Just the other day I saw a TV commercial for the new 2011 Infiniti M56. This uber-luxury sedan has a 420 hp 5.6 liter V-8 engine and can reach 60 mph in 5 seconds and is capable of hustling to more than 150 mph, flat out.
I know, it makes me excited too.
But how many of the middle-aged urban/suburban manager/professional types who actually buy a car like this will ever drive it faster than 100?
Or even 90?
And how often will they do even that?
Even the young and eager can’t make use of such power. See what happens if you drive 100 mph for any length of time in the U.S. There will be Tazers and Glocks in your future.
I don’t like it, either – but it’s the reality.
Same goes for the rest of it. Cars that can blast to 60 in six seconds or less are commonplace today. What’s much less common is actually seeing such acceleration.
I drive a lot and all over the country and what I see much more often is cars – including 400-plus hp cars like the M56 – easing away from lights just like the minivan in the next lane. The cars are all pretty much grouped together, none going much faster than the others – and all of them going pretty slow. Maybe 10 mph or so over the posted limit. Every now and then there’ll be a car that’s moving faster, trying to get around this vehicular arteriosclerosis – but nine times out of ten, it’s an older car and rarely, if ever, a 400-plus hp $50,000 luxury-“sport” car.
Most people just slow-poke along – and the biggest slowpokes are usually the ones driving these immensely powerful and capable brand-new cars.
In this country, a 400 hp, 150 MPH car is as useless as an ice cream stand on Mars.
We can’t drive really fast (much over 80) for any length of time, even if we wanted to, because if we do, we will be roughly treated by the police – then the courts – and then by the DMV and the insurance cartels.
People in a position to buy a car like the $57,000 M56 – know this. They may have a young son or daughter who would kill to drive the M56 to the fullest extent of its capability (and may just do it, too) but the adult owner won’t because he’s aware of the consequences or is just too old and beaten down by the system for that kind of stuff.
It sucks, but it’s the truth.
Equally true: A modern four-cylinder with direct injection can produce 200 hp and deliver close to 35 MPGs on the highway while also getting a car to 60 in about 7 seconds. This is amply sufficient – more than sufficient – for the realities of the modern American road and the driving practices of the average American.
But, the average American has been convinced by the marketing and PR wizards who really sell new cars that a V-8 more powerful than Ferrari V-12s were in the ’80s is an absolute Essential – or at least, very desirable – even if most of us have neither the inclination nor the opportunity to ever actually use two-thirds of that capability.
Current luxury-“sport” cars like the M56 are more juiced up than Arnold Schwarzennegger during his Mr. Olympia days – and like him, built mostly for show-only.
In Europe (Germany) really powerful cars do get used, so it makes some sense to buy one if you live there. But there’s something symptomatically American about millions of 300 and 400 hp luxury cars and SmooVees and “crossovers” loafing along at maybe 70-ish on the highways – their engines burblin at a fast idle, their chrome plated 20 inch rims spinning… not unlike like Arnold flexing his biceps impressively on the stage but never actually doing anything with them.
Virtually all current-year “luxury” cars are really sports cars. They have sharply raked windshields, low-cut rooflines, hold-you-tight-bucket seats with floor (and paddle) shifters; consoles and huge hooded gauge clusters with tachometers that have 7,000 RPM redlines. They ride on 18, 19 and 20-inch light-alloy wheels with tires that have sidewalls as skinny and hard as the 20-year-old flatbelly who teaches aerobics at the gym.
Which is fantastic… if you do track days – or drive on public roads like you do on track days.
Otherwise, it’s retarded.
Probably 95 percent of the people who “drive” these cars, don’t. To quote Bob Dole: You know it. I know it. The American people know it. But they don’t care. They willingly indenture themselves for 5-6 years to a $60,000 new car loan in order to cram their not-so-flexible, not-so-young-anymore backsides into a tight-fitting, hard-riding sports car with four doors – and pay $300 a pop for 150 mph-rated ultra-performance tires that will never see the high side of 90 …
Personal anecdote: My father-in-law drives a Cadillac Sedan de Ville from the early 1990s – the era when Cadillac still built luxury cars as opposed to luxury-“sport” cars like today. It does not have bucket seats. It has flat, three-across bench seats. They give when you sit down – and are perfect for 15 hour drives to Vegas. A pull-down column-shifter controls an automatic that is automatic. It does not require or expect you to tap paddle shifters or engage “sport” mode. There is no “sport” mode. Its job is to transition between gears without the driver or passengers noticing or feeling anything.
It also has pop-on (and off) wire wheel covers on 15 inch steel rims – with smooth-riding all-season radials wrapped around ’em. They are quiet, and will last for 30,000 miles; maybe 40,000 – instead of being noisy, harsh-riding and worn bald within 20,000 miles like most short-sidewalled, performance-compound “sport” tires will be.
The suspension is wonderfully soft, like your favorite TV watching chair. You don’t feel potholes. The steering is one-finger effortless – and the car is incredibly comfortable.
True, it doesn’t “handle” in the way that almost all modern car reviewers require for their approval. But it wasn’t meant to. What it was meant to do is glides along, smoothly and quietly – relaxation in motion.
Which is what used to be what luxury meant.
I kinda miss it. Don’t you?
On the other end of the scale, we have economy car buyers who expect the automakers to produce subcompacts that can take a T-bone impact at 60 mph like a 5,000 pound S-Class Benz, yet also knock down 40 MPGs but still do 0-60 in less than 8 seconds; that feature GPS, power windows and locks, Bluetooth wireless – and still be priced under $15k.
Economy cars – the real deal – can’t be sold here. At least, not recently. Remember the three-cylinder Geo Metro? That was an economy car. It got better gas mileage (50-plus MPGs) than a new Prius – and it cost half as much.
Naturally, no one bought it.
Meanwhile, people are bitching about $4 gas while millions of hausfraus putter around suburbia in 5,000 lb. 4WD SMooVees and AWD “crossovers” that will live their entire lives on the tarmac.
Am I the only one left who can see the man behind the curtain?
Go back 25 years or so and for the most part the only people who drove 4WDs were country people or working people who needed them and actually used them. All-wheel-drive was next-to-nonexistent in those days – but all of a sudden, almost every new car has it or offers it.
Millions of car buyers suddenly believe they’ve just got to have it.
The PR flacks created a need – and the industry is eager to fulfill that need.
It’s capitalism, of course.
But that doesn’t mean it’s smart.
Throw it in the Woods?