Automatic gearboxes and adaptive cruise control are great. Come at me
You can keep your manual transmission. Driver aids are the way forward, because most driving is boring
Phill is a freelance motoring journalist who has worked for loads of places, including Autocar, the Daily Telegraph, Evo Middle East and AutoTrader.
I was like you once. I wanted nothing but the purest driving experience. Manual gearboxes. No traction control, not even antilock brakes. The stiffest suspension for racecar-like cornering. Slick tyres. Ok, semi-slicks. Officer.
In fairness, there are times when I still want those things. But now that I'm a grown-up, those times are generally few and far between. Because life is hard, and technology makes it easier.
What's happened, then? Why am I so jaded? Why am I not bleating on about heel and toe-ing, apexes (apices?), lift-off oversteer and dabs of oppo?
Nah, I'm good thanks (Photo: Hidde van Esch on Unsplash)
Firstly, I'm not jaded. (Well, I am, but only about life in general.) In motoring terms, I prefer to think that I've seen the light. All of the above motoring journalist buzzwords are great, and they all have their place. But that place, most of the time, isn't on the public road. At least, not for me. Not at the moment.
As the dad of a small person, trying to balance earning a living with keeping The Child alive, most of my driving isn't for fun, it's for necessity. Pre-lockdown, there was a lot of motorway schlepping, slow cruises to lull baby to sleep, trips to the supermarket and so on. And none of those journeys would be in any way improved by Nürburgring-honed suspension and a gated manual 'box.
What does make them more tolerable, however, is modern technology. In my long-term Skoda Superb, there are several features that I've come to love, nearly as much as my daughter.
You magnificent comfortable beast
Out damned clutch
Look, I know how to heel and toe. It's great fun if you're bazzing up a closed road or around a track. But less so when you're crawling along the M25. That's why my Superb's dual-clutch gearbox is a godsend. Press right pedal, go. Press left pedal, stop. The end, thanks everyone. No more clutch-shift-clutch-gas-clutch-shift-clutch-brake-clutch-swear-horn. It's easy, and that's what I want in slow-moving traffic. I spend a lot more time doing 20mph or less than being an expert helmsman on an undulating B-road.
That ease of cruising is aided in a major way by adaptive cruise control. I'm such a fan of this that I've had it on my own cars for some years now, and I hate being without it. Should you not be familiar with ACC, it allows you to select a cruising speed, like regular cruise control, but it uses radar or lidar or magic or something to automatically match the speed of a slower car ahead. When the car gets out of the way, you speed up again. Sure, I could do it myself. But it's a lot easier to have the car do it for me.
Me in my Skoda, yesterday (Photo: Simon Migaj on Unsplash)
Just having these two bits of tech has made driving a much more relaxing experience. The monotonous detail of everyday motoring has been softened, leaving me free to focus on not crashing while enjoying the crisp, clear sounds of the optional Canton stereo. No, I don't want a track special with no radio to save weight. What I really want is a chauffeur, but that's out of my price range.
Yes, there are times when I want a bit of excitement and involvement, and I do miss my old Renaultsport Clio, which I sold because it's about as baby friendly as a barbed wire sandwich. But at this stage of my life, those times are rare because I don't really have, er, time for them. And in fairness to the Skoda and its Sportline Plus trim, it does have an enthusiastic edge that allows for at least some amusing drives on the right road. See previous write-up.
Deep down, I yearn for open mountain roads, time to enjoy them and some kind of lightweight sports car, with a short-throw manual 'box and the knowledge that it's all on me to make it work properly. But that's a pipe dream. In the real world, I'm very happy that the Superb is a comfortable, useful tool to make my life easier during the mundanity of essential travel.
Feel free to make that into an inspiration quote poster or something.
One day (Photo: jean wimmerlin on Unsplash)