Sunday, 19 July 2015

Company cars

My job, though my position should be categorised as middle-office rather that front-office, involves more or less frequent meetings with clients and site visits at clients’ premises. Also not all clients have their offices / facilities in major cities which can boast about decent rail links with Warsaw. The less convenient to reach a client’s location is and the more numerous a group of the New Factory’s representatives is, the more reasonable and economical it is to travel by (company) car.

In my position I am not and will never be eligible to have a company car at my own disposal, but I am entitled to drive any company car while taking a business trip. I also don’t have access to corporate mailbox in my company smartphone, hence my front-office colleagues happen to ask to drive if they are busy responding to e-mails or need to be in touch with clients, or simply if the trip is so tiresome that it is wise someone else takes over the steering wheel. For this reasons over the recent weeks I had a chance to compare some vehicles against one another and to my 12-year-old, yet still holding up well, Megane.

So far I have counted five cars I had had the opportunity to try out.

1. Open Corsa D, 1.0 litre. The general impression is that what proves sufficient in city driving does not have to be up to the mark for longer trips and especially in motorway driving. The tiny engine allows the car to reach the speed of 100 kmph in 18 seconds if only the driver seat is occupied. If three of four people are on board (don’t even try squeezing five adults into this vehicle!), it takes a lot of time and revving up the engine to 5-6k to reach the target speed of let’s say 120 kmph at which you don’t feel safe anyway.

2. Volkswagen Passat B7, 1.4 litre, 150 hp. Actually a very decent car, offering respectable combination of dynamics, fuel efficiency and comfort for the driver and passengers. Turbo-charged engine is more than enough to speed up the car perkily and offers decent elasticity (from the passenger seat I observed another person pushing the accelerator pedal to the floor at the speed of 45 kmph and on fifth gear and the car obediently picked up speed without lurching or whining, yet I felt sorry for the engine being a victim of such horrific driving technique). Maybe the only drawback is not a very intuitive dashboard, but there’s no accounting for taste, as the saying goes. A nice car, but why the hell should one fork out some 100,000 PLN to get a brand-new one (currently it’s impossible, since VW has rolled out Passat B8), for a private purchase, a waste of money.

3. Opel Insignia (before 2013 face-lift), 1.6 litre, 182 hp. Since Renault Laguna is hardly ever purchased as fleet car, the notorious title of the queen of the trailers (królowa lawet) has been given over to Opel’s D segment car. Reliability of Opel cars produced over the recent decade has received a lot of bad publicity and opinions I heard from friends, parents’ friends and from Opel’s users from the Employer and the New Factory only confirm it. The one I drove did not break down on the road, but was so neglected that driving required a lot of caution. I drove it in June but the car was still on winter tyres. As it turned out, since the car was due for replacement in July (last Wednesday it indeed change hands, I feel sorry for the hapless new owner), the fleet manager decided it would have cost too much to buy a new set of summer tyres (old ones went astray). Condition of brakes also left a lot to be desired. Actually my key impression is that it’s not difficult to find a car with lower mileage than my Megane’s and much younger than my Megane, whose condition is inferior to my Megane. The new owner probably thought he had chased a bargain by buying a six-year old Insignia with mere 70,000 kilometres on the clock (odometer not rolled back). In fact the car had oil changed only twice and the first user drove mostly short distances and though the engine was not warmed up, her feet pressed the accelerator pedal heavily. I’m glad I won’t have to sit behind the wheel of that car any more, yet on the basis of it I can’t form an unbiased opinion on it.

4. Toyota Corolla, 1.6 litre, 132 hp. This car is used by a guy who drives very well and cares after the car a lot and has taken effort to run it in properly. Compared to turbocharged engines the impression should not be extraordinarily good, yet it is. The well-maintained vehicles runs smoothly, gearbox is precise, engine is nearly silent and dynamics between 2k and 3k revolutions is more than decent and better than in my Megane. Toyota, like many Japanese carmakers, holds back from embracing downsized, turbocharged petrol-fuelled engine and claims it will beat European competitors by offering superior reliability. I can say nothing of it, yet the engine has one drawback – fuel consumption is some 0.5 litre per 100 km higher than in my Megane (8.8 litres per 100 kilometres in trip consisting of 50% city, 50% motorway).

5. Mazda 6, 2.0 litre, 140 hp. Not a part of corporate fleet, yet given for a test drive for some reason by Mazda distributor in Poland. Mazda’s two-litre Skyactiv technology engine, a pride and joy of the carmaker and wonderful alternative to all-the-rage downsized engines, after a 200-kilometre trip turned out to be just a no-frill motor. The car looks well (albeit chunkily) and such limousine could make a good part of remuneration package for a senior manager in a pre-retirement age. When revolutions are low, the car runs smoothly and silently, yet to squeeze dynamics out of it, you need to rev it up above 4k and the engine is then unbearably loud. My impressions from driving can be distorted by the fact the car had tens of drivers before me and has not been run in properly. Key drawbacks I would list are: gear lever whose precision leaves a lot to be desired, low elasticity of the engine (if at the speed of 20 kmph you downshift to second gear, the engine chokes) and high fuel consumption, typical for old-times 2.0 litres engines (nearly 10 litres per 100 kilometres in motorway driving at steady speed of 140 – 150 kmph).

And recently I also took my father’s Megane III 1.4 litre, 130 hp for a longer run. The car is well-maintained, after 4 years of sparing usage has only 23,000 kilometres mileage (including five several-hundred-kilometre trips) and is well run-in and must say is no worse than any of the cars I reviewed above.

So what really matters?
Size? Compact car is more than enough for any purpose, yet for people travelling long distances and on motorway, B-segment cars are not the most recommendable.
Engine? Maybe you have noticed none of the cars had a diesel engine. I also prefer petrol-fuelled ones, especially those turbocharged which offer really decent dynamics and low fuel consumption. Diesels, although consume even less fuel, are more expensive to maintain (more defects possible and repairs are more costly), plus in winter they can be the pain in the arse.

But what really matters the most is how the car is driven and cared for. Most post-fleet cars are used by people who care little because it’s not their own vehicle and it will be replaced after a specified period or mileage. Buying such car, unless you know who and how used it, is a purchase of a pig in a poke. Usually buying a used car due to negative selection (why my Megane’s not for sale?) involves high risk of unpleasant surprises, therefore I keep my car going reliable and in two or three years, I will replace it with a brand-new one.

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