I was having a field day until I came to a field
— The Clarkson Review: Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 4Matic+
By Jeremy Clarkson
, Nov. 22)
The Audi Q5. The BMW X3. The Lexus UX. The Porsche Cayenne. I pretty much loathe them all. They're just saloons in platform shoes, pointlessly tall, pointlessly heavy and, as often as not, equipped with pointless off-road abilities that will never be used.
They are, to the world of cars, what those £19.99 gardening trousers you see advertised at the back of The Daily Telegraph
are to the world of fashion. Or what a petrol station pork pie is to the world of cuisine. They're low-ambition transport modules for people who just want four wheels and a seat.
So I really wasn't expecting to enjoy my week in the Mercedes GLE. Especially as it arrived with AMG badging. Because here is a massive seven-seater that is trying to be something it cannot be: sporty. You can put go-faster stripes on a wellington boot but it will still be a wellington boot.
There's more, I'm afraid. Instead of a conventional dashboard you get what airline pilots call a "glass cockpit". I know why Mercedes has gone down this route: money. Because if you take a normal dashboard apart, there are thousands of pieces: needles, springs, dials, slider controls, knobs, tiny little screws, hundreds of washers and a million miles of wiring. Whereas with glass all that's gone. And that's a big saving.
There are two big screens with options you can tailor from a menu that's even longer than the breakfast choices in an American diner. On and on you go, choosing whether you want a proper speedo or a digital readout, and then what other sort of information you'd like. I found one set-up that made no sense at all — it was like staring into the warp core of the Starship Enterprise. And that's before I started playing with the colour of the interior lighting.
I pretty much loathe all this too, because I don't trust it. I'm building a house at the moment and spend most of my life trying to explain to the project manager and the architect that I don't want a bath that can be run from my iPad when I'm in Milan, or a cooker that lowers itself into position from the ceiling and is operated by ground-sourced heat. I don't even want dimmer switches. I especially don't want electrically operated garage doors, because when grit or gravel gets into the runners — and it will — an electric motor cannot cope. Whereas human heft can.
The thermostat is also a big bugbear, because I don't want a digital menu on the control panel. I don't want 5,000 options. I just want a knob made from brass or Bakelite that turns the system on and turns it off. Because that's the thing with central heating: you either want it or you don't. And mostly I don't, because it's cheaper to wear a jumper.
I also don't want Sonos. I'm aware that everyone else in the world can make their phones talk to some invisible record player in the sky, but I can't. Which is why I have bought a table instead, on which my deck and amp can sit. The speakers will not be installed in the ceiling, because then they'll be too small. Speakers should be big. And made from wood.
I have a similar view about gearlevers. I also reckon they should stick out of the centre console and not, as you find on the Mercedes, be operated by a stalk on the steering column. Because that suggests the gears are being controlled not mechanically but by electricity. And as anyone with a wifi router knows, electricity cannot be trusted. Certainly, if the wifi in my cottage were put in charge of the gearbox in my car, it would wait for me to pull on to the M40 and then, without warning, select reverse.
It had a row the other day with my television, which meant some poor man had to come out on a Sunday morning and reset my whole Sky system. Which means I've now lost everything I've ever recorded. That never happened when we had VHS tapes.
I'm getting sidetracked here and I'm sorry. I'm also sorry to have been so prejudiced about the Mercedes, because, actually, its glass screen system works very well. Once I'd selected green interior lighting and found an option that let me have a rev counter and a proper speedo, it was great. And here's the next surprise. So is the car.
You might imagine that, because it's called a 53 4Matic+, it has a 5.3-litre engine. In fact you get a turbocharged and super smooth 3-litre, in-line straight six that dispatches 429 horsepowers through a nine-speed gearbox to all four wheels. This is a fast car, and not just in a straight line. Perhaps because it's lighter than you might expect — it's only 2.3 tons — you can actually hustle it.
My only real complaint — apart from the fact it would be better still if it weren't so tall — is that on a motorway the big quad exhaust system never really stops shouting.
That aside, it's a relaxing place to be. The seats are big and comfortable, the ride is smooth. I love the twin panic handles on either side of the transmission tunnel. In a Lamborghini Miura you only get one. I also like the look of the dash. And I especially like the layout further back, where there's lots of legroom. Right at the very back, in the boot, there are two diddy seats that can be lifted from the floor, and even when they're raised you still get enough space for a dog, as long as it's quite thin.
Halfway through the week, as it began to dawn on me that I was actually enjoying an SUV, I went to check on the price. And I was a bit startled to learn the version I drove costs just over £81,000. Which is significantly cheaper than many Range Rovers.
I was midway through fermenting a thought that it was the better car when I had to use it for a spot of light farm work.
And immediately the downside of that spirited on-road performance became clear. It's too stiff, which means that on a track it's too jiggly. Driving against the furrows in a field of stubble was like rollerskating over a corrugated iron roof. I'm surprised my eyes didn't fall out.
I guess Mercedes would say it has the G-class for people who want to do estate management or shooting and that the GLE is more of a fancy school-run car, in the mould of a Volvo XC90. Which means you face a tough choice.
I don't particularly like driving the Volvo, or being in it, or looking at it, but my children were brought up in a selection of them because in the UK not a single person has died in one as a result of a collision with another car. That's a powerful argument.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Here's a blockbuster idea: a lie-filled show about a TV boss's family. I bet the Queen would watch
By Jeremy Clarkson (Sunday Times
, Nov. 22)
I am three-quarters of the way through the latest series of The Crown
, which is being shown on Netflix, and so far I've seen the funeral of Lord Mountbatten, overlaid with the soundtrack from an IRA statement on British oppression in Ireland. I've watched Princess Diana vomiting noisily and often. And I've heard Michael Fagan, the man who broke into Buckingham Palace, explaining to the Queen how so many lives were being ruined by Mrs Thatcher's policies.
Meanwhile, the Queen Mother has not yet uttered a single pleasant or kind word, Prince Andrew has told his mother about what his latest girlfriend did with an aeroplane joystick, Prince Charles has been perpetually wet and useless and Mrs Thatcher has explained she doesn't like women, not even her own daughter. As soap operas go, it's up there with Dallas
, and it's given me an idea.
I'm thinking of writing a TV drama series based on Reed Hastings, the American billionaire who co-founded Netflix and who, therefore, is responsible for The Crown
being made and shown.
We shall look at his mother, Joan, who was descended from Edward I, and we shall speculate on why she turned her back on the debutante society in which she was brought up, and why she raised her children to hate it as well.
We shall delve, also, into why Reed and his wife, Patricia, needed marriage counselling all those years ago. And we shall intercut a scene of him taking delivery of his first Porsche with shots of poverty, and hopelessness in Detroit.
I know absolutely nothing about his two children but that won't stop me writing scenes in which they appear at pro-Trump rallies, brandishing AR-15 assault rifles. Nor do I know why Mr Hastings donates so much money to schoolchildren. But I'll have a couple of scenes of him hanging around the school gates anyway.
And we'll see how he likes it. Not much, is my guess. He would almost certainly sue, and if my defence were, "Well, it all happened that way in my head," I'd lose the case and look like a bit of an idiot.
I simply cannot enjoy this series of The Crown
at all because I keep thinking that the made-up scenes could be watched by Harry and William, or Charles or Camilla, or Carol Thatcher, and even if they are not watching — which seems likely — they will know that wherever they go, the people they meet will have, for sure.
But truth be told, I've dished it out. A few years ago, I made a wartime documentary about a doomed Arctic convoy called PQ-15 and I was forced, at the end, to take sides and point a finger at Sir Dudley Pound, the first sea lord, who, I thought, was to blame for the debacle.
I hated doing this because I knew that Pound's grandchildren could be watching as I calmly offered an opinion that their beloved grandad had been responsible for the deaths of 153 merchant sailors. It hurt.
Only last week, I had the same wretched sense of toe-curling embarrassment when I read a story about the "Monuments Men", the soldiers who were charged, as the Second World War ended, with trying to save all of Europe's precious art. Six years ago, George Clooney made a blockbuster film about these wise and brave Americans, who had dodged sniper fire and shelling as they tried to ensure that Europe's culture wasn't wiped out or looted or stolen by the advancing forces of Stalin.
Clooney said later that "almost" all of the scenes in the movie had happened, and that these guys really did save works by Caravaggio, Botticelli, Rubens and Michelangelo. So it was all jolly noble and I'm sure the descendants of these men felt proud as they left the cinema.
But now comes news that alongside the American Monuments Men were — surprise, surprise — a group of Englishmen called, rather predictably, Hilary, Humphrey, Roger and Harry. I think we're not talking Stallone and Schwarzenegger here. They had all studied classics or history, and while other soldiers were doing PE or target practice, they had been in a basement, learning how to restore documents.
And it turns out they had no time for their gung-ho transatlantic counterparts. In a recently unearthed letter, Humphrey said: "It appears that the American archivist can flourish like a lone palm in the desert — without a trace of cultural background."
It's wonderful, of course, that their efforts have been uncovered, and great work from the historians, but I do feel for the descendants of the Yanks who have basically been told that Grandad was so thick he accidentally wiped his arse on a first edition of the Bible.
There was another story last week about why the dinosaurs grew to be so tall. It was so they could reach the leaves of the conifers that were among the few food sources to have survived the global warming back then. Obviously it was written by silly lefties who feel the need to blame climate change for everything, but it doesn't matter, because the descendants of the dinosaurs — the red kites and the buzzards — won't really care. It all happened so long ago.
It's the same story with King Harold. If you think you have a case, go ahead and suggest he was late to the Battle of Hastings because he'd been on a wifeswapping weekend. Likewise, you can make a movie suggesting Queen Anne liked a spot of sapphic activity at night and kept a fleet of rabbits in her bedroom because, again, time has passed.
But I do think that when you are documenting events that happened in the 1980s, you do need to be sure of your facts, and your moral compass, before you allow a first assistant director to shout "action".
And here's the Sun
column: "Lock up at-risk fatties ’til they lose weight, and start with me…"