Matt Prior: Are cars becoming less practical?


BMW 5 Series

BMW 5 Series: big and luxurious, but can you park it at the shops?

Cars are getting more spacious and luxurious, but that might be to the detriment of usability

We’ve recently gone from spending lots of time in a Land Rover Discovery, which has its capability as an excuse for its considerable size, to a BMW 5 Series, which sorta doesn’t.

Sure, a BMW 5 Series is now so refined that our sister title What Car? called it its luxury car of the year. That goes some way to explaining the 4966mm length and 2126mm width across its door mirrors, but the M5 also tries to add sportiness to this luxuriance. And sportiness and big cars – at least cars as wide as this – are a hard mix. BMW gets it better than most, but still…

Better use of materials and downsized engines mean modern cars are, generally, becoming lighter, but only little by little. What isn’t joining with that, though, is a notable reduction in size.

I thought that, in the shape of the old Audi RS6 – the one with the V10 engine and a kerb weight the other side of two tonnes – we’d reached some kind of zenith for performance saloons and estates, from where emissions regulations and fear of conspicuousness would mean we’d quickly withdraw. But the latest BMW M5 is both longer and wider than that car.

And it’s this girth that, for me, is becoming a real problem. Parking a 5 Series, a Discovery or any number of big cars in any bay not drawn in the past decade is tight, to the extent that I’ve all but abandoned my nearest shop for a smaller one a little further away I know I can park next to.

I’ve long thought that the performance saloon/hatch/wagon comes into its own a class – or perhaps two – below cars of the 5 Series/E-Class/A6’s size, and as time passes, I’m not being convinced otherwise. I know the reasons and the challenges: there’s far more kit than ever to fit in, and in most markets where these cars sell, being big doesn’t matter a jot. But here it’s a real problem.

Historic motorsport

On another topic, the historic motorsport season has properly kicked off: the Mille Miglia, Monaco Historic GP and Spa Classic all feature in May. Some people think the classic racing car price bubble, which has been reaching ever more stratospheric levels, will burst. But James Rodgers, manager at Team Dynamics, which preps some of the world’s fastest Lotus Cortinas alongside its BTCC business, doesn’t think so.

To run a modern race car – even something semi-modern like a Super Touring car – he says, requires a massive team with laptops and parts and absurd backup. Whereas you can send one mechanic in a trailer with a historic car on the back of it, and run it way more cheaply, even if it’s something exotic. That fact alone will mean that grids will continue to be full of 1950s and 1960s race cars, and values will stay buoyant.

Autonomy

I’m writing in the morning before commuting on a boring drive, so had to set an early alarm in order to do the two things one after the other. (Yeah, I know ‘let the train take the strain’ but, going from a villagein Oxfordshire to a test track near Nuneaton, a train doubles the time and adds expense.) Some car fans ask who wants an autonomous vehicle. I’d take one, for times like this, then it could give back control when driving is more interesting.

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Source:: Autocar