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The Fast-Aging Modern Car

Getting dusted by technological progress

I stayed at a friend’s vacation home in Florida over the holidays. In the garage was a 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4Matic that was purchased new and has only covered 24,000 miles over the past seven years. At first glance, it has everything you need as far as equipment and technology. But as I spent time buzzing around the Sunshine State in the small Mercedes SUV, I started finding missing features. The experience put in perspective just how fast new cars are advancing—and how rapidly used cars are aging in comparison.

The quest for improved fuel economy and lower emissions continues to push powertrain technology and advancements. Acceleration and fuel economy isn’t particularly impressive with the 2011 GLK, which uses the old Mercedes M272 90-degree, 3.5-liter V6 that isn’t especially smooth.

For 2013, the GLK gained a more powerful, efficient M276 60-degree, 3.5-liter V6 that also brought along a welcomed bump in refinement. EPA fuel economy numbers jumped by 3 mpg.

The replacement for the GLK—the GLC, introduced for 2016—uses a turbocharged four-cylinder that bumps the EPA members a further 2 mpg in the city and 4 mpg on the highway in all-wheel drive spec compared to the 2013 GLK350 4Matic. That’s two base engine changes in five years.

It wasn’t just the engine in the GLK that felt old. Many roads were missing from the navigation system, in part due to Florida’s rapid expansion of Florida. Sure, you can update the maps on this generation Mercedes for about $250, but the navigation graphics as well as the voice announcing the upcoming turns and road names both seemed to be stolen from a 1980s Atari video game. Additionally, there’s no Bluetooth audio streaming in the 2011 GLK.

A similar story plays out if you look at performance cars. Say you just bought a new Porsche 911 Carrera as you were looking for a more basic, focused rear-engined German sports car and didn’t want to spend 911 GT3 money. You’d surely be quite frustrated when you read about the 911 Carrera T. For an $11,000 premium, you get a lighter car with shorter gearing and standard limited-slip differential, PASM sport suspension, upgraded seats, 20-inch wheels, sport steering wheel, and sport exhaust. The suspension upgrade and shorter gearing are not available on the standard 911 Carrera and the other items are all costly extras on the base Porsche.

Cars are mimicking the iPhone. Just when you think you have the newest and the greatest, along comes a better version with more features and technology. And like an iPhone, some of the newest and greatest features may not actually be needed. It amazes me that when a new iPhone arrives I get sucked into the new technology but then end up not using it very often. It’s the same with cars.

How many 911 Carrera owners are actually missing out on the extras of the 911 Carrera T? Better said, how many 911 Carrera owners could actually feel the difference? Don’t get me wrong, certain Porsche owners are very astute and know how to drive but there are others who are more into the image of the brand than the driving feel. It’s that way with every brand. But we still want to have the newest and best and don’t like the idea of something we want arriving just after a big purchase.

In the end, it depends on what type of buyer you are and what you can afford. Cars like the 911 Carrera T and latest 911 GT3 with Touring Package make me wonder if Porsche will simply continue to come out with better cars with each new generation. Many like to look back at the brilliance of the old air-cooled, 993 911, with its hydraulic power steering and raw nature, but nobody can deny the insane performance and usability of the latest 911.

Will the advancements ever stop? Will Porsche’s new 700 hp, 911 GT2 RS be the pinnacle of performance for a purely internal-combustion 911 or is there still time for something more before a hybrid or pure-electric 911 becomes the way of the future? Maybe the better question is “can the adaptation of electrification bring a better experience to the customer—to the hardcore enthusiast?” Time will tell and you surely won’t have to wait long.

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2019 Porsche 911

MSRP $187,500 GT3 RS Coupe