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Are the fun police ruining driving pleasure?

By Matt Raudonikis, 14 Sep 2016 Opinion

Are the fun police ruining driving pleasure?

When did car ownership stop being about the driving experience?

WHEN did car ownership stop being about the driving experience?

When did that buzz a car gives you when behind the wheel cease to matter? I’m lucky enough to work in a job that I often refer to as ‘just having fun with cars’, but it seems having fun no longer matters to the folks making and selling new cars.

The 4X4 Australia office recently received an invitation to the launch of a heavily revised new 4x4. This is normally cause for excitement as it means we get to go to some cool place to be wined and dined by the car company, have the chance to speak with the engineers and developers of the new vehicle, and, most importantly, get to drive the thing and see how good (or otherwise) the latest developments are.

Yet the headline grab on the invitation didn’t mention anything about new and improved 4x4 ability, class-leading on-road dynamics, plate-shifting torque increases, or ground-breaking developments in performance. No, the highlight this car company used to get us excited about its new car was the inclusion of Apple CarPlay in the vehicle’s AV system.

I appreciate music and phone integration into a vehicle, but it’s not a deal-breaker when it comes to my buying choices. Things like drive ability, performance, capability and functionality are the things that matter to me – and I’d like to think you folks, too. Piping your music through the car stereo is nice but it’s not going to put a smile on my dial when the car steers like a pig on a mountain road, the transmission can’t make up its mind what gear it wants, or the tractive systems can’t get you up the simplest of off-road hills.

It seems car companies have given up on building the driver’s car, as they know that the ability to drive them ourselves is being taken away from us. All they talk about these days is phone integration, electric power and autonomous driving technology, which doesn’t leave much for those of us who love to drive.

I’d like to think autonomous tech won’t take these vehicles to stunning tracks like the Canning Stock Route, the Simpson Desert, Border Ranges or the Oodnadatta Track – all of which we visit in this issue. However, Land Rover recently displayed its autonomous systems for off-road use. Is nothing sacred?

I’m glad I won’t be around in 20 to 30 years when driving yourself will be outlawed, along with older cars, motorcycles and off-road adventures. The fun police are taking over and I’d rather not be here to witness the Brave New World.