While in Iceland I hired a car. It seemed by far the best way to get around the East – buses are relatively few and far between and I’ve been dependent on them before – you go where they go and you go when they go.
What I hired was “mini car similar to Toyota Aygo” with three doors. I sought my dad’s advice, since he’s more experienced than me at hiring cars. I asked if I should pick a five-door car and he said take the three door and hope that you’re upgraded when you pick it up. What I was given was a five-door gunmetal grey Golf.
Now, for context, I own a seven-year-old 1.2 litre 64bhp Fiat Panda (in orange). This Golf is a lot newer and much higher-spec. I have no idea what engine size it is – Google tells me it’s anywhere between a brand new 1.0 litre 3-cylinder engine (I refuse to believe it’s this one; it didn’t feel like such a small engine and neither did it feel like it was only a month or two old) up to a 1.6 litre – should have checked while I was there. It has a six-speed gearbox, an automatic handbrake, heated seats, four electric windows, air conditioning, Bluetooth, stop-start and an incredible fuel capacity.
I drove 973 miles in this thing. It averaged 55mpg and as its fuel tank appears to be able to take nearly sixty litres, I only had to fill it up once – plus again, obviously, when I handed it back. I spent the first day and a half panicking that the fuel gauge wasn’t working because it remained firmly on full no matter how far I drove. I filled mine twenty-four hours ago, have been to see a film and been shopping twenty miles away and I’m already down to three-quarters of a tank. I drove 452 miles on the first tank – well, the first five-eighths of a tank before panicking about when fuel would next be available and then 521 on the second. A+ for fuel consumption. I hired a Hyundai i10 last year and I was filling it at least every other day which made it really expensive.
I did enjoy the toys. I liked having the AC on when it got warm and the heated seats on when it got chilly. I liked that the fuel counter reset automatically when I filled it. I wasn’t so sure about the way that the media screen came to life if my hand went anywhere near it, as it had to when I changed gear. Touchscreens on cars aren’t a lot of use. I want it to be like my Panda – all big chunky controls you can grab without having to look at them. I liked the six gears – my Panda only has five and I have enough mechanical sympathy to wince at 3000rpm on the motorway. The Golf – I barely saw it cross 2000rpm. Because I drove last year, my brain clicked into left-hand-drive-mode pretty quickly – I’m from the UK, our cars and roads are mirrors of most of the rest of the world, so this was a hugely big deal when I had to drive on the wrong side for the first time ever, on my own. Last year I spent the best part of a week knocking my left hand on the door when I tried to change gear. This year I only did it once and that was when I tried very suddenly to pull into a picnic spot to enjoy the view. The windscreen wipers were a bit more of a challenge – mine go down. On the Golf they go up. And the CD player is hidden in the glovebox, so I spent a day or so disappointed that I couldn’t play my Icelandic CD in the car, until it turned up by accident. Actually, there are a lot of boxes and compartment and places with lids. I kept my own cars keys – necessary to get home from Heathrow – hidden safely in the cup holder with sliding lids so I knew it was there and safe and no one else could see them and try to steal them. I liked the rear parking camera – I have sensors on my Panda but they just beep, you can’t see what’s going on behind you. I did enjoy being able to see precisely where I was reversing.
What didn’t I like? The electronic handbrake. Not at all. My dad’s car has one and the pool car at work has one but I’ve never driven either of them further than a few miles. This one was frustrating. I’d arrive, I’d flick the little switch to put it on, put the car in neutral, go to switch off the engine and realise I was moving, which is disorienting and also potentially dangerous, as I discovered when I realised I was sliding backwards out of a space in a supermarket car park while someone was trying to drive out behind me, presumably wondering what on Earth I thought I was doing. I eventually learnt “into neutral, handbrake on” which is the opposite of the “handbrake on, into neutral” that I learnt when I first got into a car thirteen years ago, give or take a week and that was a lot harder to shake off than “drive on the other side”.
Would I buy one of these Golfs? No. I mean, yes, I would, I liked it, I got on with it (give or take the handbrake) but Golfs are really expensive, especially versions with all the bells and whistles like this one. When I bought my Panda, I made a spreadsheet of price and engine size and power and pros and cons and it worked out to “get a Panda”. The Golf – and the Mini – were crossed off that list very early on, on the grounds that they were ridiculously expensive. Having attempted to reproduce it on VW’s Configurator, I think this one would cost somewhere in the region of £22,500. But it was a very nice car and very nice to drive and if it was half the price, of course I’d have it.