Some things are certainties in life. The British public transport network is in constant disarray, the entire country becomes inoperable when some snows succumb to gravity, the Pope is a Catholic and so on. Further to this list, I would like to add one more: cars are becoming ever bigger and much worse. Admittedly, big is brilliant when we speak of tsunami defence systems or oil tankers, but when it comes to cars, size makes everything worse. Acceleration slower, braking distances lengthened, appearance spoiled, fuel economy ruined and ability to park reduced to almost zero.
Let me illustrate with an example. The original Mini was a microscopic little thing that could be manoeuvred about with the agility of a wasp. Nowadays, Mini chucks its energy into making hideous Sports Utility Vehicles (SUV's) with the same energy as a teenager rolling out of bed at half-past midday, desperately attempting to recall whatever regrettable decisions were made the night before – I know, for, thanks to Be At One’s exceptionally strong cocktail selection, this was me only yesterday.
Neither am I venting my frustration exclusively in the direction of Mini designers – every car company has jumped blindly onto the bandwagon of taking a very lovely small hatchback, putting it on stilts, making it larger, uglier, less fun to drive, less comfortable, harder to park, more ruinous to the polar bear’s habitat, dangerous to the driver and any vehicle they happen to collide with and then slapping 20% on the price.
I simply cannot understand the thought process of a designer in Germany who looks at a Volkswagen Golf and ponders ‘ah, yes, this is a great machine, but why don’t I ruin it and charge people more for the privilege?’ It is madness. Equally, it must be said, I struggle to enter the mind of someone who chooses to buy one. Who really believes that their life is improved by acquiring a tasteless vehicle that makes Weetabix look exotic?
Obviously, large cars have a purpose, which is normally to lumber sluggishly across a soggy field in Wales or chauffeur businesspeople around Knightsbridge. Likewise, small cars are useful for inner-city activities where the roads are narrow and emission barriers are strict. I also see the reason for exciting cars – totally wasteful demonstrations of what can be achieved when the edge of the engineering envelope is pushed to the limit on a track. What I fail to understand, though, is why everyone seems to be squandering their money on a small car pretending to be a large one.
I’ve experienced a few SUVs over the past year or so and in no imaginable sense do they exemplify what their name would suggest. Planets move around more energetically, and with a centre of gravity higher than that of the Empire State Building, wrestling a lion is almost certainly safer than turning the wheel – probably more comfortable too. All might be forgiven if these wretched things were commodious, but few can seat four adults in comfort whilst carrying a set of golfing instruments in the boot.
Worse still, pursuing the S naturally comprises the U and vice versa; the two characteristics are polar opposites. Astonishingly, there exists a reason why Formula One teams choose not to diversify as removal firms in the same way no one ever looks at the Colosseum and asks, ‘I wonder how fast that would go around the Nürburgring.’
Customers can appreciate sportiness and spaciousness without needing to experience them at the same time. Indeed, I appreciate playing tennis and eating pork pies, but would never salivate lustfully over the idea of mating them into one activity because it’s blindingly apparent that in pursuing both you would end up with neither. So, what, I ask again, is the point of a so-called Sports Utility Vehicle that is neither sporty nor utilitarian?
With this in mind, I say desperately to the car industry: if we want to imagine what it might be like to be Lewis Hamilton, we will select a sporty car. If we want to ferry the kids to a school on the other side of a swamp and play golf afterwards, a Range Rover would be lovely. And if we wake up in the morning and suddenly decide to garnish our cornflakes with gunpowder, maybe an SUV would be appropriate. In the meanwhile, please, just stop building them.
George Wright (Political Officer, Ex-Secretary, Former Deputy Returning Officer, Ex-Treasurer, Ex-Whip, Ex-Committee Member, St John’s College) is an undergraduate in his second year of studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics.