I just came back from 17 days in Italy and enjoyed the many of the sights, sounds, and flavors that this beautiful country has to offer. I stayed in Tuscany for a week and then Roma for 10 days. I’ve made a few observations from my trip there.

1) The Italians are very adventurous with the colors of their cars - and that’s a great thing. For a country that puts such an emphasis on individuality, I feel like Americans can’t get past buying certain colors (silver, black, white, some dark blues). I remember reading an article a few years back in Bimmer magazine about how auto execs curtailed the Individualization program in the US because Americans stick to certain colors and color combinations. For me to see cars in baby blues, yellows, oranges, and all sorts of greens and browns... wow!

2) While the Italians are known for being crazy behind the wheel (especially in Roma), they are generally damn good drivers. I think it comes down to three very important important reasons:

a) Everyone drives a stick. Let’s end the debate once and for all. Manual driving requires you to pay lots of attention and holds you responsible for your actions. Since the overwhelming majority of people are driving stick, it creates a driving environment where most people are engaged in the process of driving. Which means, at least to some extent they’re paying attention. Much more so than than the auto driving masses in the US. It is what it is.

b) The roads, especially in Tuscany, are windy. Like 1st and 2nd gear windy. Not only are the roads windy, but they’re extremely narrow. This means that you have to know the dimensions of your car really well. Not only were many of the roads windy - they were also very hilly. Which meant that many drivers had to haul ass and use momentum for the driving style. This meant that drivers had to really know the limits of the handling of their cars. It was great fun to watch little Smart cars, Fiat 500’s, and Renault Twingo’s being pushed to their limits on the mountain roads we were driving through. I finally understood why so many great racecar drivers came from Italy. Their environment made them better drivers.

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c) Finally, and I think, most importantly, the cars are slow. Seriously, they make very little power. Between fuel costing an arm and a leg, and various taxes on cars with bigger displacement engines, many cars are small displacement diesels. These engines sip fuel and produce very low emissions; but they’re peppy at best. Because these cars don’t have much power, they force drivers to really plan ahead in their driving. Wanna pass a slow moving car or truck? You keep your eyes on rearview mirror before you get on to the fast lane. Don’t want to bog going uphill on that tight corner? Attack said corner with gusto. The base engines of many cars sold in the US, are top of the line or near top of the line for many cars sold in Europe. While I don’t object to having powerful cars, I see how the extra power in American cars promotes lazy driving. And lazy driving promotes inattentiveness. And inattentiveness promotes poor driving.

I got to experience this concept firsthand because we rented (quite possibly) the last rental car in all 0f Rome, a Renault Trafic (with one “f”). The Renault Trafic (with one “f”) is ~6,000lbs full size van powered by a 2.0l turbodiesel. It was a heroic little motor, but physics is physics and this thing was a pig with a usable powerband of less than 2,000rpm, and no shortage of turbo lag. It was a behemoth car that required civil engineering levels of planning to pilot. However, by then end of the seven days of having the car, I had become a much better driver. The Trafic (with one “f”) had forced me to really pay attention, and really think about every move I planned on making. If the Trafic (with one “f”) could do that for me in one week, imagine what it could have done for me in a year, or five years, or ten years. Not only had I become more attentive as a driver, but it was actually a lot of fun to push the Trafic (with one “f”) closer to it’s limits on public roads! I wasn’t detached from the experience of driving. And this coming from a person who’s drives a BRZ everyday!

This was a revelation for me! Quite contrarian thinking, but what if we in the states had much less powerful cars? We could have a new generation of smarter, more involved, and thoughtful drivers! These cars could be more efficient and produce less pollution. They’d actually be more fun to drive on the public roads because they’d have to be pushed closer to their limits. I have dream!!! Imagine an America with more Mini’s, Fiat 500’s, and Renault Twingo’s and less Suburbans and crossovers!

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Big Blue:

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Some cool cars - I didn’t take many pics of cars and I really regret that... But here’s what I got.

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They love motorcycles and scooters:

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The HJ61 the landlord owned - I loved this thing.

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Things I loved:

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