Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Bumper Cars

I'VE never been much of a fan of the ill-fated Rover Streetwise. Indeed, I’ve always thought it cynical, a pastiche on a ‘proper’ off-roader and a shameless attempt to cash in on the trend towards urban mudplugging. Along with its CityRover contemporary, I have always held it as symptomatic of the desperation evident in the final days of the Phoenix 4’s tenure. Above all, I’ve always hated its stupid, faux-tough, dodgem-style bumpers.

For the first time in many years, I may have to admit that I was wrong.

Allow me to present case A). A good friend is following an old giffer in a Vauxhall Meriva up to a junction. He checks – there’s nothing coming for ten miles. He accelerates and goes to turn left, only to find the Meriva still stationary, its driver rearranging his tweed, or whatever it is that old people do at junctions.


The resultant accident can’t have occurred at more than 5mph, but it caused a four-inch crack in the Meriva’s rear bumper. The bodyshops’ quotes to repair ranged from a worrying £400 to a faintly ludicrous £700, so his pockets have now been lightened to the tune of a nice, round, £500. You could blame youthful impatience or geriatric dithering for this: me, I blame Vauxhall. Why, when you know a car’s going to be used in the city and get a few parking knocks, would you fit bumpers made from that stuff they make Tesco Value egg boxes out of?

Now, ladies and gentlemen of the Jury, please examine case B). I have recently completed a banger rally in a 1988 Audi 100 which had standard 1980s “diving-board” style bumpers. The contrast with the modern ones could not be more marked – we drove the poor car into trees, walls, and Team 182’s Ford Mondeo more times than I can remember. Damage to the Audi – slim to none. Damage to trees, walls and Ford Mondeos – devastating. If the chap above had rammed us at thirty miles per hour, never mind five, I can guarantee that the damage to the Teutonic tank would have been nil.

Now, I know that these bumpers are to pedestrians what a hot knife is to a packet of Anchor, but surely there’s a case for some kind of compromise? Can’t manufacturers make bumpers which are tough, built to withstand low-speed impacts without damage, but which are pliable enough not to turn your RTA into a kneecapping? Why can’t a manufacturer fit bumpers like this to a city hatchback, which, after all, is the most likely car to suffer this kind of prang?

Enter, from way out of leftfield, the Streetwise. Tough, yet EURO NCAP compliant bumpers, and a jacked-up ride height for increased city visibility. You’re not going to take it on the motorway much, so who cares about the aerodynamics. And you can grin smugly at all the passing soft-roaders – you’ve made the more sensible city-car decision.

When you put it like this, it all makes perfect sense. The trouble with the Streetwise was the way it was marketed, all that faux-macho bollocks. They could have run an advert which said “Look, we know it’s no Defender, but it’ll save you £500 every time you reverse into a post. Fair enough?” They could even have called it a “25 with tough bumpers”. But no, they went and spoiled it with that ridiculous name, and an advertising campaign which suggested it was an “urban on-roader” – easily the daftest strapline of all time.

I’ve been man enough to admit I was wrong about the Streetwise. I wonder if, looking back, Rover’s marketing men would be able to do the same?

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