Max Berry – The best and worst cars of the decade

Jan 28, 2020

January is quite an uninteresting and un-loved month, I think. The hangovers established over Christmas and New Year’s Eve have worn off, you keep writing the wrong last two digits when dating documentation, and it’s that annoying temperature outside where it’s not cold enough to snow, but still cool enough to make you ill. My birthday is in January – this year I turn 21 which contrary to my own belief, may not be an entirely bad thing. At last, I’m now old enough to drive my Dad’s company car – a 2019 Volvo V60. I do hope he’s looking forward to driving to work occasionally in my much less comfortable SEAT Ibiza when I’m going on a long journey

Max Berry

And what better way to begin the new decade, than with a look back at my personal highlights (both good and bad) from the automotive world from the last 10 years?

It’s tricky to entirely distinguish the extent of the evolution the motorcar has experienced over the past decade, when you consider the various other huge technological advances since the birth of the car in the late 1800s. I mean, in 1929 anti-lock brakes were invented, the 30s brought about the option of power steering, in 1959 an engineer at Volvo invented the three-point seatbelt that continues to save lives today – and the list goes on.

It saddens me that in one report online, “better connected mobile apps” was at the top of a list of best automotive technologies from 2019. Even the Peaky Blinders would have been blasting music from their 3.0 litre Bentley’s stereo, back in 1930 for goodness sake. The 2010s have certainly seen a huge increase in the availability of electrical components inside even very low-spec cars, where in years-gone-by manual systems would have existed. Electric windows for example, which in contrast to the 2000s, find themselves integrated as standard nowadays, in a far greater number of budget run-abouts.

THE THREE WORST CARS OF THE 2010s

Let’s start with the disappointments… Here are my three worst cars of the previous decade.

Tesla Cybertruck

Picture credit: u/Kruzat

As a start point, a company that’s really come to the attention of petrol heads everywhere (ironically), over the last ten years in particular; is Tesla. They’ve been producing a new breed of electric cars since the early 2000s, but in recent years have truly come into the spotlight.

The whole enterprise is like nothing the world has ever seen before. Proposed rockets flying whoever fancies it to Mars, cars that go incredibly quickly and some with gullwing doors – it’s revolutionary stuff.

It’s like certain designers feel a need to follow a new style of car design that implies the car is electric.

 – Max Berry

But Tesla’s secret comes, as far as I’m concerned – from their batteries and motors. ‘Torque’ no doubt, is a unit used in conversation on a daily basis within the lab-like office of the firm. The otherwise quite innocent looking cars they offer, are damn-right fast. The Model S for example launches your whole family and your luggage from 0-60 miles an hour in less than three seconds, and keeps running for an advertised 379 miles from a full charge. It’s faster off the line than a Nissan GTR or Lamborghini Huracán Performante (a car I adore). Their newest release however, isn’t quite so promising.

In November last year, Tesla launched the cybertruck, which I must say I was greatly intrigued by when pictures started popping up on social media. It is an intriguing thing, with its religiously straight-line design language, oozing with edginess. However, I’m afraid there is just no getting away from the fact that at the cybertruck’s launch in Los Angeles, when a man threw a metal ball at the supposedly bullet-proof “armoured windows”, the window cracked instantly.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, standing next to his now fractured masterpiece then suggested trying again on the rear window, which rather inevitably did exactly the same. As far as demonstration failures go, this was a fairly weighty one. However, such incredibly refreshing design has obviously caught the attention of the market, with over a quarter of a million orders placed in the five days following the rather underwhelming launch.

The single motor, lowest power model is predicted from US prices, to cost us Brits just 35,000 of our pounds. But looking at the size of the thing, I’m wondering if it’ll even fit in most small British towns. I mean can you honestly see this enormous ‘if Apple made a pickup’, stainless steel thing go past the post office in Chipping Camden, in the Cotswolds? There’s a reason the Ford F150 – America’s most popular pickup – doesn’t sell here in the UK.

There are questions surrounding it’s build quality I feel, which leads me on to an issue I have with ‘eco-friendly’ and minimalist design language of late. It’s like certain designers feel a need to follow a new style of car design that implies the car is electric. The interior for example, which is incredibly tidy, is just starting to verge on the side of, dare I say it; boring. Things like the breaking windows and sizeable panel gaps make me wonder if the cybertruck is all it’s cracked (if you’ll pardon the pun) up to be. It’s range and performance are very impressive, but perhaps overall quality has made way for this – a crucial aspect of any pickup truck. Time will tell with the cybertruck as orders turn to deliveries but until then, it’s on my list of least favourite cars from the last ten years.

Chevrolet/Daewoo Matiz

Next up is a car I would honestly step in dog excrement to avoid ever having to drive about in. The Daewoo (or Chevrolet) Matiz – which was given a facelift in 2010. But like its predecessor and the 1998 version before that, it is a horrid little thing, with about as much character and flair as a two-bed new build in literally any town in England.

You might not know the car by name, but I’m sure that you’ll have been made late for work, stuck behind one previously. Either because they’re going too slowly, or because they’ve binned it into the central reservation when trying to exceed 70mph in the inside lane.

 

It was also reported that the Matiz had won the prestigious “most likely car to fail it’s MOT”, back in 2017.

 – Max Berry

In fairness, I’ve never had a go in one, and maybe it actually delivers great quantities of fun. But considering the original came with a mighty 63 brake horse powers, I’m not holding my breath.

It was also reported that the Matiz had won the prestigious “most likely car to fail it’s MOT”, back in 2017. Also on the list were some other dreadful cars like the Hyundai Amica and the Suzuki Alto. In a collision, I’d have thought you’d be safer in a shopping trolley. The Matiz, I’m afraid, is simply a tool – and not even a very good one.

Citroen C4 Cactus

And the last car in my least favourite models from the 2010s is predictably a Citroen. Unlike the Matiz, the Citroen C4 Cactus is a car that tries its very best to pretend it has some kind of personality and character.

And I applaud it for this, but sadly that’s where the applause dries up. You see, the Cactus is an SUV, or sports utility vehicle. My issue here is, it doesn’t fit the brief. 

Sure, it’s available in yellow and has interesting black panels glued to its doors (which I think are intended to give a sense of ruggedness), but even with the top-spec 130bhp, 1.2L petrol engine – it isn’t particularly sporty. The boot offers a less-than-average capacity, with little flexibility and a sizeable lip to lift cargo out and over, meaning it isn’t outrageously utilitarian either. I suppose at least it is an actual vehicle.

It staggers me that such a genre of car has caught the world’s imagination in quite the way it has. I can see that people like to sit high-up in their cars, pretending dreamily that it’s a proper SUV from the likes of Land Rover. But I’m afraid the C4 Cactus is just another SUV in what is a rather enormous pile.

 – Max Berry

My dislike for this car is rooted deeper than this however, as you’ll know if you’ve previously read my rant on the fundamental ideas behind some small SUVs. The issue here is we have the underpinnings and engine of a hatchback, bolted to the body of a small 4×4. And as a combination, I struggle to see the point. The added weight and higher centre of gravity dissolves any nimbleness or accuracy in the steering, the added weight makes the whole thing slower, and when combined these two issues make off-roading a chore. It staggers me that such a genre of car has caught the world’s imagination in quite the way it has. I can see that people like to sit high-up in their cars, pretending dreamily that it’s a proper SUV from the likes of Land Rover. But I’m afraid the C4 Cactus is just another SUV in what is a rather enormous pile. Nothing jumps out and shouts at you why you should even notice it. And as you can read in my blog post last year, my discontent at the very similar offerings from Peugeot with cars like their nasty 5008 SUV, are not dissimilar.

To sum up, a couple of years ago I was working with Team BMR in the British Touring Car Championship when one of the drivers at the time, Aaron Smith, arrived at the circuit from the airport in a rented C4 Cactus. I thought it rather telling of his views on the car, when later that day I noticed Aaron had put a strip of black tape over the last three letters of the “cactus” name badge…

THE THREE BEST CARS OF THE 2010s

Right then, on to my favourites from the last decade, which are in no particular order….

Bugatti Veyron SuperSport

Bugatti have popped up numerous times in my column over the last twelve months, and with good reason. The same basic reason in fact, for why they’ve made this list. They push the boundaries in every single possible direction. I mentioned Bugatti’s world record last year in my March edition where the little blighters had gone and flogged a special ‘Voiture Noire’ for more than any new car in history, eventually selling for over £11 million. See, record breaking stuff.

Similarly, in my September edition I explained how Bugatti’s beefed-up, top speed Chiron had smashed the 300mph barrier. This was more like it, we’ve seen they can talk the marketing talk with their big-money price tags, but this record proved they could walk the walk as well (or sprint at 300mph).

This update, nine years after the original was released in 2001, came with more in every department – in quite unbelievable, but true Bugatti form.

 – Max Berry

But it’s neither of these cars that I’m adding to my list of favourites from the last decade. I’m actually talking about a car from 10 years ago – the Veyron SuperSport. This was Bugatti’s opportunity to inject the already very speedy original Veyron, with more steroids, narcotics and some orange paint. This update, nine years after the original was released in 2001, came with more in every department – in quite unbelievable, but true Bugatti form.

I remember, aged 11 genuinely almost wetting myself when hearing of the numbers involved with the SuperSport – twelve hundred horsepowers, 0-60mph in sub 2.5 seconds and a top speed of more than 267mph. The Bugatti Veyron SuperSport, much like the whole brand; is absolutely a favourite of mine, thanks to it smashing through what’s previously been deemed impossible.

Volkswagen Polo

Next, a car the average Joe might actually be able to afford. Certainly, it was a car that the (very) average Max could buy, and indeed did buy back in 2016. It’s the Volkswagen Polo. Updated in both 2010 and 2017, the Polo is a pure classic. It’s boring yes – but so are most functional things in life. And whilst the Polo is commonplace, it’s not as common as the likes of Fiestas and Corsas, which you literally spot all over the place.

The build quality however, was more than you’d paid for, and it was light – allowing for some GTI-dreaming when throwing it into the bends.

 – Max Berry

My first car was a 2008 Mk4F Polo, 1.2L in sky blue – with less than 75bhp under the bonnet. It wasn’t fast, but that was probably just as well. The build quality however, was more than you’d paid for, and it was light – allowing for some GTI-dreaming when throwing it into the bends. At least 15 other students had one as their first cars at school – and it surprised me how few ever went wrong. It was always the French cars that more commonly rendered students immobile, come the end of the day.

By no means am I saying the Polo is any better than any other small VW option from the likes of Skoda or SEAT, but in my experience and after owning one as my first car – it will always hold a special place in my heart. The motorway may not have been its natural habitat, but it was however, brilliantly simple and robust – obviously designed and engineered with the first car owner demographic in mind. The loyal thing never once went wrong – apart from the aircon going whilst in southern Cornwall on the hottest day of 2017, whereby me and my two friends very nearly roasted to death in the sun.

The Polo though, much like its older sibling – the Golf – and younger sibling – the Up! – is a safe pair of automotive hands. You can see my video review of the car here.

Lamborghini Aventador SV

And finally, as you’ll know if you’ve read my edition from last February, I’m a big fan of Lamborghini. There’s one Lambo in particular however, that means more to me than any other.

It’s from 2015, it’s mostly yellow, and it is fantastic. The Aventador SuperVeloce. I mean ‘Super veloce’ translates from Italian to ‘super fast’ which is a brilliantly named thing to drive about in. 

 

As nerds no doubt call them, the ‘SV LP750-4’ is propelled by a 750bhp 6.5L V12 jet rocket, with a jet fighter interior, flappy-paddle gearbox – allowing gear changes in half the time it takes to blink, and an AWD drivetrain. Then it has quadruplet blue-flame spitting exhausts, bolted beneath an entirely carbon fibre body, shaped like an angry wedge of cheese. But actually, in a time where the likes of Tesla can make a family saloon as fast as I pointed out earlier, all the SV’s power stats are rendered rather meaningless. You see, my love for the SV comes from the mid-1960s.

It’s not the SV’s performance I respect, but it’s character.

 – Max Berry

This was a time when people were beginning to realise technological advances could lead to fun, as well as utilitarianism. The integrated circuit from the late 50s, combined with newly discovered ‘dynamic random access memory’, for example, was starting to be used in very basic video game software. Similarly, Lamborghini decided to bolt a whacking great engine in a car, and the first ‘supercar’ in history was complete. They called it the Miura, and today it finds itself at the end of the very top of an ever-growing list of supercars. And this fascinates me – the idea of some mad Italian blokes sitting around a table, suddenly questioning why this principle of bonkers character (and power) hadn’t been installed in a car before, in its own right.

The Miura was Lamborghini making their mark; letting the world know what they were all about. And it’s that fun and juvenility of the Miura – echoed extensively in the Aventador SV that makes me love it. It’s not the SV’s performance I respect, but it’s character. The 12 cylinders, nestled within the jagged, dramatic exterior, spit wonderful noise and fire for one reason, and one reason only, to put a great big smile on your face. And as far as I’m concerned; that’s what cars are all about.