Every year the Northeast Ohio chapter of the BMW Car Club charters a bus and heads up to Detroit for the North American International Autoshow. If you don't know, that's the fancy name for the Detroit Auto Show, the big one. Having been driving cars regularly now as my day job, the whole jumping in and out of cars has lost a bit of it's luster since I've been in most of these cars, and half of the ones I haven't been in are locked anyways. There were however some things I noticed while walking the big hall surrounded by the sum total of the whole auto industry.
1. The Tail Gunner Seat is alive and well in the Mercedes E class wagon!
|Puke bucket sold separately.|
You remember it from childhood in your parents 70's and 80's station wagon of choice; the motion sickness, the fact that you were out of your parents sight and reach, and the many faces you made at the drivers behind you. With the rise of the SUV and the dreaded CUV the Tail Gunner has been replaced with the Third Row Bench, which at the best of times could accommodate your average ectomorph child, and more often than not only accommodates those children who lost their legs in the great Child Wars of the early 2000's.
|Saddest GI-Joe ever.|
But here in the E-class, leg room is king. Sure there's nowhere to put anything with the seats in use, but really most third row seats leave you little to no space either. More importantly, if a whole generation of kids grows up without experiencing the sheer terror of seeing a semi your dad just cut off slam to a halt less than an inch from the tail gate, then we as a whole will be a weaker people.
2. 19" is becoming the new standard
Want a basic fun car? Want it to be nicer than the bone stock model? Want to have to spend almost $1,000 when it comes time for a new set of tires? Well GOOD NEWS!!! The most common wheel size at the show this year was 19 inches. Yes you too can fear every pothole in style. You too can experience the bone jarring misery of the thin sidewall. And best of all, Car and Driver recently did a test that shows that once you go past 17" you actually start sacrificing performance. Why? Because a giant rim weighs a lot and you really do need some sidewall to help the suspension do its job of absorbing bumps and getting you around corners. The only reason you would go this large is to fit huge brakes in there, which on all the cars I looked at was not the case. But hey,on the plus side people with less money will wait until their tires are EVEN BALDER before replacing them since now it will be much harder for them to afford the tires.
3. BMW continues to imagine niches to fill
Folks who know me, know I'm one of the BMW enthusiast masses. I always had a predilection towards them, even as a little kid before I knew anything about driving. But, folks like me don't fill the pocket books of the family Quandt in Munich. So over the past 15 years BMW has gone from being a small performance sedan company, to becoming a trendy $500 pair of jeans with built in holes kind of STYLE company.
In order to do this they have confabulated such automotive genre as the "Sport Activity Vehicle" the "GT we swear it must be better than a wagon" and whatever the heck the X6 is supposed to be.
|Still explains Nothing.|
Now those wacky Bavarians have gone and entered the final stage of self consumption. I give you, the four door M6 Grand Coupé.
|In the fancy, it never looks clean, frost paint no less.|
But hang on, you may be saying if you are in fact as insane as I am, "Isn't the M6 already a two door M5? And hey isn't coupe used to typically describe a two door car?" While both of these facts are true, and the exact kinds of rigid comfortable categories many come to expect from a German car manufacturer. These days however, comments like that would brand you as a fashonless troglodyte were you in the association of the current BMW target audience. So luckily now when you go car shopping in between your ski trip to aspen and your beach resort on the island of Anguilla, you don't have to feel the emasculating embarrassment of the filthy poor by being forced to choose between four doors and head room, and two doors and less headroom. And in that way, the world becomes just little bit better place.....
4. Porsches may be dangerous animals shaped like cars
This one is pretty self evident. You can't go inside them at a show, they try to only have as few of them as possible in one space, and some of them are in zoo like cages.
|Please don't tap on the glass.|
I always had a feeling these cars were trying to kill me when I drove them, I just had no idea it was true!
5. Ferrari has probably lost the point
For most of my life, seeing a Ferrari in person has always been kind of a special experience. They seem to exist in front of the foreground, they seem more real than the rest of reality around them. They are just built different; their paint is just a bit smoother and more brilliant than other cars, their window glass seems to have a slight internal luminosity, the body panels are precisely aligned in a way that your brain notices even if you can't quite put your finger on why. And oh that body; they look beautiful in photographs, all sensual curves and reflective contour lines no mater where the light hits it, but in person it's like how people in the older parts of the Bible must have felt when they saw angels (which happened a lot back then apparently.) It's goodness physically personified, seeing one just lifts your heavy mortal spirit, even for a moment.
At least that's how it used to feel, right up until the new California:
And it just starts going downhill from there. The 458, the FF, things started looking, wrong. And then, this showed up at Detroit:
|The new Toyota Supra Concept car?|
It's the new F12berlinetta (yes its spelled that way with no space, I don't know why.) This is a car built by an aerodynamics computer, not a soul. It's a work of artifice, not of art. The glass is now dull, the curves now only a work of pure aerodynamic function. It looks like the Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ's older, homelier sister.
|Hi boys, I just love Videogames, Beer, and Hot Sexy Chicks, tee-hee!|
The Lexus LFA (the last one ever, also at the show, and you were even permitted to touch it with your filthy proletariat hands) has more feeling and soul than the F12berlinetta, and the LFA is a heartless robot.
|Bede,bede,be, I was designed by a committee, bede, bede, be.|
Ferrari would point out how much the car borrows from the design of the Formula 1 car that really, every Ferrari buyer is subsidizing when they buy a Ferrari. And while that's cute and all, sacrificing beauty for performance, that would imply that the Ferrari Formula 1 car was, you know, a winner.
6. We are currently in a new golden age of automobiles
Aside from the Smart car space (why does it still live?) there were no genuinely crappy cars. Having grown up coming out of the malaise era of crappy, crappy american luxo-rubbish and cheap imports, now may be one of the bets times to be driving cars. From Kia to Jaguar, Chevy to Mercedes there is now a pervasive feeling of quality, sturdiness, and value virtually across the board. Granted yes now a cheap car is closer to $20,000 than it is to $10,000, but what you can get in in the $20,000 range would be a near supercar compared to the cars of even most of the 90's. Cars now on average all last well into the mid-100,000 mile range, (hell the Hyundai now has a 20 year, 200,000 mile power-train warranty!!!) And never has so little fuel given so much power; zero to 60 in under 10 seconds AND 30MPG is a fairly common thing these days. Just the fact that for $30,000 you can buy a car with over 400 Horsepower (that's less than $75/ horespower!) means it's a really great time to be driving.