Two for the Road is a hangout for mystery writers Tammy Kaehler and Simon Wood to chat, reminisce, gossip, speculate and argue about all things motorsport.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Smart Cars

SIMON: I like technology. I love hot and cold running wifi. But I like technology to enhance what I do and not replace me. Case in point, technology in cars. I like technology to improve a car’s performance. I want computers to work out the optimum suspension design, best aerodynamics, perfect engineer configuration, but I don’t want computers running the car while I’m driving it. So many of the supercars and the not quite so super ones are driven by onboard computers. And that’s just not cricket.

The thing that brought this up was something I saw on Top Gear a few years ago. I believe they either had a Noble or a prototype from Prodrive (forgive my forgetfulness). The car flew around the test track. Then they turned off the computer control and the car handled like bucket of crap. I lost all interest in the car because the car was nothing without its computer. It wasn’t a leap forward. It was a leap back because the software was plastering over some major cracks. And that seems wrong to me.

My road car is only a few years old, but somewhat of a technological dinosaur. There's no traction control, no computers monitoring the engineer and the suspension. I even turned down the ABS option. And I like that. The car performs as well as the two of us can manage. I’m not a luddite. I just think having a computer that covers the faults is cheating. I want a great car. I don’t want great software. So what do you think, Tam-Tam?

TAMMY: Well, now, I'm going to disagree with you for the most part. I leased an Audi A4 for a couple years, and before that I drove a Volvo 960. The Volvo was top of the line for its era (1996), with tons of bells and whistles. I loved that car, and it kept me safe while I commuted a stupid long way on Los Angeles freeways. As for the Audi A4 ... that thing was amazing, especially its CVT: continuously variable transmission. Talk about a party trick! I'd get on the freeway with passengers and say, "check it out, it doesn't shift!" So I have to admit to really, really appreciating car technology. And if I'm commuting, driving a long distance, or driving in any hazardous conditions, I'll take it all, thank you very much.

That said, I'll admit to being a little bit of a hypocrite. Because I drive a 1989 BMW 325i (an e30; exactly like the one pictured! In fact, that's me on the way to work! OK, not really.). Stick shift. It's got some technology, to be sure, but it's pretty connected to the road, and I'm certainly doing all the shifting. But then, I "commute" a total of 3.2 miles every day. And I do love that car!

My husband and I are very much about purpose-specific cars. I still rent bigger, plusher cars if I'm making a long drive up the state for a family visit, for instance. If I'm going to an open track day, I'd probably take my manual-transmission Miata (did I mention we own a lot of cars?). But I digress, and I won't let you make me choose one or the other. I like technology sometimes, in its place.

SIMON: By the by, that's a picture of Matt Neal in his BMW M3 and it looks like it was taken at Brands Hatch on the GP loop.

"I like technology sometimes, in its place." I think we park our cars in the same garage on that point. I must admit that if I lived in a wetter part of the country, then I would have ABS on my car. That said, I must admit that I concentrate more on my driving because I don't have it. :-)

That's us...what about you, our Roadies. How much tech do you like in your cars?

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