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Opinion: Driver involvement is the difference between great cars and road-going appliances

By David Morley, 02 Feb 2020 Features

Driver involvement biggest appeal car opinion

The satisfaction of getting it right is all part of the charm, just like making a cup of coffee

Got a new coffee machine a while back. It’s not that I’m a coffee snob (although I’ve lived in Melbourne for 35 years), but I don’t really see the point in drinking that instant, granulated swill (or worse, the coffee-coloured dust variety) when real coffee is not exactly rocket surgery.

So, what level of sophistication in a coffee machine do we need at 13 Struggle Street? The dolphin-hugger in me can’t reconcile those pod (not a dolphin-based pun) machines that, even though they’re convenient and available with lots of grind and flavour combinations, leave a deadly trail of quasi-metallic, squished pods that have a half-life like a Chernobyl Camry.

Personally, I favoured one of those machines you see in old-school Greek and Italian cafes with a row of little cups on the top, a bunch of brass levers and steam gauges, and a dirty big chrome eagle right on top to guard the little cups. These things are, however, bigger than my actual kitchen. And they cost about the same as that glow-in-the-dark Camry.

Eventually, we settled on a machine small enough to fit in the corner, but still with a proper high-pressure frother, a grinder that works in real time so the beans are always freshly brutalised and, crucially, a pressure gauge (the tappet-head in me refused to negotiate on that point).

Which means there’s still a fair bit of human involvement in turning coffee beans into a life-saving pre-brunch beverage. You have to judge the grind size and volume based on what particular little brown pellets are waltzing around the hopper at the time, and get the temperature and froth of the milk spot on without burning it or turning it into cheese. Oh, and did you know long-life milk froths better because, at a molecular level, it has a longer protein strand? Who said I’m not a man of science?

The point of all this is that you still have the opportunity to bugger things right up and turn a cupful of wonder into a putrid chalice of disappointment. Which is great, if only because there’s a huge sense of achievement when you get it right. Maybe not for a proper barista, but for a dill like me who still thinks of a hammer as an integral part of any socket set, producing coffee that doesn’t stain the ceiling remains a big win.

MOTOR opinion: Driving is therapy when done right

It’s this sense of victory that still draws me to cars with a certain degree of manual operation and analogue feedback. It’s why I’ll still take a conventional three-pedal manual over any other arrangement, because I still get to grin when I’ve made the perfect heel-toe downshift. I still want to feel what the front (and rear) tyres are doing and I don’t mind at all if I can hear the exhaust note as an indicator of throttle position.

Driving a compact SUV the other day (in the name of science) I was amazed how numb and featureless it felt. The ride was awful yet it still body-rolled, and the CVT transmission, although very efficient, was clearly unconcerned about improving my experience beyond saving a few drops of fuel.

Then there was autonomous braking, lane-keeping and active cruise to relieve you of any obligation to think about actually driving. This joyless little blob did the job without fuss and was certainly about as idiot-proof as a car could be, mainly by depriving the driver of any real ability to control the action beyond the vague direction of travel.

Which is when I realised that this thing was the pod-machine of the car world. And as such should really be inserted into a slot and crushed. Or – and I’m not fussy – placed in the hopper of a big, steam-powered mutha with a giant eagle on top, ground to atoms and drowned in boiling water. Frothy milk optional.

Satisfaction takes many forms around here.

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