What do people shopping for a new vehicle these days value the most? Is it power? Nah, most vehicles are within striking distance of of one another thanks to turbocharging running rampant.
What about design? To a point I suppose, but the majority of new vehicles look 80% the same thanks to safety regulations, and beancounters.
Perhaps it’s prestige factor, but with Hyundai and KIA both selling legit alternatives to the established players, it won’t be long before the badge on the hood means bupkis. Yeah, I just worked bupkis into a sentence.
So, what is it? What really separates one vehicle from another in todays automotive market?
That perpetually smudged little screen and all the tech packaged in with it. How fast it is, what features it has, how it has been integrated into the interior, these are the elements of a quality vehicle according to the marketing teams, and ad agencies hired by brands.
Of course automakers would love for you to forget that’s the case. The last thing Audi wants is for you to realize that aside from their tech features, you’re basically driving a gussied up Volkswagen. The same goes doubly for Lexus, and Acura, who do so very, very little to separate themselves from Toyota and Honda, other than to add lots of styling to their vehicles.
After reading a review of a new Jaguar XF by one of my peers, I found myself pondering a big question, what if infotainment systems didn’t exist. Would luxury automakers still be able to get away with charging what they do for their vehicles? Would the playing field be drastically more level? Would auto critics have anything left to criticize?
I’m kidding of course, there will always be something for us to bitch about, whether it’s numb steering feel, a millionth of a second of turbo lag, or a lack of brown diesel manual wagons.
But, seriously folks, what if the big selling point for new vehicles wasn’t what was in the dash. What if it was what’s under the hood, or the safety rating, or *gasp* longevity.
If such a heavy emphasis wasn’t put on connected driving, mobile office features, or having Google Earth in the dash, would there be any reason to get an Audi A4 over a Subaru Legacy?
Yes, absolutely, but only if you care about the materials found inside the vehicle, and with that new entry price of $37,300, you have to really, really give a damn. A loaded Subaru Legacy 3.6R is a solid car that offers plenty of performance, comfort, and safety. It comes in at just under $34k with the $3,090 EYESIGHT package added on. Drop that and you’re getting a whole heck of a lot of car for around $30 grand. That base model A4 will be a FWD model, it won’t have nav, won’t have keyless entry, won’t even have heated seats.
I don’t want to single out Audi though, because all the luxury automakers are guilty of this shameful nickel-and-diming, and they have been for a long time. The difference is that the option boxes used to be worth ticking because they were things that actually enhanced the driving experience by changing how the car performed. These days the majority of the options available on a vehicle are unnecessary, but we’ve been sold the idea that infotainment systems are equally as important as how a vehicle drives, sometimes even more so.
Let’s get back to the automaker that stirred up thoughts in my noggin in the first place, the deliciously evil buggers at Jaguar. Now don’t get me wrong, I love what the folks at Jaguar have been doing since they pulled their heads out of the sand, and decided to have a real go at being an awesome automaker.
What I don’t love is this InControl and InControl Pro bullshit. If people are dropping major coin on a luxury car, just give them the damn infotainment system they deserve you bastards. It’s one thing for Ford to omit SYNC 3 from a base model Fiesta, but having an entry level system in a $70k+ Jaguar is just insulting to the buyer. Look at this garbage, does this say “prestige” to you?
No, it definitely does not. It looks cheap, which is exactly what Jaguar is being by not installing the much nicer InControl Pro system in all vehicles. I mean just look at the difference, it’s so much better.
But what if neither of these systems were in there. What if it was just a regular ‘ol radio, with Bluetooth for phone calls and audio streaming? Would there still be a reason to buy an XF instead of a Genesis? If you don’t care about putting out a villainous vibe, I’d say no, there’s not.
We have reached a point where there are no bad cars. There are cars that are less enjoyable than others, sure, but bad cars, not really. The Chevrolet Citation, and Plymouth Breeze, those were bad cars. These days, the worst thing on the market is the
Scion iQ, Nissan Versa, and even that comes standard with with Bluetooth. The cost to automakers to install additional tech is so minimal that it’s laughable, and yet consumers fork over mountains of cash every year to get that baller screen in the dash.
As we continue to go deeper into the realm of vehicles being computers on wheels, the more important the driving experience will be when it comes to deciding if a vehicle is superior to another. The problem is that the driving experience is becoming less, and less important to people, if they even valued it at all in the first place.
For many people, a car is an appliance, and they’ll welcome to advent of the widely available autonomous car, and where will luxury automakers be then? Well, how often do you go into someone’s home and think, “goddamn, that LG fridge with a TV in the door is pimp!”?
The answer is never, because it’s not pimp, it’s gaudy. If luxury automakers don’t get back to the basics of building cars that are enjoyable to drive, that make you want to get in them when you don’t need to, they’ll end up being nothing but a gaudy indulgence, you know, like a horse.
But that’s just my view, and my word isn’t gospel. So I pose this question to you; if today’s luxury cars were devoid of infotainment systems, and additional safety technology, would they still be worth it?
Consider the following, is the interior quality of a Jaguar really that much better than a comparable equipped Ford or Chevrolet? What about a Benz vs a Hyundai, or Audi vs KIA? What constitutes a luxury car anyway? Is it time to re-define what we’re talking about when we use that term? Have we been so conditioned to want imported luxury vehicles that we don’t realize they’re a shell of what they once were? These are big questions, I hope you all have some big answers.
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