Guilty pleasures: Cars we love but perhaps shouldn’t

Sometimes a car isn’t great, or even particularly good, but you can’t help liking it. Time for the Autocar team to reveal their irrational objects of desire.

Kia Soul – James Attwood

There’s nothing irrational about liking the new Kia Soul EV. But before an all-electric makeover infused with Kia’s new-found sense of style, in its first two generations the Soul was an odd-looking, weirdly shaped compact crossover. It was pitched as ‘urban cool’ but mostly looked a bit odd. It wasn’t even all that spacious: while the boxy shape offered plenty of head room, it had limited leg room and a deceptively small boot. It didn’t ride very well, either. Despite that, it somehow worked. It was compact, with wheel-on-each-corner handling that was amusing if not dynamic. Perhaps that ‘funky’ styling worked: I wanted to like it and was prepared to look past its flaws. Happily, the new Soul doesn’t require such blinkered thinking: it’s become the great car I always knew it could be.

Rover Streetwise – Matt Prior

Embarrassing Dad is an enduring television trope. “What’s this? It’s got a good beat,” says Hugh Dennis, trying to still be down with the kids. In a motoring context, Embarrassing Dad would call a car ‘Streetwise’. The 2003 Streetwise, based on the likeable but dated Rover 25, was MG Rover squeezing the remaining juices from the lemons BMW left behind when it sold the company. And it was good to drive, retaining the inherent character of the 25, a fun, nimble hatchback. So spare a thought for the Streetwise. It’s got a good beat.



Audi A1 Citycarver – Felix Page

Some will see the A1 Citycarver as nothing more than a cynical marketing ploy – a blatant attempt on Audi’s part to tap into the public’s unquenchable thirst for SUVs and convince us that its supermini has off-road ability. It doesn’t, of course. Not really. But let’s look at this oddity for what it really is: a bit of fun, and how often does Ingolstadt offer that?

Save for the Ford Fiesta Active, you can’t really get this close to the sky without stepping up to a proper compact SUV. It’s hard to say how successful the Citycarver concept will be, but you don’t see many Volkswagen Polo Dunes around these days…

Vauxhall Combo Life – Lawrence Allan

Enthusiasts will find it easy to dismiss the Combo Life – and its fellow PSA van-with-windows siblings – as undesirable, unattractive boxes for people who have no interest in cars. They couldn’t be more wrong (although I’m not going to argue that these things are design classics). What they are is the thinking person’s family SUV. With more versatility than any jacked-up hatchback, a compact footprint and an affordable price, they’re perfect for kid carriers and lifestyle types alike. Plus, they’re easy to drive, thanks to huge mirrors, flat sides, deep windows and an innate sense that they’ve been designed to take whatever punishment you throw at them.