GENEVA — I’m leaving Geneva’s 83rd International Motor Show with the usual frustration, trying to reconcile a global automobile industry that enthusiastically supports polar-opposite markets — one serving up a $4 million Lamborghini Veneno sports car (6.5-liter, 740-horsepower V-12) and the other catering to the motoring needs of the masses with a Honda Civic EX sedan (1.8-liter, 140-horsepower four-cylinder) starting a bit under $21,000.
It is not just the money or the striking divide between excess and practicality that gets me. It is the reality that we live in a world of economic and environmental limits — and the epiphany, viewing super-luxury automobiles in on section of the Palexpo exposition center here and staring at the wide ocean of ordinary cars flowing over other spaces, that limits are not shared equally.
That is more a statement of reality than it is a lament.
Only three of the super-sleek, carbon-fiber-body Lamborghini Veneno cars were made for sale. All three have been sold. A fourth Veneno, “number zero,” is used to tantalize audiences at international motor shows, such as the one closing here this weekend.
Theoretically, the Veneno and the Civic could wind up sharing the same road, stuck in the same traffic jam on the Pacific Coast Highway or the New Jersey Turnpike. If traffic is particularly thick, neither car will be able to move much farther or faster than the other. Both cars would share similar regulatory burdens governing fossil-fuel consumption and tailpipe pollution.
The Veneno will meet its regulatory obligations with exotic engineering and materials, higher up-front costs, and the simple fact of its exclusivity — only two copies of the car exist in the United States.
The few usually don’t consume or pollute as much as the many, which is why the real burden for limiting fossil-fuel consumption and tailpipe pollution rests on the wheels of cars such as the 2013 Honda Civic EX sedan, driven for this week’s column.
Accepted for what it is — an ultra-reliable economy car for the masses — the new Civic is a marvelous piece, as long as it is bought with economy-car instead of performance-car expectations.
I make that statement because of a complaint I heard about the EX sedan while driving it in the United States: “Not enough power,” two of my product-test colleagues said. “Why must we settle for a wimpy car to get good fuel economy?” said another. I disagree with both of them in their characterization of the EX. But I’ve come to understand their longing for “more power” in the heady atmosphere of the always crowded Lamborghini podium here.
We want everything. And what we can’t have we conflate with what is available to us to get what it is we think we want. That is why the front-wheel-drive Civic EX sedan has some of the exterior lines of a hot sports car and the interior quality of a more expensive automobile, but the heart — the engine — of what it really is . . . an economy car.
It is the car most of us need with the functional attributes that all of us want — a high-quality, Point A-to-Point B automobile that will get us where we’re going with reasonable safety and speed every time.
The Civic EX sedan becomes boring only if we want more while we’re driving it — if we’re suddenly overtaken with the desire to be behind the wheel of a Ferrari or Lamborghini, a Corvette Stingray or Porsche. When you have such a mind-set, the 1.8-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine (140 horsepower, 128 pound-feet of torque) does indeed become a wimpy thing.
But that little engine is more than enough to get us where we want to go — especially if we plan ahead and start out early. Most folks won’t be measuring the time it takes to go from 0 to 60 mph in the Civic EX, which is slightly more than nine seconds.
It does not matter. You can drive so fast for only so long on most of the world’s regulated roads. The Civic EX allows you to do that driving while delivering 28 miles per gallon in the city and 39 on the highway burning regular gasoline. And the car emits so little tailpipe pollution it is one of the favorites of environmental regulators everywhere.
But I won’t be sleeping on the flight back to the States dreaming of the Honda Civic EX sedan or any of its derivative siblings on display here.
The Lamborghini Veneno has taken up residence in my psyche. I can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t make it go away.