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Opinion: The new car I'd actually like to buy doesn't exist

By Ash Westerman, 19 Dec 2020 Opinion

Ash Westerman on new cars

Westerman reckons there might not be a new car he would realitically buy

It was one of those moments when a beer and a song brought a fleeting moment of clarity that I almost didn’t want to acknowledge may be true. I was in a bar nursing a cold pint while waiting for a friend, and ‘57 Channels’ by Bruce Springsteen began to waft down from the audio system.

The lyrics tell the story of a man in a state of perpetual discontentment, his mood captured by the euphemism of flicking endlessly around a TV dial and finding ‘57 channels but nothin’ on.’

It made me realise: I am that man, and the entire Databank section of Wheels is like my TV, where there are thousands of models from which to chose, but, for me at least, nothin’ on.

Just to be clear, of course there are loads of cars available in this richly over-saturated Aussie market I’d love to own. But once I start to apply some boring real-world filters of affordability, packaging practicalities, and suitability to the mundanities of daily motoring, well, I really struggle to find that elusive car that nails the brief. Yep, 57 Channels and nothin’ on…

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By the end of that beer, my thoughts had started to drift towards The Simpsons. If you ever watched this family documentary series back in its early days, you may recall an episode from the second season where Homer is given free reign to design a car for a Detroit automaker run by his half-brother.

Homer's Car

Now, I’m not nearly as bright as Homer Simpson, so it’s way above my abilities to commit a design to paper. But it did make me think that modern car design is largely inherently conservative, and if the shackles could be made a little loser, maybe my ideal car could come to fruition.

To start with packaging: ever since I once sat in a McLaren F1 back in the ’90s, I’ve been obsessed with the notion of a three-seater. But that arrowhead layout would never work for me in a daily driver; every time I’d attempt to get in or out would make onlookers think of a beached minke whale trying to roll itself back into the ocean.

No, the genius of my three-seater would be a side-facing jump seat. Mostly its flat-fold design would mean a large, level cargo bay, but when that third person needed a ride, it would clip down to provide width-of-the-car legroom. Think of the jump seats you see airline cabin crew using for take-off and landing, but without all that awkward eye contact you’ve got to deal with if you’re seated in the exit row.

As for a powertrain, all the four-pot turbo options can get in the bin; the next car I buy will unquestionably be an EV. Not for any kind of enviro-weeny credit, but purely for the instant torque, negligible NVH, and mechanical simplicity. A single rear-axle motor would be ample, fed by a 45kWh battery big enough for a real-world range of around 300km.

2020 Hyundai Ioniq Electric

Now, if you’re starting to splutter that it’s sacrilegious to not want to revel in an exhaust note from a piston engine spinning at big revs, the simple fact is, if I can’t have something that sounds like a Jaguar F-Type SVO or the old Merc-AMG 6.2-litre V8, then I’d actually prefer no note at all.

And the more I drive good EVs, the more I realise that even a well-sorted automatic transmission is just a complex box of cogs that largely gets between you, the throttle pedal, and the corner entry for which you’re aiming. I’ve come to have borderline X-rated fantasies about snuggling up to a sexy single-speed reduction gear.

Inside, the emphasis would be on visibility, with a low scuttle and gently upward sloping dash designed around the placement of the audio speakers, not the other way around. And underneath, it would roll on lightweight, unfashionably small wheels, the outcome of a vicious thumb-wrestle between the chassis chief and design director, where good defeated evil.

So, if any car company would like to have a crack at building a three-seater, rear-drive liftback EV, (which definitely won’t be called the Westerman Torpedo) I’ll happily volunteer to front the late-night infomercials to market it. Actually, I’m pretty sure Bruce Springsteen is still taking my calls; maybe he could write the theme music?