It used to be the case that new car buyers aligned with internet storm of opinion or even created it. Some time passed since then. When first group actually continued on, supplying the industry with financial resources to keep going, second became a big, ungrateful bag of bitterness – at least from the manufacturer’s standpoint. Top Gear used to laugh the cyclists off saying ‘Work harder, get a car!‘, but are we approaching the time of ‘leave social media, buy an SUV‘?
Recent interview conducted by motoring.com.au with BMW development chief Klaus Frohlich is a good starter. Talking about the new 3 series he went on to say that it ‘…has to beat everybody in the segment in driving dynamics because all the Australian, UK and American journalists say ‘ooh the E46 CSL was the last real 3 Series. I do not want to hear that shit anymore‘ – and the wave of obviousness hit me hard. Change is inevitable. As CSL approaches the age of consent I realized not paying the right attention when station wagon times passed. And they did a long time ago.
Migrating from sedan base to a wagon body-style, and then even lifted wagons supposedly allowing for a bit of off-road fun was cheaper, but that’s because of focus during platform design process. And just as the craziest, race-oriented iterations of M3/M4 don’t sell that well as mentioned journalists would’ve wanted, putting out an SUV-friendly shared core like VW’s MLB couldn’t be an option before overall sales of Range Rovers and Toyota RAV-4’s went high enough. That’s how it starts. Something basic becomes popular just to end up as an overpriced status statement. Rawness gets away, throttle-by-wire becomes commonplace. Hell, we’ve had a minivan reign in between, you remember those? Ugly-looking lifted hatchback, the godfather of modern crossovers. Audi A2 tried, but failed, and died. Renault Scenic conquered for a while, but also failed. And then died. But be careful, place your butt on any seat in them. Notice how seamless entering the car is. Floaty boaty pukey ride always makes me question target audience for these. Being born in the 90’s, I kinda remember both minivans and wagons, and how they started to fade. Just as the funny thing happening with BMW E36 and E30 wagons. They’re cherished with appearances in every important place for modern car culture. Stanced, drifted, drag raced, V8-swapped. In the 90’s? Everybody HATED them! Yeah we had pretty much the same split between SW’s and other body types. But what every fully rational, young human being wanted was:
1. Coupe – preferably fast or at least red, penalty points for front-wheel drive.
2. Sedan – usually silver because of reasons, extra points for it not being German or fooling your friends into belief that Rover 75 isn’t a BMW.
Then was a long gap to the third place with people’s choice often enough being a convertible, or some capable, comfortable Jeep. Throwing the name “Jeep” meaning a genre, type, like it happens with GoPro cameras. Volvo tried to sustain the wagon craze a bit longer, I mean, people usually known them for these so it’s natural for 850R to appear. Mom-car with 250 horsepower, five cylinders, brilliant car. So thought the whole internet when Volvo came back to these roots with V60 Polestar. Saying it’s a good way to apologize after XC60. But faceless Instagram followers fighting with clueless PR representative managing the car maker’s profile don’t just all get out to buy some Volvo. Not even a cheap one. Not even a Mitsubishi. Masses love what’s unique, rare and when it’s pulsating with honesty you just got yourself a David Bowie not a car.
Mitsubishi itself underwent a golden age in the 90’s. By the end of the millennium, despite weakening climate their sales score went up 81%. And since it’s nobody’s dream to produce econo-shoe-boxes all their lives, we got to see Lancer EVO, Eclipse GSX and 3000GT. Can you imagine such huge leap done by any manufacturer? How about huge leap without any knowledge of what’s on the other side to land on? They’ve been in just the right position after oil crisis killed off America’s 7 liter V8 engines, but only a vague hint on what’s about to happen. Without any infrastructure to conquer the market, Chrysler sold imports rebadged as their own Dodge or even Eagle. Letting the Japanese save many days to come without much credit. The one everyone lusts after, 3000GT/Stealth with twin turbos – sold only 45 units in 1999. That’s the typical clash of counter-rational idea romanticism is, with cold calculation. Mostly trying to leave certain things without a comment, without explanation. You feel something’s a good idea, and do it. Harms way cannot be avoided in such cases. So, was 3000GT a great car? Yes. Was it of outdated design? At least had pop-up headlights. Was it heavy? Yeah. Still went to 100kph in 5 seconds. Was it reliable? Only as it’s 80’s tech allowed it to be. Delicate is the right word. Hard to work on the bastard too. Every time you need to change spark plugs, disassembly of the entire intake manifold comes first. But that’s no biggie, every owner of a transverse V should know that. Like every other repair requiring the whole engine to come out. Misfiring marketing specialists never really knew how to sling this model into showroom roaming dollar signs. First it was aimed at young people, then underwent personality change into a GT car, finally it ended up as an exclusive model with only profitable full-on options available. Packed with 4WD, 4-wheel steering, active aero kits, pushing 220-300 horsepower, or even 400 for mystical Beckenbauer Edition (no joke). On paper car looks about right, Mazda RX-7 wasn’t a benchmark of reliability but somehow managed to gather a huge, happy crowd. But dependency on US market meant ceasing further action when America says so. Next? Rapid loss of value. To the point of ultimate neglect. Situation lured in people without necessary approach, knowledge or even basic will.
Low-number creations always end up being compared to something more popular as if it’s about to make any sense. What’s around then? Skyline, Supra, they too have six cylinders with a turbo, ‘why would 3000GT be any different’ right? In the same way EVO isn’t an STI. Over-boosted engine punching way above its weight needs additional care. Beating on it boxer-style isn’t going to work. Cold revs, slam-shifting the gearbox and crazy chip tuning without necessary mods killed off many Lancers. Justification for continuing production disappeared soon enough and yet they tried! Subaru itself had a great idea of making a 4WD coupe with a front-mounted flat six. Yeah, and I wonder if you even know what it’s called without Googling it, they failed so hard. Again, they tried! BMW made the Compact way too long. Past the point of ridicule, especially with the styling of E46 but goddamn they’ve tried something different. Despite huge numbers automotive industry sometimes runs on very tight budgets, just so another guy looking for quirks on a brand new one can make a joke about blank buttons and how they should’ve done it better cause it makes him feel like missing out on something.
Right around Bentley arriving at SUV’s doorstep, I thought we’re through, thought that we already had enough strange cars to accommodate another trend. Fiat Multipla bites the dust, Daewoo stopped the production, Mazda’s stopped rusting away after leaving showroom floor. No more hate on SUV’s. No more decoding abbreviation to prove yet once again that these cars have nothing to do with it. Nah, they’re still terrible. Stelvio Quadrifoglio made a run for its money and held a record for the fastest SUV on the planet. Not impressive enough. Lamborghini makes Urus, and thank God marketing department figured out a way to commercialize it along historical LM002 so its premiere went kinda without problems. ‘Oh no, here comes Rolls Royce’. “WHY” already echoes all around the world before any well measured sentence comes to the public. Hatred resonates, speeding up and yup, they made an SUV. To the laughter of cheap jokes about female head of the Cullinan project being obviously leading factor in such direction change for the brand.
Even though gender has nothing to do with it. What they’ve done isn’t really a change all that much. What happened, been actually coming along for a while now. And you know what? If you, like me, can’t even afford to buy a new, shiny SUV, shut the hell up. If looking at the brand new Skoda makes you think about buying an old 7-series with thorough service, you’re not a trendsetter. And frankly, creating an ideology around our old beaters is all we have left. While rich women with fake asses smoothly slide down out of an SUV rather than up out of pavement level Ferrari sits on, enduring paparazzis swarming to photograph their crotches. Well, that’s actually progress of a kind.
With people refusing to see benefits of certain purchase ‘because [insert random ideological reason]’ it’s even harder. “I’m not going to buy an Audi because your ex drove it”, ‘I’m not going to buy a new Peugeot because… have you seen the Top Gear segment on those cars?‘ – yeah, I did. And I also remember it being sarcastic with exaggerations made on purpose. Picturing French people in typical British, comedic way. Fake mustaches and accent. Even they were fighting a lost cause as Peugeot continued on to sell more and more. Now look at Hyundai. Hard and ungrateful path they took, trying to get themselves into an already overfilled industry of cheap cars that won’t make you feel bad. Consecutively, one after another, improvements came, co-op with KIA and when financial justification arrived, so did Stinger and i30N (notice their halo cars NOT being SUV’s). Fiat, with all its stereotypes and troubles also found a niche for Mazda-sourced 124 Spider. It’s pretty obvious that in a couple of years they’re about to become new desirables like 3000GT. Only more reliable, economical, some maybe faster. All that, thanks to SUV money.