Wednesday, 8 April 2015

The Nissan GYM joke raises a serious point about overweight motorists

NISSAN – via the best April Fool’s gag I’ve fallen for in ages – have raised a serious point about the threat today’s pose to your health and wellbeing. The X-Trail and Qashqai have declared war on your waistline!

In the best motoring joke since BMW announced it was making an M3 pick-up truck a couple of years ago, the manufacturer announced its own automotive battle of the bulge. It’s a shame its new system will never be a reality, because it promises to burn off 1,415 calories on your next commute. Press a button on the dashboard marked ‘GYM’ and you’ll get thinner, pretty girls will flock to you and Jamie Oliver will hail you as some sort of 21st century saint. Brilliant!

It’s a shame it’s only an April Fool’s joke, because if it weren’t I’d have to applaud Nissan for recognising the nation’s motorists are an increasingly bloated bunch and that something had to be done, presumably before the entire road network started to groan beneath their collective weight and slowly sink further into the ground.

In essence, what the fictional GYM button would’ve done was take all the driver aids you’ve paid through the nose for – and then switches them off altogether. In other words, transform your brand new Nissan X-Trail into a bottom-of-the-range 1985 Ford Orion in an instant.

Yet the joke does raise a serious point. As someone who grew up driving Minis and still regularly drives a 43-year-old MGB, I look at all of Nissan’s driver assistance gizmos and conclude they – ironically – do little other than add weight. Yes, the car of 2015 is unbelievably easy to drive, but are the gadgets actually being counter-productive for our waistlines?

The new Ford Galaxy, for instance, can be ordered with a device that does your parallel parking for you. Why? Anyone on a British road should have mastered the manoeuvre by now, so I can only assume anyone who uses it is too fat and lazy to do it themselves.

It’s the same with power steering. Parking a MG or a Morris Minor that’s a bit heavy at 3mph is not the workout you might expect – it’s the entirely normal driving that your granddad would have just got on with, rather than moaning about how difficult it is. Safety devices like ABS are worth every penny, but things like power steering or parking assist are just encouraging us to take the easy option.

It’s nice that Nissan has taken the first step in giving us the option to switch these things off, but really it – and indeed, every car maker – should be selling us cars light and efficient enough not to need them in the first place.

The Lotus Elise – the antithesis of everything the GYM button stands for - doesn’t have any of these devices and it’s all the better for it. Really, it should be prescribed through the NHS to anyone struggling with obesity. It’s the healthiest new car you can buy today, and that’s no joke.

At no point did David Simister fall for Nissan's brilliantly worded April Fool press release during the making of this column. Honest...

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