Monday, October 24, 2005

In praise of progress

Along with my other Saturday activites, some typical (the drinking), some highly exceptional (the running), I also managed to have a test-drive of the brand new Suzuki Grand Vitara. Between that and my Sunday activities - a winter driving course where I repeatedly spun a late-generation Mazda 626 on an artificially slippery surface - I have come to the following conclusions.

1. My Honda is quite fast. In fact, through a combination of light weight and a decent engine mostly unphased by years of service (and recently, months of abuse), it is appreciably faster than anything I can conceivably afford any time soon - and a lot of things I can't. Let's just say, the dynamics of both the brand-new Vitara and fairly recent 626, both with 2.0 four-pots just like the Accord, singularly failed to impress.

2. Unfortunately, in all other respects it sucks. Oh, it moves, and I expect it to continue to move for some time yet, but driving something fresh does drive the point home rather clearly. I'm a great fan of the Thousand Dollar Car Theory, but I do understand why people spend money on showroom-shiny vehicles. The experience is incomparable.

3. Obsession with continuity is a detrimental factor in car design. I kept wondering why the new Grand Vitara had slats on the bonnet edges. Later that day I saw an old workhorse Vitara (non-Grand) three-door, and its flip-forward lid had slats on the edges so you could grab onto them and pull. On the old car, they're functional and therefore charming. On the new one, obviously intended as an overengineered urban SUV for the soccer dad who klings desperately to trail cred, it's useless and confusing.

4. There is hardly a need for automatics these days. The clutches on new cars are ridiculously light and short. I'm used to heavy, tricky and worn clutches on my cars, it's an expensive part to replace and I've sort of always crashed the car before I had to invest the cash. Compared to them, the Grand Vitara was effortless. The clutch has two positions, on and off, and you would need to make an active effort to stall it. Seriously, if you are buying a new mainstream car today and don't think you can handle three pedals, you're a twat and shouldn't be let anywhere near a steering wheel.

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