I’m hunting for a new car rental place, ever since Brighton Budget on Lewes Road shut down. It’s sad because they were great lads. I got so regular they used to let me grab a car, drive off, no money or paperwork and I’d pay when I got back days or weeks later. They were a touch, um, UKIP, but never minded me. Much missed to be honest, I got cleared by the Sussex cops to join a gun club with one of them (!) but never found the time to go.
For my tour I’ve rented a Ford Focus from Brighton Thrifty, paid up-front online. Except when I showed up to collect it, they gave me a Vauxhall Astra. The small print said ‘Ford Focus… or similar’ and I was in a hurry, so I didn’t argue, just took it and hoped for the best. Now I’m sure it is ‘similar’ in stature/price-range to a Focus – and I don’t know much about cars beyond driving them – but the Astra is just total clenching shit by comparison to a Ford, regardless of Henry Ford’s nazi history. Fucks me off! All the things wrong are tiny on their own but add up to a fat whole, especially with a lot of driving to do over a period of weeks.
I can’t see the indicators or fuel gauge because they’re obscured by the steering wheel. Add to this the unreliable indicators that sometimes stay on when you think you’ve switched them off, plus a very quiet ‘tick’ and the result? I continually have to scrunch down, every time I accelerate out of a junction, to check whether I’m still indicating or not.
Because I can’t see the fuel gauge I’m habitually using the ‘miles left to empty’ on the digital display menu instead. On the Astra this display menu is incorporated with the CD/radio information but for some unknown godforsaken reason, you can’t switch between items on the menu when the CD or radio is actually on. Why on earth would they do that? Surely that’s extra work for a programmer / electrician to make something palpably worse!?
So I’ve been using the manual mileometer on the dash rather than the shitty digital display to calculate my total trip mileage – which is fairly important on a tour for accounting. But when I left the car unused for a day off, the motherfucker reset itself to zero. I’ll have to ask Thrifty what the overall mileage is when I take this wheelbarrow back.
The seats are another piss-up-a-rope. It’s a 3-door and the front seats fold down and forward easily enough, however to raise them back up to normal again, you have to lean down and pull the lever under the seat to the front as well as the handle on the side. Talk about finnickity, especially when you’re doing it a lot to get gear/people in/out of the car. The seats are an odd shape for the car too, they don’t seem to fit properly, so sometimes they get caught. An utter fucking pain.
The doors are unwieldy, long and low so that even getting in and out is more effortful than the Focus. I have no scientific comparison but it feels like the blindspots are massive compared to the Focus as well. I’m missing people moving in certain places and having to lean around a lot more often.
Initially I liked the tinted rear windows until I realised they’re not tinted enough to actually conceal anything. wtfp.
And the straw that snaps the camel’s cock is, I can’t even fit my guitars in the boot properly. In a Focus, even in a Fiesta, I can squeeze at least the acoustic in the boot, so it is hidden when I park. This tour, both guitars and my borrowed keyboard are having to come into every hotel and can’t be left even for a few minutes because it’s so obvious there’s gear there.
The drink holder (and there’s only one of course – passengers can hold their own fucking coffee) is in the stupidest place I’ve ever seen, right between the seats but really far back so you have to stretch your arm round at a weird double-jointed angle to grab your latte.
Even the fuel cap is pissing me off: it’s an old fashioned loose screw-up one, so you have to put on the roof while you’re filling up, inevitably resulting in an embarrassing chase across the forecourt if it’s windy and the risk of just losing the little shit. It’s the 21st century and they’ve got the same fuel cap as a 1970s Renault 4.
There’s more, so much more, but I keep forgetting bits. A general point: every time I’ve driven in the USA the car has a digital compass on the dashboard, so you know what direction you’re going in. This massively helps if you’re navigating through a town, even with maps. I don’t want to SatNav and lose all my (already pissingly small) navigational ability, I want to use maps. If cars had a compass in there too, mapreading would be 10x easier… or is that one just me?
So there you go: give the Vauxhall Astra a miss and get the Ford Focus. I’m not being endorsed by Ford, haven’t talked to them or anything (though hi, fancy giving me a free car to drive around Europe in? I’ll shut up about your founder’s fascist past!) but touring solo in a car, you need a haven as well as just an A-To-B device, you need to love it and feel comfortable whatever the scenario. I’ll never knowingly hire an Astra again and if Thrifty – who were otherwise perfectly charming, efficient and good value – can’t guarantee the car I ask for then they’re off the list.