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Today, We Are Driving The Cars We Wanted Yesterday

by Gunnar Heinrich ::: IMG BMW ::: 2012 BMW M5

DUH. Of course, you may say. Well, not everyone sees it this way. In fact, some say that we have already passed a point of no return. That computers, sensors, electronic nannies, and gremlins have all come between man and machine. Progress is no longer about engineering a car to handle a turn better but electronically removing the driver from participating altogether.

Take the 2012 BMW M5, for instance. BMW’s M cars have for the past three decades denoted the visceral pleasures of driving more than most. But somewhere along the way, BMW’s GPS took their development team on a wild detour. You see, BMW recognized that customers who paid $80K for a sports sedan par excellence wanted their creature comforts, too. And BMW realized they could make gobs more money by offering extras that would inevitably add weight and complexity to the equation.

So, there’s the profit motive.

And then there’s that little aspect of human nature – particularly amongst engineers and designers – that demands that we go that much further than our previous efforts. Like Dame Edna says, perfection is going that little bit further. Any actor wearing a mauve wig and horn rimmed sequin glasses must know what he/she is talking about.

Thus, an interior that was sufficiently silent in the preceding (e60) generation M5 was deemed not quiet enough the current (f10) M5. Naturally, the Germans being a driven lot made it quieter inside. And what that also meant was that the interior became so hushed that you couldn’t actually hear the engine. Which was a problem.

So, they created an audio track that channels engine noise through the M5′s orchestra of cabin speakers that keeps perfect time with the revs. Problem solved.

To a driver, that is someone who doesn’t view their car as just another kitchen appliance, this might not so much spell the end of the open road and free will as much as scream it. It’s all over! Google’s Android software will soon be piloting us at set speeds between our designated points. It’ll be like taking the train – or worse – the bus!

But, we can take solace in that our autonomous pod will have really aggressive M badges everywhere, tri-colored stitching in the leather seats, and a really, really terrific sound system that simulates the spirited that strains of an old BMW straight six, or naturally aspirated V8, or V10, or even twin turbo V8 being worked through the range. Actually, if you prefer a Ferrari V12 BMW will license that from Maranello and offer it as a pay-for option, too.

But, don’t worry, in case you don’t want the distraction there will be a mute button.

Truth is – this is what we wanted all along. In the 80s, we wanted our cars to be more than clumsily put-together pig iron. We wanted cars to look out for us, tell us how to get there, how long it would take to get there, be intuitive of our needs, and keep us comfortable along the way. And that’s what we got. It only makes sense that the manufacturers should add more. Because we always want more.

We got what we wanted. The challenge going forward is whether we’ll be able to opt for less so that we get more out of driving. If there’s to be a future that permits us to enjoy the car as we once knew it – that will be the key.

March 13, 2012
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About the Author: Gunnar Heinrich is publisher of Automobiles De Luxe online and is executive producer of the Automobiles De Luxe Television series on PBS member station CPTV.

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RSSComments: 2  |  Opine Freely, But Smartly.  |  Trackback URL

  1. Nice rant.

    A couple of years ago, a writer at Hemmings opined that the peak of drivers cars happened somewhere in the mid 90′s. After that the new technology that has been larded on has as often as not, gotten between the driver and the car.

    There are still great drivers cars out there, the WRX and Evo come to mind. Due to their price points only the good mechanical tech is available and not the various digital and electronic assists, but also missing are decent materials along with good fit and finish.

  2. Nice reply. You’re right about the WRX and Evo. Pity that neither are well built – in fact Mitsubishi has to make some of the flimsiest cars on the road.

    Porsche, however, makes generally well built cars – some of which are still driver centric machines.

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