U.S. markets open in 51 minutes
  • S&P Futures

    4,401.25
    +7.50 (+0.17%)
     
  • Dow Futures

    34,960.00
    +126.00 (+0.36%)
     
  • Nasdaq Futures

    15,004.00
    -7.50 (-0.05%)
     
  • Russell 2000 Futures

    2,241.90
    +21.20 (+0.95%)
     
  • Crude Oil

    72.68
    +0.29 (+0.40%)
     
  • Gold

    1,828.70
    +24.10 (+1.34%)
     
  • Silver

    25.58
    +0.70 (+2.81%)
     
  • EUR/USD

    1.1885
    +0.0038 (+0.32%)
     
  • 10-Yr Bond

    1.2640
    +0.0030 (+0.24%)
     
  • Vix

    17.61
    -1.75 (-9.04%)
     
  • GBP/USD

    1.3967
    +0.0059 (+0.42%)
     
  • USD/JPY

    109.6220
    -0.2880 (-0.26%)
     
  • BTC-USD

    39,647.71
    -892.82 (-2.20%)
     
  • CMC Crypto 200

    929.90
    -0.02 (-0.00%)
     
  • FTSE 100

    7,087.21
    +70.58 (+1.01%)
     
  • Nikkei 225

    27,782.42
    +200.76 (+0.73%)
     

Mini or Golf? The 'classless' cars that somehow became status symbols for lords and loafers

·5 min read
'Nobody will question your arrival outside the supercar-infested Dorchester in a Golf'
'Nobody will question your arrival outside the supercar-infested Dorchester in a Golf'

Whether you’re a lord or a loafer, some cars cross all social divides. Just ask Lady Carnarvon, who lives at Highclere Castle in Hampshire – the real-life Downton Abbey.

The Countess is an author and married to George ‘Geordie’ Herbert, the 8th Earl of Carnarvon. Since 2001 she has helped run her husband’s ancestral mansion, set in 5,000 acres of countryside, near Newbury.

Famous as the location for Downton Abbey, the TV series was created by the Carnarvons’ long-standing friend Julian Fellowes. The drama has since made the estate one of the best-known and iconic country houses in Britain.

Her all-time favourite motor is a classic Bentley, which belonged to her father and was called Boris. However, Lady Carnarvon has owned a string of more down-to-earth vehicles herself, including her first car, an original Mini.

Lady Carnarvon in the grounds of Highclere Castle - Andrew Crowley 
Lady Carnarvon in the grounds of Highclere Castle - Andrew Crowley

The Countess studied at the University of St Andrews in Scotland and drove the white Mini around campus in the 1980s. “My parents were worried about me travelling such a long way north by road, so the car was put on a train.”

Two years later the Mini was exchanged for a white Volkswagen Beetle, costing a modest £300. The left-hand drive model was hand-painted with characterful orange and red flames down each side.

The old mini
The old mini

When the Countess left college she became a chartered accountant, following in the footsteps of her father. She met her future husband at a dinner party, although she wasn’t impressed with his wheels.

“Geordie drove a terrible Volvo saloon. I thought ‘oh my God – what sort of a car is that?’ I did tease him about it and he was genuinely amazed that I ever went out with him. We once had two flat tyres which I had to change because he was useless at practical stuff.”

The old Volvo XC70
The old Volvo XC70

The Countess drove a convertible BMW for much of the 1990s but then relented and bought a ‘sensible’ Volvo V70 XC estate when her son, Edward, was born - followed by another in 2008.

“They were brilliant, practical cars and as we struggled to repair the house, perfect for our needs. After that came a Range Rover Sport, which we use for longer journeys.”

However, the Carnarvons’ everyday runabout for many years was a 16-year-old, less-than-stately Mitsubishi Shogun Pinin. With nine dogs and grandchildren to ferry around the estate, it became the perfect workhorse. “Mitsy was very old and battered but I could throw anything in the back and not have to worry.”

The Countess’ cars are mostly older models which are no longer available, so here are my favourite modern classless cars that fit in any social situation, upstairs or downstairs.

Mini Electric (From £26,000)

The new Mini Electric
The new Mini Electric

New Mini has already been around for 20 years but the choice for well-heeled urbanites is the battery-powered version. Freshly revamped this month, Mini Electric is charismatic, well-equipped and lots of fun.

Facelift models boast an overhauled infotainment system, metallic paint and wheel upgrades at no extra cost. The build quality is excellent – only the modest range of around 100 miles can be tiresome.

Truly iconic, classic Mini was the understated choice for every mover and groover in the swinging sixties. The original classless car? It’s hard to argue otherwise.

Volvo XC40 P8 Recharge (From £50,000)

The Volvo XC40 Recharge Pure Electric P8
The Volvo XC40 Recharge Pure Electric P8

The Earl’s old Volvo saloon was bad form 30 years ago but the state-of-the-art Recharge is arguably the best Volvo ever. The company’s first fully electric car is a compact-SUV with all-wheel drive and a real-world range of around 220 miles.

Styling splits opinion but otherwise the P8 is a surprisingly entertaining drive. With a 0-62mph time of under five seconds, it’s also faster than many sports cars. Inside, the cabin architecture is faultless, with a brilliant, voice-activated infotainment system that will get you ‘Home James’ effortlessly.

Subaru Outback (From £34,000)

The new Subaru Outback
The new Subaru Outback

Subarus are built to last and the notoriously rugged Outback is a hit in customer satisfaction surveys, especially among those unwaveringly loyal to the brand. Note: it’s not an SUV but an unfashionable estate – and all the better for it.

Yes, the Outback is powered by a petrol engine with no electric alternatives but few all-wheel drive cars have such a hard-earned reputation. The cavernous interior swallows up kids, kit and canines, with lots of luxurious space as standard.

Best of all, the Outback becomes even more desirable with age. A 12-year-old Subaru outshines a Range Rover for understated cool on the school run – and what other marque got a mention in a Madonna song?

Volkswagen Golf (From £18,000)

The new Volkswagen Golf
The new Volkswagen Golf

Remember Paula Hamilton’s iconic Volkswagen advert of 1987? Made up to look like Diana, Princess of Wales, she is seen leaving her husband and posting a wedding ring back through the letterbox. After ditching a fur coat and pearls, she decides to keep her ‘reliable’ Golf instead.

Decades later and the new, eighth-generation model is just as desirable. Choose from diesel, petrol and electric versions, although VW’s all-electric, futuristic-looking ID.3 model is really where the future lies.

Despite that, the Golf remains the people’s car, with a vast range of models up to £40,000. Nobody will question your arrival outside the supercar-infested Dorchester in a Golf. It’s simple and classless.

Sign up for the Telegraph Luxury newsletter for your weekly dose of exquisite taste and expert opinion.