The world's most versatile car, by Mark Walton

Published: 30 November 2009

Car journalists often discuss the greatest cars ever made, the best cars ever made, the fastest, the best looking, the most powerful. When I say ‘discuss’ I mean they disagree and come to blows, which begs the next question, ‘Which car journalist would be best in a fight?’ (My money’s on Ben Oliver – his nickname ‘Grizzly’ came about because his entire head is made of fuzzy gristle.) 

But I’m not here to talk about that. A climbing trip to Scotland in the new Land Rover Discovery 4 last weekend got me thinking – what about the most versatile car you can buy? By that I mean, which car is good at doing the most number of things that cars generally do? Cars are useful/interesting/compelling in lots of different ways; what if you were to categorise those uses and list them – which car would tick the most boxes?

This is an interesting mental distraction, while cruising up and down the A1 for several hours. I like it because the usual suspects are immediately out: the McLaren F1 (hopeless at Homebase); the Porsche 911 (woeful off-road); or the new Ferrari 458 (try carrying three kids and a dog).

Instead, new, unexpected cars start to rise to the top of the list: the Audi A4 Allroad, perhaps, or the Fiat Multipla. Or my nominee, the Discovery 4.

It occurred to me, when we crawled down a bumpy track at the foot of a Scottish Munro, and then pulled out onto the smooth asphalt of the main road. The car automatically lowered itself on its air suspension, we glided effortlessly up to 80mph, and I thought, ‘this car can do everything’.

So here’s my list of basic things cars can/should do.

1. Carry lots of people
2. Carry large objects
3. Cover long distances easily
4. Ride smoothly on asphalt
5. Be capable off road
6. Provide warmth, shelter, entertainment
7. Be mechanically pleasing to the brain
8. Be aesthetically pleasing to the eye
9. Be tactile and responsive to the driver’s inputs
10. Make the driver feel good about themselves

The Land Rover’s steering is a little slow and uncommunicative, and the new 3.0 TDV6 is strong but not that swift; so the Discovery 4 fails on No.7 – but otherwise... it wins.

What do you think?

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By Mark Walton

Contributing editor, humorist, incurable enthusiast