Car-spotting in law-abiding, pothole-less Seville
In the Spanish city it’s about practicality, not status, and the courteous drivers stop at pedestrian crossings
Last week I attended my first overseas assignment since October 2019, a little while before Covid-19 changed the world as we know it. The destination? Seville, Spain, to sample two interesting products from Toyota Gazoo Racing (GR).
You can read about those in the weeks to come. For now, allow me to go on about the vehicular sights and overall experience of being a motorist in the Andalusian capital. For a car nut, the prospect of spotting makes and models not seen in one’s own country can eclipse natural or historical points of interest.
Seville has all those hallmarks of your average Spanish city, including stunning ancient buildings and inner-city sections with narrow cobblestoned thoroughfares. Road infrastructure appeared excellent, while public transport — trams, trains and scooter sharing — seemed to alleviate congestion. Traffic jams aren’t really a thing, even during morning peak hour. Dedicated cycling lanes also make pedal-powered mobility an option.
The personal transport concept is still alive and well, however. Though one gets the impression that consumers’ collective mindset favours the car for its practical benefits rather than serving as an expression of status. I didn’t, for example, see a single Volkswagen Golf or Polo in GTI guises.
While South African buyers would turn their noses up at “poverty-specification” German sedans with small wheels and entry-level trim, that’s the type of template you’ll often see in Seville when you do spot premium marques. Nobody would bat an eyelid at a base-model Audi or Mercedes-Benz with cloth upholstery and wheel covers. You’re likely to see more sports cars in five minutes at Melrose Arch than you will during a week in Seville. The most serious examples of exotica I caught were Porsches: an entry-level Macan and a hybrid Cayenne.
As expected, Seat is a hugely popular brand. Seeing modern examples of the Polo-based Ibiza and Golf-based Leon made me wish parent company Volkswagen hadn’t ruined the Spanish car brand in SA. You might recall that Seat was once available in our market, but its presence was short-lived, from 2006 to 2009. The range was priced above Volkswagen’s — its custodians thought buyers wouldn’t cotton on to Seat being positioned quite differently overseas, below the Volkswagen tier.
As with the rest of Europe, the station wagon category remains a hit. You’ll see plenty of estate variants of nameplates we are familiar with in our market. Our media contingent just about jumped out the windows of the shuttle when first laying eyes on the sleek, teardrop shape of a new Corolla wagon. Bigger sedans such as the Skoda Superb, Kia Optima and Volkswagen Passat are also not uncommon.
You’ll see a reasonable share of electric vehicles too. One night our Uber approached silently in a hybrid Hyundai Ioniq. Earlier in the night a Renault Twizy buzzed past us. Renault’s Zoe hatchback was also seen on a few occasions, but the cherry on top was seeing a Tesla Model 3 in the flesh.
But actually, forget the cars — ask me what I’d bring back to SA and my answer would be driving attitude. Those Seville drivers were so relaxed, so law-abiding, so courteous, it was a jolt to the system. They actually STOP at pedestrian crossings. Their lane discipline, respect for solid lines and adherence to speed limits was remarkable. Within 5km of leaving Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport on my return, seeing a knackered Chevrolet Aveo aggressively weave through traffic, I knew I was back in Gauteng.