Wednesday, 17 February 2010

How to ruin a perfectly good tool by taking it up-market

A brief diversion, if I may (I'm going to anyway, so: deal), to discuss a subject near to my cynical heart:
The prettification of tools is not inherently bad - just witness a damask steel blade, or a swept-hilt rapier. Hell, even a cavalry sabre from recent centuries is gorgeous, and no less deadly for all the decoration.
And then there are Japanese knives, possibly the greatest thing that country has ever contributed to world culture (I'm biased, I know).
However, when form gets in the way of function, we have serious problems.
Take, for example, one of the most WTF, penis-replacement, pointless aspects of modern Australian culture - the high-performance ute.
Now, the utility was famously invented by an Australian Ford dealer when a farmer's wife asked for "A car that my husband can use to take me to church on Sunday, and his produce to market on Monday."
The result, a truck tray grafted onto a sedan cabin, has now been immortalised not only in Australia, but in America too - when the dealer took his prototype to Detroit to show old Henry himself, Henry was so impressed that the "pick-up truck" (and right there, is a major difference in approach between Australia, where we do them properly, and America, where they are owned by rednecks who shouldn't be allowed to breed) has become so popular that Ford's F-series is one of the biggest-selling vehicles of all time.
Back home, the ute has been a strong seller for Ford and rival Holden ever since, with those brands the only two to hold to the original half-sedan, half-truck concept - everyone else, starting with a clean sheet of paper, has built small trucks with comfy cabins.
The utility part, however, has never been compromised - they are for tradesmen who need to cart around raw materials and tools, they are for owners of large dogs, ceaseless gardeners and people doing massive home renovations.
And they need to stay that way.
The only way, and I stress this the only way, for a ute to look like a display piece is if it's a classic, and there are some truly gorgeous old Kingswood utes, polished to within an inch of frictionless, floating around.
Anything else is a sad, pathetic attempt to look tough and working-man, while actually just being insecure and inadequate.
Take the XR6. There are several traitors to the cause being sold by the factories, but the XR6 happens to be the one I have to drive occasionally for work.
I've bitched about it here, before. About the crap gearbox and the dangerously inadequate visibility.
But now I need to add: It's useless as a ute.
For a start: It gets the leaf-spring suspension from the one-tonne ute which, apart from being a ludicrous choice for a fast vehicle, should suggest that it can take a tonne of load, right?
Just you try it, then. We grabbed the opportunity to collect a large bail of straw, while driving the ute because it overlapped with work hours, so I had to, and although the bail sat within the try, well...
Problem one was that the rear suspension squatted until the ground clearance, which was already pretty poor, started looking alarming. I promptly scrapped it merging back onto the highway from the produce store, then scraped what sounded like the muffler as I left (this is the funny part) a Queensland Transport office.
Then we needed to take it out, and here I can confidently say that it doesn't weigh a tonne, because four of us managed to slide it off the tray, then two of us managed to lift the end still on the ute and flip it over, and we were neither of us exactly burly. In fact, it only felt slightly heavier than a 150kg water tank we helped a builder neighbour of ours move, last weekend.
So: It can't take decent loads without damaging the bodywork on bumps.
Then we have the tailgate. Design fail: The latch to open it is on the inside. We had to close it hard against the hay and then, when time came to open it...
I just barely managed to wriggle my hand down far enough to find the latch, and then we needed to lean against the tailgate to take the pressure off enough for me to be able to pull it all the way across.
Useful doors can be opened from the outside. But no, that would have spoiled the styling.
Shall I mention the tray cover, again?
Yes, I think I will. It's held on with a zip-lock arrangement, all the way around. Leave one tiny bit up, which is easy to do, and tension or wind pressure can peel it off and leave it flapping around behind you. Then, if you're really lucky, it'll lift off entirely before you have a chance to pull over or, if it's very late at night and you're on alone on a motorway, even notice that it's happening.
And finally, we have the tray itself. It's plastic.
It's lined with plastic on the sides, and the base is plastic. It's clearly very tough plastic - I've had hoists and wheelchairs in and out, and it hasn't been scratched yet - but it's still plastic.
It flexes when you push against it. It has seams around the edges which are loose fitting and which seem to exist for the sole purpose of collecting rubbish and being difficult to clean.
In other words, it's less well designed, and less ultimately tough, than decent metal.
The twits.
I don't like this car for many reasons, and I just keep collecting more.
In an attempt to create a performance utility, they have created a committee-designed camel which sinks in loose sand and gets blinded by a decent wind.
Not one of their finest moments, really.

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