As 2018 leaches away, we begin our annual run-down of cars we couldn’t write about this year, beginning with 2008.
The largest machine ever built, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN was created with the modest aim of testing particle physics theory and possibly uncovering the secrets of existence itself. Situated 175 meters underground, with a circumference of 17 miles, the LHC was completed and inaugurated ten years ago. And while some critics expressed concern that it would precipitate a small black hole (allegedly even small ones are problematic), as it turned out, it really wasn’t particle physicists we had to worry about.
Elsewhere that year, General Motors reported the largest ever recorded loss for a carmaker at $38.7 billion. Always known for thinking big, going bust was arguably the most notable of a long list of GM achievements. Elsewhere, the terms, mansplain and photobomb entered widespread parlance for the first time, while cinema-goers worldwide enjoyed the top-grossing Batman vehicle, The Dark Knight. Musically, it was similarly thin gruel, with beat combo, Coldplay releasing 2008’s top selling LP, Viva la Vida. Yes, 2008 was a quite a year.
Speaking of gruel, making its World debut at the 2008 Beijing motor show, the Q5 model pitched Audi smack into the mainstream CUV market. Styled, it is believed by Christian Winkelman, currently for his sins, Ingolstadt’s Exterior Design Manager, it was an anodyne, neatly executed, somewhat restrained piece of work. But frankly, it wasn’t a terribly interesting car, just another box-ticking crossover exercise, precisely the sort of vehicle bought by people who also purchased that year’s Coldplay album and professed to have enjoyed it.
When BMW revealed its F01-series Siebener at Moscow’s Red Square in July 2008, aficionados of the Petuelring wept with relief. The Bangle era was officially over, or so it appeared. But what they failed to realise was that the new BMW flagship was initiated under the American iconoclast’s direction.
A larger, more ‘important-looking’ car than its polarising (if more interesting) predecessor, the Karim Habib-credited F01 gained length, wheelbase and girth, pitching squarely at Mercedes’ evergreen S-Class. A rather inconsequential car really, the F01 marked the point when the Seven Series could no longer be described as a ‘sports saloon’, a matter which appeared to suit the Veirzylinder just fine.
Compact MPVs were probably at the peak of their popularity in 2008, and following the success of Citroën’s Xsara Picasso model, a more compact version based upon the C3 platform was revealed at that year’s Paris motor show. The C3 Picasso impressed journalists with its space, versatility and convenience with its highly stylised interior and exterior appearance garnering praise.
Cleaving to latter-day marque norms were the somewhat numb dynamics and breathless petrol power units, although the more popular diesel-engined versions appeared to fare better in this respect. Quality too it seems, remained something of an issue, with perennial latterday PSA issues of build, finish and durability. Nevertheless, the C3 Picasso was not without its leftfield charms.
Following on from the previous year’s Verve concept, the 2008 Ford Fiesta showcased the marque’s so-called Kinetic Styling themes, employing a notably more cabin-forward style, with pronounced wedge shaped bodysides and DLO to that of its predecessor. Hailed for its sharp dynamics and perky engines, the Fiesta proved a hit with the motoring press and the buying public who snapped them up in heroic quantities.
A huge commercial success for Ford’s European arm, it was the first Fiesta model since the inaugural version to be sold (for a time) in North America. However, the Fiesta in many ways has come to epitomise Ford’s Euro-dilemma, the carmaker having failed to gain a monetary receipt for the effort and expense in honing its chassis dynamics with such care. Class-leading, top selling, eminently likeable, but loss-making. Poor Henry.
The Tipo 844 Delta model revealed at 2008’s Geneva show was to have been at the vanguard of Lancia’s oft-promised post-millennial revival. A five door hatchback which straddled C and D sectors in dimension, the appealing, yet unusually proportioned shape by centro stile Lancia landed somewhat awkwardly between a number of stylistic stools.
Lancia’s return to the UK fell victim to a combination of the financial crash, Fiat’s acquisition of Chrysler and the realisation that it would be cheaper and more expedient to market them in RHD markets as Chryslers and roll the dice. Lancia was probably doomed even before this act of brand-management ineptitude, but this nevertheless proves something of a masterclass.
Styling has, historically speaking, been the least of Opel’s problems. GM’s former European subsidiary has instead suffered from something of an image crisis for some decades now, being unfavourably compared with arch-rivals, Ford, particularly in vehicle-dynamics terms. The Insignia was Rüsselsheim’s attempt to steal Mondeo’s crown and unlike its entirely acceptable, if somewhat forgettable Vectra predecessor, it broadly succeeded.
A handsome D-segment saloon/hatch/estate, the Insignia’s styling cleverly disguised its bulk, offering a stylish alternative to its rather bloated-looking Köln-Merkenich antagonist. Voted European Car of the Year 2009, and comfortably outselling the Mondeo until its demise last year, while the Insignia is unlikely to live long in the memory, as Opel’s go, it was probably one of the better ones.
The last of Goodwood’s full-sized behemoths to launch, the Phantom Coupé represented something of a latter-day recasting of the gloriously indulgent grand touring machines of the pre-War era. Designed, it is believed by Marek Djordjevic without much recourse to nostrums of packaging, practicality, economy or indeed rectitude, the close-coupled Phantom, despite weighing more than a full-sized SUV and taking up even more road space, was in fact a rather confined 2+2.
And while the frontal aspect might not have been to everyone’s taste, nor indeed the sheer patrician arrogance it embodied, it was the kind of glorious anachronism which as we now know represented a final flowering rather than a bold new dawn. (That came later). Now we have the Cullinan – named after a giant rock, with all the charm and visual appeal of a large chunk of carbon. Lucky us.
There has always been a fine line between brave and foolhardy. India: a massive subcontinent, a nation in transition with a vast social gulf between haves and have-nots. Like Herbert Austin or Henry Ford, Ratan Tata has proven something of a visionary and his carmaker’s 2008 Nano attempted to at least bridge the mobility gap by offering a minimalist package intended to replace the moped as the vehicle of choice for the masses.
Second guessing the market is fraught with pitfalls and not for the first time it appears that Tata misread the Indian car buyer. And while the Fiat 500 and BMC Mini complemented the spirit of their times and captured the zeitgeist of their home markets, the Nano came across as patronising. Good intentions, yes, but the execution left something to be desired. Times change – people don’t.
A very extensive facelift or a brand new iteration? VW would have you believe it was the latter. While proving a notable improvement upon its predecessor in dynamic and (arguably) build terms, the 2003 Golf V, took several aesthetic steps backwards from the masterful restraint and Ulm-thoroughness of the Warkuß/Schreyer Golf IV.
There was a palpable sense within Wolfsburg that stylistically speaking, VW had subsequently lost the run of themselves, and under the supervision of Walter de Silva, the dial was successfully reset from the showbiz graphics and inconsistent shutlines of the unfortunate Günak era. Normal service was resumed along the banks of the Mittelkanal during 2008 with the advent of Golf VI.
Ten years on, the identity of the Higgs Boson particle continues to occupy the scientists at the CERN facility, but unlike our financial gods, they haven’t as yet managed to bring the sky crashing down upon us through some unintentional and uncontrollable quantum event. In fact, they may yet prove to be all we have to push the sky away.
The cars of 2008 we did talk about.