In every professional situation, women have always called for recognition based on their skillset and abilities rather than their gender, and rightfully so. That's a human right. Motorsports is no exception: Another male-dominated arena in which women just want to compete and be assessed fairly based on their ability. Yet it seems like a lot of the headlines you read about a female driver or engineer are written simply because they are women, and not because of their accomplishments. That narrative is beginning to change with the recent successes of drivers like Christina Nielsen and Katherine Legge, as well as the engineering feats of those like Leena Gade, who was chief engineer for a couple of Audi’s wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But when it comes to breaking down barriers for women in motorsports, I believe the conversation must start and end with Danica Patrick. You may not have heard of Nielsen, Legge, and Gade, but we all know Danica.
In 2004, a young IndyCar rookie driving for Rahal-Letterman racing turned the entire sports world on its ear by qualifying and finishing in the top 10 at the Indianapolis 500. Sure, there have been incredible rookie performances at The Brickyard before, but none by anyone named Danica. This young woman had not only qualified for the world’s biggest race, but she hung right with series stalwart Scott Dixon. She gave Indy legend Helio Castroneves a run for his money. She pushed eventual race winner Dan Wheldon to the brink, leading the race with under 20 laps to go before being passed for the lead. And, she was attractive to boot. Her 4th place Indy finish earned her late-night talk show appearances, the first Sports Illustrated cover for an IndyCar racer in years and years, and it officially birthed “Danica Mania.” This fateful summer launched Danica into the upper echelon of motorsports superstardom and spawned a 15-year driving career split almost evenly between IndyCar and NASCAR. Danica recognized the stage she created and used to emphatically champion causes for women and to inspire young girls to go after their dreams. She has multiple endorsement deals, a modeling career, and has written books on a number of different subjects, all of which she has worked for and earned. So why am I writing this piece? What’s my beef with Danica? Well, its starting to appear that she got her wish. People have started recognizing her for her accomplishments and not her gender. And suddenly, Danica doesn't seem so happy.
It was announced late last year that 2018 would be Danica’s last year behind the wheel. It had become increasingly difficult to find sponsorship for her ride at Stewart-Haas Racing, a 4-car team considered one of NASCAR’s best, and her contract wasn’t renewed. She decided to enter the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500, then call it a career. Recently, she sat down with Graham Bensinger for his interview show (if you’re wondering who Graham Bensinger is, he’s a guy who interviews people for a show with his name on it). Anyways, Danica decided that this interview would be a good opportunity to throw some shade at everyone she had encountered throughout career, and that’s where this blog really gets going.
When talking about her time in IndyCar, Patrick dropped this hot take:
“There’s definitely a lot of posing [in IndyCar],” she said. “I always felt like in IndyCar everybody was like, who could go to the hauler earlier to show they were more committed… People would not have a drink the entire season because it was the season.”
So, let me get this straight, Danica: People are “posers” because they are committed to their craft? Because they know how competitive any professional sport is and want to make sure that nothing compromises their potential success? For everyone’s information (including Danica’s apparently), IndyCar’s substance abuse policy prohibits alcohol consumption by drivers and officials in the 12-hour window prior to any on-track activity, and has a blood alcohol threshold of 0.02%. So, basically that means if they have a single shot or one glass of wine on a race weekend and then get tested, they’re fucked. Hell, splashing extra mouthwash might get a driver into some hot water if he or she doesn’t time it right. I honestly don’t understand where a quote like this would even come from, outside of bitterness and malice. It has nothing to with anything, and its a cheap shot against an entire group of people who are doing the most they can to NOT put their careers in jeopardy.
The thing is, Danica actually fared quite well in her 7 full seasons as an IndyCar driver. Her 11th place career average finish is better than three of the series’ most popular current drivers: James Hinchcliffe, Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti all have a career average finish of 12th. Her IndyCar career netted 3 poles, 7 podium finishes, and 1 monumental win – in Motegi, Japan - the first by a woman in any major racing series. But Hinchliffe has 6 wins with 12 podiums, and Rahal has 6 wins with 23 podiums, so they are delivering the goods more than Danica did. She wants to be remembered because of her accomplishments, right? Well, If she hadn't jetted off to NASCAR, I honestly think her IndyCar wins and podiums would’ve become more frequent, and she would have had a long and successful IndyCar career. In a sport that’s dying for more attention right now, she would’ve had a job for as long as she wanted it. But alas, the big cars and bigger paychecks of NASCAR came calling, so she turned her attention from open wheel to tin-tops.
In 191 races over 7 NASCAR seasons, Danica finished in the top ten 7 times. She never finished in the top five and she never won a race. Her average starting position in those 7 seasons was 25th, and her average finish was 24th. Those averages are right in the range of guys like AJ Allmendinger, Regan Smith, and Trevor Bayne. Ever heard of them? Exactly. But those three drivers have each won races. Bayne even won NASCAR’s crown jewel, the Daytona 500, in 2011. But all three of them are out of jobs, just like Danica is. And none of those drivers had even a fraction of the star power that Danica did. That seems to be something like equality to me, or at least its equal assessment. Not to Danica, all of a sudden. In this same interview with who’s-his-face, Patrick stated that (I’m paraphrasing here) not everyone on her Stewart-Haas Racing team “believed in her,” so they wouldn’t put as much effort into building her cars compared to her teammates. She said that her hiring was convenient to the team because she brought her own sponsorship with her and when that contract was up, the team wasn’t motivated to go search for more funding. Allow me to tackle these two points separately.
Regarding Teams Building Cars: The benefit for these “mega” teams, like Stewart-Haas Racing in NASCAR or Andretti Autosport in IndyCar which each run 4 or more cars each season, is data. In every on-track session, the teams can try 4 or more different car setups, one for each car, and then come back and compare results to determine the best setup for that weekend. If there is a new part or technique that was being worked on at the team headquarters during the week, one car on the team will be designated “the guinea pig” for the others. If the new stuff works, the team applies it to all the cars. If not, so be it. Every large race team has the “developmental” car, even two car teams. When determining which car that will be, a team normally makes sure that the drivers who have the best shot to win races and championships aren't given any of the unproven bits. They don’t want to risk losing the season title or points lead to something like a two pound difference in rear tire pressure. In Danica’s case, she was teammates with Kevin Harvick, winner of over 40 races and the 2014 championship, Kurt Busch, winner of over 20 races and the 2004 championship, and Clint Bowyer, who has won over a dozen races and was a championship runner up. So when it was time for SHR to choose who the “guinea pig” was going to be, who did they choose? You guessed it: Danica. I do not believe this has anything to do with the fact that she’s a woman. This has everything to do with the team not wanting to accidentally sabotage 3 potential chances at the big year-end paycheck. So, yes, Danica’s car was at times “the 4th best” on her own team. But it was also a car that 30 other drivers would kill to be sitting in, as Stewart-Haas Racing is one of the 3 best NASCAR teams on the grid every single year.
Regarding Sponsorship: Racing is expensive. It takes a lot of money to do it competitively. In today’s business climate, retaining sponsorship funds only grows more daunting every day. So, if a driver can help with the team’s budget by bringing their own backing to the table, you better believe any current race team will at least sit down for a meeting. You see this same scenario all over the world of motorsport: A young, unproven driver with corporate sponsorship gets signed by a team that’s struggling for funds. Said driver takes the opportunity, grabs it by the throat, and impresses onlookers so much that eventually he/she won’t NEED to bring their own money. Teams will do whatever they can to PAY that driver to work with them. With the star power and brand recognition that Danica had earned driving in IndyCar, a NASCAR team would have been foolish to not at least give her a shot. The issue with Danica is that the results never came. Why? I honestly don’t know. Maybe the communication between her and her mechanics wasn’t cohesive. Maybe she was distracted by the stardom outside of racing and couldn’t commit as hard to improving her craft as her peers could. Your guess is as good as mine. The bottom line is, in any pro sport, if you don’t deliver, they will find someone that can. And this is what started happening towards the end of her career. So for her to call out her team after she retires and say they weren’t motivated to find her more funding is just unfair. Why would they be motivated to find her more funding? They have 3 drivers who win races and contend for championships on a consistent basis, while she has been running 25th every week for seven seasons. What is another 3-year sponsorship deal going to do?? Oh, and by the way, Aric Almirola replaced her in Stewart-Haas Racing’s “4th best car” and brought his own funding, just like she did. “Easy money” for the team, as she states in this interview. All he did in 2018 was win 1 race, finish in the top five 4 times, finish in the top ten 17 times and he was in the race to win the Monster Energy Cup until the second-to-last race of the season. Almirola’s 2018 was better than all 7 of Danica’s seasons combined…in the same car. If only the team had put more “effort” into it, right Danica?
Danica Patrick spent her entire career saying that she wanted people to view her as a race car driver, not a female race car driver. When the time came for her to explore her options for 2018 and beyond, it seems to me that potential suitors did exactly what she asked them to do: They looked at her race results in a direct comparison with her peers. And what they found just wasn’t good enough. The situation is just so perfectly ironic. While retirement was ultimately her choice it was, in a way, forced because she saw the writing on the wall. No one in the Monster Energy Cup was going to invest in a veteran driver who finishes 25th in each race. Do you know what happens to NASCAR stars who want to race past their prime? They race in Xfinity. Ask Dale Jr. Ask Elliot Sadler. Ask NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliot, who drove in Xfinity at Road America just last season at the ripe age of 62. It’s that simple. The reason I’m ranting on this for so long, the reason I’m bothered SO MUCH by her interview, is because Danica has nothing to gain by throwing everyone under the bus like she did. She enjoyed a decade-and-a-half career at the pinnacle of American racing, enjoying more fame than most of her competitors combined. She was a better race driver than I will ever be. She is a better race driver than you will ever be. She was a better race driver than 99% of the population on this planet. Her stardom reached far and wide, way beyond the catch-fences at race tracks and deep into mainstream media. Her achievements inspired an entire generation of young girls and kicked down doors to motorsports careers that would’ve otherwise remained locked for women. Her first name alone is instantly recognizable across the world. She was the most successful female driver in the combined histories of two major racing series, and would probably be the first to say that she wants another young girl to achieve far more than she did. Why can’t that be good enough? Why all the bitterness? Why sling this mud until her arms are tired? It just doesn’t make any sense to me.
Danica, you had a great and historic run! Be proud of yourself! Be proud of the platform you created for women in motorsports. Be proud of all the lives you changed, and all the dreams you gave to women who without your example may never have thought they could dream of being a NASCAR or IndyCar driver. You are the example, you proved that it is possible. But be careful what you wish for, and most importantly, just like any other driver who slams the team for their race results after they leave: SHUT UP!
I drove Tristan's car before he did. Somebody had to get the thing out of the delivery garage, and since Tristan hadn't yet learned to drive stick, that somebody ended up being me. Even though my time with the car was very short, I have to admit that it fucked me up. We allude to the WRX being a car of great history all the time on the podcast, and first I'm going to give you a little bit of that history, next I'm gonna tell you how driving Tristan's car - however briefly - has got me fucked up, and then we're going to work through this together.
In layman's terms, WRX might stand for World Rally Cross, and because X and C are the same letter, nobody has ever questioned the abbreviation. However, WRX could also stand for World Rally eXperimental, but that's obviously worse. The first WRX was introduced in 1992 as a sporty version of the Subaru Impreza that worked to Subaru's advantage bidirectionally: First as a world-beating rally car in Group A, and second as a sporty road car with a nice profit margin. The car was instantly a success beyond all expectations. Subaru, in their first real go at it, created a Rally legend with the WRX. Not only that, they created an entire market segment, a subculture, and they also kicked off an arms race with another company that got beat so badly they can only make lame Crossovers now. That company is called Mitsubishi, and they are as much a part of the history of the WRX as are those three letters.
Here's an interesting fact: The Lancer Evolution 1 actually was released to market a month before the first gen WRX. The Evo was slightly more powerful, but because both cars were built to meet Group A Rally homologation specs, the two cars were incredibly similar. They both made around 240hp, both had AWD and manual transmissions, both had 4 doors, and both were billed as rally cars for the road. By the way, stop and think about that for a second: 240HP in a 1990s compact car. And both Subaru and Mitsubishi made lighter and tighter track versions of both of these cars, Subaru with the WRX STI and Mitsubishi with the Evolution MR. Everyone on the same page? Okay. From the fall of 1992, the race was on - both on and off the actual race track. The Evo and the WRX battled it out on all fronts throughout every single year of the 1990s. Allegiances were sworn. Sides were picked. Were you a Subaru fan or a Mitsubishi fan? Colin McRae or Tommi Makinen? The Blue and Yellow or the White and Red? The two cars tore through iterations as fast as engineers could design them: The WRX went through 7 design changes from 1992 to 2000, the Evo went through 6. On the track, Mitsubishi was taking the Driver's Championships, Subaru was taking the Constructor's Championships, and by the new millennium, both cars had cemented their status as automotive legends worldwide - even in the United States, though neither car had ever been sold here (as always, shout to Gran Turismo). To me, the race, road, and cultural competition between these two cars has no equal in all of automotive history: Not Ferrari vs Ford, not Porsche vs Audi, not Mopar vs Ford vs Chevy. Its Evo Vs WRX Forever, and I always backed the Evo.
At this point, we're going to take a brief break to appreciate the 1997 Subaru and Mitsubishi rally liveries:
DAMN those are good liveries! We could go year-to-year all the way across the full production run of these cars, and there's not one bad livery between the two. I just picked 1997 because it was the last year that the Mitsubishi took the Group A Driver's Championship while the Subaru took the Constructor's.
As I said, in this battle, I always backed the Evo. Why? Because I love the looks of the Evo. That's it. Aesthetically, I preferred the Evo to the WRX. And what a time it was to have a dog in this fight, because in 2002, the long-awaited moment arrived, and the WRX and the Evo both burst wetly onto the shores of the USA. Yes, they were given less power in America. Yes, the WRX only came in an automatic. Nobody cared. They were HERE! Fortunately, the two cars sold well and the arms race continued, but this time, American consumers benefited too. In 2003, Mitsubishi debuted the 271HP Lancer Evo VIII at the LA Auto Show, with all the delicious rally fixin's, and three weeks later, Subaru debuted the 300HP WRX STI, dripping in rally sauce. The arms race had gone nuclear, and the two companies were now putting family cars on the road that would eagerly mix it up on the racetrack with cars two and three times their price. The WRX and Evo had finally been nudged into supercar territory performance-wise, with price tags that still sat around $40,000. It was too good to last. In 2008, Subaru and Mitsubishi introduced new versions of their much-loved performance sedans, the Evo X and the Third Generation WRX. I could give power numbers, 0-60 times and all that stuff, but the most notable thing about this generation of these cars is that this is the moment when Subaru finally won. The Evo X would prove to be the death knell for the entire Evo lineage. Mitsubishi killed the Evo off in 2016, while Subaru? Subaru came out with a new Fourth Generation WRX, on a bespoke chassis, no longer directly tied to the Impreza. This is the WRX that Tristan has, the one I briefly drove.
That's a pretty fitting end of the history, don't you think? Subaru, in the very same year they finally triumph over their storied rival, spins the WRX into its own bespoke machine. The current WRX is lauded as the best bargain performance car on the market, and one of the very best deals ever for the back road enthusiast. Its fast, incredibly practical, it looks good, it comes with a horde of options, it has the safety of a Subaru, and it is everything that people like me profess that they want. Everybody loves this car. Everybody WANTS this car. This car should be everything to me because it's everything to everyone like me; the last surviving bargain back road beast. And that night, standing next to the car in the delivery garage, it felt like a bit of a petrolhead moment. I was finally going to get behind the wheel of a WRX, a real one. But let me tell you something about the WRX that not many people realize: The WRX doesn't have a trunk lever.
Listen, I get it. That sounds idiotic. It even looks idiotic on the screen. But here's what I mean: Unless you buy the Limited trim, the WRX does not come with a physical trunk release on the back of the car, so you have to ether use the key fob or the button by the steering wheel. There's a reason for this: Subaru has a PIN system that effectively removes the need for the lever. The whole idea is that you program the PIN via a button hidden under the trunk lid using Morse Code-like taps, you then toss the key in your car (or your bag or whatever), and go for your hike/kayak/active lifestyle vest-wearing jaunt with your flaxen-haired dog, flaxen-haired children, and gender-neutral partner, and when you come back to the car, the PIN has removed the need for you to keep track of a key or a key fob to get back in your car. It's a good idea! I can't even hate on the concept. But you can only get that on the higher-end WRX trims because the PIN system is integrated into the proximity key system, and you have to spend a bit to get that. In an otherwise completely empty market, this stands out to me as one of the most bizarre design choices I've ever come across. And there are some other issues that stuck out to me. Subaru was extremely slow to work Apple CarPlay and Android Auto into the WRX line. The clutch is extremely awkward and segmented. The upgraded STI shifter is an ignoble giraffe. The interior avoids being bleak only by virtue of Subaru's excellent build quality. Yet its hard to take direct issue with any of these things, because since the death of the Evo, no car sits exactly where the WRX sits.
Now we're really getting to the heart of the matter; the burning questions in my mind that were set off by WRX's lack of a trunk lever. This is where I'm fucked up at: What car competes with the WRX? What truly defines the WRX? Why don't I want a WRX?
My thinking goes like this: For its entire history, the WRX was defined by competition with the Evo. The two cars were more than foils to each other, they were the only two cars that dared to be something different when "different" also meant "in extreme competition with another similar car". The market had two standouts, and it accommodated both happily for nearly 25 years. These two cars both had true legacies and histories, true race wins, awards, and honors, none of this fake "Best In-Class" shit plaguing the industry today. Both cars had their fans, both companies worked hard to keep ahead of the other, and the consumer was the ultimate victor. But now, the WRX has nothing to compete with. It exists almost entirely on its own, and that has taken its identity.
In this new era of the "hot hatch", new strata have been formed: Kia, Hyundai, and Honda are going directly at each other in the 200 HP, low $20K battle, Mini is mixing it up with the GTI in the 220 HP, $25-30k premium segment, and VW, Honda, Ford, and Subaru also mix it up in the ultra-premium $35-40k, 300HP tier. The WRX sits somewhere...in the middleish, starting at $27k and coming with AWD and 270HP standard. Clearly, the WRX is much faster than everything in the low $20K tier, but even at the $27k price point, it doesn't come with any of luxuries that the premium-tier GTI and Mini Cooper do. You can get all the niceties like leather and sunroofs and a trunk release and traffic monitoring in the WRX, but the price jumps up into the low $30k range, a stone's throw from the ultra-premiums, and the WRX STI. It's just an odd fit in the market.
However, it would be irresponsible of me not to praise the WRX for being exactly what it is. And what it is, is the very best version of this kind of car ever made. When Subaru and Mitsubishi launched the newer generations of their cars in 2007, they had two different agendas. Subaru was clearly aiming at marketing the WRX more broadly, and Mitsubishi just wanted to make the most aggressive rally-inspired car they possibly could. The evidence is this: While Mitsubishi brought out their car with 291 HP, a stripped out interior, a 5 speed manual gearbox, and a boyracer subwoofer that ate a third of the trunk space, the WRX launched with 227 HP, electric-assist steering, and an upgraded, more plush interior. You see, between the initial American launch of the WRX in 2002 and the launch of the third generation WRX in 2008, Subaru had fully established the WRX STI trim as the premium performance model, and made the "regular" WRX the car for everyone who wanted a really nice car that went pretty damn fast. Essentially, Subaru created two versions of their own halo car, one that would sell in high numbers, and one that would have an even higher profit margin. Mitsubishi didn't do that (I'm not getting into a Lancer Ralliart rant here), even though they previously had established the Evo MR as their premium performance model, and this failure killed their most legendary car outright. I say all of that to say that by the time the Evo was finally killed off, the brand new WRX launched into the market as a nearly-perfect vehicle. It looks and feels grown-up, but it's still fun on demand. It wears the entire rally legacy of the Subaru WRX very well, but you can also get it with a CVT automatic. Subaru played their hand perfectly, and when the time came, they effortlessly became the only brand to sell a true rally-inspired family car. For doing all of this work, Subaru has been rewarded with sales. Last year, Subaru moved over 31,000 WRXs in the US, and as of September 2018, they've already sold 24,000; doubling and sometimes tripling the monthly sales of the price-competitive GTI, and matching - with one model - the annual sales of the entire Mini brand.
It can't matter, then, that the WRX doesn't have any exact competition, right? Subaru is making a product that's completely unique, and completely good, and they're being rewarded with consistent sales for their efforts. Every voice in the auto industry has high praise for the WRX. This is the car that auto journalists buy for themselves to daily. The only consistent complaints are that it could be quieter on the inside, and it doesn't look very exciting. Fuck off with those, those aren't real complaints. And yet. AND YET. I don't want one. Maybe its leftover resentment from the rally car wars of the 90s. Maybe its an uneasiness related to not having any direct WRX competitors. Maybe the car just doesn't fit me. But I want to want a WRX, because it seems like the perfect next step up from the R-Spec: It's got a chunk more power, its bigger, it feels more adult, its easier to get in and out of, and then there's the Subaru reputation for safety and reliability, which I think of as an equal to Hyundai's long warranty. You can buy a WRX and expect to pass it down to your kid someday, even if you don't actually have a kid yet. In my head, its the clear next car-buying goal for me. You know, get a little more money, a little more secure, spend out a touch more for the WRX, it all makes sense. But then I think back to how I felt...Oh shit. What's that?
There's a fundamental problem with pre-writing blog posts that demand some research. It's that thing where you write about something that's been nagging at you for months, only to have Hyundai finally announce that the new 250 HP Veloster N will launch with a starting price of $27,785 when it hits lots in December, with the 275 HP Performance pack selling for $29,885. God dammit. God. Dammit. My entire premise, completely flushed by Hyundai, and by a car that I really want. See...just...all my momentum - completely gone.
Here's what I do know, and what I believe I already recorded on the podcast: In my mind, the Veloster N can be taken as nothing but a direct shot at grabbing some of that sweet, sweet market share that Subaru has been selfishly hogging for the past few years. Given the price and the performance, what else could the N be? For $600 more than a WRX, you can get a car that matches the performance and comes with leather, adaptable suspension, a sunroof, and all the gizmos and gadgets you could want..except AWD. I know that Hyundai has the hardware to make this shot work, but my worry is that they will under produce the N, as they have with other good cars in the past. December is but a few days away, and the N will be on the roads in just a few weeks. All we can do now is wait, and hope that Hyundai has magicked up a suitable competitor for the WRX, because when the brands compete, we all win. And hopefully, we all get trunk levers too. Freaking Hyundai, man. Totally ruined my whole thing. I hope your Thanksgiving was good.
Hello Dear CEP Blog readers. Last week, you got a little taste of the fact that I am the off-road expert among the hosts of the Check Engine Podcast. Expert is, of course, comparative. I have gone on a road trip exclusively to use my Jeep for its intended purpose. I subscribe to the newsletter for Expedition Portal. I do, from time to time, like to live “Like The Poors” (thanks, Andrew, for that adorable phrase) and go camping. Anyway, we’ve mentioned that I’m the resident “Jeep guy” at CEP, and, more generally, the off-road guy.
Now, earlier in my life, I would have questioned why anyone would even need such a host on a car podcast. In my high-school mind, all trucks and SUVs were dumb. Now, that wasn’t such an outlandish claim as I did grow up in semi-rural Wisconsin and every bro drove a truck because we lived “in the country”. Never mind that most of those trucks rode on STREET TIRES and never put so much as two wheels off-road. I also grew up near the beginning of the SUV boom. My elementary and middle school parking lot looked like the United Nations motor pool in some dusty country somewhere. Well, except for all the dirt. And scratches. And off-road tires. Yes, much like the trucks of my high school days, those NEVER went off road. I thought that SUVs and trucks were dumb, and thus bad. Where did the opinion change? What was my path to the “dark side” of embracing trucks and SUVs? Well, it started, as most voyages of acceptance do, with getting to know the one you hate. Here, is that tale:
I have ridden motorcycles for some time, as has Andrew. Any time I needed to move said motorcycle in the winter, when it was laid up, or for various other reasons that prevented it from being ridden, it was always the huge chore of unpacking the family RV and using it to tow a motorcycle. Which seemed dumb and horribly inconvenient to me. So, after the demise of my poor B5.5 4Motion Passat wagon, I decided to give SUVs a try. Now, not being one to (often but not always, see my Outback as an exception) do anything halfway, I decided that a real, honest to goodness SUV, was the only way forward. I wanted to tow my motorcycle, go camping, and try my hand at some off-road driving. So, I sought out a used Toyota 4Runner. It had the sliding rear window, manual 4WD transfer case lever, GIANT tires, and was impossible for my dad to get in and out of. The real deal. I got it just before winter… and I loved it. I blew through deep puddles, I crushed piles of snow with abandon, and I crammed a TON of stuff in the back. It was bulletproof, started in the deepest cold, and seemed ready for anything. I suddenly found the appeal. You have a certain feeling of invincibility in an SUV that you don’t get in other vehicles. Now, I’m not so dumb as to buy the “It’s bigger so it’s safer” line. My current WRX is one of the smallest cars I’ve ever owned and every bit as safe as my Outback was. Both are IIHS Top Safety Picks PLUS (whatever that plus means (EDITOR'S NOTE: Headlights, you Huguenot, HEADLIGHTS)), and the WRX is half the size. It is, quantifiably, safer than my 4Runner was. But the 4Runner made you feel like a god, laughing on-high at any petty nuisance Mother Nature might throw at you. Water? Snow? Mud? Big rocks? HA! You sneer at them. And that is one facet of the appeal of SUVs. They tow things, they carry things… and they make you feel invincible. However, that is just a trick of the mind. It’s one of the reasons they’re popular… but still a trick of the mind. What I realized next is FACT, and no less a reason people buy SUVs.
They CAN be used for their intended purpose. My current car gives me ultimate driving pleasure, even on my daily commute. That’s why I purchased it and not another SUV. Day to day, a good car will get you a lot more dopamine out of a good car than an SUV day to day. It makes you WANT to drive it. All the time. However, the lure of the SUV is that, given the right environment, it could actually perform to the limits of its performance envelope, and do so legally. Anything that pushes the envelope on my WRX that happens on a city street is, by definition, illegal. It is reckless driving because I COULD fail terribly and hurt or kill someone. Anything like that has to be done on a track. However, if you get all stoked for MOAB!? Go try to crawl over rocks your Jeep can’t handle. You’ll get stuck. You’ll have to turn back. You might even get embarrassed and have to go learn something. And the same goes for overlanding that we described in our most recent episode. Or the pastime of “muddin’” that is popular near me. You, my friends, are now privy to the deep, dark secret attraction of SUVs. Now, that term is spread around liberally. Neither the god-like power or dreams of tackling the Rubicon or MOAB are why someone buys a CRV. When I say SUV, I mean SUV. Not crossover. Not CUV. To that end, that is why, after the untimely sacrifice of the 4Runner to save me from a hurtling semi, I went out after another true SUV. A Jeep. Now, some hardcore people that even I make fun of will say a Grand Cherokee isn’t really an SUV. The sand on the Outer Banks and fire roads in Virginia beg to differ. But I digress. I went for something slightly more civilized that still kept that feeling of invincibility…. And able to handle the kind of offroading I was looking at. I don’t care to rock crawl. I want to go places to see things. And there are some things you can only see if you don’t take a road to get there. According to Tristan’s Deep Thoughts™, that’s why SUVs are popular and you see so many things with light bars driving around Milwaukee. It’s that secret appeal. Now, to retreat up to the top of a mountain for 30 years to contemplate the popularity of crossovers… Actually… it might take longer than that. If you don’t hear from me again? Assume I died pondering the meaning of life, the universe, and crossovers.