The Clarkson 'Excellent' - In Depth Road Test Report

A sports SUV for sadomasochists, who've recently had a lobotomy.

- Introduction

Getting hold of a Clarkson 'Excellent' to review was not easy. In fact it was impossible. Only one prototype of this forthcoming model exists and the manufacturer jealously guards it, allowing few motoring journalists access to the vehicle. The 'Excellent' was conceived as a solution to the age of old problem of creating a 'Sporty' SUV with great off-road capability, but also spirited performance, good track manners and pin-point handing. This is something the motoring industry at large has tried and failed to do in the past. So does Clarkson's 'Excellent' succeed where Porsche, BMW and Jaguar failed? Thankfully, I've been able to watch footage of respected, serious motoring journalists reviewing the car. Well, erm, one respected, serious motoring journalist and his colleagues... Maybe... Anyway I've reviewed the footage and compiled their thoughts into a thorough, detailed road test report.

The rear light cluster of the 'Excellent'

The rear light cluster of the 'Excellent'

- Design & Styling 2/5

In a statement from the manufacturer, the Excellent was reported to have been designed around the clean lines and understated elegance of the Mercedes SL. To that aspiration, the 'Excellent' succeeds. The only short-coming is the fact that the manufacturer so obviously failed to seamlessly marry the Mercedes shell to its Land Rover Discovery under-pinnings, giving you the impression somebody just dumped a car onto a chassis, then knocked it into place with a hammer. In defence of the Excellent, the chassis and body are reasonably well proportioned and the giant, off-road wheels don't look entirely out of place beneath the arches of the SL. The end product is certainly a unique vehicle, which is sure to turn heads wherever you drive it.

The impressive side profile of the Clarkson Excellent

The impressive side profile of the Clarkson Excellent

- Interior 0/5

Uniquely the manufacturer has gone for a distressed, retro look inside the car, reminiscent of the recent trend for expensive furniture makers to sell their wares 'distressed' at a premium price. The designers of the Excellent have gone a step further though and boldly decided to ensure most, no, nearly all of the equipment doesn't work. The dials and switches are well placed, however that's kind of irrelevant because none of them work. The speedometer which DOES work, is poorly placed, beside your left knee, meaning you have to take your eyes off the road to ascertain what speed you're doing.

The bizarrely placed second speedometer.

The bizarrely placed second speedometer.

Following in the footsteps of car makers like Lotus, Noble, Ultima and Ariel, Clarkson has avoided concealing the functional. (Or in this case non-functional) elements of the car. The interior of the Excellent is accented with bare wires, cable ties and bits of roughly cut, rusty metal. The overall feel is a somewhat post-apocalypse theme, giving you a sense of driving across a desert Tina Turner style, pursuing the Road Warrior.

The 'don't do anything' vents.

The 'don't do anything' vents.

Finished in faux wood, blue plastic and slightly mouldy carpet the interior is more spartan than King Leonidas's 300 and less comfortable than having your scrotum stapled to a table. UK buyers will have to wear a coat and thick gloves as there is no heating whatsoever, unless you happen to have a small electrical fire in the car while driving.

The 'not a' glovebox of the Excellent.

The 'not a' glovebox of the Excellent.

Pop open the glove box and you'll find loose electrical parts and bare wires, continuing the theme of general 'knocked together in a shed' crapness.

The Excellent Interior

The Excellent Interior

In defence of the Excellent, the doors DID actually open and the seat adjustment worked.

- Performance 1/5

The 3.9 L V8 'Excellent'

The 3.9 L V8 'Excellent'

Unlike most modern SUVs, which tend to feature a small, economical, punchy diesel engine - the Excellent features an ancient, creaky, 3.9 L V8 Petrol. Performance, though difficult to describe as 'brisk' is genuinely fast enough for thrills, given that the car has hardly any brakes and utterly atrocious handling. In a drag race, the Excellent was barely able to outstrip a 1.5 L diesel Dacia, without the body falling off.

- Ride & Handling 1/5

The tester found some play in the steering wheel. Driving the Excellent allows you to imagine you're in one of those old American, black and white films, where the actor is sitting behind the wheel turning it furiously left to right, while going in a straight line. You would HAVE to avoid making constant eye-contact with the passenger however, as the pitiful brakes mean slowing down requires a significant amount of forward planning. The ride is one strong point of the Excellent. It's supple and irons out the bumps VERY effectively. The car corners surprisingly flat for such a high-riding vehicle, perhaps due to the lightweight body shell and the dampers.

The Excellent

The Excellent

- MPG & Running Costs 0/5

Most modern SUVs clock around 45 mpg for diesel. The official figures for the Excellent aren't in yet, but experts estimate instead of the typical 45 miles per gallon, it should return 4 to 5 gallons per mile. The 'on its last legs' V8 in the test vehicle is probably about as fuel efficient as setting fire to an oil field. Maintenance wise, the Excellent is expected to fare poorly. The production method of hacking apart two ancient cars and welding them together means warranty is likely to be non-existent and you will be driving around in constant fear of your entire car falling apart or the body shell where you're sitting just falling off the chassis. Buyers should put thousands a month aside for repairs and probably have a mechanic who's good at welding on standby.

- Verdict 1/5 "A bad idea poorly executed, overall crap, only to be driven as a joke."

The Excellent on display at a Prestige Car Auction

The Excellent on display at a Prestige Car Auction

All hand built cars live or die on the skill of the engineer crafting them. The Excellent is no exception. With the Excellent, an imaginative solution to a problem that didn't exist was realised. In bringing the idea of the Excellent to fruition, Clarkson butchered not one, but two classic cars and created a fairly awful, barely drivable, rolling joke. Off road capabilities of the Excellent proved impressive, but its lack of an interior and working elements such as heaters, dials and gauges proved detrimental to its desirability. Even Lada offer a working heater with their Niva, even the Suzuki Jimny has a working rev counter and glove box. All in all the Excellent is a car for people who like to be publicly humiliated. If you're the sort of person who enjoyed being stripped naked and handcuffed to a lamp post on your stag night, then driving the Excellent might be for you! Or if you have a genuine death wish and want to set out to go to work every morning, with your wife wondering whether you'll make it home in one piece or not... Then the Excellent might be a car to consider.

- Prices & Specs

Clarkson hasn't released an official price list or options list for the Excellent. However early suggestions are that the Excellent will retail for £120,000. Options rumored to be be available include a heater that doesn't involve having an electrical fire in the car and a speedometer that's placed somewhere you can actually see it, though neither of these have been confirmed yet. The Excellent is expected to be released with one level of trim, called 'Crap'. However high performance or more luxury levels of trim may be introduced later. The Excellent is said to be available in kit form for £14,000, though only one customer has successfully completed the build at the time of writing.

Now read the glossy brochure for an alternative perspective! drivetribe.com/p/Jf_FW_P6Q-2Yxivcr-AmTQ?iid=P8yd0AUwQ9OjeJNkTQt8Nw

Martyn Stanley

[ICT] Irreverent Car Talk

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Comments (36)

  • I just re-watched the episode this was featured in, and I can't help but slightly desire this, despite knowing I REALLY shouldn't.

      4 years ago
  • IMHO the concept is sound and somewhat beautiful. The execution has a lot left to be desired but as with anything Jeremy creates, the main ingredient is always bagfuls of jest bound with copious quantities of duct tape & zip ties. This would be awesome on a Landcruiser chassis with everything married properly, working and those bloody leg-burners replaced with side-steps.

      4 years ago
    • I definitely think the execution could have been better. But then it wouldn't have been as funny if it had been!

        4 years ago
  • For an alternative view, I wrote up the glossy brochure sales material as well! If you enjoyed this article you might enjoy the sequel! drivetribe.com/p/Jf_FW_P6Q-2Yxivcr-AmTQ/MzUzgBVuS4G1wzU79jcP5A

      4 years ago
  • Congrats, Martyn, an excellent review if ever I saw one!

      3 years ago
    • Thanks so much Niels! :) Glad you liked it! Have you read the glossy brochure I wrote too? :)

        3 years ago
  • Are there two Excellents? Because the first interior picture displays a manual gear knob while in the second there is an automatic one?

      4 years ago
    • I believe one of them is the actual interior, and the other one is a picture of another car's interior. (Different colours, different wood parts missing besides the gearbox thing)

        4 years ago
    • Actually one is the gearstick from the Merc (Not connected to anything) and the other is the gearstick from the Disco, which is the one which works. I'm not 100% sure whether it's the manual or the auto that actually works.

        4 years ago
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