Are Cars Still Getting Better?

Cars keep changing, but did they stop getting better at some point?

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Photo: Robyn Beck/Getty (Getty Images)

Lately I’ve been bopping back and forth between press cars, my old Lexus, and the GTI. (reviews coming, promise!) One question that’s crossed my mind a couple of times is whether cars are still getting better. They’re definitely changing, and I think objectively they are getting better in a lot of ways I care about, but I don’t know if I feel that in my bones.

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On one hand, I really want to drive a new Bronco, on the other hand, I’d rather burn to death in a car from the 40s than pay for a subscription to a 2025 model’s onboard fire extinguisher.

On the other other hand, that Genesis G80 I drove last week was mind-blowing—a massive improvement over the last one, which was excellent.

So I’m not going to say I don’t appreciate the advances automakers have made in just about every facet of designing and building cars over the last decade or so...I dunno, maybe I’m inured to a lot of them? Maybe they’re mostly improving in ways I don’t care about?

I think I could go back pretty far before we arrived at cars that I couldn’t live with day to day, like 1910s-20s. But that’s not the question. Cars absolutely improved by every measure after that. The answer to this is going to have to be a year in the last ten to fifteen years in my opinion.

What do you think? Are cars still getting better? Are we on a plateau before an electric sea change? Is there a particular year where things stopped improving and started just changing? If you were going to freeze car development in a particular year, what year would it be? And don’t just answer with a year, that’ll give poor Lawrence something to work with on the AOTD front.

DISCUSSION

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Dan's Dance Revolution

Cars all became our friend who aced the SAT, got his business degree, and is now doing a solid job raising his two kids in the suburbs while working his way up through middle management at a regional accounting firm. He’s a good friend and can hold his liquor on the semi-monthly occasion he comes out with us.

But turns out, I miss our stoner friend who decided to work a salmon farm in rural Alaska for a year and has a new theory on the origin of the universe every time we see him.

To go all Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance on your happy ass: is better, better? Because if getting the most technology, the strongest brakes, the best NVH, the lowest coefficient of drag, and the best fit & finish is better, then yeah, cars are still getting better. (Tesla has been put in Time Out for the purposes of this exercise)

But if better is a weird shape, a nonsensical form factor, a fun color, a sticky shifter that clicks sublimely into 4th gear the 20% of the time it’s cooperative, and a headlight design that kinda makes you smile when you look at it from across the parking lot, then no. We’ve gotten so, so much worse. We lost the nonsensical parts of cardom that make cars so endearing--the Torchinsky factor, if you will.

Cars are still getting better by every metric you can find on a Monroney sticker. But they’re not getting better.