We're seeing a surprising amount of new, dramatic, and exciting stuff coming out of the Paris Auto Show — VW's remarkable XL Sport, the Lamborghini Asterion, the new Aston Martin Lagonda, and they're all production cars. In fact, I think we may in the beginning of the last generation of human-driven cars. Better enjoy 'em.
I should probably temper that a little bit — I think there will always be a place for cars driven by people — cars that are all about the experience of driving. Those cars will still exist. But I also think that for the overwhelming mainstream of people, people who want cars for just transportation or experiences not related to the act of driving, that next major generation of cars we'll see will be ones that drive themselves.
If we take a "generation" of cars to be somewhere in the range of 10-20 years, then I think what we're seeing today at the Paris Auto Show, and what we'll be seeing in the next year or so, is the vanguard of the last generation of cars where you can assume, by default, that the cars are intended to be driven by a person.
In that context, what we're going to be looking at represents the pinnacle of centuries of automotive development, and the results are incredibly impressive. Technologies that not so long ago would have been considered wildly futuristic — hybrid drivetrains, controls by wire, global navigation, lane-departure assists and automatic braking, 2.0-liter engines that make around 300 HP, cars with over 500 HP getting fuel economy as good as an '80s VW Rabbit — all of these things are commonplace now.
Look at the Lamborghini Asterion, for example. Hybrid drivetrains have become so accepted, and development on them has become so advanced, that a company as formerly opposed to anything Hybrid is now probably going to be selling a 910 HP elegant beast that can also go 32 miles without using any gas at all.
Hybrid technology is no longer the hairshirt tech of enviro-geeks taping cardboard to their wheelarches to squeeze out an extra MPG. It's now just another arrow in the car designer's quiver.
And speaking of quivering, our writers' penii were all a-quiver at VW's remarkable new super-hybrid, their Ducati-engined XL Sport. It's a hybrid, it's using a repurposed motorcycle engine, it's crammed full of radical high-tech materials and methods, and it's a production (well, limited, but still) car.
The average level of once-sci-fi technologies in modern cars is insane. Even lower/midrange cars like the Fiat 500X have lane-departure warnings and sensors, and the other rudimentary bits of the car nervous system that will soon lead to autonomous driving.
We know that's where mainstream cars are heading. We know the advances in the technology have been picking up pace dramatically. Even the strange legal hurdles they'll face are getting slowly sorted out. They're coming, and we better get used to the idea.
Which, of course, is why I'm taking the leap here and saying that right now, we're at the beginning of a new generation of cars. And that new generation will also be the last one to be overwhelmingly human-piloted. That may sound a bit alarming to those of us that love cars, but it's worth remembering that it's also going to be the best generation of cars ever.
In many ways, this generation of cars will be a very transitional one. We're already seeing a lot of driver's aids in cars, and some are basically able to drive the car on their own, in certain circumstances. They're not all the way there, but you can see it starting, which is why this generation of cars, as fantastic as so many of them will be, will also be like those combination VHS/DVD players you used to see.
So, to the general public, this generation of cars will be the cassette-to audio-plug adapter generation. Something desperately needed now, and (to many) almost worthless after a certain point. It will be at once both the greatest collective generation of cars ever and also one doomed to be that awkward transition phase.
For gearheads, though, the situation is totally different. Cars of this generation may well become incredibly valuable, since it may just represent the last time you could buy, say, a large Mercedes or Jaguar sedan that wasn't always trying to do the driving for you. It may very well be the last generation where you could buy a minivan that you can convert to run in a 2050 LeMons race without first removing an ungodly amount of computer-vision hardware.
And these cars will also be crammed full of the best-developed technology ever, and that technology is all over the spectrum of cars. This generation of cars will be, collectively, the fastest, most efficient, safest, and have some really amazing driver's cars. It'll be the last gasp of cars that'll universally demand a hot, sweating, metabolizing human behind that wheel, and chances are good that if that meatbag likes to drive, they'll be in something that makes it worthwhile.
For everyone else, this generation may become those cars that nobody wants to buy, because you can't use holo-Tinder or VR Twitter while driving to work.
I'm okay with that, though. More for us.