friendly, and not overly intrusive. For every journey there is a bottle of water waiting in the back of the car, which is a nice touch. The cars have been suitably Executive – mainly a late, C6 version of the Audi A6 (2.0L diesel, 4 cylinder, complete with “Cheat Device” – remember that?), but also a brand new E220 and an Insignia Estate.
The cars are always spotless inside and out. As I said, I’m a lucky man. People at work and friends whom I tell of this all react with a kind of, “Wow! How does it feel to live like the elite?”, which is understandable and quite right in many respects. So, why have I felt the romance turn to disappointment. I think there are two things going on here.
First, sitting in the back of a car, even a “nice” one like an A6 or E-Class, is a let-down. It’s generally darker than the front. There is remarkably little leg space – you notice this more with a bulky cast or surgical boot on – and things like consoles that extend between the front seats into the rear just get in the way if you need to fidget around. There is less to look at/play with compared with sitting in the front (I like to inspect the switch-gear for look and feel, for example).
The ride definitely seems worse in the back, and one has greater proximity to the boot/ trunk which seems to amplify road-noise into the back of the car. Of course, a true limousine may well obviate such problems – I am sure there are hours of fun to be had with crystal decanters, cut-glass champagne flutes, rear-infotainment systems and extended wheel-bases (not necessarily in that order), but I’m not sure this is the main source of my disappointment.
By the way, before going on, I found the A6 much nicer to sit in than the E-Class, and the Insignia is pretty good, although noisier and less well damped of ride. The former has a really nice dashboard (although I thought the push action of some of the switchgear quite brittle compared to my Mazda(!), with big, clear instruments and attractively shaped and textured inlays. The E-Class, however, rides better than the Audi and is quieter – both are put to shame on both points by a Citroen C6 (although I’ve never sat in the back when being driven in one of those).
Second (returning to the plot), and perhaps it’s an unfair argument, but, being driven just makes me miss driving. Being driven increases one’s sense of general immobility and lack of freedom. It’s fine arriving somewhere, but then one is ‘trapped’ at the destination until someone else arrives to pick one up again – I hate that! Being driven is boring compared to driving – it may be less taxing and tiring, but I realise how much I enjoy driving and sensing the feel of a particular car; being driven is a very numb experience.
So, call me spoilt if you like, but it means that whenever I get one of those, ‘Oh, that must be lovely!’ reactions from people about being driven, I think they are a bit wrong-footed when I hesitate – a slightly perplexed expression passing over my face – and I reply, “Well, it’s very kind that the company are doing this for me, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be and, actually, I miss driving”.
The good news is that, what with my wonderful family having convinced me to keep hold of the C6 (it’s an automatic – good job it was not the right tendon that I ruptured), I am now able to start driving again. The last six weeks have been an interesting insight into an aspect of motoring to which I have not been exposed since being a child – i.e. being a rear passenger – and it seems to me that there is much that manufacturers have to think about and work to do in order to improve the experience.