Wednesday, 22 February 2006
I'm so over sports cars
Once upon a time, in the days where I had cable back in Israel, I used to watch this program on the BBC called Top Gear.
Top Gear was a show on cars and bikes, and its main reason for existence was its reviews on all cars and bikes alike, from the small and the cheap through to the expensive exotic. It was quite informative and one could learn a lot about cars and driving through it. For one, I became aware of huge car customer satisfaction surveys and their results through this program.
The program was so successful they started their own Top Gear magazine, to which I was subscribed prior to leaving Israel, but when I left I lost contact with the Gearers.
A couple of months ago, SBS has started airing Top Gear on public television here, and I watched it in great anticipation, hoping it would help the Australian public cure itself from its obsession with big tractor like cars (also known here as Holden (aka GM) or Ford).
Alas, my hopes quickly evaporated. The program has become this live audience show where the only cars reviews are Ferraris and onwards and the only that matters is “lap time”. Ordinary cars you and I might actually drive were totally ignored, and cars like the Toyota Prius were dismissed as an attempt to kiss the @ss of the politically aware crowds. Cars are hyped for being “cool” or “uncool”, whatever that means, and zero attention or respect was paid to practicality.
In short, the program changed from being a real world one into an ego tapping male member extension one. Score one for the evil marketing people.
The trends that Top Gear has gone through represent the exact opposite of what I have been going through.
Australia’s driving environment is completely different to Israel, and the process of getting used to it has definitely changed me. First there’s the terror inflicted by learning to drive on the wrong side of the road. Then you have Victoria Police’s anti speeding policies, where you get booked for driving 3km/h more than the speed limit gets you booked, to make you wet your pants. Throw in the relative respect drivers show each other here and the much better roads that spoil you altogether, and you get to become a pacified driver overall. It’s not all positive, though, because you lose that edge that constant driving on the edge in Israel gives you – overall, I am a much inferior driver than I used to be, skill and technique wise.
But as far as trends go, the bottom line is that I am so over sports cars that I truly despise them. There are exceptions, but in general I don’t think too highly of sports cars, and to put in a not so typical politically correct fashion, I tend to be suspicious of the motives that get people to purchase them.
The best example of how shitty sports cars can be was given to me in our tour of the UK, almost six months ago.
On one hand we had our rental car, a Hyundai Matrix, a car with the dynamics and the sex appeal of a fridge, but a very comfortable car at that. And when we needed to make time up in Scotland it had no problems overtaking MX5s and Porsches (who obviously weren’t as keen on making time as we were) on the Highlands’ twisty roads.
On the other hand we had Jo mother’s car, a Mini Cooper. Now I know that I’m insulting the car, because according to Jo it was not just a “Mini Cooper”, but the top of the line “Mini Super Dooper Cooper Turbo”, painted in British green racing color (whatever that is; since when do countries monopolise colors?).
Anyway, I had the distinct pleasure of taking several rides as a passenger in this car, including one that stretched all day (and some of the night) together with three others. Let me tell you this: a pleasure ride it was not (however, conversely, that particular day was the best day we've had in the UK as far as I'm concerned, because it was a day in which we did constructive stuff with the family).
Where should I start? Oh yes, fit. Or rather, lack of it. I don’t think I’m particularly tall, but I could just not fit on the front seat – the sun roofed top was way too low for my head. Now I do have sunroof problems in most sunroofed cars, with my head constantly brushing it, but this was an exception: The only way my head would fit in there is if it was allowed to stick through it.
The back seats, where I ended up, weren’t much better. Obviously, the car was not designed to carry more than two people in the first place; the rear stool is just a joke, and Wabby the dog would have probably found it uncomfortable. So yes, I found it even more than uncomfortable. For a start, I couldn’t sit up straight again, but here I could expand myself over most of the stool and either achieve some semi-lie-down position or just twist my back at an angle that would send shivers through the spine of my chiropractor. By a large mile, the most uncomfortable car ride I ever had the pleasure of having.
But the lack of comfort didn’t stop there. The car is tuned for sports, remember? So the suspension is so stiff that whenever we overran a fly on the road you’d find yourself tossed around as if you’re a frog in a food processor.
Noise was another source of discomfort. The motor, again, was obviously tuned for sports, with high outputs in low revs but not much torque to talk about in the lower half of the odometer (the motor is quite pathetic down there). So while the car sports a six gear shift to help you keep it in its narrow power zone, it does not help you negotiate the noise involved with driving on high revs for long periods.
Bottom line: Quite an unpleasant drive to say the least, for the lack of other politically correct superlatives. Nothing I had gone through with this Mini Cooper wouldn’t have been performed incredibly better by a Toyota Corolla at a third of the Mini’s cost.
The Mini does have its advantages, I’ll give it that. It has electronic stability control, a safety feature of supreme importance.
It also has sports handling and an image to match. But will these do you any good? I simply do not see myself driving any car in a sporting like manner on a public road - i.e., a sporting manner that an Hyundai Accent or a Toyota Corolla couldn’t comfortably manage. Let me tell you, when pushed a Corolla can manage quite a lot; the gain in performance is quite subtle compared to the sacrifice in comfort. They can make some damn good fridges today.
And then there’s the image thing that goes along with sports cars, but I believe I already covered the issue of member extension and low self esteem in previous blog entries. Not all sports cars buyers fall into that exreme category, most are just people like you and me who need to spend their money on something in order to reassure themselves that they really made it in this world.
When people can comfortably afford it and their motives are not too male extension related, I can definitely understand it - otherwise none of us would ever buy much; but this threshold is an interesting one, because who can say where the line between "supersize me" and "let me live peacefully and quietly" passes? That's the thin red line the evil marketing people play on (score two for them).
It's called consumarism, and I do it too, although I tend to regret it every time and I definitely know that it does not solve my problems upon this earth, not even remotely (it's usually the other way around). When you add global considerations to it all, such as the effects on the environment and the division of wealth in the world, you can start getting a sense of why my understanding for it is on the decline and why I spend a lot of my time reflecting on it (e.g., writing this stupid crap). I'm not the only one deliberating these issues; Nick Hornby, a fellow Arsenal supporter, discusses this very issue to the death in his book “How to Be Good”, and he, too, fails to reach conclusive conclusions (or even not so conclusive ones, for that matter).
Anyway, I am losing focus. I guess this would be a "to be continued" discussion.
So to you, Haim, I will say that I'm well over sports cars. And bikes, too, for that matter.