With much of the country experiencing higher than usual gas prices and auto and business pundits alike predicting the death of SUVs, the focus is again on cars and their effects on the environment. Some people predict drivers’ environmental consciences will kick in and we’ll see a return to car-pooling while others expect more of us will leave the car at home and take public transit to work or wherever we need to go. While both of those options are perfectly acceptable and reasonable, they don’t address the bond people have with their cars. Owning and driving a car represent personal expression and freedom and because North Americans have had it so good for so long with cheap gas (compared to European drivers) we’re not willing to give up that freedom easily. Hybrid cars are touted as the solution that will let drivers be true to their inner Jack Kerouac while giving the environment a break. But, hybrids are still a bit more expensive than regular cars and I’ve yet to see what long term maintenance costs are on a Toyota Prius or a Ford Escape hybrid, to name just two. Still, if we all just bit the bullet and bought one, couldn’t we all breathe easier?
On a recent trip west, I was able to spend a week driving a Dodge Magnum AWD in and around Calgary. I’d been intrigued by the Magnum since it debuted, mostly because it was an attempt to combine the functionality of a station wagon (just try to get any auto executive to utter those two words) with the style and power of a performance sedan. It’s certainly a roomy and comfortable car and has a strong and aggressive look that makes you want to drive it. The hemi-powered car I drove also featured a top-of-the-line sound system and a navigation system that, although fairly easy to use, couldn’t keep up with a rapidly expanding city like Calgary. My one complaint (other than the colour, which was a washed-out beige/vanilla that was too bland to be distinctive and smacked of focus-group testing gone wrong) was that I couldn’t hear enough of the engine. Sure, when I pushed the throttle hard during a pass on the highway I’d hear a strong rumble from under the hood. But in normal driving, the Magnum sounded like any other big car. It could be the engineers at DaimlerChrysler did too good a job sealing the Magnum’s cabin from exterior noise. Or they deliberately tuned down the hemi’s exhaust to make it more genteel. Either way, I think they missed an opportunity to make the Magnum stand out from the crowd. Heavy duty car enthusiasts can tell a car by its sound from many blocks away. I’ve seen and heard so many Infiniti G35s lately (are they really that popular?) that I can now pick one out as it approaches from behind me because of it’s throaty exhaust note. Obviously, I wouldn’t want Chrysler to make the Magnum sound like another tuned and burping Honda Civic, but it needs to sing a better tune in order for it to sound as good as it looks.
As this blog pulls away from the curb, finds first and heads down the road, let me give you some idea where we’re headed. An interest in cars, driving and racing has been with me for as long as I can remember. Of course, the interest in driving really began when I was 16 and finally had the chance to take the wheel of my father’s Pontiac Le Mans (six cylinders, four doors, two-tone green). Around the same time, I began to read Car and Driver and that helped cement my car enthusiasm. I’d always been an avid reader and coming across something that allowed me to combine an appreciation for a sharp turn of phrase and the ability to stay in control during a sharp turn helped lead me, with a few detours, to this blog. Along the way I became a journalist and I now work for Marketing Magazine in Toronto. I’ve also written for the National Post, Canadian Business and Motion magazine, among others. Plus, I’m the author of Never Too Fast: The Paul Tracy story, published by ECW Press in 2001. For the past few years I’ve written about automotive marketing, auto racing and racing drivers and people who work in the automotive business and in the business of motorsports. While I will continue to do that in print, I’ll also be writing in this blog about the same subjects, and throwing in more of my personal feelings and musings on all things car-related, just to add some fuel to the combustion. Hopefully it’ll be a long drive.