Theme: Disappointment – Well, What Did You Expect?

Recent correspondence has hinted at the genre of car analogous to a band’s difficult second album.

Not the same, not very different:
Not the same, not very different:

Every one knows Kula Shaker’s second album was going to be a disappointment. It happens to a lot of bands. The musicians have a lifetime (say, 23 years) to work on the first album. Then they have about eight months to work on the second album, once the tour is done and the alcohol has been washed out of the system and the papers are signed on the Chiswick house they will have to sell a year or two later.

For some cars something similar applies. For various reasons, the manufacturer chances upon a hot new niche or just strikes it lucky with a particular formula of the same old thing. Then, with just six years to think it over, they launch a revised version that fails to ignite buyers’ passions the way the first one did. Some of this is down to it being harder to surprise someone with the same thing a second time. And the rest of the explanation relates to the irresistible need for the new thing to be a slightly different thing. The Law of Replaced Cars says that the replaced car must be bigger, more refined and more mature. Since the manufacturer needs to advertise those changes, the car will look a bit different too.

2008 Audi TT:
2008 Audi TT:

With the help of our contributors here I can think of some examples of the breed of “tricky second generation”. Two big names stand out. The original VW Beetle had its name re-used on a car that looked a bit like a Beetle and had nothing else in common. The Mini had its name re-used on a car that looked a bit like a Mini and had nothing else in common. The Ford Ka had its name… You get the idea. Fiat had a hit with the Nuovo Cinquecento, a pert and spiky little roller-skate that had price on its side as well as nippy road manners. That too had to be fudged for the Seicento which lacked most of the first car’s appeal.

Audi didn’t know what to do with the TT when it came time to replace it and over time the car bearing that name gets less and less like a TT. Audi seemed not to understand that the appeal of the TT lay in two unique sets of conditions. One, the timing. The market wanted a bijou sportscar of this ilk and there were not so many around made by anyone with a big presence in the showrooms. And two, the appearance. Freeman Thomas and his colleagues struck it lucky with a style that managed to be expressively cool.

That exact look was right for the customers looking for a two-door sports car. Chronology being what it is, 1998 could never happen again and there was nothing to do with the original design but cock it up gradually by making it more mature, bigger and more emotional. Everything pointed in the direction of a disappointment and the TT is today another pea in a big bucket of peas.

What are manufacturers to do? One way to avoid disappointment with a potential one-hit wonder is to avoid leading people to expect a second surprise. Audi could have done another coupe but perhaps by using the simple expedient of renaming it they could have stopped people thinking it was 1998 again. Speaking against this is that the marketing people want to use the equity of the first hit to leverage the sales of the second. You’d be mad not to try. And mad to try because it always fails.

The Mini is a fine car as it is (apart from rotten packaging). It needs a new name now as it’s not a Mini and has even less to do with Issigonis’ original. The Beetle needed to stay as a show car. There isn’t much mileage in image-led cars as the last Thunderbird and the Coupe Fiat show. As soon as the 46,000 people born for that car have one the market has dried up.

The other option is to accept that some cars are meant for evolution not revolution. The Golf has never disappointed the ninety thousand billion people who demand such a car and all VW do is gently revise the car in line with regulations and production methods. Then again, a car as ordinary as a Golf can’t really disappoint as long as it carries shopping and a person about the place quite reliably. The emotional cars are the ones almost born to disappoint as first love is a one-time experience.

Perhaps the surprising thing about this rumination is that it casts some light on the intemperate display of silence or outraged boredom manifested by Jeremy C***son in response to the 1996 Vectra. His little turn is understandable as a form of disappointment and we can see he was wrong to expect from the car the thrills you’d find in something a) more costly and b) less constrained. Much the same review could have been done for almost any car filling a long-standing section of the market.

Disappointment is based on expectations and if you are given a commodity car (Golf, Vectra, C4) then you ought not to expect the earth to move. And when the time comes to repeat the punchline you didn’t expect, disappointment is always on the cards.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

67 thoughts on “Theme: Disappointment – Well, What Did You Expect?”

  1. There’s a potentially massive seam of material here … the Subaru Impreza comes immediately to mind, as does the Forester, oh, and the Legacy ….

    Delighted to read a postive reference to the Cinquecento, a Sporting version of which was a major part of my mid-twenties and is everything a truly small car should be.

    1. It´s one interpretation, yes, of the agile go-kart. Lancia presented the definition of the luxurious small car (after Renault invented it with the R5 Baccara, note). Cinquencentos were the talk of the town for a while. Autocar and Car loved them. The Seicento fizzled.

    2. I wanted to bring in the Lancia Y(10) as well. Here, I feel that the second generation is equally convincing as the first one – more refined, and with its own, different character. They didn’t make the mistake to present just another, more rounded and heavier small car that happens to have a black tailgate. It was only with the third and especially fourth generation when things started to go downhill.

  2. I think the TT hasn’t done so bad considering that everything evolves. The Mini is a total misnomer for a half sensible car .. should have been Maxi.

    1. Of the cars I picked the TT has the best claim to not disappointing. I could have picked the 1963 Buick Riviera which after one or two decen iterations turned into a slug. The Ford Thunderbird went the same way. The Nissan 240Z went the same way. And as SV notes, the Subaru Impreza never regained the glory of the first one.
      We have to mention the Saab 900 under GM. There was a truly disappointing vehicle. It depressed Saab fans and left non-Saab fans unmoved. I know one of the DTW´s huge staff own one of these so I am treading carefully. My own XM is a disappointment too. As it is it´s a lovely car but it misses the magic of the CX. I have found a supplier for the valve seals that have failed on my steering column, by the way. They cost £15 to buy and will cost thousands to instal. Ha ha.

    2. American car makers (particularly Ford) are terrible at incremental updates. They always seem so keen to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    3. Yes, but at least the XM was unique in the design and still stands out today. It was a different design. I like both the CX and the XM actually. A lot of SAAB owners seem to like Citroens as well.
      How about the latest 6 series as a contender for disappointing compared to the initial e24?

    4. Stephen: Good one, yes, the current 6-series does not deserve the name, You´ve but a name on that feeling I have whenever I see one. It´s a slug.
      And the XM. In its own way it´s a lovely car. I really like mine a lot. With my Citroen-tinted glasses off I can see its demerits. It failed to be reliable enough and to ride well enough and cost too much. The CX left the market as a cheap big car with quite a lot of customers. The XM entered the market costing more than CXers wanted to pay and was too much money for a Citroen, as seen by the would-be-conquest customers. After the dust settled, Citroenistes also saw through PSA´s cosmetic trickery. The steering was PSA and the axles were PSA too. It was the 605’s wierd cousin. I mean, the XM lost the centre-point axles and it lost the stanard DIRAVI 2-2-turns steering.

    1. Please don´t say that supposed to be a Ford Ka. I have a vague recollection they were planning a new version. That might be alright for a small commodity car but it doesn´t deserve the name “Ka”.

    2. I am sure I read somewhere that this was aimed at South America and possibly not coming to Europe, in which case we might be dodging a bullet, and that it wasn’t going to be called the Ka. For my money it looks like a parallel dimension update of the Fiesta mark 4.

    3. Yes, that´s another way of looking at it. If someone said it was the 2012 Fiesta it would seem plausible. The current is from 2008 which a lot of years ago now: nearly, according to my accountant. Goodness. That makes GM´s thinly-revised Corsa seem less unusual a move. Does it really take eight years to amortize a Fiesta? Or is it that the car still sells so well they don´t have to bother with big changes?

    4. I hear they’ll revise the grill a little, but otherwise that’s about it…

    5. Looks like it should be the Fiesta … as a development from 1977. I do lament the incorporation of the substantial weight gains cars have made … One of the reasons we have to drive heavier cars is because they are all so much heavier – so being hit by a Fiesta driving a Lotus Elise or MGF is not good news .. being hit by a 3 ton Range Rover can’t be a laughing matter.

  3. I think the Twingo has been mentioned here already, hasn’t it?

    There, I think the third iteration is a bit better again, as it doesn’t try to be exactly like the first one and still different. It’s rather a new approach to requirements that have changed over time. It could have been more convincing in its execution, though – at least that’s what I hear and read.

    1. Yes, the VW may have been more refined and mature and had a bigger boot. Is that enough? What was VW thinking? I can´t see much in common from the first to second generation at all. Bora customers must have been baffled by the replacement.

  4. Mentioning Audi needs mentioning the Audi R8 too. The second generation looks like a tamed cheap version of the first generation. A gelding instead a stallion (without a manual gearbox available).
    Audi was able to to spoil the only truely distinctive design element of the R8 – the side blades. Now they look like a cheap plastic part.

    1. Goodness. I wasn´t even aware there was a second R8. The first one passed me by. I may have seen one or two but it´s not a car you see much in Aarhus.
      I can´t have been disappointed by it. But from what you say it seems like a car that was ripe for treating more carefully at the point it need revision.

    2. R8 – that’s a very good shout, the new one is definitely not worthy of the original.

    3. Funnily enough Richard, my first memory of addressing you on the back pages of another website whose name I’ve forgotten involved me arguing that first impressions were usually right and that I felt that the R8 was a good design the moment I saw it. I realise now you had no idea what I was talking about.

    1. That’s true though it’s safe to say the car is today even better and neither bigger nor heavier.
      My turn: Toyota RAV-4 mk1 to Mk2 and ever after…

    2. Yes, the mark 1 RAV 4 was a sweet thing. The mark 2 was very bloated by comparison.

      While we’re in the CUV ballpark, the mark 2 Freelander was nowhere near as nicely styled as the mark 1, in my eyes at least. It was 400% better in terms of quality, mind.

  5. The Mark 1 Range Rover, inasmuch as the original really seemed to be a product derived of function, whereas subsequent cars, though better to drive, are just products derived of the Mark 1.

    1. Well, I get your point, but I thought the “out of the box” incarnation of the previous generation RR was wonderful, especially the interior.

    2. I certainly agree the last RR had attractions, as does MINI, but I think that Discovery 3 was the proper spiritual successor the the first RR.

  6. Funny enough, last weekend we just had a lengthy discussion about movies and their (too) numerous sequels. Isn’t that another striking parallel to bands’ albums and cars? We definitely need more originals.

    1. I have the impression that the Giulia case is a bit different from the other examples here. It’s not a direct successor that is trying to renew a striking success with just a diluted, but still very similar interpretation of what was a good and novel idea seven years before. And it’s not retro like a Mini or a Beetle, either. It’s not much more than the name and the basic concept – a sporty saloon – that has been taken over. Resemblances: none.

      But it might still fit into the disappointment category.

    2. I thought the editor had banned mention of Alfas and Citroens? Red card?!

    3. SV: he banned Citroen and Lancia, so the Alfa can power oversteer through the loophole left by not banning FCA, to the tune of a revvy twin-cam exhaust note.

      I think the new Giulia is probably closer to a franchise reboot, in the modern Hollywood parlance.

    4. I thought it was Citroens and Lancias and, anyway, although I have no real insight into Simon A Kearne’s mind, I assumed he meant in the main article. However, if he wakes up before Christmas I might end up with a 2 post suspension. Isn’t that something fitted to old Lancias? Ooops!

    5. I hadn’t realised there was a ban on chastising Citroen or Lancia… being a rebellious soul I am now wracking my brain cells

    6. OK – note to self, should check facts before shooting …

    1. Curses, long URL photo display fail, let’s try that again

    2. Agree – Mk2 CRX a thing of loveliness and improved on Mk1; Mk3 Del Sol was a turd.

    3. Would anyone agree that the hatchback Civics do not regress aesthetically or otherwise when transiting from 3G to 4G to 5G – 1983, 1987, 1991?

      In my view, it’s the only 3 in a row serie of models I can remember doing that.

  7. Mark: the second CRX does gel more succesfully than the first. For the second iteration they tidied it up while keeping the bathwater-free baby. The lamps, flat surfaces and bi-colouring all distract from a pleasant main theme.

    1. That Honda then proceded to rip out the entire bathroom, never mind the baby, with the CRX Del Sol is perplexing to say the least.

    2. I always thought that the second generation was better, too. However, in the picture above, I quite like the first generation with its two-tone livery and the slightly offbeat wheels. I also think time has been very kind with the pronounced edges, simple volumes and flat surfaces. It has a nostalgic aspect and makes you want to have more of that today.

      While Honda was really successful with the second generation CRX, they truly messed it up with the third one. It was too big, too heavy, too compromised. And customers reacted accordingly – after seeing less and less of these vehicles on the streets, it stayed without successor. My contempt for this vehicle might also have been nurtured by the fact that I spent some time in the USA in 1996, where it was heavily advertised in TV, with its surname “Del Sol” pronounced in an ear-piercing American accent.

      A good thing is that the CRX has found quite a good new interpretation in the Hybrid CR-Z. Maybe the Insight could also be inserted into that line, although its emphasis was more on smoothness and economy than on sportiness.

    3. My main memory of the Del Sol is on a rare viewing (for me) of a BBC motoring programme. The folding roof mechanism was demonstrated by a youngish, slightly scruffy, plummy voiced, rugby playing looking chap who I’d never seen before and, was quite apparent (to me) was unlikely to stay with the programme, since he obviously lacked that certain gravitas a successful motoring presenter needs.

  8. You’ll be surprised – as long as noboby pretends the Del Sol is a CRX, it’s fine with me. When I have a house on the remote and sunny part of Ascona I’d have a car like that to go with my XM, Trevi and 604.

    1. Eoin might have some insight. The disappointment hinges on the extent you believe the XJ-S was really a successor in any way more than by mere chronology. I’m inclined to think it wasn’t a real successor despite ads to the contrary (correct me on this, if neecesary). Further, the E-type is not a car I can relate to; the S is more down my street though the minute I imagine driving one my thoughts wander to off to Kensington and on to Filton.

    2. I’ve been dunked in the XJ-S kool-aid tank so many times by vehement supporters of the awkward old barge that I started thinking the XJ-S doesn’t look too bad from that angle in a dark colour…

  9. A constructive angle on this is if there is a firm with form in launching disappointing follow-up models. It would be unfair to pick Ford or GM without taking into account the scale of the operations. Why are BMW and Mercedes immune to this when in general a whiff is unmet expectations pertains to them now?

    1. I don’t think BMW or Mercedes are immune in terms of disappointing follow-up cars, they’ve just camouflaged the disappointing follow-up saloons with a never-ending stream of crossovers, coupeloons, crossover superduper coupeloons, supercars, electric city cars, bloated replicas of an old British economy car, formula one cars etc.

  10. The Audi S2 Coupe was another car that failed in creating a family of charismatic cars.
    It was not the most intelligent idea to give a four-wheel-drive car and successor of the Quattro the name S2, but that was just one of many faults.

  11. Mark: in a vague way they have been disappointing yet never unambiguously so. Was the 1991 S-class perhaps an example? In a way not as it was more a case of the market not wanting that precise car rather than it being actively bad. And the hateful E-class Mk2 had a lot of takers in the course of its career. Few spoke up about its nasty form, did they? I think this site has the web’s biggest nest of critics of that car.

  12. No racing versions, not more power, no digital instruments (or other futuristic details) no aggressiive look (could be equipped with a 1.6 Litre and 110 horsepowers as well), looks smaller than its predecessor.
    The Audi RS2 Avant was the better son of the Quattro – in my eyes.

  13. Well to get a bit philosophical about this discussion of Disappointment, I think we are dealing with the Socratic notions of the Forms. We are comparing our ideal of a car that exists in our minds with the version that exists in reality. The result will almost certainly be disappointment. Yes, that probably is rubbish!

    1. The car company sets up the expectations by labelling the follow-up in a certain way.
      Peugeot tried to dodge the inevitable when they stopped making the 205 and said the 106 and 306 “replaced” it. Did they? The 106 always seemed a bit tiny; the 306 did a completely different job, aiming to compete with the Focus and Astra and whatever other cars were sold in that class. In a funny way, dodging the issue over-shadowed the 106 and 306 by confusing people as to what they were. I suppose that´s another sort of story, isn´t it? Anyway – no, Barry, your point stands.

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