My distaste for cars that are built as stats-chasers is well documented. You only have to look at my blog or the archives of this very column to see my views on the matter are quite clear.
New car buyers, sadly, are more focused on lap times or 0-100kph figures than they are on how much fun the car is to drive. This drive for better numbers gives rise to a host of driver assistance toys like launch control, 4 wheel drive and 4 wheel steering, active yaw control, drift mode, line locks, automatic rev matching and the ever hateful flappy paddle fun sucker.
This makes the car easier to drive, more controllable and certainly faster. But the key question is – are these cars still fun?
Many of these machines leave you with a somewhat muted driving experience and that subtle niggling feeling in the back of your head that says “I couldn’t drive this fast without all this tech.” The truth is, speed in itself is very exciting, but it’s not fun and quite frankly in a lot of circumstances it is downright dangerous.
This is why I still say that a GT3 or 458 might be far more impressive cars, but on normal roads with normal traffic you could probably have just as much fun, if not more, in something like an MX-5.
Over the weekend I was watching one of Daddy Doug DeMuro’s YouTube videos where he reviews the new Porsche 911, which is now available with an excellent 7-speed manual gearbox as a no-cost option. However, I’m pretty sure that given the unique way in which Porsche pricing is determined in South Africa, the car will be sold without any gearbox and both PDK and Manual will be R30k options that need to be added.
Anyway, Doug kept saying that he prefers the manual (quite correctly), but that buyers of the “stick shift” version will have to live with the fact that they have a slower car. Which got me thinking, because technically they do – but also they don’t.
The light bulb came on so bright I almost fell out of bed, but it dawned on me that it’s not the fact that car makers are chasing numbers that is the problem, they are just chasing the WRONG numbers!
For decades we have measured acceleration by using 0-100 or 0-60 times. The shorter the time, the more exhilarating the car is to drive as it shoves you back into your seat more. But 0-100 times are not a perfect metric and car manufacturers have been exploiting that fact the same way they have been cheating emissions tests for years.
If you take a car with a 0-100 time of 5.5 seconds and give it a gearbox that changes gears almost instantly, that same car with now do 0-100 in 4.8 seconds, but crucially it doesn’t actually shove you back in the seat any harder. The acceleration G-force is still exactly the same since the car doesn’t suddenly have more power.
Thus it occurred to me that even though as Doug correctly states, the 0-60mph time of the new 911 is half a second slower for the manual, it doesn’t actually “PULL” any less than the PDK version. Now add to that mix a car that has a dual clutch gearbox and launch control and suddenly a car with the same power to weight ratio as my Z4 can do 0-100 in 4.something seconds even though it doesn’t generate any more acceleration force.
That force is measured in G-forces and is probably a much better way to measure acceleration.
Imagine if car makers suddenly had to publish acceleration figures in G rather than 0-100? What would that statistic be for an old school exotic like a Noble, vs. a modern hyper-hatch?
We may find that some cars are actually much slower than they appear on paper, and vice versa. Ultimately, 0-100 times measure how fast the car can get down the runway, but G forces would tell us how fast the car FEELS, and honestly that should be more important to everyone who isn’t a racing driver.
Now I could end things there and hopefully one day we will see acceleration on cars expressed as a G-force measurement, but in reality there is a rather large elephant in the room that I have not addressed and its name is Ego.
Ego is an ugly and unloved bastard of a thing, but it is also a massive driving force for a large portion of this sector of the car market. As much as we hate to admit it sometimes, there are a lot of ‘car guys’ out there who are more interested in winning dices between robots or projecting a certain image than they are about the purity of their driving experience.
Ego makes them drive dangerously on public roads. Ego makes them care about how much faster their car is than the next guy’s. Ego doesn’t care if the car makes them a better driver, only that they appear like a better driver.
I applaud Porsche for taking the financial plunge and developing a manual gearbox for the 911 – it couldn’t have been a cheap exercise. And I genuinely hope that they find enough buyers who can ignore Ego the Elephant in order to justify that expense and hopefully repeat it in the next generation of 911. I am massively encouraged by the apparent demand for manual cars and the fact that manual versions of older super-cars continue to fetch premium prices.
It all gives me hope that perhaps some time in the near future we will see the return of the ‘analogue’ sports car. The car you actually have to DRIVE to get the best out of it. All the technology and go-faster driver aids are massively impressive and I respect the engineering and technology behind their creation immensely, but I have come to learn that I simply don’t love cars as much as I love driving.