Modern life is amazing. For instance, we have an enormous database containing virtually all the knowledge ever amassed by humanity. We mostly use it for looking at pictures of cats and, um, other stuff. Never mind. Bad example.
Okay, so life isn't quite yet what science fiction promised us. We can't teleport, we haven't yet met any aliens, and if you yell “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot!” at your coffeemaker, it just sits there.
Maybe we're not quite there yet. Here's a look into what movies and television told us the future of driving was going to look like.
I, Robot – Audi RSQ
The central concept of the Will Smith movie I, Robot, is that mankind is headed for extinction unless robotkind steps in. In a world where autonomous driving may eventually wrest the steering wheels from our hands, maybe the movie actually got things right.
Smith's ride in the film is a special prototype built by Audi, the RSQ. Fitted with spherical wheels, it can be seen as a sort of futuristic R8, and sports Audi's signature grille. It's meant to be from 2035, and might not actually be that far-fetched.
Minority Report – Lexus 2054
At time of filming, Minority Report director Steven Spielberg drove a Lexus, so it just made sense to approach the company to create a futuristic concept. The 2054 looks plenty wild, but has most of the features you'd expect to find in a futuristic Lexus, including fuel-cell power and a focus on safety systems.
Some of the styling of the 2054 made it into current Lexus road cars, like the slashes and creases, and “floating” rear roof pillar. As for the inspiration for the front ends of modern Lexus vehicles, perhaps consider watching Predator.
Knight Rider – KITT
Turbo Boost! In the 1980s, The Knight Industry Two Thousand sped past 320 km/h, leaped into buildings, and generally made life miserable for ne'er do wells.
KITT promised a future where a self-aware car could turn an ordinary driver into a superhero, as well as taking over driving functions when help was needed. It also had Super Pursuit Mode, which used deployable aerodynamics to reach in excess of 480 km/h. We don't have the speeds down yet, not full autonomy, but just take a look at something like the 911 Turbo's boost, torque-vectoring, and stability control to see how close we are to superhero status.
A Clockwork Orange – Probe 16 / Durango 95
Does your daily commute occasionally provoke a little of the old ultra-violence? Have we got the car for you. The orange Durango 95 bears no relation to the Dodge pickup of similar name, but it's perfect for you and your droogs to go out for a nightmarish tour of the countryside.
Renamed Durango 95 for Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, the Probe 16 is a mid-engined fibreglass machine, slung impossibly low to the ground – lower even than a Ford GT40. Mostly a styling exercise, just three were built; what the future actually held was a rising tide of high-beltline crossovers.
The Fifth Element – Flying Taxi
Forgotten your multipass for transit today? Maybe you should just take one of The Fifth Element's flying taxis. They're tough, they fly, and they even have reasonable rates.
The flying car is a mainstay of science fiction, but it's hard to imagine we're anywhere close to being able to skip lines of traffic by taking to the air. However, some companies are already working on passenger-carrying autonomous drones. Perhaps airborne taxicabs aren't so far off.
Total Recall – Johnny Cab
If Elon Musk has his way, we'll soon be living on the Red Planet. So, again, how do we get around once we're up there? Take a cab!
The idea of an autonomously-driven taxicab seems inevitable, but odds are we won't have a chirpy little animatronic torso named Johnny asking us about our plans. Good thing too as, like Arnold Schwartzenegger does, we'd be tempted to rip him out of the seat and take over the controls ourselves.
Robocop – Ford Taurus
Here's one the movies actually got right. Originally, the cyborg-police thriller Robocop was supposed to have a much more futuristic-looking ride for its metal-clad hero. However, when the design was revealed at the last minute, the prototype looked ridiculous.
Instead, Robocop got something much more prosaic: a Ford Taurus, outfitted for police duty with onboard data and a heavy duty lightbar. Seeing as the RCMP now uses primarily the Ford Interceptor (based on the Taurus), which features essentially the same practical-but-forward-looking elements as Robocop's Taurus, we'll mark that down as a win in the crystal ball column. Not to mention, Robocop may also have predicted the downfall of Pontiac and the rise of the fuel-guzzling SUV with their sarcastic 6000 SUX ad.
Tron – Light Cycles
While they're just a single element in the human-in-computer science fiction movie Tron, the hubless light cycle has become part of popular culture. It's the simplest of videogames, with riders trying to trap the other rider into crashing into a wall.
However, Tron's simple bike battles got things only too right. The basic games of 1982 have given way to immersive virtual reality, and incredibly realistic racing simulators. For many automotive fans, grabbing a console and putting in a couple of laps in a virtual version of some irreplaceable or immensely valuable racecar is the perfect way to end the day.
Blade Runner – Spinners
Flying cars again. Here though, only the police have access to Spinners, vehicles that can either drive on the ground or take to the air quickly and fly. Most of the population has to be satisfied with staying earthbound.
As before, no, we aren't likely to get flying cop cars any time soon. However, the way law enforcement operates does slightly resemble Spinner tactics. Instead of high-speed ground chases, many police departments simply call in the chopper to track a fleeing suspect from the air. You can't outrun a radio, even if you're a replicant.
Back To The Future – DeLorean
The DeLorean DMC-12 wasn't a bad car, but it launched in a compromised form at the wrong time. As a result, it should have faded into total obscurity, known about only by dedicated car nerds.
However, the futuristic time machine cooked up by Doc Brown in Back to the Future meant that the DMC-12 would become a favourite of not just car nerds, but all nerds! As a result, the company is actually even relaunching on a small scale, and there are any number of specialists to both bring the DMC-12 back to life, as well as upgrade it with better power and handling. No, you can't get one yet that runs on garbage or takes to the air. Yet.
Demolition Man – Ultralite
For a Sylvester Stallone movie, Demolition Man got so many predictions right, it's almost scary. Tablet computers, self-driving cars, biometric implants, and even Wesley Snipes as a criminal (for tax evasion, but still).
In Demolition Man, the future is a violence-free utopia where cars deliver great fuel-economy. Well, we're about half there. However, the General Motors Ultralite, the concept used as the main squad car by the futuristic police force, might be the way forward. With a small three-cylinder engine and lightweight construction, it's pretty similar to the Volkswagen XL1 concept. With more manufacturers looking to keep weight down to meet emissions standards, maybe a lighter, gentler time is in our future.
THX 1138 – Lola T70
George Lucas' directorial debut features a dystopian society where everyone has a weird haircut, there's plenty of strange and unfathomable technology, and romantic relationships are impossible. Sounds a bit like a Star Wars convention, doesn't it?
Towards the end of the movie, there's a chase scene involving a couple of priceless race cars pursued by police androids on motorcycles. The Lola T70 is beautiful, fast and dangerous, a race car converted for street use. Modern hypercars like the LaFerrari, McLaren P1, and Porsche 918 are not so far off.
Star Trek – Aptera 2
Seen in the background of the rebooted Star Trek franchise, the three-wheeled Aptera promised a future of slippery aerodynamics and efficient personal transportation. Far from a concept, these are real working cars that were intended to have either electric or plug-in hybrid power, running as clean and quick as the USS Enterprise under impulse power.
Unfortunately, the slippery little Aptera fell victim to the simple fact that nearly all three-wheelers suffer: people just don't see them as logical. Save you fuel-sippers for the Vulcans, we want a Tesla Model S with Ludicrous mode instead.
Elysium – 2154 Bugatti
As a prediction of the future, you sort of hope Elysium has got things wrong – but you worry it's only too accurate. The name of the movie comes from the space-station where the ultrarich live, free from the poverty and pollution of the Earth below. It's basically the 1% with rocket boosters.
What does the upper class drive? A red-and-black Bugatti spaceship, fitted out with every luxury. Considering that only the mega-wealthy could afford the current 1,500 hp Bugatti Chiron, perhaps a Bugatti spacecraft isn't so crazy.
Mad Max – Ford Falcon Pursuit
In the future, gasoline is hard to find, so everyone drives a Toyota Prius. Wait, that won't make a very good movie: let's say water is scarce and give everything supercharged V8s and spiky armour. Oh, what a lovely day.
The dystopia of Mad Max would seem completely unreasonable if we didn't have the maniacs behind Roadkill, who are essentially recreating a soot-stained real-world version of the movie, car by car. Our actual future, hopefully, is a little more civilized. But there's still room to go a little mad.