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Designing in the driver?

The idea of the car as an extension of the driver is well established. The image of the car – from its brand, its design – reflects upon those who drive and own it.

But the car is also a physical extension of the driver. Like a giant, metal set of super-hero clothes, getting into a car is akin to Clark Kent putting on his leotard, cape and trunks to become Superman. As drivers of a car we are empowered to accelerate and move in ways far beyond our human abilities. The car literally extends from our fingertips and toes as we steer a wheel and press peddles. 

We know all this. But how much do car designers consider the symbiotic, physical relationship between driver and car? How much does car design embrace the way a car physically extends from the user and become part of them?

A recent drive in a Jaguar XJS made us think about this. Relative to modern cars, this Jag has a low cowl and an especially long, low and near horizontal hood which visually connects with the driver's arms to continue them forwards to the front of this seventies superhero design. From the driver’s viewpoint this subconsciously reinforces the ‘one-ness’ they have with the car; makes its abilities more closely part of their abilities. These are unique in the XJS – having a V12 powering the car through just three speeds gives acceleration that feels like being attached to a very long but very thick elastic band. And sitting so low in such a softly sprung car is totally different to any new car on sale too. This experience is then heightened by the close connection the driver has, ensconced in the small cabin with the hood stretching out forwards from their arms.  

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It’s likely no cars in the future will emulate the key driving qualities of this old Jaguar, but maybe the way that its design connects to and extends from the driver might be consciously considered to elevate the driving experience in some future design programmes…?