Sketches of Andalucía [4]

No backward glances in this final sketch. 

Better from a distance. How much of a distance? Oh, the other side of the street would about do it… All images: The author

If the casual reader was to view the previous posts in this series as a barometer of the local vehicle population in this part of Southern Spain, they might be forgiven for believing that people here were trapped in some bizarre thirty-year time warp. In fact, modern machinery by far outweighs the old timers, as one might reasonably expect.

Those more familiar to the site will probably acknowledge that contemporary fare used to feature a good deal more regularly on the pages of Driven to Write. However, since the Covid pandemic and the supply-chain crisis that came in its wake, not only has both news and new metal been rather more thin on the ground, but in addition, what little there has been (in either case), is of the thinnest gruel imaginable.

And speaking of gruel, a selection of new(ish) automotive fare – certainly new enough to warrant a second glance, if more of a struggle to write about – await your perusal this Saturday morning.

The first of which is before you. It’s a Tonale of course, Alfa Romeo’s new C-segment crossover offering. The subject in question was dubbed Speciale, which externally at least, appeared to mean blacked out body trim and the requisite telephone dial wheels no self-respecting performance-impersonating Alfa can seemingly do without. These at least lend this Tonale a more planted stance – more so than the lesser-spec version I sighted a few days later. That one looked as insipid as I feared it might from the initial photos.

They haven’t done this on the other side. Maybe they should? You know, for balance…

On balance, it’s a pleasant enough device, if this is your idea of a good time, but this Alfisto’s bell remains decidedly unrung and furthermore, how anyone can justify the front numberplate’s giddy angle is beyond human comprehension. Charges deserve to be sought.

All the styling. Every last piece in the box.

The Peugeot 308 has been available across mainland Europe for some time now (it arrived in the UK and Ireland in the Summer, I believe), but apart from a dealer’s forecourt, this was the only example I sighted during my stay. By rights I should detest this car, the styling after all, being everything I normally hold in contempt in contemporary car design. Visually, I think you’ll agree, it’s colossally over-egged. Yet, I found myself transfixed, intrigued, unable to peel my eyes away.

And yet…

I wasn’t an initial convert, but I am forming the opinion that this side of Hyundai/ KIA, the mainstream carmaker building the most visually intriguing designs today is Peugeot. And while I don’t think I’d really want to own a 308, or indeed any of the current lions from Belfort, I do quite enjoy looking at them.

I liked the front. Surely that counts for something?

Yes, Andrew Miles, they do exist. The Peugeot’s platform-mate from Rüsselsheim, captured here as proof, presents a calmer face to the world to that of its Sochaux sibling. It’s a little poignant to relate, but in my view the most cohesive aspect of Opel’s current design theme is relegated to the grille treatment, which is to these eyes quite effective.

The rest, however, leaves little impression. Even allowing for the colour, this Astra presents very much as automotive white goods – and even if we can agree that a lot of Opel products did fall into that category during the GM era (although some may disagree), the one aspect that was never in doubt was the quality of Opel’s exterior design.

Perhaps we are becoming inured to expressive styling (or I am), but at least the Peugeot gives you something to fixate upon.

The blue highlights are at least a bit… actually, no.

By the way, just in case you think this is turning into a total Stellantis-fest, here’s something a little more out of the blue. This actually required a bit of an initial double take on my part. It’s a Lynk & Co 01 – obviously – I knew you wouldn’t fail me. A Geely Auto/ Volvo joint venture – which so far hasn’t made it as far as Britain – this model shares both platform and powertrains with Volvo’s entry-level XC40. There were a number of these knocking about, I discovered, so somebody appears to like them.

Curiosity did not give way to fascination in this case. It is after all rather difficult to get terrifically excited by yet another torpid looking crossover. Mind you, I did find the blue highlighting a bit different and well, okay, no, I probably wouldn’t either. Look, I was on painkillers at the time (having had three stitches in my thumb earlier in the day), so I wasn’t quite myself. But I nevertheless felt impelled to show a modicum of interest, as a duty to you, dear reader. Not that you care.

“Compact body, crossover style, sculpted rear & sporty silhouette”, sayeth Renault. Bull’s testicles, say I.

Moving on… Renault were thoughtful enough here to save me looking it up – they stuck the name on the side. It’s the new all-electric Mégane E-Tech, the French carmaker’s newest C-segment offering, one which is set to replace the combustion model on these right-hand drive shores at least, since the latter model has recently been pulled from sale.

“All new Megane’s aerodynamic lines give a distinguished look”. Nope, I think you’ll find they don’t…

Visually, it’s modern-day Renault by numbers. On one hand, quite well executed; clean surfaces, decent proportions, muscular flanks and so on. But on the other, it’s just a great big lump of anthracite. And that slammed canopy is just offensive. For reasons I still haven’t entirely processed, this car made me rather cross, which is also rather silly, you will agree, given that it’s so… inconsequential.

My advice to the locals? Hang on with grim determination to what you’ve got – even if it is thirty years old. The future, if this lot are anything to go by, really is nothing to get excited about.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

22 thoughts on “Sketches of Andalucía [4]”

  1. Lots to unpack here with first sightings of some new stuff. Wish the images were a bit bigger, I find myself having to zoom and squint to discern the complicated shapes and details, though perhaps therein lies some of the issue. The Alfa is decently finished with nothing overtly out of place, though obviously at the end of the day it’s a rather bland CUV shape. I find it more satisfying than the misshapen Levante, though, which try as I might I just can’t enjoy looking at. Agreed that Peugeot’s stuff is wildly overdone, but it somehow works, at least enough to keep looking. The 508 is especially lovely, with a few gimmicks in servitude to the status quo, but still, I think it’s much more distinctive than an Arteon.

    The Astra is fine-looking, but it’s true that Opel were secretly the best-designed cars coming out of Germany for many years on end. I remember having a childhood fascination with the brand since its cars seemed so cohesive and well-polished for a low-end Euro brand, only to learn of the GM woes that marred it when I grew up. Their design history still holds up, regardless.

    I want to like Lynk & Co because I’m secretly invested in watching Volvo’s influence percolate throughout Geely with its engines and switchgear being shared across brands. I know it’s owned by the Chinese government and all, but it’s just fun to see previously-niche Volvo become the leading R&D studio in such a large auto empire. That said, I’ve never been able to get on board with Lynk & Co styling; it’s endearing enough in that same amphibian fashion as the original Juke, but it fades quickly and isn’t interesting enough to keep the quirks from becoming irksome.

    Finally the Megane. I wanted to like it since recent Renaults have all been rather decent looking (though I dislike van den Acker and his push for the world’s biggest wheels), but it just looks like a toaster oven got hot-rodded. It’s blocky and awkward, and I rather dislike the ‘wavy’ front LED strips that just come off as contrived and silly as a light signature.

    Renault keep trying to push the narrative that the E-tech shape was proposed as a Megane R.S. but was liked enough they decided to use it for their new EV. I simply don’t buy that, who would want a Megane R.S. that looks like a particularly overweight Kia Niro? I know we aren’t so fond of pointlessly revisiting the past, but at this rate I’d prefer Renault’s upcoming ‘retro’ designs to this overstyled mess. At least those ‘own’ their boxiness without trying to hide it behind curves and slashes.

    1. Geely has nothing to do with the Chinese government, not even in a wink-wink nudge-nudge kind of way. It’s privately held. Might be wise to read the basic story here to wipe away one’s preconceptions:

      Mr Li Shufu also has his hands on much Mercedes stock, Volvo Truck stock, owns a Danish trading bank and so on, plus of course owning Volvo Cars outright. His Lynk and Co seems to have foundered to a certain extent, but then having driven a XC40, as has my brother, we both found it sorely lacking in just about everything and vastly over-priced, like all Volvos in Canada. He ordered a Genesis GV70 for the same money — no comparison, the Genesis wins it going away, and looks twice as good externally with a superb interior the Volvo can only dream about.

      The Alfa Tonale is being sold as the Dodge Hornet in North America for two thirds the European price despite being made in Italy, but initial supplies are only just now trickling in here. Europeans should press Stellantis to ask why. It looks like another nonentity of a hatchback on (minor) stilts. Might clear a tassock of grass if the tuft isn’t too big, but the Peugeot 308 looks as though it’ll lose its front under-bumper merely attempting to clamber over the kerb.

      There are only a few of these two-box horrors I can stand to more than glance at, and the Hyundai Group seem to be leading in the styling stakes. Too bad about the patchy quality here and there on their lower-priced models. As in, poorly made engines of the 2.4l size and ABS modules that catch fire when they get damp.

    2. Hi Bill, thanks for clearing that up for me. I’ve been hesitant to be fully onboard with my support for ‘modern’ Volvo because of the iffy China situation, so I’m glad to hear there’s a bit more separation ‘between manufacturer and state’ than I was perceiving, though I only buy used cars so no automaker is really getting my money directly, anyway.

      I am extremely excited about Genesis (and the rest of Hyundai group), I think their products look incredible and have blown pretty much every luxury competitor at the price point out of the water. It remains to be seen whether they can get their dealer network issues under control in the States and whether quality problems will continue to dog their ICE lineup of engines.

      Despite everyone’s high hopes for Alfa, I don’t really see them ‘making it’ with Tavares’ 10-year-chance philosophy. Their sales are less than the awful DS brand and even Lancia with the white hen. I’m not even sure what is left for them to try; they were ‘mainstream Euro’ but slightly sporty through the mid 2000s, and reverted to ‘BMW-fighting’ with the Giorgio platform, and neither have really stuck. I’m sure the constant vacillation is partly to blame for their lack of consistent sales.

    3. “The 508 is especially lovely, with a few gimmicks in servitude to the status quo, but still, I think it’s much more distinctive than an Arteon.” The Arteon is a particularly striking car which is mysteriously not very well-liked. I have to say that the 508 has grown on me a bit. However, I wish they´d de-fang it. All Peugeots are marred by this ludicrous detail. If I had to buy a new saloon I´d probably go for a Volvo S60 – it´s not too big. I have seen almost none here in Denmark which is odd as I´d have thought the Danes would like it. I checked: it´s on sale here still, rarer than an Alfa Romeo Giulia. What people are buying here are Northstars.

    4. Hi Bill,

      Why the Hornet? As they say in Saskatchewan: “Cent’Anni” (how long to find a local Alfa dealership).

    5. Richard: My main irk with the Arteon is that because VAG has zero concept of brand-separation if you removed the badges it could really be a VW, Audi, or Skoda with just about no changes to the BIW. I agree that the Pug fang is a bit much, but for me it’s a much more effective ‘light signature’ than Renault’s curvy mess, and seeing as everyone must have an ‘LED flourish’ these days I suppose that works well enough for Peugeot’s corporate identity.

      For my money I’d certainly go for a V60, but of course my Swedish-car and estate-car biases are clear to see. Aren’t Danes rather conservative when it comes to their car buying, tending toward the German mainstream? (i.e. Golfs and Polos) It’s the Dutch I most associate with buying large quantities of Volvos outside of Sweden. No doubt the EV push is what’s helping to move those Polestars, which is what I assume you mean by ‘Northstars’ and not a certain transverse DOHC Cadillac powertrain.

    6. My understanding is that production of the S60 at Volvo’s South Carolina plant has been halted, much like Jaguar’s unloved saloon offerings have been ‘suspended’. The lack of interest in the S60 across Europe is mystifying. It must be powertrain related. I can see no other rationale. The estate model is apparently unaffected.

    7. Richard – “What people are buying here are Northstars.”

      Do you mean the American pick-up mounted campers, or the sophisticated but superannuated GM V8s?

      Both of which would make interesting diversions to the Danish carscape.

      Or could you be thinking of the don’t-say-it’s-a-Volvo Polecat 2?

  2. Good morning, Eóin. I haven’t seen a Tonale in the metal, but for now, I’ll have to say no, thank you. The Peugeot 308 is terrible. The 508 is the only Peugeot I like, but only because the bar of design is so low these days. The Lynk & Co is sadly becoming a familiar sight here in The Netherlands. I don’t care about the Renault at all.

    So the Opel it is for me. Not great, but more decent than the rest. I’ll hang on to the older cars for now as the present isn’t too great in design terms at least. Who knows what the future holds?

  3. The Tonale was a rare find, going by the Europe sales figures in 4915 from May to September. Compare this with the 5000/month production forecast, itself a modest expectation. We know the start of production was delayed by order of J P Imparato owing to quality control issues, and of course component supply problems continue to plague the industry. However, it’s not an encouraging start to Alfa’s latest Metamorfosi.

    I’ve yet to see a Tonale on the roads of my immediate neighbourhood, admittedly it’s not prime Alfa territory. There was one on the Alfa club stand at the NEC Classic Car show, the fine cars around it just made it look all the more incongruous and uninspiring.

    The new Peugeot 308 is better than expected, the wagon more so than the hatchback – every one I see makes me think of the 1-Series Touring BMW don’t make. The hatch is less balanced in its proportions, with an absurdly long nose which looks as if it should be packing a seriously big longitudinally-mounted straight six.

  4. I find the Tonale a mild, cohesive and well executed design. Of course its appearance cannot make an impact- Ioniq 5, Yaris Cross and EV6 seem to dominate now the design trophies. And coming late to the party means you either enter with a BANG or you are not noticed at all.
    Same happened with Stelvio and, less so but still, with Giulia.
    I imagine in Milano they are a delight to watch pass by, being in their natural habitat. Classy and a bit understated.
    Where I live there is not a single Tonale, not even in the Alfa Romeo showroom.
    Thanks for the contemporary live fotos from the wild Eóin.

  5. Good morning Eóin. Oh dear, what a disappointing collection on which to end your Andalucian odyssey. The Tonale is ‘ok’ but reminds me too much of the Jaguar E-Pace, which in turn looks to much like the 2010 Hyundai iX35 for comfort. That upswept waistline ending in a small triangular rear quarter light really has been done to death.

    I did, however, laugh when I saw your photo of the front end with the number plate at a jaunty angle! A closer look reveals that it is perfectly aligned with the fold in the bumper beneath the headlamps. The memo from Alfa Romeo containing instructions for mounting the number plate clearly hasnt’ reached the Costa del Sol yet.

    The 308 manages to look over-bodied, even on those big alloy wheels, which is quite an achievement for a C-Segment hatchback.

    The bonnet on the Astra looks like it was designed to fit another car, with wide shut-lines and the change of profile above the wings. At least the shut-lines look consistent, unlike most Mercedes-Benz models with similar bonnet treatments.

    The Lynk&Co. (stupid name) looks like what it is, a Chinese knock-off of the Porsche Macan, apart from the front end, of course. The Peugeot 508, although handsome, on further acquaintance looks too much like the Opel Insignia and those DRL ‘fangs’ are horrible. The Megane e-Tech is ok but looks too much like a gilded version of previous generation Renault models like the Captur and Kadjar. Where’s the progression?

    Oh dear, I did get out of the wrong side of the bed this morning. Perhaps I’ll go back there…

  6. Gosh, this isn’t much to choose from… All these cars, unfortunately apart from – as Freerk mentions – the Lynk@co are quite rare in my neighbourhood. I’ve probably only seen one Astra and found it disappointing after the Corsa, the 308 is just silly with its long nose and tiny wheels (even if they are large in reality). Both cars have proportions that just don’t work for me.

    I don’t think I’ve seen a Tonale on the road, but I saw one at an exhibition. It’s what you’d expect: a small SUV – insipid, clumsy and bland, with a few design characteristics from Alfa Romeo tagged on. Much like what I suspect that Lancia ‘suppository’ will turn into. Just plonk that thing onto a Grandland and you’ve got your Lancia rebirth. Then again, the Tonale might just be acceptable enough to tide the brand over. assuming Stellantis can come up with some sort of viable strategy. That’s assuming a lot, but they can’t do much worse than Fiat Auto.

    I’ve seen one or two Méganes, but they blend in with the scenery quite quickly. Strange that an apparently rather seminal car like that (Renaults ID3 killer after all, from a company that (co-)pioneered the modern EV) got such an understated launch.

    All in all I think I’d have the previous-gen Astra in the Renault’s background, but that’s because I’m not a BMW person.

    I got passed by a 1 series on the road today, the M135 (is it?) version even – or something that wanted to look like one very much with full (faux-)carbon addenda and steamrollers for wheels. How is it possible to make such an aggressive and powerful car look so comically gawky?

    If, however, Hyunday/KIA or the new Prius are the future, maybe it isn’t so bleak after all.

  7. Are any of these vehicles real? Mr Doyle, did you whilst in your soporific state have these things engineered on a computer screen? The Astra doesn’t exist! And from the look of things, neither should most of the others…the Tonale is borderline acceptable and I see where you’re coming from regarding the Pug. Link & Co sounds like a shop and the Renault could go on the fire, considering its made of anthracite.
    Maybe its dull, dreary weather, maybe the lack of motivation are getting to me. I’m now to going to try the drink till its better remedy. I’ll respond later

    1. I don’t believe they’re real, either, even though I have actually seen the Astra (just the one and only once). But I have (on Friday) seen an alternative future – the latest Citroen Ami humming quietly along in all its matt-grey with turquoise roof splendour. The biggest surprise was the location – Church Stretton in south Shropshire. Mind you, they’re a maverick lot along the Welsh Marches…..

    2. The Megane looks like a fat brother of other Renaults.

      The 308 is the old 308 on steroids. I love the 508 and the 208, but it seems to me, that Gilles Vidal was the key to their success.

      Opel in Rüsselsheim has lots of problems with the Astra. Tavares is demanding more real and visible build quality from the plant. Not only for the Astra, but for the DS4 too. Bold and pure design (the new claim of Opel) needs small shutlines….

    3. They’re amazing designs in their own way – fantastically overdone in many cases, but generic looking, despite that. I think it’s because they are big, slab-sided boxes, with lots of details to try to distract viewers from that fact. The Peugeot 308 is hideous.

      Anyway, more importantly, what happened to your thumb, Eóin?

    4. Charles: I’m not entirely sure how this has come to pass, but I appear to have become somewhat accident-prone. Thanks for your concern. The thumb is a good deal better now and my therapist tells me that the urge to repeatedly check the sky for falling anvils will recede in time.

    5. Is the Astra M the automotive Bielefeld?

      “Das gibt’s doch gar nicht”.

      Are those who claim to have seen one part of the conspiracy?

    6. Tavates is telling nonsense about Opel
      After PSA bought Opel they said that Opel’s biggest problem was that they made cars of VW quality but couldn’t charge VW prices for them, so quality would have to come down.
      Now the quality isn’t good enough and new Opels will have to be built in France.
      He’s just seeking a justification for what was suspected from the beginning.
      PSA bought Opel not for the factories, but for sales numbers to utilise the production capacity of their French factories. They don’t need Opel’s production facilities because they have enough of their own that are under-utilised.

    7. Markus,

      rest assured that the 308 is 100% Vidal. A year and a half is too brief a period of time, even in the 2020s, to implement any significant changes on a design destined for mass production. Moreover, Matthias Hossann was Giles’ deputy, so disruption is not the order of the day (or the past 18 months) at Peugeot design.

      Rather absurdly, I feel compelled to come to the Mégane E’s defence. While I find its proportions as odd as anyone else, I must give credit to LdvA et al for having created a product that wipes the floor with the VW ID4, with regards to perceived quality. For the first time I can remember, a Renault feels about twice as expensive as the corresponding VW, which must count for something.

      Whether this relative praise is more of a condemnation of Diess-Bischoff/Zyciora’s design legacy is open to anyone’s interpretation, of course.

  8. Hi everybody! Interesting series Eóin. I was jolted by that Tonale and its weird front plate angle and seeing how car styling has become increasingly outrageous, it was believable enough for me that I had to check. Fortunately, I can confirm thanks to Google that the Tonale’s official front plate placement is in a normal, sane horizontal position.

    I agree with Richard about current Peugeot’s “fangs”. I wish they didn’t have them, but having said that, I think the ones on the current 308 are the best iteration yet, looking almost fully integrated with the front design. Speaking of the 308, I had one for a day recently, as my own previous gen 308 was in the shop. I quite liked it, and it certainly feels like a step up in quality from mine, at least in the way the doors close with an even more solid clunk. The problem is with the i-Cockpit interpretation in this new 308. On my 308 the i-Cockpit works perfectly and I even have plenty of spare seating position range to play with. On the new 308, I found just one precise combination of seating/steering wheel positions that worked sufficiently well, and even that was obtained by obstructing part of the instrument panel that (fortunately) featured no useful information. Only after a small getting used to period did I feel comfortable.

    As for the Astra, in September, after weeks of checking my local Opel dealership as I drove by, I finally saw the new Astra, so I stopped to have a look. This is a car that I really wanted to like and to me the exterior is quite handsome, but what really undid it for me was the interior, more specifically, the screens and instrument panel. In the quest for making the instrument panel look like one large, sweeping electronic screen, what ended up happening was that in between those two colourful screens there are large panels of shiny black plastic filling the gaps, while trying to look like part of the screens. From the driving seat you’re not fooled and it looks cheap. Another problem is that the instrument panel lacks a proper rev counter or rather, a digital image of one. Instead, cowering on the left side of the screen is a tiny, vertical bar with the numbers 0, 1, 2, 3,…

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