Theme : Values – Restraint

FCA has been receiving positive responses in the press with the new Alfa Romeo Giulia. But, at present, although it will never be the big seller, a lot of the reviews seem to concentrate, rather disproportionately, on the £56,000 Quadrifoglio.

001-alfa-romeo-giulia-quadrifoglio evo-co-uk
Alfa Rome Giulia Quadrifoglio – image : evo.co.uk

The other Saturday I had to do a drive I’ve now done several times, diagonally across England from South-West London to the Shropshire / Wales border. Once out of London, it involves a rather dull slog up the M40 and round the south of Birmingham, then an 85 km drive across nice country roads, bendy but with sufficient straight sections to allow overtaking, a couple of towns, a few villages, some moorland, all-in-all excellent driving country. The total distance was 284 km and I did it in 2 hours and 50 minutes, meaning that I averaged exactly 100 km/h (62.5 mph). During this trip I enjoyed my drive and I think about three cars overtook me on the motorway, none on the back roads.

The point of this is not to highlight my ability to pedantically chronicle journey times, but the fact that I was driving another FCA product, a Fiat Ducato panel van. Had I been driving something more powerful, there would have been a couple of instances where I could have overtaken whereas, in the van, I had to hold back. Had I been driving something more nimble, there were a few open bends, with good visibility that I would have taken quicker. And, of course, in a faster car I could have driven up the M40 at 200 kph, which would have made a difference, though I would have spent a lot of time braking for slower, more law-abiding vehicles, so I doubt the difference would actually have been that significant. So, had I made the journey in, say, my Audi S6, and assuming I’d acted sensibly, if not entirely legally, I might, at a push, have improved my journey time by …. maybe 5 minutes, but probably less.


I can’t pretend that the lure of inappropriately fast cars doesn’t exist for me. I bought my Audi as a quick car, and I enjoyed it’s turbo 5 cylinder and slightly raw 4WD cornering. At one time I considered various turbocharged Subarus and, for a few months a couple of years ago, I entertained a desire for an AMG C63 Mercedes estate. But, in the end, this is just kit fetishism. My time is not so precious that I need cars like that in order to minimise my journeys – and, as I say, the saving would be very slight anyway. I don’t actually need them to enjoy the driving experience – dragging a panel van through a fastish corner is actually rather more satisfying to me than doing it at a similar speed in a mega-competent modern saloon.

My own observational experience is that 95% of self-proclaiming fast cars (by which I mean those upper spec ones from manufacturers that boast their prowess with an M, RS, AMG, R or other combinations of letter) are driven by people who aren’t actually that interested in, or even aren’t that good at, driving fast. I won’t say they’re wasted on them, because that is presumptuous – their reasons for ownership are their concern and they might derive some other satisfaction, but the truth is that I, or any other vaguely competent driver, could probably outdrive many of them in the most basic version of their particular model choice. But, more relevant, put us in the bells-and-whistles car and, although we might have the odd ‘whoo-hoo’ moment along the route, we’d probably be hard-pressed to do appreciably better than in the basic version – speed is usually limited more by visibility than adhesion.

Alfa Romeo Giulia 1300TI
Alfa Romeo Giulia 1300TI

Of course there are other reasons. There is something satisfying in hauling a big van around but, generally, I’d rather make the trip in a car that is more comfortable, with a better soundtrack and where the whole interface is more rewarding. But I’d be fooling myself if I thought it would be appreciably faster over a normal route. Certainly, when you get over, say, 160 hp in a normal sized car, you are seeing drastically diminishing returns. The 503 bhp of the new Giulia Quadrifoglio, like most the autobahnstormers it mimics, is just too much to really be any fun at all, except on a track.

AMG C6.3 Estate - image : autoexpress.co.uk
Previous model AMG C6.3 Estate – image : autoexpress.co.uk

Yet we want them. I admit to doing the sums regarding a three year old AMG Estate, convincing myself how useful its load bay would be and, despite the knocks it might have received over the past couple of decades, how reassuring it would be to have copper-bottomed Mercedes reliability beneath me and how it probably wouldn’t use as much fuel and depreciate as much as you’d think. Complete bollocks of course, I just wanted to hear that nasty big V8 and get the tail out on Wandsworth Bridge Roundabout. But what confuses me is why, with all these very fast cars around, I don’t see more people behaving badly. Not that I’m complaining; on one level it’s heartening that most people are more sensible than I might be in their position. Or does it come down to the answer that I received several years ago on another website when I questioned the reasons for purchasing a Veyron, which was broadly that it wasn’t a matter of actually driving at 200mph plus, but of knowing that you could?

For myself, despite the occasional lapse, I don’t really think that more is invariably more fun. And in the case of cars for the public road, I’m pretty sure it’s the opposite. Restraint isn’t just a matter of good taste, or complying with some nagging puritan ethic. It’s ensuring that there is still a place for you in the equation and, in a present of the hugely able super family car, and considering a near future of the unquestioningly competent autonomous car, I’d try to indulge in some restraint while I still can.

image : roadandtrack.com
image : roadandtrack.com

26 thoughts on “Theme : Values – Restraint”

  1. There is no point to these overtly powerful cars – as you say, they have no advantage in journey times and are less enjoyable to drive. Don’t forget about the harsher ride and the stratospheric servicing,repair and insurance costs too. I suspect it’s all about one up.manship for people with a need to prove something. Incidentally, surely only a selfish, dangerous idiot would try and get the tail out on Wandsworth Bridge roundabout. Both in this article and the article about the Clio, there was no mention of the danger to other road users that comes from driving at unnecessary and excessive speed. No matter how skilful you think you are, there is always a risk and that risk is held more by pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists than the driver of a 5 star, airbagged “sports” saloon. Please keep motorsport on the track.

    1. Mark. You are, of course, correct, though my lack of mention of the risks of driving too fast were because I assumed it was a given. Having lived in London for most my adult life, I can’t pretend that I haven’t acted idiotically at times, even at Wandsworth Bridge Roundabout, though when there was no-one anywhere near my immediate vicinity. And my conjecture that I’d be hard put to drive a fast car much faster than a van over a given distance is based on the fact that you can only go so fast down a UK Motorway or round a bend that you can’t see the exit to. A half-competent sociopath would easily break my personal times.

      I do find it hard to understand a lot of people’s buying decisions. Personally, both the way I drive and the cars I think I might like to own have little to do with one-upmanship. I might have suspected that once, but I’ve reached that age when, really, there is nothing I want to prove to anyone – that’s not a matter of thinking I have proved it, just the realisation that to do so is futile and transient. For me it’s just an odd fascination in cars and what they do. Ownership of a very fast car is a cleft stick – you either drive it too fast, too often, which is stupid, or you never drive it fast, which is a different sort of stupid. One can righteously criticise the first, but I guess if someone want to just pootle leisurely around in an M5, that’s their concern – but it’s odd.

    2. Please don’t take it personally, it’s just that I’ve noticed an increasing trend by car journalists to ape the ape that is Clarkson. I remember a time when magazines like Motor justified their attempts at driving on the limit as a form of science to see how the cars coped in emergency situations. Now it seems that the Clarksonesque crowd are glorifying driving like a hooligan as some sort of right. You expect boys of 19 or 20 to act stupidly and do burnouts etc. but this is something the middle-aged should have grown out of. I am a car enthusiast but also a pedestrian; as an ex driving instructor, I remember well the principle that pedestrians have rights and drivers have responsibilities. Unlike most car enthusiasts (I suspect), I also think the UK speed limits are quite high enough and in most towns, too high. (I’ve known too many people killed or injured by cars in towns).

    3. Mark. If I do take it personally, it’s only in good spirit. In some ways I still don’t drive my age – in others I do. Many young men have a ridiculous lack of self-preservation or understanding of risk. As a motorcyclist (and of course pedestrian), age has made me more aware both of the body’s frailty, and of the fact that leaving things to chance (as in it’s unlikely there’s a car in that dip in the road or a pedestrian round that corner) is not wise.

      Also, apart from personal experience, there’s nothing like anecdote to help you clean up your act – every time I go round a blind bend, I remember discovering that the reason the house I bought years ago was unoccupied, is that the bright 30 something whose family were selling it died when the TA platoon she was leading (from the rear) down a country road was hit by a fast cornering vehicle.

      So I drive a lot wiser than my younger self. The journey I mention above was taken early on a Saturday morning on remarkably empty roads, with deference to possible pedestrians and, at this time of the year, sheep – I’d not look to reproduce it in busy midweek traffic.

  2. I admittedly haven’t taken it to the Autobahn, but my time being the wheel of the grotesquely powerful Maserati Quattroporte VI GTS (about which I posted a brief review, back in the day) was pretty much defined by the futility of its power output.

    To my not-particularly-gifted driver’s mind, the fun is to be had either by pushing a car somewhere near its limit (which is only realistically possible in, say, an MX-5, or something else that isn’t terribly overpowered), or though developing a certain rhythm that seems to be in accordance with the motor’s abilities, which is how I prefer to drive the XJ.

  3. I think the 160hp cut off point you mentioned is just about right. One of my cars is a golf with 140hp. It’s more than quick enough and up to about 70kph its almost the same as a gti.
    This is where you can use the poke, taking a gap etc. Maybe if cars were equipped something like rolls’ power reserve dial people would realize how futile (and expensive) all that extra power is.

  4. Yes, I agree about the rewards in driving a car near or on its limits. This means having limits low enough to approach sensibly on the public road.

    But… as I have got older, I have found there is also something immensely satisfying about driving a car with immense capabilities well within its limits. Well developed fast cars are comfortable, refined and relaxing at more normal speeds.

    And, of course, when those rare opportunities present themselves…

  5. Having said all that, I do think the 2 litre petrol Giulia would be a very satisfying car to own. Plenty quick enough – and available with nice interior finishes.

  6. I cannot explain it, but i always have an ambivalent opinion about such powerful versions. I don´t like all these Mercedes AMG versions – or those Audi RS or Porsches with extra power. Often i don´t like their bigheaded owners too. I would never want to drive the same car like those rich proles (=men).
    On the other side, i always admire the top version of some other cars. I like underestimated cars with extra-power. Lancia Thema V8-32, Saab Aero, Xantia V6 Activa, some Volvo T-versions or Subarus. The Lexus RC-F would be the only version of this car i would give my money for.

    The Giulia is neither in the first group nor in the other. No love – but no hatred too.

    1. Markus. Agreed there is a self-importance to the German autobahnstormers (though maybe not the earlier BWW M5s) that the other cars you mention don’t have. Whenever I’ve considered a similar vehicle, I guess I’ve never taken myself seriously enough to feel I fitted into the bighead category. That’s probably what 95% of the owners would think about themselves – but whether those who know them agree ….?

    2. This won’t get me on the Green Party’s christmas card list, but I believe that a maximum horsepower output of 400 (b)hp would be a reasonable legislative action.

      I have no problems whatsoever with excellence, and therefore believe that there’s a reason and a place for very capable automobiles. But today’s horsepower race is just plain idiotic and obscures other, more meaningful methods of improving a car’s performance (and, ideally, its efficiency). A horsepower limit would mean more attention being spent on lightweight materials and aerodynamic efficiency, to name but few. Arguably, the technological trickle-down effect would also be greater than the striving for ever greater power figures.

    3. It won’t get me onto Jethro Bovington’s Christmas Car list, but if I was choosing a generously over-the-top figure, I’d actually say 250bhp.

    4. My XJ would be (or at least used to be) a faint 15 hp above your recommended limit. And as that’s an utterly sensible automobile that’s built for coping with the daily grind only, I need to refute your suggestion.

    5. Which reminds for of (yet) another thing we didn’t discuss in last month’s Theme, Japan’s ridiculously flexible one-time 280 PS horsepower limit.

  7. Where’s Bovingdon now?

    My style of driving has evolved to maximising smoothness. Can I change gears and speed without anyone noticing? I also try to avoid using my brakes. Is it fun? It keeps me concentrating.
    When I consider my cross country sprints of the 90s and early O0s I realise how unwise I was as a driver.

    1. Bovingdon is at Evo. He tests 500 hp two door sports cars with seldom less than 6 cylinders, often 10. He is not a chap to go to ask about cupholders and child-seat installation, I would guess.

    2. There’s an innocence to him I find endearing, even though he and I have very different ideas about what constitutes a good car.

  8. Kris: you’re jesting, right? Bovingdon acts and writes as if the entire world will be buying a V12 as soon as they’ve finished reading his review. I find him uninformative, even within his narrow range.

    1. I can’t remember a single noteworthy review of his during his TWBCM tenure, but his boyish enthusiasm isn’t as revolting as some of his peers’ equally quixotic cynicism.

  9. I vaguely remember the fellow. From the era when most of Boring Boring CAR’s staff had names straight out of a Thomas Hardy novel.

    I presumed they were noms de plume to hide their shame. Thank goodness DTW doesn’t need to resort to such nonsense…

    1. It’s occurred to me that some readers might imagine my name is fictitious.
      What I remember of the Bov’s time at Car was that every article featured a photo of him grinning. I understand the unspoken contract between testers and readers to be that the testers will try to act as their work is somehow a scientific test of putative purchases as long as readers pretend they might buy the cars. In truth, people don’t get through enough cars in a lifetime to warrant the welter of information and judgements purveyed. Only bridal magazines have less lifelong relevance than car magazines. Bovingdon made apparent the fact he’ll drive all these cars and most of us won’t even see them let alone sit in them.
      Imagine a restaurant reviewer who reminded readers in the provinces they’d never eat a Michelin meal and also how fantastic such food is. You’d tire of that quickly.
      Lucky Bovingdon: he’s paid to drive cars that 99.99999% of the readers can’t ever experience and he acts as if it matters.

    2. Bovington, the Throttlegod, Bovver Boy, The Bovster … or whatever his Evo fanboys call him. From what I’ve written on these pages, I’d be a hypocrite to think that, when I was his age, had Nicholls or Cropley called me from Car Magazine and said they were tired of thrashing exotica around Europe and would I give them a hand, I’d not have said yes. But that was a different Europe and, to take up Richard’s comparison, Bovington’s stuff is really for the dreamers who’ll always be bridesmaids, never the bride. Though, in a world saturated with irony, surely the fact that he takes his frivolous job seriously is commendable.

      Actually, I used to think there was a decent journalist somewhere inside him, but his inner child wasn’t letting it out, and possibly never will. I remember Car’s ‘amusing’ picture of him yomping a Cube as one of the final signals that TWBCM had lost it forever.

  10. I’m all for usable power, in the form of low rev-torque, over maximum bhp. In that sense a cap on engine output would create an incentive for manufacturers to focus more on better drivability as well as fuel economy.
    My car has the same engine as the first Golf MkIV GTI, which was widely slated for not being a true GTI – for good reason as it was too heavy for its 115bhp engine. But it offers maximum torque at 1,500rpm which makes it very usable in town and on busy road, and it suits the car well.

    1. For everyday driving, the 108 bhp of my Cube is fine. I used to justify my desire for power with all that ‘accelerate out of trouble’ rubbish, but really it is impossible to defend to anyone who isn’t into cars. The elephant in the room for most car journalism is that the journalists are probably doing something illegal in order to encourage we readers to do the same.

  11. If I think back, probably the most fun I had driving was with my two first 60 hp cars, an AX and a GS. They were simple, light-footed, eager to take curves and comfortable. I missed power only with several passengers or heavy load on slopes. By the way, my 7 or 8 hp Vespa was of a similar breed.

    Certainly, with the CX turbo and the Xantia V6 I had later, I also learned to savour the benefits of quick overtaking. But in many situations it was already too much for staying within legal limits.

    Richard: maximum smoothness, economy and using brakes rarely — this could be a description of my drining style. It helps not to be under-motorized, but that’s already enough.

    Kris: lightweight and aerodynamics — exactly my kind of values… But no room for bragging, that’s why they are being neglected.

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