25 Sep 2013

The Plater's Blog - a "Weapons Grade" Mercedes and some dodgy running lights

Here's another great column from Mike Trowsdale, serial 'Plater' and driver of many, many new cars.


“Weapons grade” has to be the new “awesome”. Because “awesome” has become somewhat over used of late and doesn’t really mean “awesome” any more. Now it did 12 years back when a young Canadian lady described a certain Mike T as “awesome” in customer feedback, but I think her brand new Boxster might just have slightly skewed her - North American - perceptions (thank you).

But for now enjoy “weapons grade” for what it actually means, and then step a little further to “weapon”: a Mercedes S600 L is a total, unfettered and absolutely gorgeous weapon of virtuosic brilliance. Technically genius, but, sadly obscenely profligate in the reality of 2013 and leathered/alcantared in a fashion not too far from TOWIE meets Lady Gaga, this is a means of transport that would have been felled by the critical axe of – yes, I dare say it – a younger man. But as a child of the ‘60’s and thus a Teen of the ‘70’s I fell in love with this behemoth in about 3 seconds. I know it’s crazy, but it’s true – sounds like a tune – this bad boy is nicer and easier to drive than any Merc B, C or E I have driven lately. How mad is that? Arguably the steering is a touch over light for some but when you can thread 2.5 tons through the eye of a needle ‘nuff said. And when the horizon is reeled in with more relentless persecution than a tomahawk missile and you still have options on the stereo to consider in – relative – absolute safety, this is totally the real deal.

The last time I thought “crikey” was a Nissan GTR that had been somewhat “enhanced” (700bhp?!) and toe down did 90-130mph in 3 seconds. I kid you not: I hate people straying from the truth. And if it was more than 4 seconds here’s a sharp knife and my procreative addenda. Anyway an S600 is up there, albeit on a totally different plane. You know when you have met the right one and in a post apocalypse – but very curiously, “free” petrol – survival scenario this is the AK47 of choice. Mad Max would have one. I am blessed to have made it’s acquaintance because it is without a doubt a complete – and utterly fantastic – dinosaur with “sadly now extinct” soon to be it’s epitaph. If I ever had to drive blindfold through a jolly thick brick wall I would jump into this car - clad in my hi-vis for obvious h&S reasons - and just do it. Because it would…

Back to life, back to reality and a Citroen C4 diesel auto with a rather comedic - almost toy like - gear shift. Which to be fair I got to like once I figured the “lift to reverse” action. Still not entirely happy with electronic parking brakes – which it also had – they don’t all work the same way and surely slower than a regular handbrake? And you can bet that WRC champs do not flick a switch for a 180…Talking of handbrakes I forgot to mention the Zafira which had me confused and embarassed until I realised the U shaped lever was just a regular “click, up, and release” tool. And anyway, what’s not to like about something that wouldn’t look out of place in Thunderbird 2?

A timely coming together with a Seat Leon on the 13th birthday of Dad’s hand-me-down “2000 W” 1.6 SE. This was a TDi manual and I wasn’t expecting anything more than regular VAG accomplishment. But - very nearly - blown away by the steering/handling. I need to narrow this down: it didn’t understeer as much as I expected. Let’s get to the point – all cars understeer, it’s just a matter of degree. But I actually thought “gosh” and tried to drive it properly (apologies to all other Platers). I know it’s wrong, but “pointy” came to mind. Which can’t be right – I guess it’s all about exceeding expectations…

“Running lights”? My vote goes for the XF – if I have to – with various Audis 2nd and all others a distant third tho’ a distinction must be awarded to the Alfa Giulietta for the rear lights. And a real WTF (?!) for Land Rover/Range Rover front lights: contrived, and, well, stupidly contrived. FWIW makes me think of an owl….and probably about £500 to replace when a large stone/drunk twat dictates replacement. Remember when Volvo first championed them in the ‘70’s without universal acclaim…

Had two Mercs last weekend; an E250 CGi Cab. and an E350 CDi estate. Did some research to discover the E250 was actually a 1.8 (4 cylinder) turbo! I had a hazy recollection of a 2.5 litre “6” from the 60’s/’70’s – which was apparently rubbish - so this was new to me. E250 proficient in a very Merc –slightly dull - style, but the E350 fabulous: a real continent crusher if needs be and if pushed to say choose one car for the rest of your life this would be it. Really: 40mpg+ attainable and a load of space. Not quite as lovingly presented as “ex” would have us believe but nothing a little TLC couldn’t sort.

Another Mini (Cooper) underwhelmed again with fun but very heavy steering. WTF? Its’s power assisted so just crank it up. Oh, and the central dial has to go – bad enough on the original (yes, I had one: ‘66D). And don’t get me started on parallax error…

And so the dream garage to date is an M3 V8, S600 L, “Retromod” ’70 Plymouth Cuda (crate hemi, 600bhp), oh and some kind of economical thing. Perhaps I am the dinosaur. 

Many thanks to Mike. You'll find his previous column here and all of his columns here