Remember the time when you bought sport utility vehicles because you needed them? These were the original “off-roaders”, boxy beasts with live axles, low-range gearboxes, locking diffs and other very masculine stuff that’s perfect for adventures that require a farm tractor to rescue you from the mud. It was also very practical, because it basically looked like a huge box on wheels, with a smaller box in front for the engine. It was great.
When I think of an off-roader, I think of the Jeep Cherokee, before it became a jacked-up Alfa Romeo hatchback devoid of manly stuff like big levers to select 4WD modes. It even rides comfortably, which, of course, means it is a piece of junk, since it won’t be able to go rock-crawling and it won’t show your pals that you are the manly man by being noisy and uncomfortable.
Some time ago, I ranted on these pages about European methods of testing fuel mileage (and thus also CO2 emissions), and the way they give unfair advantage to downsized turbocharged engines, compared to good old N/A units. So it’s quite convenient that for my first TTAC European review, I got a Škoda Rapid, powered by a 1.2 TSI turbocharged four-cylinder – a typical example of downsized powerplant. With the Rapid being a relatively small and light family car, the little four-banger may have an opportunity to really shine, and show us whether downsizing works. Or not.
With yet another Ferrari 250 GTO selling for record sums, the world has its eyes focused on the funny little microcosm that can be described as“blue chip cars”. Investors are looking at high-profile classic cars as a potentially lucrative asset class, a way to diversify their portfolios in a world where interest rates are zero and the only investment offering decent returns are securitized car loans. Others think that it’s just another bubble, reminiscent of the million-dollar Hemi ‘Cudas that were crossing the blocks at Barret Jackson in the good old days before the Great Financial Crisis.
While Americans are still asking whether it’s even wise to buy small turbocharged engines instead of larger naturally aspirated ones, we in Europe are slowly losing our ability to even choose a car without a turbocharged engine. Volkswagen has recently announced that it is going turbo only – but in our market, the transition is nearly complete. Except for base engines in Polo supermini and Up! city car, basically everything else has a turbo slapped on it – and it looks much the same with other VAG brands. Others are following closely – Ford eliminated most of its naturally aspirated engines, except for the base 1.6 in Focus and small engines in Fiesta. Renault is coming with new tiny turbo plants to replace small four cylinder NA motors – and is even introducing them to its low-cost brand Dacia. PSA, Fiat, Opel and others are heading this direction as well.
But, why is that? Is it that Europeans are more forward thinking, more interested in economy an environment than polar bear killing ‘murricans with their massive V6s and V8s? Is it the European driving style and road network, requiring smaller and lighter cars?