(Welcome to “Thinking Too Deeply About Cars.” This is a column where I over analyze my thoughts about cars and possibly get a little too sentimental. I encourage you to do the same or call me a total nut-job in the comments).
In my previous installment I talked about how I can never be satisfied with what I drive, this time I will talk about how I can never be satisfied with what is available. As enthusiasts we know a lot about cars. We can spout of engine displacements, 0-60 and ¼ mile times, suspension configurations and every other geek-worthy bit of info we can consume. We even talk about cars by their chassis codes which totally baffle the uninitiated. It’s always fun to watch someone’s face when I talk about their E46 BMW….and they say, “E46? I thought it was a 325?” But is it possible that we know too much?
Unlike most of the car-buying world, I can’t just see a car and like it. I discussed this awhile back when I talked about my own lunacy of picking the right car. Being somewhat knowledgeable about automobiles burdens me with irrational baggage when I try to judge a car on its own merits. This baggage comes in a few forms:
History- Knowing the backstory of an automaker clouds me from seeing the merits of their current models, especially if those models don’t fit with their story. Take MINI for example, they have a wonderful history of making quirky, fun, small (key word here) cars and even won a few races. I know that the “new” Cooper in 2002 was not even close to the original but the spirit was there, it was quirky, fun, and small (did I mention it was small?). The Cooper is still around but they softened the suspension because people complained and the Countryman CUV-thingy is selling like hotcakes. For me, MINI just isn't MINI anymore; they were a scrappy brand that I rooted for, now just another car-maker out to maximize profit.
Potential- This is similar to history but has more to do with the engineering specifics. Knowing what an automaker can do is a barrier for me to appreciate what they currently do. Take for example the current Honda Civic Si. Sure it is a pretty decent car as is, but what bothers me the most is not the lack of features for its price point but rather the damn 2.4L motor with “only” 201 hp. Is it a bad engine? No. But I know Honda has the potential to do better. At one time Honda was the king of specific output (hp/liter), the RSX-S made 100 hp/liter the S2000 made 120 hp/liter. Sure these were high revving screamers but that is what made them great. Yes, I know those 2.0 liter motors didn't make much torque and that the new K24 is more “usable” But I don’t care, Honda could make a 240hp K24 and they don’t, so it gets a thumbs down from me.
Personal Preference- Because I want something to be a certain way and it isn't, gets in the way of me appreciating it for what it is. Take for example the VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI, I should love this car it is a) a wagon b) diesel and c) available with a manual. But I want it to have more power and all-wheel-drive. Why? No reason I just want that. The Sportwagen is a great car for most people it is: safe, fuel-efficient, has plenty of utility, a nice ride and is even fun to drive. But it’s not what I want...and that is why I can’t love it.
Character- I have this strange notion of what a car’s “character” should be, I suspect you do too. When an automaker deviates from that “character” it rubs me the wrong way. This is part of the reason why the current lineup of BMWs just doesn’t excite me. Are they still good luxury cars? Yes. Are they still good performance cars? For the most part, yes. Are they still the “Ultimate Driving Machine?” In my opinion...no. BMWs should be driver connected above all else. I know the majority of folks leasing Bimmers don’t give a crap about “driver connection” or even “drive wheels” really...and since BMW needs to make money off of these people they have stopped making that “connection” a priority. As awesome as the F10 M5, I can’t help but prefer the E39 or even the E34 because they had more BMW “character.”
All this lack of appreciation baggage comes from the fact I know too much, and believe me I don’t really know that much compared to most folks around here. But I have just enough knowledge of the automotive landscape to make me apathetic to many of the current offerings. So now is the time that you call me a: whiny, out of touch, niche-market enthusiast, that is “part of the problem” because I have irrational and unfounded views on what cars should be and don’t buy what is “close enough.” Or you can tell me about what “baggage” prevents you from appreciating what is on the dealer lots. Like I said, these are my mental issues; I’m just trying to face them. Either way...I’ll see you in the comments. Thanks for reading!
(Thanks to MILKY for the lead image. MINI photo via SportsCarDigest.com, S2000 via Wikipedia, Golf Variant R-line via Carscoops.com, M5 via Autofans.be)