Gavin Green on the never-ending appeal of ‘crazy’ cars

Published: 04 August 2011

It’s good to know that in this age of focus group blandness, of motor industry magnolia, of characterless capability, there are still some compelling ‘crazy’ cars. These are machines born from conviction, not committee.

The Subaru Impreza STI and Mitsubishi Evo are obvious examples, cars about as far removed from your typical Japanese runabout as bungee jumping is from a bouncy castle. The Vauxhall Monaro, equally, is bravely daft. Ditto the mid-engine Ford GT, the Mercedes SLS, Audi’s V10 R8, the old Sierra Cosworth RS (no tuned mainstream Ford has ever been quite so appealing) and the turbo Volvo T5R estates of the mid ’90s, which, when they weren’t terrifying innocent labradors on board, were racing in the British Touring Car Championship.

The GT-R. A Ferrari from the makers of the Micra

And what about the Nissan GT-R! This is sensible-shoes Nissan throwing away its eco/cheap-runabout fug and doing the Dan Dare. My favourite bonkers car of today, though, is probably the BMW 535d Touring. If you buy cars for commonsensical reasons, don’t. Get a 520d Touring instead (quite fast enough, and cheaper to run and buy; if you really want a six-pot motor, get the 530d).

But the 535d is noticeably faster, thanks to those two big turbos energising the gutsy six-pot diesel, probably the best diesel engine on sale today (and certainly one of the most entertaining). It has such massive torque, from such minuscule revs, that in everyday motoring, it’s brisker than the more powerful (but peakier) M5 Touring (another Crazy Car King). This 155mph, 0-60 in under six second capability is mated to astonishing frugality (unlike the M5). And the Touring configuration means you can be doing 155mph with the children in row two and the dog (and luggage) in row three. It’s a combination undreamt of only a decade ago.

I ran the old Bangle-shaped 535d Touring for a year, back in the mid Noughties. I loved it. It felt like a brawny V8-engined GT. And a family MPV. All at the same time. It was the precursor to the big-lunged estates now offered by Mercedes and Audi, and was the forefather of the M5 Touring.

The new one is near enough the same, except for less distinctive (and less controversial) styling and a bigger boot. Brilliant engine, fabulously smooth auto (now eight speeds), anaesthetized yet sharp steering, thumpy low speed ride (which at least reminds you of the high-speed capability), very good handling, brakes and grip. It remains one of the most desirable of all high-speed cars and one of the most all-round capable.

Yet its appeal is mostly that it remains just a little bit bonkers.

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By Gavin Green

Contributor-in-chief, former editor, anti-weight campaigner, voice of experience