MOTOR MOUTH: Better than a latin lover

MOTOR MOUTH: Better than a latin lover - Last year, besides our domestic Explorer, Scenic, Vespa and irritable - but cute - little cinquecento, I drove the following cars: Ferrari Modena, Lexus IS200, Hertz Opel Astra Diesel (twice), BMW328, Lexus LS430,

by STEPHEN BAYLEY, author and design consultant
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Last year, besides our domestic Explorer, Scenic, Vespa and irritable - but cute - little cinquecento, I drove the following cars: Ferrari Modena, Lexus IS200, Hertz Opel Astra Diesel (twice), BMW328, Lexus LS430, BMW M-Coupe, BMW M5, 1965 Citroen DS, 1950 Citroen 2cv, Renault Kangoo, Maserati 3200, Porsche Boxster S, Volkswagen Beetle, Skoda Fabia, Toyota Celica, Toyota MR2, Ford Excursion, Audi TT Cabrio, Renault Clio 176, Audi A2, Ford Racing Puma, Mercedes-Benz S600, Mercedes-Benz C320, Audi Allrad, Renault RX4, Chrysler PT Cruiser and Volvo V70.

But the car I used most, sat in the longest, got the best value out of, found most convenient was the least sexy and most invisible. It was a Ford Galaxy. Wait, there's more. Diesel.

I'd better explain. The most awesome was the Blacktop Bismarck, the six-litre V12 Mercedes. The most seductive, the Ferrari. The most competent, the Audi Allrad. The oddest, the old deux chevaux: like being a living exhibit in the Musee de l'Art Brut. The worst, the silly 4WD Renault RX4, which lost all the virtues of the neat and nimble Scenic, acquiring an ill-fitting pubic wig in their place. But the school-run shuttle, airport cab, supermarket trolley Galaxy was the most purely useful.

Yes, I know that as soon as usefulness is cited in the appraisal of car before beauty, sex, ingenuity, speed and fantasy we have started the dreadful journey that ends with being tucked up in bed and injected with tricyclic anti-depressants. But it is significant when you find yourself clambering cheerfully into a car time and again. It says that utility is an infallible measure of something or other. This was the Galaxy, a favourite pair of old wellies. Diesel wellies.

The Galaxy is now a familiar sight and recent cosmetic surgery says it is close to the end of its product life-cycle. The car (technically identical to the Volkswagen Sharan and Seat Alhambra, all made in the same factory in Portugal) routinely tops the UK sales in its sector, but has never stimulated much enthusiasm. People don't swap Galaxy stories on the net.

'Want a ride in my minibus?' does not rival 'Mine's the silver Carrera GT2' as foreplay.

I could go on. The socially insecure can't cope. Galaxy owners tend, in a socks-with-boatshoes sort of way, not to be style conscious, and chaps fretful about the dimensions and performance of their intromittent bit approach them not even with bargepoles.

All the foregoing is irrefutable, added to which the Galaxy is the absolute synecdoche of the suburban mentality that I have made it my life's ambition to escape. Ignoring (if you can) the sheer onanistic look-at-me swank factor oozing from the S-class, the Galaxy is a better all-rounder. It has much, much better windscreen wipers.

This may be like discovering a hitherto repressed taste for heated hostess trolleys, serving hatches and nests of tables. It's like giving up the struggle against fleeces and boatshoes. Except this time it's true.

Dynamically, the Galaxy has always been the best of the MPVs. It handles like a decent car, not a slippery stack of plates. In the older model, the V6 was smooth and fast, but the new diesel is a revelation: it is smooth, flexible and has very impressive pulling power throughout the speed range. Dr Rudolf Diesel's Rational Heat Engine makes a car feel more solid and serious, and it has this transforming effect on the Ford.

It is also quick around town and very good at Full Speed Ahead on long, empty roads.

Inside, the Galaxy is decent and modern, although not very imaginative.

Given that the external architecture of the MPV rewrote the rules, it is a shame that the interior just apes the conventions of car design.

The middle row of seats, for instance, should be more supportive, more adaptable and more interesting. Since this passenger area is the rationale for the car's entire being, I'd like to see more capacious arm and footrests, more power-points, better individual lighting.

Still, it's not a bad place to be, as I found when I had myself driven up to Birmingham and I spread out in the back with books, papers and a laptop.

The Galaxy could not be confused with, say, an Alfa SZ. It's a sensible machine. Housekeepers are, generally, more useful than steaming Latin lovers. Of course, ideally, you'd have both. Maybe the next-generation Galaxy will oblige. In the meantime, make love to the cleaner. You'll be surprised.

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