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Girl TORQUE: Driving in the UK

 

My golly, driving in the UK is a different experience to NZ. For a start, the cars are so much smaller.

I’m currently driving a Peugeot 4007, the soft-roader based on Mitsubishi’s Outlander. It’s very much a Peugeot to look at, the interior smart, and road noise far quieter than the Mitsi. It’s more-or-less the same size though, which makes it a mid-size SUV in NZ.

But in Britain it’s a leviathan, for the cars are so much smaller.

Road tax that’s tied to emissions encourages drivers to downsize, and to choose more frugal cars. The 1.4-litre petrol Hyundai i20 I’ve just returned – coming to NZ soon as the Getz replacement - costs $306 per year to tax; its diesel sibling just $86. My mum’s Toyota Corolla costs $429 to tax, my brother’s Land Rover Discovery more than $979 for the same period.

And then there’s insurance; it’s compulsory and very much rated on car size and type. So much so, that the brochure for the Hyundai i20 includes the insurance group among its specifications. Want a bigger car, and quite apart from fuel costs you’ll pay through the nose for tax and insurance.

So small cars are king. You rarely see anything much bigger than a Mondeo; SUVs are an endangered species (and almost universally hated – I was warned my Peugeot might be defaced by eco-guerrillas), and an HSV would be a real head-turner.

It’d also bankrupt you, for fuel prices are around double ours. And you’d soon get stuck…

Think NZ roads are bad? Try British ones. NZ has the excuse of a small population to pay for maintenance. Not so the English. Britain is crowded with tax-payers, and the Southern England roads I’m driving are patched, potholed and often mind-bogglingly narrow.

My own road home near Auckland isn’t exactly wide, but there’s nothing to wipe your mirrors off if your tyres skirt the verge. But many of the roads here are not just tight, they’re skirted by brick walls. Goodness only knows who’ll drive the nearly six-metre-long Mulsanne Bentley has just released. Americans, no doubt.

Now, I don’t for a moment think NZ roads will get narrower, while the UK’s network developed around ancient pathways scaled to suit the horse and cart, not modern congestion, and there’s little room to widen them.

But Kiwi roads will get more crowded, fuel prices will rise – and emissions regs may eventually cost us money.

That means smaller cars for Kiwis. Forget the Kia Carnival MPV – make do with the Citroen C3 Picasso and leave the extra kids at home. Swap the Prado for a Jimny, that Passat for a VW Golf, and your 4.4-litre V8 BMW 6 Series drop-top for a 1 Series diesel convertible.

That’s the car I’m now driving. It fits right in on England’s roads and it’s packed with fuel-saving devices. All I need is the weather to drop the top for! Sunshine in England? Here’s hoping.

Read previous Girl TORQUE columns here.

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