The automotive industry has turned out dozens of surveys and reports over the past few years flip-flopping on what, exactly, Millennials’ opinions are when it comes to cars.
First, a drought in new driver’s licence applicants hinted at a falling out between teens and automobiles; then came the argument those aged 18 to 35 wanted to buy new cars but couldn’t afford them.
The latest news is, apparently, that everything we know about Millennials and their car-buying habits, or lack thereof, is wrong.
Millennials now make up the largest generational demographic in the U.S. but still buy fewer cars than Baby Boomers, and no one knows why. The most widely circulated guess? An overwhelming automotive apathy driven by fewer spending dollars, a better affinity for public transit and car-sharing, and, somehow, Pokémon Go.
Crank up the swank
Cars used to mean freedom, life, love, the American Dream and a whole host of other clichés, but almost all my Millennial-aged friends couldn’t care less about them now. How could I make them care about cars?
A summer road trip to Montreal with four such friends offered up an opportunity to get that question answered. Make the drive in something swanky enough and the automobile will transcend appliance, I reasoned. Make our conveyance something too cool to ignore and they’ll care.
To that end I secured a new 2017 Jaguar F-PACE, a five-place SUV with a 340-horsepower 3.0-litre supercharged V6 sourced from Jag’s F-Type sports car and more high-tech features than you could shake a selfie stick at. Of course, most of those would only be apparent to me, as driver, but I was nevertheless confident the $70,000-as-optioned luxo-truck could win them over.
The F-PACE marks Jaguar’s first effort in the SUV segment, and boasts lightweight, stiff mostly-aluminum bodywork styled by renowned designer Ian Callum; a 2.0-litre turbo four underhood or our car’s V6, available in 340- and 380-horsepower trims and mated to a ZF eight-speed auto trans; and an agile all-wheel-drive chassis with standard torque vectoring and Electronic Power Assisted Steering (EPAS).
“Yep, this is a car, all right,” was what all that earned from Geoff, 29, when I picked up him and Isa, also 29, from the University of Toronto’s downtown campus Thursday. “It looks like a car.” Isa was too pre-occupied with catching a Ponyta on Pokémon Go to offer an opinion.
Scott, 23, who I’d fetched first, was going to be a little more willing to drink the cool-car Kool-Aid, I thought. “Sometimes it purrs, and sometimes it growls,” he said of the engine note as I got on the pedal to pick up our last passenger, Nadi, 27. With all five of us on-board, I could start the drive eastbound and properly collect my Millennial friends’ first thoughts on the F-PACE.
USB chargers everywhere
After giving them time to take it in, I asked what they suspected an F-PACE might cost. Scott took high bid at $90k, Geoff $80k, both of them well above the F-PACE’s actual starting price of roughly $60,000 CDN; Isa was too busy catching a Zubat to hazard a guess.
Some features immediately stood out. Geoff gave the gigantic full-length sunroof a thumbs-up, while Isa shrieked with delight at the one – “Wait, there’s two of them!” – USB chargers for the rear seat passengers. (Charging ports meant more time playing Pokémon.)
Scott went from flattering the F-PACE’s undeniably gorgeous looks – “It’s very shapely, it has breadth, it carries its weight well—not to body-shame other cars, here” – before moving on to the 14-way-adjustable perforated leather front seat he was sitting in.
“Does this infringe on my veganism?” he queried, sinking into the supple upholstery. “Because it feels great.”
When Nadi swapped into the front seat, she was similarly impressed with the chair, toggling the behind-the-knee adjustment for a sort of manual massage. “There’re buttons I’m not yet accessing—oh, yeah, there’s one.”
Best of all were the “glowsticks” in the doors – the Configurable Interior Mood Lighting comes in ten colours, including, apparently, “rave mode” – and the Bluetooth connectivity, our conduit to the psychill music in DJ Nadi’s phone.
Overall, though, the F-PACE still felt like any other car to these Millennials. “Honestly, I’m indifferent,” summed up Geoff. “It’s just getting us from point A to point B.” In this war on auto-apathy, winning them over wasn’t going to be easy.
Turning heads, changing minds
Halfway to Montreal, after a stop for dinner, some roadwork took us to a crawl. At the construction zone’s end, though, we hit open highway, the perfect excuse to put the pedal down from a standstill.
The F-PACE’s V6 puts power on quickly but smoothly; in the passenger seat, Nadi’s eyes widened and she laughed, enjoying the sudden burst of speed. Out her window, I spied the nose of a blue Maserati slowly overtaking us. Without meaning to, I was drag-racing an Italian sports car—and keeping up.
The front seat earned more points from Nadi, too, as had the 11-speaker Meridian 380W Sound System. When her synced phone accidentally blared the Pokémon Go theme, she had an epiphany: the song has bass, which she never got on her phone.
The dual-zone climate control won favours from the crew in back, and I sensed a coming-around by the time we hit Montreal, near midnight. This was helped, I thought, by a passerby who, as soon as we park, told the woman he’s walking with “Now that’s a nice car.”
The Jaguar got gawkers the next day and the day after, too, one a 10-year-old girl, another a car blogger named Claudio, who stopped us before we un-parked after lunch in downtown Montreal. “It looks fantastic,” he gasped. “Please send me the story when you write it up!”
The style made an impression on me especially the night before we left, when I dragged Geoff out in the pouring rain to wave his phone-light at me while I photographed the F-PACE. As Scott mentioned, its proportions are just right, and the face I don’t care for on Jaguar’s sedans works perfectly on an SUV.
Geoff disagreed. “I’m surprised by how much attention the car has got—it’s not particularly edgy-looking. If I walked by it on the street, I would think, Oh, a black SUV,” he said later, figuring it’s the badge, not the looks, that’s catching people’s eyes.
Like a designer handbag that only luxe-lifestyle cognoscenti can identify, the Jaguar logo “is a wealth-signaling technique,” he explained. Whether that makes the F-PACE more Millennial or less, I’m not sure.
On the drive back, I gathered thoughts. “It did what I thought it would, but more smoothly. Very smoothly,” Isa offered. The middle rear seat got thumbs-down for legroom but thumbs-up for adjustability.
Geoff concurred, adding the center console seems overly large, especially for the storage it offers. “[The console] has one thing going for it, though,” interjected Nadi. “It can hold two extra-large cups.”
On size, Nadi added she likes how safe the F-PACE feels; the lane-keeping assist – or “autocorrect” – and active safety features helped impart that, too. But she was still mostly digging the doors’ ambient “glowstick” lighting.
“I dunno,” countered Geoff. “[You ever] get into a minivan with wood [interior] paneling? I feel if 20 years from now you step inside a car and see glowsticks, you’ll say, Oh, God, this thing’s from, like, 2016.”
While he admitted he thinks of Jaguar better than he had before, it’s apparent cars are still just tools to him; ditto for Isa. Despite the miles we’ve logged, Scott likes cars “only if they get me where I want to go.” Nadi said she doesn’t care any more than before, but conceded she’s more aware of modern luxury car features. “Like, I genuinely like some things,” she shrugged.
Can a $70,000 Jaguar F-PACE make Millennials care about cars? Despite some success, I guess, no, not necessarily. Between safety features and infotainment systems driving up even entry-level vehicles’ price tags; and car-hailing apps turning four-wheeled freedom machines into appliances, people 18 to 35 simply don’t have a good reason to care about cars, unless they want a luxo-truck as a status symbol.
From Toronto to Montreal, the F-PACE was, to them, just a comfier-than-usual A-to-B conveyance that could charge their Pokémon Go-equipped smartphones. That’s what they said, anyway.
After dropping off Geoff, Isa, Nadi, and, finally, Scott, I swung back by Nadi’s to deliver something she’d forgot in the car. I handed it over to her on her front step, then noticed her craning her neck to look down the street. “What’s up?” I asked. “Oh. Just wanted to take one last look at the car,” she replied.