IF THE FFCP CONTENDERS WERE CARS... [OPINION]
A recent post on the BF4C Facebook group got me to thinking... "What if the fighters contending to replace the CF-18 were cars?"
It is a simple enough question, but it turns out to be a real thought exercise. Sure, one can quickly generalize the fighters into certain cars easy enough; but getting it exactly right takes some in depth analysis. Also, as a bit of a car nut myself, I know how easily it would be to offend both automotive and aeronautical enthusiasts simultaneously.
Whatever. It sure wouldn't be the first time I offended someone.
Making this list, I forced myself to follow certain rules:
- Since the aircraft are available now, I could only pick automobiles currently on sale new. This disqualifies the all-too-obvious Saab 9-3 for representing the Saab Gripen.
- Place of manufacture must be considered, but not strictly adhered to. This is because both car and aircraft manufacturers muddy the waters here. Your "American" pickup truck may have been assembled in Mexico, with parts sourced from China.
- Since all the fighters are multi-role and will be used in various conditions, the cars must reflect this. This disqualifies impractical "toy" cars like the Miata or Corvette. It also requires certain option packages.
So without further ado, here are my picks!
The F-35 is the most modern aircraft design on offer. It is a true "jack-of-all-trades" fulfilling the role of strike aircraft and air superiority. It replaces platforms as varied as the A-10 to the F-16, to the AV-8B. It is set to become one of the most prolific fighters in history, with several variants sharing a basic design.
The JSF has not been without its share of controversy however. It is also quite expensive. Still, Lockheed Martin cannot seem to build enough of them to meet the demand. Many question the need for such an extravagant aircraft when simpler, less expensive options exist.
So what automobile best represents the F-35?
The Ford Explorer.
Like the F-35, the Ford Explorer is a true "jack-of-all-trades". A three-row SUV available in several trims, drivetrains, and option packages for whatever need you may have. There is even a police interceptor model available. From the base model XLT to the sporty ST, to the luxurious Platinum; there's a Explorer for everyone... If they can afford it. Prices start at about $44k but can go up to $72,000 fully loaded.
Despite the price, these things sell very well. SUVs tend to sell well regardless, with carmakers eschewing traditional sedans to expand their SUV and crossover lineups. The reasoning is simple, these SUVs can do pretty much everything, even if they don't do one thing particularly well. Trucks are better at carrying cargo, minivans are better at carrying people, and no amount of "ST" trim level will make you confuse an Explorer for a Mustang.
Also, like the F-35, the Explorer has had its share of controversy. The newest model hasn't had the smoothest rollout. It has also encountered competition from unexpected sources that offer more bang for the buck. Sound familiar?
Still, one cannot deny the level of technology that goes into the these things. Large touchscreens, sensors, and all the latest automated features. Like the F-35 single turbofan, the Explorer's engine does more with less utilizing a turbocharged inline-4 or V6 instead of the traditional V8. It also manages to carry much of its payload internally, with the option of carrying more externally via a trailer or roof rack.
The Explorer has been a best-seller for decades now. Don't expect that to change anytime soon. It may not be the best choice for many, but damn it, our neighbors have one, why shouldn't we?
The Super Hornet is "new" in a very general sense of the word. While the Super Hornet Block III on offer does have all the latest modern features, it affixes them to a platform that is a result of slow evolution over the last several decades. The design philosophy is simple: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
The F/A-18 has certainly gotten bigger over the years. It has also gotten more more advanced and capable. What started out as a simple, air-superiority fighter has evolved into a "do anything, anywhere" type of airplane.
So what would F/A-18E/F be if it was a car?
A Dodge Ram 1500.
Like the Super Hornet, the Dodge Ram is mixture of new and old. Its body-on-frame construction, live-rear axle, and big V8 are all hallmarks of traditional pickup trucks. And yet, the Dodge Ram has several modern touches, like its massive touchscreen and all the latest safety features. It is also quite capable of doing whatever job you may need, being a spacious family hauler with a massive payload and four-wheel drive to handle any weather condition.
Unfortunately, the Dodge Ram is no sports car. It's big and heavy. It has to carry most everything externally, adding to its already considerable drag. Its big V8, while powerful, is not enough to truly overcome its bulk. At over $67,000 fully optioned, the Ram is slightly cheaper than the Explorer, but only just. The good news is that if you forgo some of the option packages, the Ram can be had for MUCH CHEAPER.
The Dodge Ram's biggest strength is its simple versatility and sticking with what it's good at. Unlike the Explorer, it doesn't try to do EVERYTHING. Instead, the buyer can configure it to best suit their needs. Need luxury? Get the Limited. Need an off-road monster? Get the Rebel. Need something more basic? Get the Sport or SXT trim. This is similar to the Super Hornet, which can be configured different ways for different missions; be it air superiority, strike, electronic warfare, or even air-to-air refueling.
It ain't as fancy, and its more likely to be covered in dirt and grime, but the Dodge Ram will still get the job done.
The Saab Gripen is a little tougher to categorize.
Its general underpinnings are slightly newer than the Super Hornet, but older than the JSF. It is a much smaller aircraft, with much less payload and power... Yet it is much faster. Unlike a typical sports car, however, it is hat home in the inclement weather. It can also hold a respectable amount of cargo for its size... But not when compared to larger fighters.
Saab, as we know, used to make automobiles. Sadly, they no longer do. Volvo still does, but they can no longer be classified as a Swedish car company. Bought out bya Chinese conglomerate seems to have been detrimental to their reliability rating. So which car company has replaced Saab in the "quirky... yet practical" department?
Which four-wheel equivalent best represents the Saab Gripen?
Subaru WRX (STi)
At first glance, the Subaru WRX may appear a little "boy racer" with its big hood scoop and oversize rear wing. It would be easy to dismiss it as a car aimed at the "Fast and Furious" crowd. Those doing so would be sadly mistaken, as the little WRX is a deceptively practical machine that also happens to have a proud history. Of course, there was also that time that Saab sold a rebadged version of the WRX known as the 9-2x.
While down on power compared to the Explorer and Ram, there is no doubt as to which one would be quicker around a racetrack... Or a rally course. It may give up some payload capacity. but it is still practical for daily use. It can hold four adults and their luggage, things are just a little more cramped and you may have to leave a few things behind, that's all. It has all-wheel-drive, so weather is never a problem. It also happens to be better on gas and easier to park thanks to its smaller size.
Starting at about $30k and moving up to $50,000 for a "Kanrai Edition" STi; there's no denying that the WRX seems a little expensive for such a small package... Until you compare it with other vehicles capable of similar performance, like the BMW 3-Series, VW GTI, etc. The truth is, there are not a lot of high performance AWD sport sedans that can be had for under $50k.
Of course, the Gripen E is little bit bigger, more powerful, more advanced, and has an increased payload capacity compared to the older Gripen A-through-D. Sadly, Saab no longer sells the more "grown up" version of the WRX; the Legacy 2.5GT Spec B.
There are now turbocharged versions of the Legacy XT and Outback. While both of these offer substantially more payload and practicality than the WRX, they are significantly down on performance. Offering roughly the same power as the base WRX with a significant weight penalty, the Legacy and Outback XT would be more akin to a Gripen E without the upgraded engine.
I'm sure someone in the modding community will jam a STi's more powerful engine in an Outback... If they haven't already. This would better represent the Gripen E. We need to limit ourselves to production cars that are currently on sale new, however.
This forces us to look elsewhere for its spiritual successor... Something AWD, practical, and similar, if not better performance.
Volvo S60? Maybe, but those easily push past $50k and reach up to $80,000. Not exactly affordable. BMW 4-Series Gran Coupe? Even more expensive. How about a Lexus IS? It's about the same size as the WRX, but more expensive. Acura TLX? Getting warmer, but none of these really provide a good example of the Gripen's "bang for the buck".
The Gripen E is a dark horse. It punches above its weight class. It comes from a surprise source. It compares well with aircraft far more expensive with much better known pedigree.
Have you heard about the Kia Stinger?
Coming out of left field, the Kia Stinger has caught the automotive world by surprise. Long associated with economy cars, Kia decided to try its hand at building a high-performance sport sedan. They succeeded.
Ranging from $45k to $50,000, the Kia Stinger GT seems incredibly expensive for a car that occupies the same showroom as the humble Rio and Soul. Kia has traditionally gone after buyers with *ahem* challenged credit scores. Yet the Stinger GT easily hangs with the likes of the BMW 6-Series and Porsche Panamera. They can even give a dedicated sports car like the Mustang GT a run for its money It does this while offering all the latest technology, an impressive warrantee, all-wheel-drive, and an incredibly useful hatchback design.
Which one would I buy?
This here is my personal car. It's fast, comfortable, great in the winter, and pretty good on gas. Every time I drive it I feel like I'm getting away with something. It has managed every task I've thrown at it, commuting to work in the snow, transporting huge amounts of firewood, road trips, you name it. Best of all it has been cheap to run, using about 8L of gas per 100km and cheap scheduled maintenance.
Sure... "It's just a Kia"... But I'll take it over a big SUV or pickup truck any day. I don't need to tow thousands of pounds of payload, go off-roading, or impress my neighbors. I just wanted the best value for my money.
Nothing against the other cars (or aircraft) on this page, I'm sure they work just fine for those with different needs and wants than I. However, when making the substantial investment a car (or jet fighter fleet) requires; it is imperative to take careful stock on personal needs instead of just buying what everyone else is buying.
Hopefully the people in charge of choosing the CF-18 replacement think the same way.