Let me begin by saying I was hired at Jalopnik because I’m good at video production, not because I have some sort of Rain Man-esque knowledge of the minutiae of automotive history. We leave that to Jason and Raphael. Don’t get me wrong though, I love cars and I love driving! But this level of car-nerd-dom has led me to some unexpected encounters.
And I know it has, on more than one occasion, been a disappointment to you, dear reader, during my stint as video production manager/weekend editor:
For this, I apologize.
But, one advantage of hiring a kind-of idiot who doesn’t know anything about, say, auto show etiquette (or, if we’re being honest, etiquette in general), is that I am not afraid of doing something that is apparently forbidden, because I don’t know the difference.
Earlier this year, Michael Ballaban told you about the new Volkswagen Golf GTE Sport Concept. Sure, it will never make production, but the “ludicrous interior” design was an exciting reminder that dope-ass futuristic car designs might not be so far away.
Fast forward to last month’s LA Auto Show. I had been chained to a malfunctioning iMac in the media center for two days and consumed about 20 cups of what the Auto Show people told me was coffee (I think it might have been water used to clean paintbrushes). My first auto show was almost over, and I hadn’t even been on the floor yet.
At the end of the day, Jalopnik Commandant Patrick George and I headed to the floor so I could finally see in person all the cars I had been staring at on a screen.
The convention center was mostly empty by this point. There were a few PR people wandering around with faces permanently frozen in a smile, some car models in the bathroom using as much Aqua Net as a high school production of Guys And Dolls, and a number of very tired security guards who had spent the day telling people not to put their drinks down on the roofs of cars.
Patrick and I arrived at the mostly-deserted VW display. I saw a car that looked pretty cool. We walked over to it, and I remember being confused about where the door handle was (this was also an issue when I was given the responsibility of babysitting a McLaren at Pebble Beach).
Patrick opened the door for me, and I got into the drivers seat.
Stepping through the door of the VW Golf GTE Concept is like going through the wardrobe into Narnia, but like if Narnia were also Tron.
The interior is exactly as space-agey as the pictures look. The driver and passenger are both secured in individual pods as opposed to a large open cabin (which is perhaps unromantic for a date, but whatever, hand-holding is for lames). The wall by the driver’s right arm is flanked with controls, the steering wheel feels like you’re piloting a TIE Fighter, and the display is layers of illuminated blue glass. You know in The Terminator when we see things from Arnold’s perspective? It’s like that.
My trip to sci-fi-land ended almost immediately as a burly German minder rushed over and told me to “exit the vehicle RIGHT NOW.” As I apologized and climbed out of the car and back into 2015, the mustachioed fellow looked at me and Patrick like we were idiots. I don’t know, maybe we were. But there was no sign posted! There was no security around until he materialized out of somewhere to yell at me! I got to sit in other cars. I don’t see why this one was such a big deal.
So based on roughly five seconds in one of the coolest cars ever, here’s my review:
The interior of the car is obviously aesthetically pleasing, but it’s also surprisingly comfortable. The panel of buttons by the driver’s right hand is extremely convenient, and the racing-inspired seats felt like they’d be pleasant even after a day of driving. The best thing about the interior is that form enhances function - the design of the car really draws the driver’s eyes to the road and eliminates distraction.
Yes, the car looks insanely cool, but sitting in it makes you feel focused. This, I think, is an often-overlooked element of design; at its best, it doesn’t just look cool. It can and should help the driver do her job. Also, it gets you amped about driving, which is important. If you’re excited to do something, you’ll pay more attention and do it better. This is important for someone like me, who had to start putting her phone in the trunk so she would stop looking at it.
That being said, I can see some potential issues with this car. While the design draws the driver’s eye forward towards the road, side and rear visibility wasn’t great. Since I didn’t have the car in motion, it’s tough to say how much that would affect the driving experience. The big divider in the middle of the car creates those neat pods, but it makes turning around to reverse the car pretty difficult (I didn’t see a backup camera anywhere, but even if it exists, I’m old fashioned and crank my entire torso towards the back window when I’m reversing).
Obviously the Golf GTE Concept wasn’t designed to be a family car, but it’s worth noting that this same divider would make it difficult for an adult to get to a kid in the passenger seat in case of an emergency, and if the car was on its side, it might be difficult for emergency responders to access the person on the bottom.
The biggest problem with the Golf GTE Concept, however, is the fact that if you sit in it, a big German man will be a real dick to you.
I’m not just bragging about getting to sit in a cool car, though. There’s a bigger point I want to make here.
This post will quietly end my tenure at Jalopnik. The separation is sad but amicable; on Monday I’m starting at SB Nation, and Jalopnik will finish out the year with the final videos I produced.
The first thing I did at Jalopnik was an interview with the CEO of Truck Nutz. I’m ending with a review of the VW Golf GTE Concept. It’s a nice little character arc for myself: starting with the dumbest, lowest-tech, most cringe-worthy part of car culture, and ending with literally the highest-end thing at the LA Auto Show.
It’s a trajectory of personal and professional growth that I hope has been reflected in the videos we’ve been putting out (compare the first episode of What Car Should You Buy with our Jalopnik Investigates series.) I have a tendency to think of little things as metaphors for my entire life, and this is no exception. We’ve never pretended to be perfect (this review certainly isn’t), but we’re getting better. Truck Nutz to Concept Cars, baby.
So as I go gently into that good night, I ask merely this:
For the love of God, which one of these is a Charger and which is a Challenger?!
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