Automotive fandom is different than other hobbies because non-enthusiasts generally dictate how the industry reacts to consumer tastes. An individual who doesn’t like playing video games isn’t going to purchase a Nintendo Switch or Playstation 4, but someone who is ambivalent about cars still needs transportation. The gulf between the auto aficionado and casual user is extremely visible in the comments sections and message boards of various car blogs and websites, where certain prejudices continue to fester. I am not above this discourse, which is why I’ll first explain my malfunction, then talk about some flawed thinking I’ve come across on the web.
Like a lot of automotive enthusiasts, I tend to judge people based on the vehicles they drive. I think its somewhat acceptable to do this if the person in question just cut you off or committed some type of egregious traffic infraction. Basically if its purpose is to let off some steam, its okay. Unfortunately, what I do goes beyond surface level judging, to the point where I’ll be skeptical of someone’s intelligence even if all the evidence points to them being a successful individual.
My neighbor’s son graduated from one of New York’s top public universities, works as an engineer for Con Ed, and married a beautiful woman who is also successful. They are incredible parents to their three kids. In spite of all this, I still think back to his purchase of a previous generation Chrysler 200 as a character flaw. Whats worse is that I know the exact reasoning behind his purchase! He just wanted a cheap sedan he could use for commuting purposes that would also haul the occasional baby. The 200 was up to the task, but what really cemented his decision was the rapport he had with the Chrysler salesman, whom he met when they were considering replacing their Nissan Rogue with a minivan. See? Perfectly logical reasons for selecting the car. And yet I still can’t help but think his money would have been better spent elsewhere. But car people come prepackaged with illogical beliefs that would make a Vulcan weep, and I’m no different.
Contains language NSFW
Aside from being overly judgmental about the types of cars driven by their peers, auto enthusiasts tend to overstate both the emotional appeal and business case for rear wheel drive sedans. The argument is very similar to the plan outlined by the Underpants Gnome:
Phase 1: Automaker X or Y builds a rear wheel drive sedan
Phase 2: ???
Phase 3: Profit
For mainstream brands, the Charger and 300 duo currently represent about all the market demands. The Alfa Romeo Giulia isn’t selling and the GM stopped producing the SS due to slow sales. The comfort argument for rear drive, full size sedans is no longer applicable, as the current crop of mid-size sedans are refined and smooth enough for anyone who fancies an easy going highway cruiser. Plus, the size difference between the two classes is essentially meaningless given the current dimensions of cars like the Camry and Accord. At this point FCA is the only company that can probably justify developing a rear wheel drive platform for use in mainstream four door sedans.
A lot of car people also tend to heap praise on rear wheel drive vehicles by denigrating front wheel drive models. Despite decades of performance trims like the GTI and cars like the Fiesta ST, some enthusiasts refuse to accept anything that shares its DNA with an economy car, completely disregarding the merits of the actual vehicle.
In fairness, I’ve seen a lot of people come around to the idea that hot hatches can offer a truly authentic performance experience. But unlike the PC versus console debate or Game of Thrones fans who have read all the books, the car enthusiast community contains many multitudes. Some car people feel that anyone not talking about dedicated performance vehicles are inauthentic and not part of automotive fandom in general. That simply isn’t true. Alex Dykes and Tim Cain cater to those looking for information about new cars. Doug DeMuro talks about new cars, old cars, quirky cars, and foreign cars not available in America. Curbside Classic skews historical while Jalopnik develops content for people who are more hands-on with their vehicles. All of these entities consist of writers and readers who ostensibly share a common interest but can discuss topics completely unrelated to one another. A Chevrolet Volt owner who likes to talk about alternative energy vehicles is no less a car enthusiast than a Mazda Miata driver who takes their ride to the local autocross course on the weekends and performs all the maintenance on their own.
While we’re on the topic of modern vehicles I’d like to state that crossovers are not the enemy. I understand why many people exercise their antipathy towards them, but their hatred is misplaced, because the difference between a compact crossover and its sedan counterpart is not nearly as wide as most people believe. This line of thinking continues to persist for one obvious reason: most enthusiasts don’t have the ability to drive every car in an automakers lineup back-to-back. If they did I suspect this line of criticism would be severely muted.
Shoppers usually focus on one particular segment when looking for a new car. Customers in the market for a compact crossover probably aren’t going to sample a Focus after taking out an Escape for a test drive. If they did I’m confident they’d notice the similarities between the two vehicles almost immediately. You can drive any other member of Ford’s global compact platform family (Lincoln MKC, Ford Transit Connect, Ford C-MAX) and have the same experience.
If a crossover suffers from mediocrity, blame the automaker. Ford and Mazda developed their crossovers with sportiness in mind, and despite all the fear about crossovers diluting the portfolios of luxury automakers that also focus on high performance, not one of them received critical scorn for their ride and handling characteristics upon their debut. If you don’t like the way a Rogue tackles expansion joints or speed bumps chances are the Sentra will disappoint you as well. That’s on Nissan, not crossovers in general.
The real issue enthusiasts have with crossovers is their potential to upend sedans. That hasn’t happened yet. And with automakers increasingly turning to modular platforms for their products, its likely rumors about the demise of sedans are greatly exaggerated. We’ll probably see some established models get cancelled and that’s it.
That’s my two cents. So tell me: what’s your malfunction?