Now, imagine yourself seated in the cockpit of a BMW 330d M Sport, which happens to deliver 263 HP and 560 Nm of torque to its four wheels in a 40/60 split. A car that goes 0-100 km/h in just 5.3 seconds. Then, it finds itself locked in a bitter, desperate battle against the middle lane champions. No victory there.
The BMW handled the UK highways fairly well. It swallowed undulation and deformities with ease, even in the Sport mode. When you need a breath of WARP speed, it's there, so you can quickly dash out, overtake, then return to trying to pretend you're enjoying your driving and not cry. Hardly a challenge for its six cylinders and three liters of diesel might. Like watching a first-class space cruiser doing laps round Venus.
Relax, you ain't going nowhere fast. Just lean back and try to minimize the pain.
Renault Captur handled the challenge equally well. It's a smaller, more civil car, with only a fraction of cavalry and torque, but even so, it did a splendid job. First, it does not feel underpowered compared to the BMW, and there's always enough zest under its five manual cogs to deliver a pleasant, happy punch. It also mastered curves well. The steering and the suspension are good enough for a good dose of fun. In fact, for the UK infrastructure, it actually makes more sense, as it can bear more of its abilities in the limited conditions.
M3 is probably the only decent stretch of road in the country. The Captur approves.
Urban centers are even worse than the motorways. Simply because the Victorian despondence hits so much harder. Red industrial brick, two-lane roads designed barely for two cars with parking on both sides. A million clueless drivers, including confused tourists. If you thought the motorways sucked, you need some time in populated areas to get the full appreciation for how bad it really is.
Imagine any which road. Imagine yourself driving. Then, imagine yourself zigzagging in and out of your lane to let oncoming traffic squeeze through, moving out to avoid parked cars, often facing in the wrong direction, something that is quite illegal in other countries, and yet is perfectly fine for the UK, and dodging cyclists and pedestrians who don't really care about the third law of mechanics. Speaking of wrong directions, if your mind is still trying to digest that piece of information, the simple reason why you are allowed to actually park against the direction of the traffic is because the UK roads are too narrow to U turn. I'm not joking. You are even allowed to reverse out of main roads into side roads. Y'know, that thing that gets you a fine in Germany or Albania? It is allowed, again because there's no place you can do a decent, honest three-point U turn. Some main roads, yes, but otherwise nopety nope. Well, even if you want, you can't, there's traffic, like duh.
Quiet and peaceful, but wait, look ahead. There's the traffic jam, waiting.
London is a menace, like any big city. Smaller towns are more fun. Idyllic, and they have a bit of old-school charm, despite the obvious 19th century melancholy. You might even glimpse an odd block of interesting architecture. To top it off, you get a sprinkling of super-narrow roads, but that's fine. That's expected in the countryside.
Lovely scenery, but the roads suck big time.
If you ignore the traffic, you can really enjoy yourself.
All our test cars handled the challenge. The Civic was the worst, as it's very, very wide, and it comes with a hard, unforgiving suspension. The BMW is a large car, but it's precise, and the laser-sharp steering gives you a sense of much smaller dimensions than what you really get. The exception is when you try to edge through down narrow lanes, then you're being mindful of your mirrors, and eventually, allows. The English love high kerbs. Or just placing them randomly everywhere in situations when just painting markings on the road would do.
So much room - for horses.
The Renault behaved awesomely. It was small, compact, practical, and it navigated the urban challenges with ease. The parking is also quite easy. For the 330d, the array of sensors and an excellent rear camera with guidance lines make the end-of-journey maneuvers a breeze, plus you have the passenger-side mirror dip to help you see where you're going. Occasionally, as it only does for some angles, depending on what the driver has set for themselves. Go figure.
Public enemy no.1 - the cyclist. Woe the wrath of a human-powered two-wheeler as its goes about its holy mission of breaking every single traffic law there might be in the UK penal code. Have you ever seen a cyclist stop at a red light? Me neither. Then, send a few thousands of them into the English cities and watch them slow the already slow and over-congested traffic to a beautifully middle-finger-shaped crawl. Videos to follow.
Your best and most considerate friend on the road - the human-powered two-wheeled righteousness.
Goodwood was wicked fun. Quite all right, even though the pilgrimage was hectic, due to the abundance of motorists heading south. However, it was sunny and warm, there was a plethora of nice cars on the display, and my humble self even got a chance to drive the Hillclimb, even though I had forgotten to turn the GoPro on. Twice. Such is life, baby don't hurt me, don't hurt me, no more.
Me pretending to be a driver.
If you want to test your resolve, then you want to be driving on the M25 circular. 'Tis the ring road that defines the Greater London area, and no matter the time or date, it will always, always be extremely busy if not outright kill-yourself congested. Alas, the UK is a long but narrow country, so if you want to cross the so-called Watford Gap and head into the land of benefits and garden Gnomes, you chance the M25.
After that, it's M1 all the way to Darby, in the land of racing where Donington lies. This is another obstacle to fun and recreation. Much like M25, it's a busy little bee, and when you add in fog, road works, entire stretches of the road clocked down to 50 mph, plus idiots, the overall experience is one of mild yet persistent despair.
If only Donington could redeem the pain. Alas, no. Caterham was a disappointing platform of pleasure delivery, especially since the aforementioned fog veiled the track for most of the day, giving us only a brief teaser midday opportunity to drive before it was all closed down, and we were sent packing, shorn of satisfaction. Even so, what little time me and my buddies got on the circuit, it wasn't as pleasant or majestic as I hoped. The other drivers were just as frustrated, remember them, the petrolheads, so they stepped on it, and the etiquette was less safe and less considerate than Spa. Plus the driving instructor what we got wasn't the most patient or accommodating person in the world, especially toward our single lady contestant, the one and only on the entire track. Rather than give her a bit of slack, the instructor assumed she was someone named Kimi Raikkonen, and so, what little time we had was spoiled. Even I wasn't comfortable with the instructor's margins, or the fact people were doing all sorts of things the venue organized specifically forbade. Like dangerous overtakes. And such.
Not as fun as you'd imagine - or hope for.
Heading back to London for another solid dose of BDSM, we were once again reminded why M1 and M25 should be avoided at all costs. Only you can't really, so you feel trapped. This meant another three or four hours of watching slow idiots cramping everyone's style by driving well below the speed limit and refusing to budge. Then we merged from one sustained bog of metal and wheels into London's soup of anguish, and we had the cyclists greet us with their middle finger disdain for rules and traffic light. Bah, I've had enough.
What about Scotland? What about Wales? Ah, there's that. The good ole argument. Whenever I speak to the locals and complain about their roads, they always tell me how my roadtrips were not as exhaustive as they could have been, and how I haven't seen enough. True, but how much does one need to do before deciding they have had enough?
First, I complained about London. They told me to go south. I went south. Then I complained again. So I was instructed to try A272, which was a disappointment. A trip up M1 wasn't any better either, and Donington didn't warm the cockles of my heart. As a scientist, if I extrapolate, I'm not really sure the graph curve is heading in the right direction. After all, how many bad experiences should one have before calling it a day?
I can understand and sympathize with the patriotic sentiment, but after a whole bunch of attempts to find Nirvana on the UK roads and failing, I must come to the sad conclusion that perhaps fun wasn't meant to be on the British islands. Every country has its downsides when it comes to the motoring, but they also have their upsides. Alas, in the UK I was only able to discover the dark side. Yes, potentially, Scotland and Wales could have been a revelation, but all I'm imagining are roads that are even narrower, less maintained, and smeared in sheep droppings. Somehow, I sincerely doubt the marginal constituencies would have changed my mind.
The UK roads could be fun - if everyone was driving a Lada Samara and not too concerned about getting anywhere with speed or elegance. Except everyone has a brand new car, heap loads of power and torque, and there are way too many vehicles on the narrow, outdated infrastructure. You have the decent drivers on one end of the spectrum, with tears in the corners of their eyes, and the mindless army of cretins hogging the middle and the fast lane on the other. There's no middle, I'm afraid.
All in all, it's not like you will be suffering every driving moment you spend on the UK roads. But you sure will not be enjoying yourselves, either, so if your goal is to go for a nice roadtrip, there are better places to exercise your dynamics and freedom. Germany for instance, and we will soon be having a nice little supercar review. Alas, that would be all for this time. No great recommendations, no great experiences. But that in its own right is a worthy lesson, no matter if you choose a beefy BMW or feisty little Renault. Take care.