I love cars. I grew up loving cars. My childhood dreams were not dominated by jet fighters and jelly, but cars and driving. And I’m now working in the auto industry, which is marvelous. Despite all this, driving is one of the most mind-numbing activities of my day, everyday.
I am not talking about the occasional drive on a nice and quiet back road, in a rear-wheel-drive sports car, and a favorite tune playing through the speakers at above average volume. That is the remedy to all troubles. I am talking about the daily drive to and from work. The drive to the shops to run errands. The school run. Sitting in traffic while it’s drizzling. Complying with speed limit. Tolerating the odd behaviors of the idiot in front of you who stops short and changes line without indicating. That sort of things.
While suffering from such ordeal the other day behind the wheel of a Mazda3 Touring, I started thinking about what would be the solution. What can turn the misery of daily driving into a less painful experience? What are the qualities in a car that can make even the most arduous journey fun?
Then I recalled the drive I had years ago under the same circumstances in an Alfa Romeo GTV. I recalled I didn’t feel the same catastrophic boredom and irritation back then. Now, don’t get me wrong. Mazda3 is one of the finest hatchbacks you can buy these days that is both practical and fun to drive. But that Alfa, there was something about that car that made even the dullest, most boring journey feel… special.
Going out in the Alfa was an all-consuming experience from minute one. When I walked up to the car I was greeted by those gorgeous headlights, which look like the eyes of Rosamund Pike, and that unique coupe body. Then there was that interior. The chunky leather seats, the brushed aluminum trims, the simple and elegant design of the dash, the feel of the steering wheel and the gear shift. Marone a mi, it felt like a mini-Ferrari.
The GTV wasn’t particularly fast, and it sure as hell wasn’t sporty to drive. The 3.0 liter V6 barely made 200 horsepower and the car took something well over 7 seconds to haul ass from 0 to 100. And I couldn’t care less. I was looking for an excuse to rev the nuts off that smooth motor and enjoy the sweet sound of it. The whole thing felt like it was kind of alive. It is hard to explain, but you could feel the engine throbbing through the accelerator pedal. Mind you, there was a question mark about its refinement, and reliability, and comfort. Going out with the Alfa felt like going out with a good mate. He is a hard drinker and a heavy smoker. But he’s is never ever boring.
Car makers have different ideas as to what is the cure of the daily driving blues. Lexus, for instance, thinks it’s excessive comfort and quietness, but that just makes you fall sleep. Mercedes offers a selection of hot and cold massage functions built into the seats, which is nice if you are above 50. And BMW tries to distract you with an overly complicated interface system, which is nice if you are under 14. Alfa Romeo, well, they used to give you a lovely companion. And what’s better than a lovely companion to make your day?
There is still some of that magic left in their two-car lineup today, and they say it’s coming back full-time in the new 4C sports car. But there is no denying that with all the rules and regulations you have to meet these days, there isn’t much room left for ‘magic’.
Just about the only normal, affordable car we’ve come across in recent years that is capable of making day to day driving fun is the Toyota GT86. It is not pretty, and its cabin does not resemble a Ferrari in any way. But the way this thing feels to drive, well, it’s like going to work in a go kart. It is sensational. What’s good about this car is that it’s fun even at slow speed. It feels sporty at 40 km/h. Hell, you will have a good time getting this car out of the parking lot!
What we need then are ordinary cars that feel special – special to drive, special to look at, special to be in. And who cares if they burn a lot of fuel, or if the boot is too small, or the reliability is not brilliant. Having a good time is all that matters. Let us know in the comments section below what cars you think are the most special. We thank you for it.