Built for comfort...

Why performance isn’t (always) the big sell

Car comfort or performance
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The 1959 Cadillac not only had the biggest, tallest, tailfins of any car ever made, perfectly complimented by two bullet-shaped rear light lenses, but it had four cigarette lighters.


The driver and passenger both had individual swing-down ashtrays that dipped down from the dash, complete with cigarette lighters. Meanwhile, the passengers enjoying the acreage of the rear bench seat had an ashtray in each, sizeable, rear door. Complete with cigarette lighter.

Cadillac wings

Much was made of this in the Cadillac literature of the time. You would be whisked along in comfort and style (and it even had the cheek to suggest that this 6.2 litre V8 car was a frugal car that the bank manager would approve of). Nothing was said of its ability to go round corners (reasonably oil tanker-like) or accelerate (surprisingly perky for a 2.2 ton car) and brake (not bad for a car with four drum brakes…).

This separation between what a car does, or even is, and what it has continues to this day, 60 years later. Car companies lavish as much attention on a car’s infotainment system as on the engine and suspension. Motoring journalists review a car’s ability to play Shania Twain or to send a text message as much as they note how well it takes a roundabout, or a wiggly B-road. 

It seems inevitable, I suppose that as everyone’s attention is more and more focussed on glowing screens in front of them, to the detriment of everything around, that our driving world is being more and more concentrated on what’s in it for us when driving. Just how much can we be entertained (and distracted) while driving? It’s no longer good enough to put in a CD and have to change it over an hour and a bit later. No, we demand a constantly changing, personally curated playlist to suit our mood while we drive. 

This kind of implies that people don’t really enjoy driving. And research seems to back that up, with a recent Gallup poll in the US concluding that only 34% of drivers say they enjoy driving "a great deal." A reluctant-sounding 44% enjoy driving "a moderate amount," while 13% say they don't enjoy it much and 8% not at all.

So it seems that drivers who like driving just for the enjoyment of driving are in the minority and many drivers are keen to be entertained to the max while going about their business. Hence the growing demand for multi-channel, DAB and satellite music, in-seat massages and the ability to play Game of Thrones while at the traffic lights.

There is still a small corner of enthusiast drivers out there. They’re the ones who don’t turn on the radio at all, who prefer to listen to the rush of the wind and the roar of the engine and hum of the road under the wheels. The ones who look from apex to apex, setting the car up just so between corners. Their sat nav is off, preferring to rely on road memory, or a good old paper map and a list of town names jotted on a piece of paper stuck to the centre console. 

And while those retro dare devils seek out the twisty back roads, regardless of whether Google thinks it’ll cost them another seven minutes, the rest of the world is happily humming along to Adele and following the arrows.

So… which camp do you sit in?

by Beate Kubitz at 28 May 2019, 00:00 AM