It’s often said – correctly – that modern cars (mostly crossovers now) all look pretty much the same. But it goes deeper than that.
Modern cars are mostly the same. Literally.
Beneath their looks there’s not much difference. Once upon a time, it was different. A survey of what was will provide some insight.
This is now general. Every modern car (crossover) is “safe,” or touts how “safe” it is. By which is meant it has all or at least most of the very latest “safety” equipment, such as Lane Keep Assist and Brake Assist and a heaping helping of the other “assistance technologies” they all have. All of them also have a plethora of air bags, 4-6 at least – because the government requires them all to have them. They are all required to pass the same “safety” tests and meet the same “safety” standards – making them all very “safe” indeed. If there any differences, they are inconsequential. Nothing that sets one brand apart from another.
Once upon a time, one brand was very different – because it made cars that were much safer than almost every other car then available. Those cars were Volvos. The brand built its identity upon safety – and the cars actually were, both in and of themselves and especialy relative to most other cars – which in those days of differences were not designed to withstand impacts and rollovers as Volvos were. Volvos had seatbelts before they were mandatory for all cars. If you wanted a safe car, a Volvo was the car for you.
All new cars – even little cars – are heavy cars. many are heavy – even preposterously – heavy. There isn’t one that weighs less than a ton anfd most weigh closer to two, including some small cars.
The reason why has to do with the general mandating of “safety,” as per above. It is difficult to build a car that is both very light and very “safe” – as regards how it peforms in a crash test. Which by the way isn’t really a measure of how safe it is but rather how well it holds up in a government/insurance mafia crash test. It has no bearing on whether it will crash. Thus, “safe” – in the government mandated sense – is a hypothetical.
Weight is actual.
Also the effect of weigh upon mileage, as well as cost. When it was still possible build cars that were very light – some weighing around 1,600 pounds – it was possible to build very efficient and very affordable cars, of which there were a number available. Several of them got better gas mileage than any modern “safe” car excepting hybrid cars, and those are only just barely more efficient and cost a lot more.
It’s a shame people are no longer allowed to buy light, efficient and affordable cars – because all cars are heavy, inefficient and exensive now.
The mandated complexity is a function of the necessity to achieve uniformity – as regards the standards. All cars must meet the same emissions and fuel-economy standards laid down by government regulations; this de facto requires the use of the same technologies – such as direct fuel injection, for instance. It is much more complex than simpler electronic port fuel injection, which – in its turn – is much more complicated than throttle body fuel injection. Each step away from simpler toward more complex being necessary to further fine-tune fuel delivery in order to comply with ever-more-complicated regulatory standards.
The other driver toward the less-simple in favor of the more complex is the willngness of other people to pay for it – so long as it’s not all at once. They are willing to finance what they can’t really afford. Because almost everyone does this now, there are no longer simple cars – without AC and power options, for instance – that could once-upon-a-time be bought by people who didn’t want to go into debt to get them. It is why the cost of all modern cars is on the order of 30 percent more on the lower end to 50 percent or more on the higher end. It is why family minivans are now $40,000 and 4WD picks ups (equipped with lots pf extravagant accessories) routinely transact for $60,000.
And it is why you can no longer buy a car such as the old VW Beetle or Datsun B210 for the today’s money equivalent of less than $15,000.
All modern cars are “luxurious” – in terms of the features and amenities that once defined a luxury car. What new car – irrespective of make, model or price – does not come standard with climate control air conditioning? Power windows and locks? A stereo with at least six speakers? These features are as expected as tires. They used to be considered . . . luxury features and you almost always paid extra for them and sometimes, you couldn’t even get them. This conferred real distinction upon those that did come standard with them. They made a Cadillac or a Mercedes something special, a cut-above. And not merely in terms of what they cost.
Today, it is mostly what they cost.
But the AC in a new Mercedes doesn’t cool you better than the AC that comes standard in a new Toyota. They all cool equally well. It is true there are still a few features and accessories that are only available in modern luxury cars. Massaging seats, for instance. But just as almost all new cars already have or offer power seats, it is inevitable that even massaging seats will shortly become as common in tomorrow’s Toyotas as they are in today’s Mercedes.
And the more in-common they all become, the less real reason there is to pay more for the “luxury” brand.
There was a time when certain brands were defined by their sporty flair. A Pontiac, for example, was sportier than a Buick. And a BMW was sportier than either of them. But now all cars are “sporty” – even minivans.
Almost all cars, irrespective of type or brand, have wide, short sidewall performance tires, four wheel disc brakes, aluminum wheels and so stop and corner better than the sports cars of once-upon-a-time. And the sports cars of our time stop and corner so well it is almost boring to drive them because it is so easy to drive them. The same goes for minivans, pick-ups and SUVs – all of which are as confident-feeling at 80 or 90 as the sporty cars of the past were at 60.
Almost none of them have manual transmissions anymore but almost all of them have driver-selectable “modes” for the automatic transmission, plus some type of paddle or tap-up/tap-down gear selector that lets the driver feel. . . sporty, by pretending to control the operation of the automatic transmission.
On the far-right end of the spectrum – exotic high-performance cars not only look increasingly as if they were extruded from the same standardized plastic mold, they function the same, too (e.g., automatic-only, “launch control”).
It makes one think regretfully about the sporty cars of once-upon-a-time, such as the Lotus 7, AC Cobra and MGB – which were as different from other cars in terms of how it felt to drive them as it feels the same to drive any modern “sporty” car.
. . .
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