I want an Audi to be an Audi, a Jaguar to be a Jaguar, and even a manly Corvette to always be a manly Corvette.
I’m sick of modern cars being so similar. When I drive a German car, I want to smell the lingering aroma of sausage; I want to feel the Teutonic arrogance. The same thing goes for an English automobile. A British engineer shouldn’t have to pause during his well-earned cup of tea to apologize because his or her car lacks the rock-solid, over-engineered feel of a German cruise missile at 150 mph. Likewise, American sports cars should be extrovertly styled, rough around the edges, thirstier than a UAW worker on a Friday afternoon, and able to scoff off criticism like George W. ignoring a crowd of war protesters. In short, cars are becoming homogenous. It’s important that we take the time to praise cars-however flawed-when they exude the culture of their homeland.
Let’s start with Audi’s fabulous new RS4. It’s a perfect example of the proper German car. The interior is beautifully put together; tarmac-clawing, all-wheel drive and stability control make it beyond fabulous in inclement weather; and it is fast. (As in, keep-up-with-a-well-driven-911-Turbo-behind-on-wet-leaf-covered-roads fast. In other words, very.) Yes, the steering-although far better than that of any other current Audi-isn’t as communicative as I would like, and the engine may lack a little bit of character in its power delivery. But my point remains: I don’t care about the faults. When I sit in Audi’s hottest sedan, the flaws become unimportant. They’re overwhelmed by German character. I keep looking for mustard to complement the tubed meat that I can smell wafting through the car’s insides. The RS4 has personality, and there’s no mistaking where it comes from.
Next, let’s travel to that little island off the coast of France, and talk about the Jaguar XK. Most British roads are old, lumpy, and narrow. Cars need excellent dampers and long suspension travel to cope with the ancient, often Roman-derived roads. Mike Cross, XK chief engineer, knows this-and he tunes his cars in such a way that they’re absolutely fabulous on their home turf. (The same thing goes for many Land Rovers.) While this softer type of setup may lack the buttoned-down feel of a good German sedan when driven at triple-digit speeds, it also lets the new XK show most cars a clean pair of taillights down a stretch of winding, less-than-perfect pavement.
Don’t worry: I’m a realist. I know the new XK is a bit too expensive, and that its interior lacks the quality of an Audi or Porsche. But it’s a car that my lovely wife and I can comfortably take cross-country-she’d much prefer the comfort of an XK versus that of an RS4 or 911-and yet still enjoy hammering down the back roads once we’ve reached our destination. (Need more power? Plunk down a bit more cash for the 420-hp XK-R. The supercharged Jag is better than a BMW M6 . . . but we should probably leave that argument for another time.)
Hot dogs, apple pies, and loud voices when it’s obvious we’re offending everyone else in the restaurant? Welcome to the world of being an American. In general, I’m not a huge fan of American cars, but thank God Chevy builds the Corvette Z06. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t really like Corvettes. Every time I drive one, I feel like I need a gold necklace and a wife with fake boobs. ‘Vettes are a bit too blue-collar for me, and I hate that heavy gearbox (it is, of course, very possible that I’m just not man enough to drive this type of car). That said, the Z06′s seven-liter, good-old pushrod V-8 is pure heaven. The Italians spend (and charge their customers) lots and lots of money to build engines that, quite honestly, aren’t as good as this old-school Yank lump. It pulls like a diesel off idle but spins like a VTEC Honda at high rpm. Yes, the Z06′s interior is crap. Yes, I sometimes feel like putting a paper bag over my head when I’m behind the wheel. But when you get down to it, the Corvette is the perfect definition of what American cars should be. Please, Detroit, build more cars with way too much power-just like this one. (If it’s not too much trouble, a spare set of rear tires at no extra charge would be great, too.)
I’m not ignoring other countries, and these are only meant to be a few examples. Overall, I just want manufacturers to remember their roots. I think a balance of clever marketing, good journalism, and car enthusiasts standing strong on their needs (and wants) are all it will take. Whether you agree or disagree, I want to hear from you. Let me know what you think. In the mean time, I’ll be busy washing down some Thai food with a good Dutch lager while enjoying the company of my English wife-all in the wonderfully diverse town of Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S.A.