Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
the athor's 2005 Audi A4

In praise of older cars

By Jim Bray
June 16, 2022

I have a soft spot for older cars, simpler cars, cars that are more fun – and less annoying – than many, if not most, of today's. Does that make me an atavism, or a Luddite?

Maybe. But if so, I wear those badges proudly. Here's why:

Cars today may positively bristle with lots of new features and the like, but I think they've also lost something, and that means they're not giving as much enjoyment as they could to those who truly love to drive and who don't particularly want to be beaten over the head with the technology.

It's a shame, but it also may be leading people to hold onto their older cars longer. And I think that's great, in a sad way.

I love driving cars. That's why I started writing about cars in the first place, so I could live, Walter Mitty-like, the fantasy of driving a wide range of vehicles of different makes and class.

And it's been great! I've been lucky enough to drive Porsches, Mercedes-Benzes, BMW's, Audis, Toyotas, Mazdas, Hyundai, Kia, Ford, etc. etc. Some of these I haven't driven for several years, as manufacturers were forced to draw their media inventories close to their own chests during the COVID scam – while others seem to be of the opinion that they don't need my opinion in order to sell cars (understandable, alas, but that doesn't mean I have to like it!).

One thing I've noticed over the past several years, however, is that carmakers are making their vehicles less compelling – to me, anyway. By this I mean they're adding so much crap – nannies, connectivity options, supposed safety systems, and the like – that I'm finding it less and less interesting driving many of today's supposedly state-of-the-art vehicles. I want to drive, not be driven nuts. Well, more nuts.

Part of this is government regulation. For example, cars now have to be capable of mowing down pedestrians safely, even if the pedestrian in question walked obliviously out in front of your car, ear buds firmly in place, unaware of the world around him/her/it. Some might consider such people as ideal candidates for Darwin awards recipient membership, but governments have forced carmakers to make their vehicles' front ends safer for idiots and innocents alike.

And of course, this doesn't come for free. It takes research and development. And researchers and developers don't work for free.

It could even get worse. I read recently that Britons will soon – as soon as next month – have speed limiters put into their cars, whether they want them or not. Whether you agree with an individual's right to speed or not, you should be nervous – and if your pregnant wife is about to download the kid, you might be a tad annoyed that your vehicle won't let you drive as quickly as your life may need you to.

the author's A4

Then there's all the "safety" crap inflicted on today's cars – stuff you usually have to pay for even if you don't want it. Can you imagine having to pay for that optional V8 even if you're buying the four-cylinder version? Apples to oranges, perhaps, but not that far off considering governments' assault on vehicles and those who love them. So, we have consumers who don't need lane keeping assistance, or adaptive cruise control, or blind spot monitoring, etc. etc. etc., yet are forced to pay for it because – well, just because they're forced to.
Some manufacturers let you shut off the annoyances, some make you shut them off every time you fire up your vehicle, and some seem to not let you shut them off at all, at least completely. Heck, one company whose stuff I'd like otherwise (other than their use of CVT transmissions, alas) even has technology in the car that keeps track of your head's position, to ensure you're watching the road! I believe this is to help eliminate texting, but it also means that if you're poking around the centre stack's LCD screen longer than the car – a robot! – thinks is good, it whines at you. Even if you're spending that extra time poking around the screen because its interface is difficult to operate at speed.

I don't know about you, but I don't need – or want – a vehicle that second guesses my every move. And yet, here we are.

Besides, driving is a full-time responsibility, and if you're so incompetent at it that you need all these supposed aides, you – and the people driving near you – would be served better if you took public transit and just got the hell out of the way.

Is that inclusive enough?

Blind spot monitoring is okay, but it can be fooled easily (especially if you're in a double left turn lane) but, really, if you adjust your side mirrors correctly and use some common sense, you don't need them the lion's share of the time.

Ditto for lane keeping "assist", some of which actively fight you for control of the steering wheel (hey, I didn't just spend eighty grand to get into tussles with my Tesla!). These can help, I suppose, if you're a lousy driver who just can't keep that car centred in the lane on your own. But for those who like to apex a curve, which sometimes means you can cross over the painted line on the road – perfectly safely – the vehicle hollers and, maybe, fights you.

These are just a couple of the most egregious annoyances – there are plenty more, including voice recognition that would rather offer you a training video than actually be activated by your voice, and seat belt warnings that chastise you if you undo your belt while moving, even if you're doing two kilometres an hour driving into your garage.

And does anyone think that damn auto stop/start feature will make your engine – and starter motor – last longer? While we're there, does anyone think hybrid batteries and/or electric motors will never need replacing?

This stuff – and the outrageous prices of today's new vehicles (a lot of which is because governments demand they add all this – and plenty more – crap) – is in great part responsible for my decision to keep driving my 2005 car for as long as I can. Ditto for my wife and her 2013 SUV. This all hinges on their condition over the long term, of course, but both are as close to mint as possible and we intend to keep them that way.

The love of my life's vehicle is a 2013 Toyota RAV4, which we bought about five years ago. Since it was second hand, and therefore cheaper, we could afford a higher trim level than if we'd bought new (we got the Limited version), and this means she has leather, a backup camera, Bluetooth, seat memory, etc. Everything that's handy but not annoying. Well, except me…

There's no blind spot or lane keeping or any of that other stuff, and we like it that way. And, as I noted in my recent review of the 2022 RAV4 TRD, my love's RAV has a better Sport mode than the new one. So why would we get a new one?

Ditto for my 2005 Audi A4 Avant quattro. It's as close to being my dream car as any car can be that doesn't have a Porsche badge on it. It sports a V6, lowered suspension, six speed manual transmission, and the original owner from whom I bought it in 2012 had ordered it with every option available at the time. It only has 163,000 km on it, runs like a dream, and I'll drive it happily until I can no longer drive – unless it becomes a money pit. And so far, there's no sign of that happening. Oh, I've put in new front brakes and a new clutch, but this is normal stuff – and I've been lucky enough in my 50 years of car ownership that I've never had to shell out for either repair before – so I guess I was due.

I bought the car when it was seven years old and it continues to put a smile on my face every time I get behind the wheel. I wish it didn't burn premium fuel, but such is life. Besides, I'd be burning premium if I had a new A4 anyway – but I wouldn't have a manual transmission or a V6, neither of which are available anymore in Canada on the A4. And I would have all kinds of nannies and other crap that I wouldn't want.

Sure, my A4 doesn't have all the new technologies, but the only ones I really miss are Bluetooth and a rear-view camera, both of which can be added via aftermarket – and I just may do that one of these years.

I admit I'd like a heated steering wheel, but I have driving gloves so it doesn't really matter.

If keeping our "old" cars on the road and in great shape means we spend 20 grand on each over the next decade, we'd still have great vehicles that we like more than the new versions. And they'll have cost us less than it would to buy a Spartan, entry-level econobox.

That doesn't include the original purchase price, of course, but I'm a heckuva dickerer and we got both vehicles at fire sale prices. So, adding 20 grand (and we may not have to spend that much, Murphy's Law and quality design and construction by Toyota and Audi willing) means we'd have great vehicles we love, for the price of a current midsized sedan that we probably wouldn't love nearly as much.

All we need now is a way to bring premium gasoline prices down to earth!

Drill, baby drill!

Copyright 2022 Jim Bray
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