INTERNAL KONGBUSTION

Dr Kong gets off his high horse and into a high car.

Torque (Singapore) - - CONTENTS - DR KONG YONGYAO

BAL­ANCE. Ev­ery­thing kept within a nar­row tol­er­a­ble range. Tem­per­a­ture, blood pres­sure, sodium, acid­ity, red blood cells, white blood cells, clot­ting fac­tors. All main­tained in the “green zone”. Our bod­ies are armed with count­less reg­u­la­tory sys­tems con­stantly bal­anc­ing too much against too lit­tle. We call that home­osta­sis, and it is how we stay alive.

Some­times, and in­creas­ingly often in first-world Singapore, the body’s com­pen­satory mech­a­nisms for glu­cose are dam­aged from ex­haus­tion to the point that the body needs med­i­ca­tions to help with blood sugar sup­pres­sion.

Which re­sults in Prime Min­is­ter Lee’s newly nom­i­nated en­emy of the state – Di­a­betes Mel­li­tus Type 2.

Funny thing is, some­times when freshly ad­mit­ted in­pa­tients

are given their reg­u­lar dose of di­a­betic medicines, their blood glu­cose lev­els fall too low. Given that hospi­tal food is by de­sign nu­tri­tion­ally op­ti­mal, it can only mean that their pills are be­ing used to com­pen­sate for ex­ces­sive sugar in­take at home. That, of course, is not ideal. Which brings me to the in­suf­fer­ably un­stop­pable phe­nom­e­non of the city-bi­ased sports util­ity ve­hi­cle. Ever since SUVs be­gan tak­ing over the au­to­mo­tive mar­ket­place like the plague, I have had a re­flex­ive an­i­mos­ity to­wards them. Why? Be­cause they are un­nec­es­sary.

They are heav­ier and taller than reg­u­lar hatch­backs and sedans, and barely more prac­ti­cal. Con­se­quently, like Johnny Di­a­betes, they need stiffer sus­pen­sion and more com­plex tech­nol­ogy, all to still re­main more un­wieldy and un­com­fort­able than “nor­mal” cars.

I have never en­coun­tered an SUV that would not be sub­stan­tially im­proved by sim­ply not be­ing an SUV. They are anath­ema to the ideals we car lovers – grow­ing up on a diet of dainty Al­fas, twin­kle-toed Porsches and cut­tingly ath­letic BMWs – hold dear. Why, pray tell, is the HR-Vezel in the least bit nec­es­sary when the Jazz ex­ists?

SUVs are to fast es­tates what sil­i­cone breasts are to nat­u­ral beauty. Fake. But the whims of the snob­bish, self-in­dul­gent purist are often at odds with the de­sires of the buy­ing pub­lic. So the road-go­ing SUV con­tin­ues to pro­lif­er­ate like a virus. A wise man once told me that the worth of a car goes be­yond how well it drives. But I smugly coun­tered by point­ing at the Jeep Wran­gler, which drives like a pig but I love and re­spect, and said, “Sure, but it has to be con­cep­tu­ally con­sis­tent”. I re­fused to budge. There was still no point I could see to the com­pact cross­over.

Un­til I met the XC40. Volvo calls it a “tough lit­tle ro­bot”. Not “tougher than a V40 ro­bot” or “taller than an S60 ro­bot”, but an an­droid all of its own. One that, fi­nally, in a eureka moment, gives the erst­while cyn­i­cally bland seg­ment its first cred­i­bly unique iden­tity.

The XC40 is dev­il­ishly cute and hand­some at the same time on its stocky, blocky frame. It feels ready to meet the city’s throng­ing chal­lenges with gusto, and that’s how it feels to live with – em­pow­er­ing.

The V40, it­self not the sharpest tool, will still run rings around the XC40 for han­dling, of course, but some­how it does not mat­ter here. I like the out­side, I love the inside, I even like the idea of the whole thing. The wise man may be on to some­thing af­ter all. Then PML BMW’s PR guy presses the key to an X2 into my hand, and I ex­pe­ri­ence a wave of internal con­flict so strong it could rip the space-time con­tin­uum.

The X2 looks pug-like and pur­pose­ful, and like the XC40, stands cred­itably on its own. It is made even better by the flour­ish of a BMW logo on its C-pil­lar. Prob­lem is, that very de­sign cue comes from the his­toric 2800

I HAVE NEVER EN­COUN­TERED AN SUV THAT WOULD NOT BE SUB­STAN­TIALLY IM­PROVED BY SIM­PLY NOT BE­ING AN SUV.

CS, a low-slung sports coupe cher­ished as part of the brand’s soul­ful cen­tre. And they’ve only gone and put it on an SUV. The balls on these Bavar­i­ans.

They say the X2 is “great to drive”, as they would. But to ap­ply that am­bi­tion and those his­tor­i­cal re­minders to a type of car thus far so con­cep­tu­ally in­con­gru­ent with BMW’s core value of “sheer driv­ing plea­sure” is one hell of a gam­ble.

It could yet turn out to be an im­pres­sive display of re­ju­ve­na­tion and for­ward­think­ing. Get it wrong, though, and BMW will ar­rive at the cyn­i­cal nadir of its own aban­doned prin­ci­ples. Hap­pily, and to my im­mense re­lief and joy, the news is good. The BMW X2 goes down the road with en­thu­si­asm and ter­rier-like verve.

Pre­vi­ously, and in­clu­sive of the Volvo XC40, driv­ing a com­pact SUV was merely an ex­er­cise in wait­ing. Wait­ing for the body to set­tle. Wait­ing for the squat and dive to flat­ten out. Wait­ing for the car to re­spond. Not here.

Grip and roll are things that present them­selves and ebb away in tan­dem with your in­puts, rather than con­tra­dic­tory to them. The X2 is truly en­joy­able, in a recog­nis­ably BMW way, to hus­tle around.

Maybe it would be better still if it weren’t an SUV, and there ac­tu­ally is a ref­er­ence point for that in the form of its MINI Club­man plat­form-mate. But the dif­fer­ence is im­per­cep­ti­ble – small enough that the in­creased height of the thing can even be enjoyed as a virtue.

That is quite a feat. You can love this car for rea­sons one al­ways loved BMWs, and it could be the one to bring the seg­ment into the light.

These cross­over al­phanu­mer­ics are not anath­ema to the car-lov­ing colum­nist.

Ger­many’s ex­tro­vert Sports Ac­tiv­ity Coupe and Swe­den’s “tough lit­tle ro­bot” prove there is magic to be found in the small-SUV seg­ment.

SEPTEM­BER 2018

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