When Ferrari stop building a naturally aspirated, front engined, rear wheel drive V12, the four horsemen of the apocalypse are truly on their way…
I recently published a blog looking at the history of Citroën and how a few decades ago they were innovators in automotive technology and design. Each new model would build on the last and offer a very unique, very french and very Citroën approach of getting from A to B. Fast forward to the modern-day and the company is a shell of its former self, playing safe under its PSA overlords and knocking out insignificant cars, indistinguishable from the competition.
I don’t want to single out Citroën though, they definitely aren’t the only ones that have sold out. Look at the big German brands and their mid-sized performance variants for example. Going back just ten years ago there was variation. The C63 AMG was a Thor’s hammer of a car, that beast of an AMG V8 had a soundtrack like thunder and from every road testers opinion, drove like a muscle car, a philosophy harking back to the 1986 E-Class V8 coupe.
In total contrast was the BMW M3. The M3 was a scalpel, a revvy V8 with a sublime handling balance that would be as satisfying along a B road as it would be on track. Truly living up to the old motto of “the ultimate driving machine” and following its lineage back to the original homologation special E30 M3, that dominated race tracks in the late 80s/early 90s. Then there was the Audi RS4. The one that could do it in all weathers, with it’s famed Quattro AWD system born in the tough world of Group B rallying. Capable of accelerating off the line like shit off a shovel and maintaining confidence-inspiring grip even in the wet.
These were special cars, unique and brilliant in their own way and all having their loyal, die-hard supporters that would argue the case for their favourite until the sun went down. Now, their successors all feature downsized, turbocharged engines, AWD and more weight than before. While each manufacturer has had new regulations to meet, none of them has kept any of the DNA of the older cars. I’m not going to argue that they’re good cars in their own right or that they’re not statistically better than the model they replaced but what made them stand out has gone. It’s like the Rolling Stones bringing out a new album with solely House music on. It may be the greatest house record ever made but are their die-hard fans going to buy it? Not a chance.
The Loss of Variety
While I’m giving Mercedes, BMW and Audi a good kicking, I may as well bring up the subject of the respective AMG line, M performance and S line products. Seeing logos like these on mechanically bog standard cars is doing nothing but diluting these once-great halo trim levels. At a quick glance, how easy is it to mistake an S line TDI for an RS3? Those who buy diesel and spec the big aero bumpers and fancy bits to make it look like the top dog might as well walk around with a sock down your boxers.
That lowered a stiffened suspension on your TDI, is going to give fantastic feedback while you cut people up on the school run and those 20-inch wheels with low profile tyres, will look great with all the kerb rash after you’ve mounted the pavement outside the local off licence. I just don’t get it. By all means, if people want to ruin the ride quality of their daily driver, let them but don’t plaster the halo logos on them.
Even automotive royalty aren’t exempt from selling out. Founded in 1909 by an Italian in France, the now German-run Bugatti is famous for producing the fastest cars in the world. Big brutes with AWD, 16 cylinder engines and colossal horsepower.
What’s so bad about this then? Well, the companies founder Ettore Bugatti often compared the huge Bentleys in which he competed against to “heavy trundling monsters” and “like a lorry”… what would he make of the Veyron and Chiron? They aren’t exactly befitting to bear the name of a man that was once quoted as saying “weight is the enemy” with each coming in at just under two-ton. Volkswagen has just used the name and done their own thing, using the brand to showcase what their engineers are capable of.
It was inevitable the SUV was going to come into the conversation wasn’t it. Some manufacturers reluctantly get a pass on this, although the execution of the end product leaves a lot to be desired. Rolls Royce and Bentley get a pass, both historically have made big cars but both have also failed to make the Cullinan and Bentayga anywhere near pleasant to look at.
Lamborghini would have got a pass had they stuck with their flamboyant traditions and shoehorned a V12 in the Urus instead of giving us a glorified Audi Q7 (so is the Bentley.) The Porsche Cayenne which started this trend for every man and his dog getting in on the SUV act, doesn’t get a pass and that’s despite its huge success. The Porsche brand stands for performance, handling balance and motorsport, amongst other things. None of which you can mould into a two-ton plus, high sided vehicle.
Lotus is supposed to be making one and it probably fits least with their brand ethos than any other. And please Ferrari, don’t do it. Many of these companies have other brands within their group that SUV’s would fit perfectly into, so stop diluting historic brands!
BMW M “Competition”
While I’m on a rant, what’s with the “Competition” variant of the BMW M cars? Are they homologation specials? No. Do they have their own one-make race series? No. Are they more stripped out than the standard M? No. There’s nothing competition about them. In the same way, the tracksuit that the fat guy down the supermarket is wearing has never seen a track. If you’re going to label it competition then at least give it a half cage and take the back seats out.
Back in the day, if you wanted a luxury saloon with a sporty touch you went to BMW. Citroën offered something that nobody else did with their magic carpet suspension and Jaguar offered classic British design with lots of wood and leather. Nowadays, there is nothing that stands out that pulls you in any particular direction.
A cheaper finance deal being the big selling point for many. Every manufacturer seems hell-bent on building cars that can do everything, lap the Nürburgring in under 8 minutes, do the school run and the weekly shop, go off-roading and fry the average person’s brain with technology. The saying “jack of all trades, master of none” springs to mind here.
With all the advancements in tyres, suspension and manufacturing processes why is it a 65-year-old Citroën DS is still often referred to as a benchmark in ride quality? Why is it that a classic mini designed in the 1950s is better packaged and offers more room for its size than many modern cars? And why does the near 30-year-old McLaren F1 only need 618bhp and no turbos to hit 240mph, when there are cars pushing over 1000bhp that don’t come close?
In the technology department, cars have come a long way but I can’t help but think in many aspects they have gone backwards. I put the blame on the manufacturers selling out and producing cars that try and do everything while doing nothing exceptional.