Joie de Vivre

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Something is missing from every car Honda makes today. In fact, it’s missing from almost every car introduced after 2006. It’s not cup holders- during a recent ride in a Fit Sport, I counted no fewer than eleven, all in one tiny, maybe-five-seats-if-all-your-friends-are-skinny hatchback. This represents a 1,000% increase over the S2000, a car whose single cup holder I always found utterly representative of the car as a whole.

As you have no doubt discovered, placing your beverage of choice in said cup holder obstructs the shifter. This inconvenience forces drivers to define their priorities, choosing between speed and refreshment. Owners who bought their S2000 to drive fill it with timeslips and/or change instead.

Buyers found this acceptable because the S2000 is a car that inspires passion. Despite being the preeminent cliché of automotive journalism, this love-or-hate reaction drove the design of every iconic performance car of the millennial years. From the 1998 “clown-shoe” M coupe and wagon-only S6 to the physically punishing 2006 Exige S, these cars eschewed market share in favor of character and polish in favor of purity of purpose.

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Most cars made today are utterly, soul-suckingly devoid of passion. With passion comes surprises and divisiveness; unexpected flaws and unusual traits. Automakers are afraid of turning away a single customer in today’s market, so these characteristics are engineered out in pursuit of absolute normalcy. Even Ferrari is guilty. I’m one of the fortunate few who has experienced both the F430 Scuderia and 360 Challenge Stradale. The 360 vibrated uncomfortably when stopped, crashed over bumps, smashed your head against the seat when you changed gear, and was shockingly, agonizingly loud at full throttle. It’s also the single most compelling, exciting car I’ve ever driven. The F430 is better in every technical way; it delivers more performance, more smoothly and more accessibly. As a result, I found myself largely uninterested- it was the Generic 2010 Sports Car Experience. Blindfolded, I’m not sure I could have distinguished whether I was driving an F430 Scuderia, Z4 3.5is M, SL63, or Cayman R. I also would probably have killed some pedestrians, so the blindfold stayed off, and the prancing horse on the steering wheel provided a handy brand reference.

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The CR-Z suffers from the same anodyne nature. It’s a very good hatchback, exactly like the equally good and equally back-hatched Mazda 2, Mini Cooper S, and Golf GTI. The Volvo C30 is the sole standout in this group, by virtue of being complete rubbish, but having a charismatic 5-cylinder motor. That’s not an endorsement; buy stock in Chrysler if you really must throw away $20,000+.

I spent a weekend driving a Crosstour, and it left me too depressed to write about cars for almost a month. It’s not bad; in fact it’s very good at never, ever doing anything unexpected. Ultimately, I suspect it may actually out-beige the Camry (I’m afraid to test a Camry, for fear that my soul will pop out of existence like switching off an old cathode-ray TV set). I found myself driving it at 5mph under the speed limit because I simply couldn’t be bothered.

Please, Honda, give us back our passion. Give us back our quirky, unique, and entertaining cars; our CRXs and NSXs and S2000s. Make them compromised but inspiring, trade cup holders for joie de vivre. We won’t abandon you; we will love you for it.

Images courtesy of evox

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