21st century Luxury Cars: Why do we feel like “they dont make ’em like they used to”?

“They dont make ’em like they used to” Something we always hear people with more than 5 strands of grey hair on their heads. And mostly its on the subject of indulgence. Not the basics, but indulgences, like Music, Movies, watches, jewellery, and cars. Luxury cars to be exact. No matter how high tech a car rolls off the showroom floor, anyone above the age of 30 will, knowingly or unknowingly result to comparing it to cars from before. Is this a case of nostalgic romance? 
Trying to capture the ‘first experience’ wonder? Always the first love is a precious one. Likewise a petrolheads first true experience with a really special car tends to be larger than life. Then our nostalgia towards cars from before is purely an illusion right? Not quite. There might be some truth to it, and here’s why. 

The feel of luxury comes from....

It actually comes from weight. Weight, as we process it, equals to more. Imagine if we were to go to a grocer, and you had to pick a fruit. Chances are you will pick the biggest, ripest one. Which will have the highest possible density and weight. And you’re going to feel so boss that you picked the best possible specimen on the shelve, and the other shops are suckers for not picking that fruit. 

The same feeling stemmed to every other luxury item ever made. A diamond ring, a gold neckless, a tailor made suit. The weight and density gives you the confidence that the most amount of precious materials have made it into the end product, which justifies paying the value. Therefore weight is the first input we require to perceive luxur

Likewise, a luxury car with its padding, large size, and therefore dense structure and equally big engine to give it sufficient performance convey’s a lot of weight to the end user. Which is where you get the sense of more. And more is luxury. 

The second form of luxury is....

Sensory deprivation. The less you feel of the outside world, the more relaxed you are. You are most relaxed when you are asleep (real, quality sleep). A good luxury car must be able to replicate this.
On a car, a petrol powered car at least, you have everything from noise, vibration, and body movements. There’s noise from the wind, tyres, exhaust and engine. Then there’s vibration from the road, engine, transmission and suspension. The more isolated you are from all of this, the more likely you will relate your motoring experience as ‘luxurious’. 

Todays car makers however...

Are on a non stop pursuit in making their cars lighter. They try to ‘replicate’ the feeling of luxury with technology, and to a point it works. However you can never run away from the feeling that something somewhere is lacking. Take for instance the comparison we did with the W212 E300 and the W213 E350.
The latter is 100kg’s lighter and far more efficient than the former. This is despite the new car being bigger than the predecessor. Each material, touchpoint in the E300 from2011 had a more weighted feel compared to the more efficient E350 from 2019. This lack of weight, although is needed to achieve emissions and safety regulations, do rob you off the feel of luxury.

Downsizing, good for cost, bad for luxury.

Blame physics for this one. There is simply no replacement for displacement. Its pretty amazing that the A45’s 2.0 engine can put out more power than a 4 liter V8 from an E92 M3, with the aid of a turbocharger. However what they do not tell you is that the output of an engine is really 3 dimensional, and not just one dot on a two dimensional graph.
For that 2.0 turbocharged 4 cylinder engine to achieve 400bhp like the M3, it has to do a lot more ‘work’. Forces that are spread across 8 cylinders now have to be shared by only 4. Its like Kevin Hart trying to bench press as much as Dwayne Johnson with the aid of an adrenaline shot. Kevin is going heave and make a whole lot of noise doing something The Rock does in second nature.
Likewise those forces translate into noise and vibration. And those noise and vibrations eventually has to go somewhere. And that somewhere is you. They may be small but over time these tiny vibrations do add up and will have an effect on a long haul trip.

Which is why Rolls Royce did not downsize

Never mind the Silver Seraph, the current lineup of the Rolls Royce catalogue all sport the same 6.6 liter V12 engine. The reason for this colossal engine is partly for refinement purposes. A V12 engine is naturally balanced, and the firing order works in such a way that its exhaust pulse barely has a gap. And bulk of the power comes very low down in the rev range, without any effort.
Which is why you barely need to rev the engine to get going, therefore less noise, and vibration, and therefore the feeling of unrivalled luxury. Which is also why you do not get a rev gauge in a Rolls Royce, only a power reserve meter.

Hence why we say

They truly cant make em like they used to. An automotive engineering student today has to spend bulk of his time learning the various legislations the car has to comply across the globe, and in the final few months, design a car around them.
Which is why most cars today drive about the same, have similar design cues and overall profile. Its not a bad thing as it makes them safer and more efficient. It is however, with compromise over most of the automotive product’s range. Except for some really premium names, its going to be hard to get the luxury experience we have today. What are your thoughts about this? Share your thoughts in the comments! 

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