I have just driven what is, by any measurement, a genuinely gifted sports car. It was fast, sounded exciting and allowed me to use an unexpected quantity of its performance in foul conditions because its chassis electronics were infallible.
More capable than ever, but at what cost?
But it struck me that many aspects of the way the car drove, and the way I interacted with it, bore no resemblance to many of the experiences and sensations I felt and celebrated when I started driving in the early 1990s. This was, in modern media speak, a new driving, and I'm feeling increasingly mournful towards the old driving that I loved so much.
This process of emasculation is well documented - the motor industry seems obsessed with removing the driver from any direct, physical contact with the car - and I've whinged about that enough already.
But what I do want to know is this: who perpetrates all of this stuff? Who sits down and proposes that a car aimed squarely at car enthusiasts should have a steering wheel rim so thick that Lord Voldemort couldn't wrap his fingers around it? Or that isn't actually round? Think about it for a minute - unless the car has a steering rack of one turn lock-to-lock or less, it's a bonkers idea.
Wheels should be round - simple, isn't it?
And yet we now live in a world where most steering wheels in fast cars are not round and are un-usable by anything smaller than an adult silver back gorilla.
Who decided that suspension should no longer absorb bumps? Actually, I can answer that, it was the berks in the marketing department - but this fallacy of stiff springs and zero tyre sidewall has meant that virtually all new cars sold in the UK do not ride well. They are therefore not carrying out a basic requirement - to keep the occupants isolated from the road surface. That's like buying a £300 toaster, revelling in its build-quality, enjoying the control buttons and overlooking the small fact that it cannot heat white bread to the point that it hardens and turns light brown.
The only difference is that the car buyer tolerates cars that crash rigidly into cats-eyes, celebrates them even, but will return the toaster the moment they realised it didn't work.
Some are keeping it real, just about
It feels like a conspiracy to me. It feels like someone changed the parameters without consulting me - and now I'm left with a different set of rules for a game I thought I knew, and many of them just don't make sense.
Like sports seats. Designing a seat which locates the human torso under heavily lateral forces is not difficult - the clue's in the definition above. You locate the torso. So why do most sports seats have great wings either side of the squab which trap your thighs - the very things you want to keep mobile? And yet there's barely any support under your armpits, where you actually need it. And don't get me started on 'shoulder wings' - right up there with the BMW M two-piston caliper as the worst performance component of the century.
A great sports car used to be one that not only covered ground with electrifying speed, but also communicated its actions to the operator. That second definition now appears to play a minimal role in the development of a so-called drivers' car.
Who's brave enough to suggest Chris tries this?
My theory for the way things have become? A lack of car enthusiasts in car companies? Maybe, but perhaps more worryingly it might be a lack of car companies who actually listen to their staff who ARE car nuts - being such a person does seem to have become a cultural and professional stumbling-block in a modern car manufacturer. I find this completely baffling - most months I meet engineers who chat off-the-record about the stuff they are forced to develop that they know is just nonsense to keep the marketing department sweet, and which actually gets in the way of the driving experience.
I'll never understand it. It's like making hi-fi which sounds bad, watches that don't keep accurate time, selling food that tastes of old socks.
We live in a world where bad has become good. Strange and worrying.