Buying a car is one hell of a process for me.
For the average buyer, it’s as simple as picking whether you want German street cred coupled with German hijack risk, or Korean standard spec sheets coupled with zero street cred (bravo Hyundai for trying to fix this with the i30 N).
In my world, it’s worse than doing a massive corporate transaction. The level of desktop due diligence is at least the same and that’s before we get to the test drives.
Many a salesman has prayed to whichever Deity he believes in while on a test drive with me. Step 1 is to adjust the seat. Step 2 is to adjust the mirrors. Step 3 is to find the sport button. Step 4…you know the rest.
I have little interest in how it drives in comfort mode or how clever the electronics are. Fuel consumption isn’t entirely irrelevant, but really the difference between 9l/100km and 10l/100km is not going to impact my consumer decision.
No, I care about how she drives and how she sounds. There’s only one way to find that out. To this day, I’ve yet to have a salesman who didn’t enjoy the overall process. I usually reassure them halfway through the experience that I spend most Saturdays driving a kart at Killarney.
Before the test drives though, the desktop due diligence takes place. This is a largely masochistic process of alternating between car classifieds, Gumtree, YouTube and my Excel spreadsheet. It irritates my wife to within an inch of her life, because in the space of an hour I can convince myself that a Clio V6, a Jaguar XE S and an A45 AMG all make sense for my specific needs.
You aren’t losing your mind when you read that list – those cars aren’t comparable at all. Welcome to her life.
The reason for my current shopping process is that I need to replace the Honda S2000 that you all know and love. Yes, you read that correctly. The VTEC screamer’s time with me is now limited.
It took an extreme event to make this happen. The extreme event’s name is James and we are expecting this little petrolhead to burst onto the scene in April 2020. It’s the happiest moment of our lives, despite the fact that the S2000 just isn’t going to work for us anymore.
The problem isn’t the lack of a rear seat. The Mrs has a Fiat 500X and that’s a perfect family car. The issue is that you can’t disable the passenger airbag in the Honda, so I literally cannot put the little dude in the Honda at all. That’s an unworkable logistical nightmare.
Back to the shopping. The risk of desktop due diligence, despite the plethora of YouTube heroes offering their advice against a background of royalty-free music, is that you might get it wrong altogether. You may write a car off as being unappealing when in fact it isn’t. You may build up such an expectation of a car being wonderful that you leave bitterly disappointed instead.
I had both experiences in the past week.
As an Alfa guy, I have to consider the Giulia. Unfortunately, sales figures for the past few years have been utterly dismal for Alfa South Africa, so buying a Giulia or a Stelvio means you are putting half a million Rand or so behind an importer that looks shakier than Eskom. We are already exposed with the Fiat, so that option died a quick death (sadly). Hopefully the PSA-FCA merger improves things, but I’m not jumping in just yet.
However, the Giulietta is a little different. The Giulietta has been here for a decade and has already done much of its depreciating. There are strong independent mechanics who can keep them going and they sold in decent enough numbers that parts availability is probably workable.
Having driven every other Giulietta derivative before, I decided to check out a Veloce, not expecting it to really be much better than the older models. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I also couldn’t have been more wrong about the colour. I thought there was only one blue that the Veloce came in. Unfortunately, it turns out that there are two. One is a majestic colour similar to Misano Blue…and the other is as purple as Barney.
The car in my price range is of course in glorious Barney purple. Being an Alfa, it still manages to look great, but it’s a big risk on resale value to put a purple Alfa in the garage. Nonetheless, I test drove it anyway. I’m so glad I did.
The drivetrain is identical to the Alfa 4C, so the Giulietta Veloce is basically a 5 door 4C. That’s a tasty recipe and a far cry from the disappointing 1750 setup in the Giulietta QV. The biggest shock was perhaps the gearbox. As a manual purist, I will forever credit this TCT box with making me feel like the world of great automatics has finally outshone most manual gearboxes.
There, I said it: modern autos are better than most manuals. The S2000, with one of the greatest manual ‘boxes of all time, is excluded from this.
Moving on, the exhaust gives off the necessary pops and bangs that all hot hatches currently do. The car really isn’t far off a GTI Clubsport in terms of refinement, although the steering wheel is too big and the chassis does show its age when pushed.
The interior on the Giulietta is fantastic. The seats are special and the dashboard design puts a smile on your face. Honestly, it’s a great car. It took Alfa a decade to get the Giulietta right, but they really nailed it. It’s a pity the consumer hasn’t noticed.
I expected something old and tired and instead I was met with a purple dinosaur that stole my heart and very nearly my wallet too. I do force myself to drive a variety of cars before making a final decision though, so I didn’t pull the trigger. It was very close.
My next test drive was the car that I was originally excited for – the new Megane RS. In Cup format with a manual gearbox and with a stunning yellow paint job (Sirius Yellow – a silly loss of the Liquid Yellow name that all Renault fans know and love), I genuinely believed the only analysis needed was whether it would be worth the price premium over Barney.
Again, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
It’s possible that I’ve been spoiled by prior ownership of a proper Renault RS (a Clio Gordini) and by a driving experience in the R26 that we featured right here on Carbs and Coffee. Perhaps I’m simply not the target market anymore for Renault. I guess the general distaste for the latest Clio RS should’ve given me a clue of what was to come.
The Megane is comfortably the prettiest hatchback on the road. Let’s bank that. I love the Renault Sport fog lights, the purposeful stance and the incredible rear that looks like something Aston Martin built.
Unfortunately, at least from my perspective, that’s the end of the good news.
The best thing you can do with the new Megane RS is buy a bodyshell and plant it in your garden or mount it on your wall. That way, you get to look at it without being disappointed by what it could’ve and should’ve been.
The clutch is nonsensical. The average Frenchman clearly has a left leg 10cm shorter than the right leg, because the clutch pedal sits so much higher than all the others. The YouTube crowd did touch on this issue, but I didn’t expect it to be so unbearable. My leg cramping within 5 minutes of starting the test drive did nothing to improve my mood with the overall feel of the car.
The interior is sub-par compared to the rest of the segment. The performance looks ok on paper, but is no thrill ride in the flesh. There’s practically no exhaust note. It tells you everything that I asked the salesman on three separate occasions if we were even in sport mode, because it just couldn’t be possible that Renault (the greatest hot hatch builder of all time) had softened the Megane to this extent.
The over-the-top four wheel steer system, a potential nightmare on South African roads when you hit a pothole and put the alignment slightly out, unfortunately makes the car very nervous on turn-in and practically devoid of feedback.
Yes, it has a manual gearbox, but it doesn’t even remotely save the car. In fact, the auto is probably better because at least the stupid clutch pedal issue is solved.
I was heartbroken. Renault Sport has lost its DNA completely. They are clearly targeting a different kind of buyer.
In stark contrast, the current Alfa range includes a decade-old hatchback that is finally capable of competing with any of the other hot hatches in the market. It’s a strange world we live in.
The key lesson here is that you have to test drive everything. The expectation gap may shock you. Rather be shocked now than pay your hard-earned cash over for something you’ll regret later.
Back to the shopping…