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The Fallacy of the Performance Truck PDF Print E-mail
Written by Colin Brassington (aka Brash)   
Friday, 17 March 2017 19:54

Earlier this week I read a story about a Toyota executive who wants to build a car. You can read about it too if you like: https://www.wheelsmag.com.au/news/1703/toyota-c-hr-designer-wants-proper-performance-variant Hiroyuki Koba, the article says is a veteran of Toyota having been responsible for a large number of volume sellers. However what makes him different from most other execs is what he does on weekends. He owns a Twin Turbo Supra which he uses as a track toy. He also spends time racing open wheelers, the reason that WHEELS credits with him spending minimal time here in Australia. And prior to the Supra, he owned an SW20 MR2, and before that an AW11 MR2.

Image shamelessly stolen from the WHEELS article in the link. I even left their watermark on it.

It would seem that Hiroyuki knows his way around Toyota's catalogue of classic and awesome sports cars. And that’s a very good thing.

The substance of the interview with Mr Koba puzzles me a little bit. You see, they talk of how the focus of Mr Koba's visit - the new Toyota C-HR has been over-designed and how it's lead designer would really like there to be a performance variant. Something like the old GT Four Celica for example.

And it's this that I take issue with. And unfortunately it also means that the chances of actually getting a new boosted all wheel drive sports car are fairly low.

Now my hatred of the SUV is fairly well documented. Generally not rugged or well-equipped enough to be a genuine off road vehicle, not heavy or powerful enough to be a genuine alternative for towing and generally with less cargo space and inferior fuel economy when compared to a regular hatchback or station wagon, the SUV is the vehicular representation of the old idiom "the jack of all trades is the master of none".

Performance variants of SUVs are nothing new. I remember reading an article in MOTOR magazine many years ago where they added the top spec versions of the then-new Porsche Cayenne turbo and VW Touareg R V10 to whatever performance car shootout they were doing that month. They then promptly agreed that these things, despite being the best of their respective breed, were terrible performance cars and would not be including them again anytime soon.

Not to mention that a performance variant of an SUV is an entirely counter productive exercise. I mean sure, let's take a vehicle that was intentionally designed to have a high ride height, high roof line and be semi-heavy duty passenger car, and we will give it lower and stiffer springs, tuned dampers, more power and try and make it go, handle and stop properly. And I'm the first to admit with what the OEMs have learned about suspension tuning, and with what is capable with electronic control systems these days it's entirely possible to completely change the character of a car. But to make a sports car out an SUV? Nope, not happening.

People, they say are buying SUVs in record numbers. My personal opinion of this is that it's proof once again that mankind is stupid. People use all manner of excuses for buying SUVs, many of which are akin to ensuring that your new DSLR camera has a full manual mode, even though you know that you'll use full auto to take all the pictures. (No, seriously. In my many years hanging out in the car show scene I met many semi-professional photographers who were more than happy to share the fact that they left their mega dollar DSLR on full auto and simply 'fixed' the images in Photoshop to get the image they wanted, rather than adjust the shutter speed and aperture settings. That was too hard. But I digress.)

Road and Track's Jack Baruth wrote a story a little while ago arguing that the primary motivator for the move to SUVs has been the OEMs' shift in the way they build passenger cars. He said that - and I'm paraphrasing here - the manufacturers don't build the large powerful sedan that many people want, so they buy the next closest thing which is a large powerful SUV. You can read the article here and make up your own mind: http://www.roadandtrack.com/car-culture/a31989/president-trump-and-the-sad-cafe/

Truth be told I agree 100% with what Mr Baruth has written here. Of course his words specifically reflect the US market, but these days Australians seem to have no identity of their own and follow blindly what the US does. Not to mention that I take issue with many of the reasons that people claim the "need" an SUV. Reasons such as you need an SUV so that you're high enough to see over the other traffic (which is a lie because they're all driving SUVs too). Falsehoods like there's more luggage space and more legroom, which I claim are falsehoods because even the most cursory measurements shows same. Ideas that you need an SUV to go off road, and while this is partially true, I have mates that go off reading and they reckon that they've never been out and not had to rescue some poor idiot who drove a Rav 4 somewhere he shouldn't have. (Who remembers the Top Gear Australia magazine story from about 2012 where they wrote off a BMW X3 trying to drive it across a 400mm water crossing?) (Also, if you're going properly off road you really should be driving a vehicle with a dual range transfer case, the presence of which technically moves a vehicle from the SUV category...but I digress)

SUVs are also leading the way in equipment, another reason why people claim they need one. And this is true, often the sheer amount of electronic gizmos you get inside a mid-spec SUV is significantly higher than what you get in a similarly priced car (hence why some think you get more "value" when you buy an SUV) But what are these gizmos? Things like the ability to automatically connect your phone to the car, to drive your phone through the steering wheel controls, voice controls that operate both car and phone.

Am I the only one who finds it amusing that while legislators, road safety groups and police departments are trying harder than ever to stop people using their phones while driving, the manufacturers are trying harder than ever to integrate your smartphone into everything your car does?

Now as someone who likes performance cars, I often lament the fact that nobody really makes an affordable sports car anymore. And why would they, when the only one available - the Toyota 86 - is roundly criticised for being underpowered? And maybe it is. (Actually, yes it is, freeway onramps are way more difficult than they need to be thanks to the low power, but you wouldn't need to add much to avoid this) The development team often claim that they were perusing the feeling of 'fun to drive' more than outright performance and you can feel this when you drive it. But people look to cars like the S15 Silvia (200SX in Australia) as an example of what a sports car should be. And they forget that in 2001 when the S15 was launched here that despite being significantly faster, it made the same power as the V6 Commodore did at the time. Same story with the early Impreza WRX. But even performance variants of regular cars are falling away. Mitsubishi have scrapped the Lancer Evolution and they're not doing a fast version of the new Mirage to replace the long gone Ralli-Art Colt; Holden aren't going to bring on any of the hot versions of the new Astra; Honda haven't conformed the new Civic Type R will be coming to Australia, and outside of the 86, Toyota still seem to think that stickers and fog lights turn a base model into a performance model.

So there you go, dear reader. Once again I started off with what I felt was an important story to tell, and it turned into a hate-filled rant about the scourge of the SUV. Oh well. 



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