I have always maintained the viewpoint that speed and fun, although enjoying a somewhat symbiotic relationship, are not dependent on each other.
When it comes to sports cars, and specifically the so-called “driver’s cars”, speed is not the main criteria by which they are judged. Cars that are fun to drive, exciting and entertaining to enthusiast drivers, are usually not the fastest cars on the road as it turns out.
An enthusiast driver wants something that feels analogue and mechanical. Something that allows him to get the car moving underneath him, without any electronic interference. Usually it will have 3 pedals and a proper, mechanical, short throw gearshift. A car that favours handling over outright grip, balanced performance over outright speed, and feel – feel over just about everything.
Lap times and statistics are a by-product, but how the car FEELS in your hands and through the seat of your Levi’s – THAT is what makes a great driver’s car.
Unfortunately, if you look at the back of your favourite car magazines, you may notice a rather worrying trend. Cars like those I’m describing are becoming increasingly rare. Now this could very well be simply because car enthusiasts like ourselves are also becoming a rare breed of dinosaur destined to join the fabled Dodo, but there may be even more to it than that.
Enthusiasts are, generally speaking, going to be people who are more knowledgeable about cars than your average Corolla driver. They are also going to be more concerned about getting the “most amount of car” for their money than most. Finally they are probably more likely to change cars more often than someone who is simply interested in getting from A to B.
All of this means that enthusiasts will most likely be shopping in the second-hand market, rather than buying new.
I take myself for example, and my beautiful, low mileage BMW Z4.
If I had used the same budget as my second-hand BMW in trying to buy a new vehicle, I would pretty much be limited to buying something along the lines of a Datsun Go… and even then I would have had to stretch the budget by another 30k or so. So, if you ask a car enthusiast to choose between a tiny hatchback that feels like a tin can with a 1200cc three cylinder asthmatic under the bonnet or a German roadster with electric everything, leather and a 3000cc straight six that sounds like a choir of angels… I think the choice becomes fairly obvious.
And this theme continues, I suspect, for most petrolheads. We look at what we can afford on the new car market before looking at the classifieds to see what we could potentially be driving for the same kind of money. We know cars, so we can spot a lemon and therefore have less fear in buying second-hand. And given that we probably change cars more often, buying second-hand makes more sense because you are less likely to lose a boatload of money on your “investment”. In other words, if you are a car enthusiast, buying second-hand is a no-brainer.
However, this causes a problem, because as much as we LOVE their wares, car manufacturers are figuring out that they are not catering to enthusiasts any more.
Manufacturers couldn’t care less what happens in the second-hand market; new sales are their jam.
So, they now cater almost exclusively for motoring muggles (Harry Potter reference: non-car people).
Motoring muggles only want to get from A to B as comfortably as possible, but worse still, in the performance categories, Muggles only really care about numbers. They want to be able to walk into the pub and tell everyone that their car is significantly faster around the ‘ring than any other. Despite the fact that they can’t drive, they want to be able to stomp on the loud pedal and leave everything else in their dust.
This means modern performance cars are more about stroking the ego than they are about getting the feeling of driving across.
So what is the source of my rant? Has Mr Q finally lost his mind and decided to buy a DeLorean in a desperate attempt to travel back through time to 1989 and an era when cars were still mechanical, analogue machines? Well, close. But no.
It was mentioned in our Carbs and Coffee social circle this morning that the new Toyota Yaris GR is probably the most exciting new car of 2020. It’s a relatively analogue performance pocket rocket where the design brief was more about building something that is FUN to drive, rather than hitting certain numbered targets.
We now live in a world where the most exciting new car on the market is a small family hatchback. As great as I think the little GR Yaris will be, to me, that’s just wrong.