If there’s a word that is overrepresented in the automotive field, it has to be ‘sport’.
Dozens of sport variants are available in Australia, with the word used either as a model variant or as part of the name of the car.
The definition of sport is “an activity involving physical exertion and skill”, so I kinda get why some cars get brandished with the name. Driving a sports car with any finesse definitely requires you to exert yourself and apply your skills.
There are heaps of synonyms for the word sport. They vary from the literal “athletics”, “game”, “action”, “pastime” and “amusement” to the more open-ended “pleasure”, “frolic”, “gaiety” and “recreation”.
It is, to me, quite surprising that there hasn’t yet been a “BMW 3 Series Fun and Games” or a “Mercedes-Benz B Class Recreation”. I can actually imagine those variants, from the tennis court-inspired netting in the load area to the white leather that draws inspiration from the shoes worn on-court by Novak Djokovic.
But there are some vehicles on sale today that just don’t deserve any association with the five-letter word. The Ford EcoSport, for example.
There’s nothing sporty about this car, aside from the imaginary lycra-clad buyers that the company’s marketing department hopes will purchase the high-riding hatch. The reality is that most buyers will probably sport a walking stick rather than a rock climbing harness. If I had to give that car a name, it’d be the Ford SlowAndSteady.
Speaking of the young at heart, the Toyota Aurion Sportivo is an utterly nonsensical name for a car. Hey, at least they dropped the Toyota Racing Development version, which was the ideal car for those who like nothing more than wearing jeans and joggers. At least that’s the only use of sport in the conservative brand’s range.
Lexus is a prime offender for excessive use. Across its model range – from the little CT200h hatchback through to the big old LS600h limousine, the Toyota-owned luxury marque uses F Sport and Sports Luxury names for its models. Sports Luxury – hmm, that must be the game people play while drinking booze and wearing their best clothes. Oh, no, that’s blackjack.
Mazda did a number on its outgoing 2 city car early this year when it shuffled the Neo, Maxx and Genki – which were silly enough – into a two model line-up with the Neo Sport and Maxx Sport.
How about the Holden Commodore Sportwagon?
Answer me this, if you will: what on earth is a Sportwagon? If it isn’t a car that is designed to drive up and down on a 100-metre field after a ball, why does it deserve that kind of name? Worse, the Cruze also bears the same suffix! My suggestion for that car’s real name is the Holden Commodore wagon – because that’s what everyone calls it anyway.
Audi has an obsession with calling its hatchback models Sportbacks. I don’t think that’s a thing. To me, a sport back would bring to mind a swimmer doing butterfly, or a gymnast on the floor arching over backwards. Not a turret. I guess the Audi A7 Sportback has more of a ring to it than hatchback does, but Liftback would be pretty close to perfect.
The Range Rover Sport has always confused me. I get the point of the car – it’s supposed to be a more stylish off-roader that gives buyers the chance to shrug off the sensibilities in order to be more adventurous. Indeed, the upcoming Sport SVR model looks like its going to be a bit like the Usain Bolt of the SUV segment.
But why, then, does it have the option of seven seats? It seems daft, and makes me think it should be called the Range Rover Practical.
The Kia Sportage is another hum-dinger. An analogy that comes to mind when I see this model’s name is that daft tiptoed horse sport dressage, in that it has bugger all to do with dresses.
Peugeot takes sport to a weird level with its 308 Sportium models, which makes me think of some sort of yoghurt eating game in which you have to run and jump hurdles without spilling any.
BMW, which has earned itself a strong reputation for making cars that corner brilliantly and probably deserve the word more than many others, doesn’t specifically offer any sport models. It does, however, offer Sport Line versions of its cars, which include the obvious sports steering wheel and sports seats – because sport.
And then there’s the Volkswagen Transporter. They’re having a laugh with that…
“Wait!” I hear you cry. “What about the Ssangyong Actyon Sports? And what of the ever-so-adventurous Mitsubishi Mirage Sport?”
No. Just no.
So what is it with sport? Why have more than 120 variants currently on sale in Australia got the word either as part of their name, or part of the range. And that’s not even touching the brands that simply use the letter S to signify their more suggestive models. And don’t even get me started on the letter S in SUV…
There’s a reason for this wordsmithery gone wrong, and it comes down to an attempt to make them come across as more adventurous or, er, sporty.
A Lexus Australia spokesperson told me that having sport as part of the model name structure comes down to highlighting what’s available in the car.
“F-Sport was introduced in 2010, and prior to that it was called Sports,” the spokesperson said. “The proportion of sales at that time was something like 10-15 per cent. But once F-Sport was introduced things changed, and it now constitutes 35 per cent of overall sales, and accounts for 50 per cent for IS model sales.
“The Australian market has an appetite for sporting inspired models,” the source said.
A Mazda source said “sport was something everyone can relate to”, and that usually those models inspire buyers.
Narelle Lancaster, lecturer and PHD student in the school of media and communication at RMIT University, told CarAdvice that the liberal use of sport in the world of cars is about one thing: marketing.
“It’s pure marketing,” she said, “pure marketing at it’s best. This is a perfect example of basically how people can just get sucked in to buying something that really isn’t that different to the regular models, and the buyer may not be actually very sporty themselves at all.
“The idea is that it’s unique, it’s special, it’s different, it’s more expensive. It’s about saying ‘I’ve got something that you don’t have, and I know you want it’,” she said.
Lancaster said that the reason so many car makers use sport as a selling point is obvious: it works.
“Sports models tend to hold their value – all of a sudden when it’s sporty, it’s got more currency, people just want it. The perceived value is significantly more even though it’s largely the same car, just with a few modifications,” she said.
What do you think? Are there too many sports models out there?