The contemporary popular sci-fi motion picture “Arrival” incorporates the interesting concept that language can determine the perception of reality. The main character learns the non-linear alien language, and *spoiler alert* literally learns how to perceive the time space continuum in a non-linear way.
V and I have recenly experienced the same phenomenon. The contrast of our new vehicle compared to old has shown that the vehicle can determine the attitude.
Our thusfar undocumented [and now freshly missed] MINI Cooper S inspired foot-down-fun all the time. The seat-o-the-pants acceleration and confidence inspiring handling was paired with incredible fuel economy that allowed a driver to rip around at full throttle without a care in the world.†
Take the same driver, put herm in the Lexus 400h and kazam! The heavy-footedness vanishes. The approach suddenly shifts. Instead of multiple lane changes in search of the path of least resistance, there is an unspoken but all-powerful urge to be smooth – to make no sudden move. The 4,500 pound Hybrid inspires a Grandpa 500 pacecar approach. Gradual acceleration. Long drawn out braking zones. Coasting is King.
So what language is determinging this attitude?
Communications Studies Alert! The medium is the message.
The MINI dashboard doesn’t have any neon signs that literally spell out, “GO FAST” or “Have a BLAST today, you DESERVE it”. But it does convey that exact message. Inanimate objects built by mankind are seeping with messages. The exterior aesthetics influence the drivers state of mind. 17 inch wheels appear especially large in ratio to the compact body of the MINI. The shape and image of the car appeal to a heritage of racing and pop culture references of sportiness such as the Italian jobs. Inside, the same-size-as-your-entire-face speedometer, and the caged toggle switches with illuminated heads shout loud and clear – “this vehicle was engineered to do the task of going quickly, and you are the one sitting in the pilot seat, so please comply with your right foot”. This compliance is further reinforced not only by the instinctual thrill of inertia defiance, but by the same message reverberating with the sounds of turbo-charged induction and engineered burbles in the exhaust.
The Lexus is quite the opposite. Where MINI noises crack like a whip, the 400h is silent. Initial acceleration does not coincide with RPMs climbing in the tachometer or your ear – the engine doesn’t even necessarily run. The two electric motors drive each axle while the gasoline motor either rests or merely heats the air. Layer that with a graphical display that shows the transfer of power between battery, motor and wheels and the mind starts off on a treasure hunt where efficiency is the truffle. This game can be appreciated by any Car2Go member who has successfully landed Santa among the green trees that they grew on the LCD display by accelerating slowly, braking gradually, and coasting often. Even the noises that are special to the 400h inspire the slow and steady. The high pitched yet subtle wine of regenerative brakes, again paired with the graphic of arrows flowing from wheels to battery shout from the rooftop “good JOB driver, look how WELL you use the technology to be wise, safe, and responsible!”.
But I need to acknowledge 2 things.
1) The rear-facing infant car seat strapped in the back of the Lexus [that incidentally didn’t physically fit in the MINI] could be completely adjusting or merely augmenting the slow-and-steady message for this driver.
2) All of the above said, there is another message lurking in the experience of the 400h. That you can indeed use the entire throttle. And when you do, you have no less than 3 motors helping you pass that semi on the highway – and apparently greater output than your non-electrified brothers.
* Arrival is great, see it in theatres if you can.
† I am not sure when or where exactly I developed a sensitivity to fuel economy, since most of my car life has been with modified turbo-charged cars, but I know it has more to do with being frugal than with chaining myself to trees