“I Speak for the Trees” contributor Charlie Lawton has returned to S:S:L with a review of the Chevy Volt. Part II to follow.
by Charlie Lawton
Every once in a while, as I get older, something about our everyday world circa 2011 just blows my mind. It’s as if my inner twelve year old, who’s permanently stuck in 1990, peeks out into 2011 through my adult eyes, sees what the future has brought us, and just totally geeks out. For example, not long ago, I took a picture of a Tesla Roadster with my iPhone. It was a pretty ordinary thing to do, but I thought, “Holy damn. I just took a picture of an electric sports car with a phone that has a camera, an internet connection, a processor five times faster than the one in my first computer, and a navigation system. This is the future.” And I think it blew my mind precisely because it was such an ordinary, commonplace thing, because in 2011, tiny pocket-size supercomputers are everywhere. It’s a mild flavor of future shock, the disorientation people feel in the face of rapid technological and social change.
I started feeling a similar mix of emotions as I stood in line one warm March afternoon outside the Denver Convention Center, waiting to drive a 2011 Chevrolet Volt. The Denver Auto Show was in full swing, and many of the manufacturers had test-drive events to show off the latest metal. Over at the GM tent, they had Equinoxes, Camaros, Cruzes, and Volts to drive. I’d been reading about the Volt for months, so I immediately went over to check it out.
When I concluded part I of this feature last week, I said that this piece would be about the Sonata and Optima. It will. But for those of you who came looking for a more traditional road test, I must apologize. You won’t find that here. Feel free to ask specific questions about the cars, but for this piece, we’re going down a slightly different path.
If you ask somebody on the street to identify the most “American” car they can think of, you’ll probably get a predictably narrow subset of answers. SUVs and pick-up trucks will probably top the list, with the occasional Corvette or Mustang thrown in for flavor. Some may even identify entire brands–Jeep or Cadillac, for instance. Others may reflect on our heritage of being one of the largest sources of mass-produced goods in the world, and then prattle on endlessly about the Model T.
But they’re all wrong. You see, the above cars may be icons of the American auto industry, but they simply represent what we’re good at. Those are cars of and by Americans, but not for. Anybody can appreciate a well-built truck or a go-anywhere SUV, but for our purposes we must look elsewhere. Indeed, to find a reflection of American culture, you need to look a a segment which, ironically enough, American manufacturers seemed to have virtually abandoned until very recently–a segment so seemingly devoid of character that it has been dominated for nigh on twenty years by the Toyota Camry. Yes, dear reader, the quintessential American car is the mid-sized sedan.
Photos by Byron Hurd and Nicole Gagnon. Unprofessional driver on a closed course. Don’t try this at home, but feel free to try it with NASA Mid-Atlantic Autocross.
“Are we annoyed with the SUV drivers?”That sing-songy voice is Nicole, my girlfriend, addressing me from the luxurious cabin of the M56 in my rear-view mirror. We’ve finally managed to pass a left-lane camper at whom I had been gesticulating wildly, encouraging a pass that took what seemed like hours to execute.
“Maybe just a little bit,” I reply. So glad I could amuse you. “I’m not on the bluetooth though. I gotta let you go.” It’s easy to be amused in the front seat of the M. It’s like rolling down the highway in a 420-horsepower electronics store. Me? I’m leading our two-car caravan in the 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart. If the M is a big-box store on wheels, the Ralliart is the pre-owned section at Gamestop.
Stock photos courtesy of Nissan/Infiniti USA Media.
“Do you know how fast you’re going?” Her voice is coming from just about everywhere in the cabin. Or maybe just everywhere in my head.
“Uhh… yeah,” I respond, glancing around instinctively for police cars. We’re on I-95, just south of Richmond. The speed limit is 60. We’re besting that, but plenty short of VA’s reckless driving threshold.
“You’re flying,” she says again. Her lack of amusement comes through clearly on the Infiniti’s bluetooth connection. It’s at this point that I realize my phone is buried somewhere in the trunk. There doesn’t seem to be a range issue.
“OK?” I reply, not really knowing what to say. I just want to get back home. I’ve been up since around 5:00 a.m. and spent every minute of it either behind the wheel of one of our two press cars, or outside, in the twenty-something degree weather, chasing cones. It’s almost 6:00. I’m spent. January auto-crosses: the start of the season before the season.
“Just wanted to let you know.” The call ends as the Lancer behind me fades further back into traffic. Apparently, her enthusiasm for eating up the ~180 miles between us and bed doesn’t match mine. I back it off about five miles per hour and set the cruise again. Hey, at least I’m in the luxury car.
by Byron Hurd. Photographs courtesy of Volkswagen. *This article has been corrected. See note above feature list.*
A few months ago, while reading one of my favorite Web comics, I came across a bit of a gem. While commenting on the endless debate between competing game console services Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, Penny Arcade‘s Jerry “Tycho” Holkins wrote something that every auto journalist knows, whether they’ve consciously considered it or not.
“In order to appear reasonable it is sometimes necessary to say things which are untrue.”
B. Hurd: Until recently, hatchbacks were pretty easily identified. They were compact, practical and efficient. Even when some of them even received sporty, up-rated engines and fancy suspensions and racy-sounding names, they remained true to the classic formula. Golf? Hatchback. GTI? Hot Hatchback, but still a hatchback. Jetta? Not a hatchback. Ford Explorer? Well, it has a hatch, and it’s in the back, but it’s not a hatchback because it’s big and it tows things. Simple, right?