Mechanisms with Jan Coomans. Are cars getting better, or worse?

русская версия | english version

Not a week goes

by without some car manufacturer releasing a new model.

Most of the time I don’t even notice, to be honest. There’s a lot of brands out there and most of them don’t particularly get my blood flowing. In any case, the car industry is in a constant state of improvement. And improvement means, in no particular order, that the new model has to be faster, better handling, safer and more efficient than its predecessors. It makes total sense.

At least, until you get to cars that are supposed to be a little bit special. Usually bought by people who believe they know and care more about cars than the rest of the world. Depending on budget, people like us like to go shopping for cars that are a bit… different. Even if the differences are invisible to the general population. In fact, we probably enjoy the ownership of something only connaisseurs recognize more than anything else. Everybody knows what a Ferrari looks like, and that it costs a lot. But if you drive a 1988 BMW E28 M5, you may be a god among car enthusiasts, everyone else just thinks you’re driving an old wreck.

As such, the rules for what makes a great car will depend on who you ask. Most people will put passenger comfort, safety and fuel efficiency higher on the list than outright performance or how «fun» a car is to drive. Many people aren’t looking for fun, they are just looking to get to the supermarket in 1 piece at a reasonable expense. I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that car enthusiasts are an illogical, sentimental bunch. Most of the time we can’t even explain why exactly a particular car has reach cult status. But we love them anyway.

Now here’s the problem that comes with making cars better: it makes them worse. Before you call the lunatic asylum on me, let me explain. Cars may get better by the objective considerations of the car-buying masses. But the pour souls who love cars just for the sake of driving them, are left out in the cold.

The enthusiast’s car cannot be too heavy, too quiet, too slow, or too automated. We like changing gears manually, even if technology exists to do it faster automatically. If you love driving, it makes no sense to take tasks away from the driver. And just about every car brand has been committing these automotive sins in recent times. Even those who should know better!

Safety equipment and comfort items have made cars overweight. The BMW M3 now weighs more than the original M5. Sure it also has a lot more power to compensate, but you still carry that weight around corners. The new M5 is a great car, but imagine how great it would be if it only weighed as much as the 1988 car! It would have to lose more than 300 kilograms, by the way. You’d notice the difference. And it doesn’t stop there. BMW has taken away the manual gearshift, and is even creating fake engine noise through the sound system. What on earth is going on!

But it gets worse. Let’s look at the archetypal supercar: Ferrari.

What’s the best Ferrari ever made? Well, amongst considerable disagreement one car is likely to come out on top: the F40, launched in 1987. It was the fastest production car in the world at the time, but while its top speed is nothing special anymore today, many people agree it is still one of the best cars to drive in the world. It was quite light, quite powerful, extremely beautiful and of shockingly poor build quality. By all means this was a race car they had decided to turn into a street car. A go-cart with a highly turbocharged engine and red Ferrari paint. A masterpiece they never managed to improve on.

They did try, though. First with the F50. Then with the Enzo. Now with the awfully named «LaFerrari». None of them come close to the original fire breathing dragon that was the F40. The LaFerrari, by the way, will easily be the fastest road car Ferrari ever built. Which will sell them a lot of merchandising but it still won’t be better than the greats of days gone by. I can already draw that conclusion for the simple reason that they fitted some electric motors to it. And of course they don’t let you change gear on your own. If even Ferrari is turning its back on the purists, things are looking bad. Most of us are still trying to cope with the fact Porsche is selling some cars with a diesel engine now.

Though I will admit, on those bleak weekdays filled with traffic jams, rain, snow, you name it… a comfy boring car is the best car in the world. While it does all those things to make our life easier, it leaves us free to dream… about the fire breathing dragon we like to step into on the weekends.




17 октября 2013
Jan Coomans для раздела Механизмы