Letter From The UK: Saying Goodbye To An Epoch

No one was more surprised than me when, just four days before the next big auto event, I decided not to go. As it turned out, I had made the right decision for the wrong reason. Others reported back there were too many car journalists and not enough vehicles to go around. A fifteen minute drive is way too insufficient to properly evaluate a car.

I am discontent. I decided not to go because I have become rather disillusioned with the whole business of car reviews. You see, I think a lot of the cars pouring out of the world’s manufacturing facilities are, frankly, as dull as ditch water.

Just Beyond Reach

It would be unfair of me to say they are bad cars; they are not. Mostly they are of exceptional quality with many safety features that were the stuff of science fiction not so long ago. Often they are smart and presentable but, and here’s the thing, they are not designed for drivers. For the most part, the driver might as well be piloting a motorised muffin. Stodgy is the word that comes to mind.

Perhaps I’m generalizing unfairly. Obviously there are still plenty of great cars around that will get the blood flowing and even make some people call for some new pants: The Ford Focus RS and the Audi TT both reinforce that point. The Ford is reasonably priced too, but many of the cars that truly excite are out of the financial reach of most of the car buying public who truly love the smells and sounds and sights of the open road.

Audi TT. Photo: DriveWrite Automotive.

Back To The Past

I do not think I am a lone voice crying “foul” into the wilderness either. I notice a lot of enthusiasts looking to the past for their driving kicks. They are buying up old cars in the full knowledge that emissions will be greater, fuel consumption higher, and comfort and reliability less assured. They buy them because it is a fun thing to do and that is what is lacking in the car industry today.

It’s all so damn worthy. Automakers lining up to offer products that tick all the boxes when it comes to saving the planet, which is fine, but they are forgetting to add the essential ingredient that delivers the true pleasure of driving. Adding subtle creases to the side of a mainstream SUV makes very little individual difference to a sector of the car market that all looks the same.

Take the Ford Edsel (and not many people did). It’s pretty ugly, true, and naming a car after a dead family member seems a little mawkish but you can’t miss it can you? If you put it in a line of traffic, especially here in the UK, it would look like a potentate’s barge being surrounded by canoes. And that’s my problem: Where’s the distinction now? Where are the different cars?

Some cars makers still have a go. Citroen, for example, seem to be going out of their way to make their vehicles more distinctive. By and large you can still tell a Citroen apart but even then, they are a bit lacking in the driving dynamics department. Sticking in France, Peugeot too had a go with the hugely enjoyable RCZ sports car. Fun, good to look at, handled well for a front-wheel driver, and it came with a faster, meaner, sibling, the RCZ-R. Sadly, after a while, the French spoilsports withdrew the model; couldn’t sell enough of them it seems. Making something good isn’t enough for the accountants.

In 1935, Edsel Ford founded the Ford Design Department to create cars that were as aesthetically pleasing as they were functional. Photo: Ford Motor Company.

Double-Talk

The really sad thing is that the folk who truly know what I mean about a good drive are getting older. The younger demographic have no idea what that is; they just want to get around. The British public are also culpable. There is a sort of bovine acceptance. They seem happy with the over-hyped connectivity of the modern dashboard, judging by the number of people who are illegally using their smartphones and other devices whilst on the move.

The number of people killed on Britain’s roads has reached a five-year high, triggering fresh concerns over the use of mobile telephones and other distractions at the wheel and cuts to traffic police. It is the motor industry that has done this and now they are frantically developing anti-distraction measures. It’s senseless.

Sadly we are witnessing the dying embers of a fuel-burning epoch. Cars will never be the same. Sure, from time to time something special will come along but by and large, the car market will increasingly offer little boxes; little boxes that all look just the same and I honestly can’t be bothered. So my principle gripe still stands. In the rush to develop the “world” or “global” car, automakers have forgotten that some of us still like that handling feel, a dab of power, and at least some modest driving thrills.

Geoff Maxted is a motoring writer, photographer, and author of our Letter From The UK series. Follow his work on Twitter: 

Cover Photo: FCA US LLC.

About The Author

I'm an experienced and published writer, formerly on cycling and as a general mountain biking guru (until falling off became too painful). More recently I returned to my lifelong love of cars and as a full member of the UK's Guild of Motoring Writers I now pen reviews, news and opinions for various print and online publications. I fully road test every vehicle I review and still get a kick out of it. I'm based in the heart of leafy England.

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