Giving saloons the boot!

Mike Humble

Ford Granada 2.8 Injection: when dinosaurs ruled the earth
Ford Granada 2.8 Injection: when dinosaurs ruled the earth

I saw her today as I drove to the shops – she was there, outside the newsagents, and I’m in love again. She’s 25 years old and somewhat younger than me, but do you know what? I don’t care. Her red complexion and plain yet distinctive looks are everything to me and, already, I’m wondering what my friends and family will think of her if I ever take her home.

She’s a basic sort of thing and I loved her all those years ago when I first saw one of her sisters – her name is Jetta GTi. I must have been around 13 years old when I entered the premises of Mill Garages to see the MK2 shape VW Jetta and I thought right away that it looked better, almost refreshingly different from the countless Golfs you would see. The base model Jetta and Golf of that era were very spartan and low rent, but the plusher versions, especially in a nice colour, were lovely – well, in my opinion, anyway. I drove a Jetta GTi a few years ago, as a friend said at the time, ‘like a total cock’ and it was simply amazing.

The Mark 2 Jetta GTi: I wanted one more than life itself!
The Mark 2 Jetta GTi: I wanted one more than life itself!

This made me think – the once common as muck four-door saloon is very much second place to a hatchback these days and, although I applaud the practicality of a decent sized hatchback, I still adore a decent saloon. Not that long ago the four-door was king, every road and by-way was littered with Cavaliers, Cortinas, Sapphires, Carltons, Montegos, Volvo 240s and Nissan Bluebirds, to name just a few. My childhood memory reminds me of the long-fading humming noise the boot of my father’s Marina made when he slammed it shut after another journey to Fine Fare.

I blame the ‘Escrot’ Mk3 you know – these small three- or five-door hatchbacks became the norm with that horrible sound of a gruff 1.3-litre CVH engine heaving into life with the aural finesse and refinement of floor boards being lifted. Very soon the plethora of Cortinas and Cavaliers were replaced with Nissan Stanzas and other horrible hatchbacks. Over the years, after owning many, many saloons including two Ladas and a multitude of BL gear including Itals and Montegos, I still admire the comfort of a decent-sized saloon.

Some car makers got it right: take the Sierra Sapphire of 1987. To me, this four-door family car looked better, maybe even classier, than the run of the mill hatchback Sierra. Besides, if Jimmy Nail as Spender drove one then that’s fine by me. I have owned both a Sierra hatchback and the Sapphire and it was the latter which was, by far, the more rigid in structure and much more refined to drive. Large hatchbacks with an empty luggage area turn into a mobile sound room and take much longer to warm up in winter – so what if your uncle’s ladders won’t go in the boot of your car? Who wants to paint and decorate anyway?

Sierra RS Cosworth: if was good enough for Spender, it was good enough for me
Sierra RS Cosworth: if was good enough for Spender, it was good enough for me

Ford did it right a few years earlier with the Orion in 1983, but really came good in 1986 with the launch of the facelifted version based on the Escort Mk4. My favourite was the legendary injection Ghia, sporting those lovely ‘pepper pot’ alloys, driving lamps on the bumper and optional, yet unfathomable, trip computer. I kicked myself for a long time for letting a seriously cheap pristine E-Reg example in silver slip though my fingers some years back – it was only in need of a head rebuild following a broken cam belt. What did I buy instead? An MG Maestro 2.0i which decided to combust spontaneously soon after purchase.

Orion 1.6i Ghia: who hasn't secretly hankered after one of these?
Orion 1.6i Ghia: who hasn’t secretly hankered after one of these?

The Orion Ghia injection was the thinking man’s XR3i – the same performance, the same easy-peasy servicing, but without the shell suit and love bite image of the Escort XR3i. Sadly, though, along with the Escort, it badly succumbed to the dreaded Sheffield worm.

Another example of a pretty retro saloon was the Ford Granada, never top of the tree for cosseting luxury but with a certain aggressive charm none the less. How I used to go weak at the knees at the sight and sound of 2.8i Ghia X ‘Grannie’ when given a hand full of sugar lumps – just like Mr Spender, Jack Regan wouldn’t have settled for anything less. This big barge Ford died a sad and disrespectful death in the 1990s in the shape of the vile and offensive Scorpio.

Mind you, in some cases, the hatchback did look better than the saloon, take the Saab 900 for example. This bonkers Swedish supertank looked far better in tailgated form than its oddly-proportioned saloon brother, especially the superb Turbo 16. The 9000 which burst onto the scene in 1985 looked amazing in hatch form too although the later 9000 CDE saloon looked a bit plain to me. Others included the Peugeot 605, a car that never did very well over here but to me looked a pretty car. Turning big French cars around once again, the legend that is the Citroen CX and its baby sister, the GSA, also looked stunning to the eye – GTi Turbo 2 CX anyone?

La Citroen CX: lunacy in steel that only the French could pull off!

Conversely, I found the Mk1 Cavalier/Ascona hatchback a better looking machine than the three-box effort, whereas I found the later Mk2 better in saloon guise but, then again, who can remember some of those really rotten saloons from our 80s past?

Once again, we doff our hats to the French for (again, in my opinion) some pretty crappy lumps of horridness. Prime examples include: the Renault 9, Talbot Solara, Renault 21 and, more recently, the Renault 19 Chamade. The Renault 18, though, was a car I did actually like – they were so very comfortable too!

The Renault 9: style, quality and a runaway hit…. erm… no

Other saloons offering as much desirability as chewing a teaspoon included the Proton 1.5 MPi, Peugeot 306 sedan and the blindingly dismal Vauxhall Nova 2 door saloon. However, for me, the world’s most boring saloon car ever made is, once again, a Vauxhall: my Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, I offer you the Belmont saloon.

This Astra saloon offering from GM was a knee-jerk response to the run away sales of the Orion and also boasted an even larger boot than Volkswagen’s Jetta albeit without the German car’s reliability, build quality, resale value, badge kudos, dealer reputation. I’m actually contracting ME just thinking about the damn thing.

Vauxhall Belmont: one thing less apealing than a punctured lung

There are some very pretty saloons on the market today. The Mercedes-Benz CLS catches my eye and the new Saab 9-5 is a damn fine looking car even though it’s based on the GM Epsilon II chassis aka: Vauxhall Insignia – I fear, though, that it will never reach the cult status of the dearly missed 900 Turbo 16S.

The Saab 9-5: all hail the return of the big Swedish saloon!
Mike Humble


  1. Saloons are great – just look at all the great car designs of the past and they are good-looking saloons.

    However, having driven Saloons and Hatchs, I can tell you Hatchs are better to own because of their flexability. My Volvo S60 has a huge boot but you can’t get anything in it – I still have to borrow my old Focus from my brother when I want to go and buy something bulky.

  2. I would say that another notable example of the hatch version looking much better than the saloon is the Rover 800…

  3. I agree with your comments on Saab and their new 9-5 – it’s a very handsome car from an interesting and dedicated manufacturer.

    I’m a bit surprised Saab’s recent turbulent history hasn’t had more attention on AROnline. I know it’s a completely unrelated firm to those usually covered on AROnline (apart from the Triumph-based engines) but it’s recently seen some incredible upheaval and might just do what MGR didn’t manage to – survive. Indeed, if Saab do pull it off in the long term, it’d be interesting to see what they did right that MGR didn’t (or couldn’t).

    Incidentally, what on earth is Sheffield Worm?? There’s an implication there that this grand old city of industry is somehow responsible for rust – hardly Sheffield’s fault if Ford’s crappy paint can’t protect their steel adequately.

  4. Mike, you never mentioned the Orion injection’s secret weapon – that rear anti-roll bar…

    However, Mike the new Saab – have you been near it and felt the cheapness? Prepare for the next MGR. Oh, and don’t bash your head when you get in the back – it’s worse than the Mercedes CLS.

  5. @Keith Adams
    Hehe, I was a secret boy racer back in the days of C90 tapes! The XR3i annoyed the flip out of me whereas the Orion just seemed that little bit more refined and exclusive.

    Money being no object, my Hot Hatch of choice would have been a Peugeot 205GTi or something along the lines of a Mk1 VW Golf GTi 1.8…

  6. I was with you all the way until the new Saab 9-5 was mentioned.

    That’s thoroughly horrid IMHO. I can think of no reason to buy one unless the discount over an equivalent Beemer or Merc made it irresistible – I think I would hold out even then.

    However, what about the Jaguar XF?

  7. I had a 1993 Orion 1.8i LX – it had basically the same engine as the Mk5 Escort XR3, but in a saloon body. It was a horrible, badly built car.

    Saloons though are usually more attractive than hatchbacks. My current car is a 406 (a saloon, though my old Xantia wasn’t unattractive either).

    They have a bigger following in the Republic of Ireland. When people could afford to buy cars, they loved the saloon versions of Opel Astra and Focii – Nissan even had to introduce a Tiida saloon in amongst their plethora of SUVs.

    • I’m a big fan of the Peugeot 406 – I have owned three and driven dozens. Even by today’s standards, a well-fettled 406 (though now many are sadly tired bangers) still ticks every box for a cheap and nice to drive 4-door saloon.

  8. I find the 1980s and 1990s notion that saloons are somehow ‘posher’ than their hatchback sisters faintly absurd.

    Vauxhall even made a saloon version of the Nova at one point!

  9. @Chris
    The XF’s very handsome too – Jaguar are making some very desirable cars at the moment. However, some of its external detailing lets it down a bit.

    I don’t think it’s just a Jaguar issue – all upmarket cars share their basic manufacturing methods with cheaper cars – but, on the XF’s clean shape, those details (and others such as the clumsy wing mirrors) are more apparent.

  10. Interesting comments on saloons, Mike. Passat aside, VW seem to struggle with them in the shadow of the almighty Golf -the names Vento and Bora are not, perhaps, too helpful either.

    My Bora seemed practical with folding seats but loading bulky items through the boot was akin to playing the boardgame Operation with the buzzer replaced by the swearing attendant to grazed knuckles. However, the bootlid did close with the solidity of the door on a nuclear bunker.

    I think Jaguar said some time ago they favoured saloons over hatches to prevent rear seat passengers getting a draft on their necks. A fair point but that doesn’t explain why the Lynx Eventer was better looking that the standard XJS – well, in my opinion anyway. I wonder if that means a Range Rover isn’t a luxury car too?

    Swedish cars have got less idiosyncratic or less characterful if you prefer. Compare a 900 or a 240 to the current crop and, as a very slightly disappointed V70 owner, I know which era I prefer. I hope, though, that the new 9-5 gets Saab back into the black.

  11. The Indians love saloon versions of hatchbacks – there was even a saloon version of the Metro which can, I think, be found on this site. It’s all to do with prestige so, for example, they get a saloon version of the Fiesta.

    I think the Granada Mk2, in dark blue over silver 2.8i Ghia X form, is sadly something we will never see again. The Ford Orion injection was just so much cooler than the XR3i. Cars that look good as either are the Saab 9000, Rover 800 and the Alpine/Solara. The Sapphire was so handsome and a great drive whether a 2.0lt Ghia or a Cosworth but I like the Hatch and the Estate. The Renault 11 looked better than the 9

    Some cars just look wrong to me – the Jetta Mk1 and Polo Mk2 Saloon are like a pretty girl with a very big bottom. The 5DR hatch Saab 900 was never as pretty as the saloon or 3dr.

    However, the ‘You Can’t Polish a T**d’ prize has to go to either the R21 or the Vauxhall Nova Saloon.

  12. I did own a C plate Mk2 Jetta GT which, as those in the know will appreciate, was in fact the GTI in every way – only the ‘I’ was missing form the badge (but not from the engine!). Thanks to that it cost a third what a Golf GTI would cost to insure and was a great car.

    I now have a Mk2 Golf GTI in the garage thanks to that car. I’d love another but it’s almost impossible to find one. The boot was far bigger in the Jetta as well!!

  13. @Adrian
    That’s because they were – compare a C plate Jetta GT with a C plate Golf GTI. The Jetta was far plusher inside without any of that horrid nylon seat trim. The Golf trim was later upgraded to that found in the Jetta.

  14. Personally, I have always favoured saloons – the 400 being a classic example. After several hatches and MPVs, I am ready to return to a car which I don’t need to share the load space with on a daily basis.

    My nomination for the worst saloon ever would be the Nova – it looked for all the world like a Viva HA!

  15. It’s fun to read all these different opinions. This blog and the following Readers’ Comments were the first time in my life that I have seen the Jetta Mk2 being classed as beautiful or even desirable.

    Here, in Germany, it was (and is) the epitome of an ‘old man with a hat’ car – very much like a beige Allegro. I’ve noticed that many of the saloon cars which were so successful in the UK only sold in small numbers (if ever) here in Germany. The Orion, Sierra notchback, Kadett Saloon and Jetta were by far outsold by their hatchback counterparts. Indeed, in many cases these booted hatches where withdrawn from the German market.

    However, at one time it looked like cars of Passat size would all end up being hatchbacks but this has now changed – the estate is the ‘new’ hatchback in the medium and upper medium sector – in the case of the Passat outselling the Saloon about 2:1 for many, many years. The hatchback is not yet dead though – the Mondeo Saloon has just been dropped with the MY11 facelift…

    Personally, I am not someone who prefers saloons. Citroën CX apart, I am currently unable to remember a car where I actually would prefer the saloon to the hatch or estate – based on looks alone and aside from the unpractical aspect of saloons. It’s probably a draw between Renault 9 and 11 though…

  16. @Stewart
    True, but that’s only because the manufacturers deemed it so – there’s no reason why a hatchback couldn’t be equally well-specced and luxurious.

  17. CX, and the new C6 are saloons. XM was the hatchback. GS was a saloon but GSA a hatchback.

    The Princess was never a saloon until turned into the ugly duckling Ambassador.

    Most mainstream manufacturers no longer sell saloons on the UK market.

    We have even lost the likes of the Mitsubishi Lancer and Subaru Impreza (and Legacy) saloons.

    I think the most elegant hatchbacks are not those truncated nearly vertical ones, but fastbacks like the Citroen Xantia.

    Ireland as a market still gets a lot of saloons that the UK doesn’t (eg. Toyota Corolla, Renault Fluence diesel, Subaru Legacy etc.)

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