THERE was no Golden Age of Cars. Think about that for a moment. Cars have never peaked and then become worse. Every successive generation of cars – taken in the round – has been better than their forebears. Faster, safer, better equipped, more comfortable, more economical, cleaner, cheaper in real terms and, yes, more fun. The gradual draw down on the internal combustion engine isn’t about to reverse that trend either.
That’s not to say we don’t love a few reciprocating oily bits. From a personal perspective, my favourite moment on the job last year wasn’t even spent in a car. It was sitting by the roadside listening to editor Inwood pedalling a 911 GT3 up a set of forested hairpins in the Grampians, savouring the volume dial cranking up a crescendo of atmo six butting up against its 9000rpm redline. Nothing’s going to replace that experience.
But if you’d told me ten years ago that the plumber next door would be driving a seven-seat SUV which was quieter than a Rolls-Royce, cheaper to fuel than a Corolla but which could also leave a V12 Lamborghini in its wake, I’d have laughed in your face. And been gloriously, spectacularly wrong. Vehicles like his Tesla Model X P100D are but the vanguard of the EV era. The fascinating thing is that they’re the utterly hopeless early adopter stuff that, in another decade, will appear almost comically dated. They’re the Sinclair ZX Spectrums, the Panasonic brick phones, the Myspace equivalents.
Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, understands this better than most. “I have no doubt that the automotive industry will change more in the next five to 10 years than it has in the last 50,” she said in 2016.
The pace of change is indeed dizzying. Since we published our first Future Issue this time last year, we’ve seen the ‘legacy manufacturers’ respond to Tesla. We’ve driven the Jaguar I-Pace, the Mercedes-Benz EQC and the Audi E-Tron. We’ve sampled the Tesla Model 3 in Australia. Hyundai has brought the Ioniq to market, offering hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric variants, all for less than $50K. An entry-level Mercedes A200 now features system architecture way in advance of last year’s flagship S-Class. Australia’s still a long way behind the eight-ball, but ultra-fast high-capacity chargers are starting to be rolled out across the nation.
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Cars like the Porsche Taycan point to a different future, but one where the attributes we value as drivers – namely performance, handling, feedback, speed and excitement – burn brighter than ever. Fire up YouTube and put yourself in-car with Romain Dumas as he demolishes the Pikes Peak record in Volkswagen’s amazing I.D. R racer, registering the first sub-8 minute time. It makes Ari Vatanen’s iconic Climb Dance video in the Peugeot 405 T16, long the gold standard of in-car footage from The Race to the Clouds, look comically quaint.
There’s also a serene place for being able to let cars pilot themselves. But as long as there are deserted roads that twist through forests and people like us to savour them, manufacturers will build cars to exploit them. And they’ll do it better than ever before. So strap yourself in. This is just getting good.