Pardon my rambling here, but I had to get something Saaby out of last week.
I grew up thinking that just about every European car was a luxury car. They were always a lot better equipped than the Australian cars I grew up with.
My first car was a Holden Gemini. It had vinyl seats, a 1600cc Isuzu Motor and when I saved up a whole bunch of money I actually purchased a tape deck and speakers to replace the factory AM/FM radio. The car was as flimsy as a Coke can and almost as refined.
My Mum had a Ford Cortina and my Dad had a Ford Falcon. My sister had a Morris 1100 and then a Datsun 180B, which is the car I learned to drive in.
It’s not too hard to trump any of those and as you can see, my bar for judging what was a luxury item was set fairly low. I’ve now learned a little more about what’s what thanks to the passage of time, and my frame of reference has grown as a result.
Last week my wife and I spent a week touring around my old home town, Melbourne. We stayed in a nice-but-not-too-costly spot for the first 5 nights, with a view to spoiling ourselves on the final night. So last Friday night, our final night, we did two things we wouldn’t ordinarily do. We spent a stupid amount of money each on a T-bone steak – a favourite for both of us – and we spent an even more stupid amount of money on one of Melbourne’s 5-star international hotels – Crown Towers.
Crown Towers is the accommodation attached to the Crown Casino, which has become one of the entertainment hubs in Melbourne. When you enter Crown Towers it’s marble, glass, timber and brass everywhere you look. There are men in red coats to open the doors of your car and people to carry your luggage around. The entry foyer is huge and overwhelms you with a feeling of grandeur.
All the big labels have shops there. I spotted what looked like a mask for sale in the window at Versace for around A$2,600. Why anyone would want such a thing is completely lost on me, but it’s there.
The guests who look like they belong there were all impeccable. Clothing, grooming, you name it. They had it going on. Me? Well, if you know where this post is going then the fact that I was padding around the foyer in my socks may not come as a surprise.
For the money we spent, we wanted a big comfortable room with a big comfortable bed and a commanding view. We wanted a big spa bath to relax in. I wanted broadband so that I could check things out on the website and a big TV to kill some time with. We wanted comfort and we wanted it in spades. So we paid for it – more than three times the per-night rate of our previous room, which was newly renovated, well situated and reasonably well appointed.
The room at Crown was advertised as having all of the things listed above. Indeed, it did have a big marble bathroom and the view from the 15th floor was impressive in a way. The TV was great and the fixtures and fittings were kind of impressive to look at. We’d paid for luxury at a 5-star international hotel and supposedly we’d got it.
Yes, we had internet access – if we paid an extra $25 for it (per day). A club sandwich was $25. Breakfast was an extra $40. Our spa bath was a single person tub. The bed was indeed quite big, but hard as a rock and when you could see through the grime on the windows, the view was indeed impressive.
Basically we’d paid over $400 for one night in a room with a big TV, some timber panelling, a small bath in a big marble room and no breakfast after sleeping on a hard bed. No internet included, no in-house movies included. Not even some fresh milk in the fridge.
Some may love it just for the appearance but to be honest, it left me feeling pretty embarassed that I’d paid so much for what boiled down to a tarted up standard hotel room. Some will love it simply for what it represents…..a standard of excellence and opulence. We just felt like idiots who would have had a better time at a place that gave us what we were looking for, which was a real feeling of basic comfort and the services we wanted rather than a bunch of trimmings that suggested we were fortunate just to be there.
As I said earlier, I’d considered Saabs to be luxury cars in my youth. I know now that that’s not the case and having blown a roll of cash on a supposed luxury experience, I hope they never go down that road.
Saabs are premium cars defined by their equipment levels relative to their price, their surprising performance relative to their engine size and their levels of safety – comparable to any car in any class.
I hope they always stay that way. It struck me as I was thinking about all this last Friday that my experience in Sweden earlier this year showed the Swedes to be a remarkably practical people. Their idea of premium is stuff that really works and has a reason for doing so.
Saab created ergonmically sound and very comfortable interiors for a reason. It wasn’t to spoil the driver but to make sure that the driver had an environment to work in that kept him/her comfortable and in command.
There’s a certain number of poseurs in this world who will always chase what they believe to be best, regardless of the substance held therein. Thinking about all of this has just reinforced what I’ve always believed about Saab – they’re the best real-world combination of performance, comfort, utility, safety and value that you can buy in a car. I’m not Swedish and I’m coming at this whole Saab thing from relatively recent experience when compared with the company’s 60 years, but I’m pretty sure that the guys who started the company would find that combination quite appealing.
As they go about desiging cars for the future, I hope that they maintain that distincly Swedish combination and leave the posing to Cadillac. They can still be premium and they can still be well appointed and great performing cars, just leave the perceived opulence to brands that have customers with enough money and little enough sense to pay for it – just like I did recently with a hotel room.
The T-bone steak? That was a different story all together and worth every cent…