• Top Gear Andy Wilman explains how to pick cars with credibility

    How to pick cars
There was a time when motoring journalists could claim to be a kind of fourth emergency service, when their advice could mean the difference between life and death. The period was at its peak about 30 years ago when cars were shoddily assembled by workshy lefties in the Midlands, angry Bolsheviks in France, or worse still by Italians behaving normally.

We need another yardstick against which cars are graded, and that yardstick is coolness — how cool is your car? What does your car say about you? As with all matters involving style the whole business is complicated. I know because I’ve immersed myself in the subject. Richard Hammond and I recently wrote a book called What Not to Drive which won the Booker prize, the Whitbread and a Pulitzer and made me a billionaire.

Ignore what celebs buy

If Sienna Miller steps out in shoes made from cheddar cheese, every secretary in the land copies her. But do resist the urge to follow celebs’ car choices. First, so many celebs these days are pond life that they bring the car in question down to their level. Jade Goody, or some dim footballer who’s converted his stable block to a home tanning centre, will crush the coolness of a Rolls-Royce Phantom.

Second, even the proper charismatic celebs can’t make an uncool car look cool — Cameron Diaz is a sad sight in a Prius — so what chance have you got?

Beware of fashion cars

Fashion cars are the ones that make a massive impact for five minutes and then look clichéd and vaguely ridiculous. I give you the Audi TT.

The other problem with fashion cars is you might buy one the moment it hits the showrooms, but then everyone gets one, and unless you drive around with a big sign saying “I bought mine first” you look a bit of a divvy. And if you do drive round with a big sign you still look like a divvy. And if you buy one at the same time as the herd you again look like a divvy. Most fashion cars are retro-themed — VW Beetle, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Jaguar S-type — and are deeply uncool anyway.

Forget about how good the car is

This is probably the most important rule. A car’s coolness has nothing to do with how quickly it goes round a corner or how well it’s nailed together. The Chrysler 300C has the driving dynamics of a donkey, but no car matches it for sheer Sopranos presence. Conversely the BMW 3-series is often voted best driving saloon by beards and anoraks, yet every close and crescent in Milton Keynes is infested with them. Not cool.

Let the car do the talking

If you have to explain why your car is special it’s not cool. For example: “I’ve got a Skoda, but don’t worry it’s the rally-ish type vRS powered by the FSi 2 litre turbocharged to deliver 200bhp at . . .” Now compare that with: “I’ve got an Aston.” Exactly.

Beware supercars and sports cars

An easy trap to fall into. Ferraris are seen as the pinnacle of automotive erotica and in engineering and pedigree terms they are. But who drives them? Middle-aged timber-yard tycoons from Surrey. What ladies go for them? Mainly the ones who go up and down a pole for a living. Same story, unfortunately, with TVRs — the chariot of unimaginative City boys. In truth the only real cool supercar name at the minute is Maserati, and a couple of Astons qualify.

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