A Whole New Genre of Vehicle

A Whole New Genre of Vehicle

Americans are spoiled for choice. If I'm in the mood to listen to some fresh Ukrainian freestyle gangster folk choir music, there's a satellite radio station waiting for me. At the grocery store, I laugh at the preposterousness of the plain bagels sitting forlornly in the freezer. Plain bagels? As if. At the gym, I use roughly one percent of the available machines, because I don't know how to use the rest of them, and I secretly fear that I'll get incorrectly buckled into some contraption only to find that its articulated weight sledge has pulled down my shorts. But mostly, choice is a good thing.

Look at cars. Ninety-some years ago, unless you were the sort of gadfly who summered in Newport and had gout, you drove a Model T, and that was that. Today, car companies are constantly subdividing genres in search of untapped markets, and as such we now have classifications that didn't exist even a few years ago. Whether you're looking for a pickup with sports car pretentions (the Ford F-150-based Saleen S331 Sport Truck), an anime track special (the Honda S2000 CR), or whatever you call the forthcoming BMW X6, there's something out there for everyone. Well, everyone but me.

I really should've been a marketer, because I've got an idea - and a need - for a car that's so obvious, nobody's bothered to build it.

My wife, Heather, recently announced that she's "all set" with our BMW M3. She doesn't like sitting low. She wants more interior space. And realistically, she uses the car to drive two miles to work every day. Sad as it is for me to admit, it really doesn't make sense for us to have an M3. A ten-year-old M3 isn't what you'd call an exotic, but using an M3 for your dreary urban slog is akin to owning a spotted leopard to control mice in your apartment. It's not fair to the poor thing, and when I sell it, I'll probably play "Free Bird" and weep.

So what next? Most women secretly want to drive a monster truck, and Heather is no different. My job, then, is to consider what she wants (Grave Digger with a vanity mirror) and what I want (at the moment, the General Lee as interpreted by Chip Foose) and meet in the middle. That means a crossover.

There's only one problem. From a car-guy perspective, "crossover" is the new code for "minivan." And like a minivan, nobody's buying a Toyota RAV4 because it causes a primal stirring in the loins. You buy a crossover because it's useful. It answers your needs. And I find that just so depressing.

A 32-inch TV would meet my needs, which is why I got a 50-inch. A George Foreman electric grill would meet my needs, which is why I got a bitchin' Weber. A two-blade razor would meet my needs, so naturally I use a Gillette Octo-Blade Follicle-Nuker Turbo. Excess is best, but there's no such thing as an excessive crossover. Yet.

I'd feel much better about surrendering the M3 if anybody made a crossover that could really put a smile on my face. But while the car companies are all busy trying to invent new segments (" An off-road performance hybrid luxury hardtop convertible with suicide doors on the front and sliding doors on the back? Done!"), guys like me who want a crossover with cred are stuck. I'd like to say that I've narrowed my choices to the BMW X335i, the Ford Edge Shelby GT, the Mitsubishi Outlander Evo, the Nissan Nismo Murano Spec-V, the Toyota RAV4 TRD, and the Acura RDX Type-S. Unfortunately, none of those vehicles exist.

As it stands, the current Mitsubishi Outlander looks like it could be a front-runner. But when I tell people about its performance credentials - aluminum roof, driver-controllable rear-biased torque split, magnesium paddleshifters mounted to the steering column, like a Ferrari - I can see in their eyes what they're thinking: whatever you've got to tell yourself to rationalize buying a mommy-mobile, dude.

That's why I need to have at least 300 horsepower. A turbo would be nice - twin turbos, even better. My high-performance crossover should have a manual transmission, although I'll settle for a dual-clutch automatic. Bodywork modifications can remain minimal, although some big wheels probably make sense. And that's it. Basically, all I want is a homologated Paris-Dakar Rally truck, because if I owned one of those, nobody could question my commitment to things that are cool. And if it got a little bit dented and dirty from living in the city, all the better - a four-by-four looks proper with some battle scars.

Which brings me back to the M3. The other day, I took it to the local gas station to get the winter tires mounted, and the guy at the pumps noticed me taking some photos. He walked over and said, "Don't tell me you're selling this beauty! This is a special car, man." Yes, yes it is. And while it doesn't fit our needs, I really don't want to sell it, either - at least, not until somebody gives me a good reason. I'm waiting.

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