because not race car

Watching a McLaren P1 spitting fire around the Bahrain circuit at night is mesmerizing. It borders on automotive nirvana. It’s also totally removed from reality, just as it should be. While supercars may scream to be measured objectively, it is ultimately a misguided exercise. If anything, it destroys the mystique of the car. Quantifying a car’s performance is effectively embracing its obsolescence.

There is this perceived correlation between performance and driving enjoyment. Newer = faster = better. It’s a form of planned obsolescence through technical advancement. Road cars are built to manufacturer’s individual objectives, not the rulebook of a race series. There is nothing stopping them from adding larger tires, more downforce, extra power and more aggressive gearing. The lap times that people obsess over have no real context. Any legitimate race series takes these performance imbalances into account, separating cars into classes and further leveling the playing field by limiting power, grip and weight discrepancies.

Road cars are not race cars, even in light of how fast and powerful some have become. This relentless increase in performance neglects the fact that road cars are experienced in subjective isolation. Back roads and track events are about the driving experience, not the performance of one car/driver relative to another. Road cars should not share the same priorities as race cars.

The Nissan GTR, a turbo’d double clutch AWD sled, may keep 14 year olds up at night with its gaudy performance numbers, but I’ve never heard anyone with a driver’s license commend the car for its driver engagement. Do you think a Ferrari 250 GTO’s value is pegged to where it sits in the pecking order of Nurburgring lap times? The lasting appeal of a car is tied to everything but its outright performance.

quasi practicality

I can’t get behind the fast wagon movement. The only real benefit wagons have over a sedan is a larger trunk. If you’re going preach about the best form of fast practical automotive transportation, I fail to see how a fast SUV (Mecan Turbo/X5 M) doesn’t win that argument rather convincingly every time.

not cool. no matter what the internet says

not cool. no matter what the internet says

I’ve never seen a wagon at the track, and while I actually did catch a Cayenne Turbo at an autocross once, the point is that both SUVs and wagons predominantly operate in the real world where practicality demands heavy consideration. The SUV can simply match every task of a wagon and more. Off road? Try that in your RS6. A raised vantage point for navigating traffic? Good luck in your CTS-V. If you really think about it, an SUV is just a raised wagon. Its effectively taken the best traits of the wagon and (literally) built on top of them.

I appreciate cars that are tailored to their environment, and in the world of gridlock, shitty roads and steep driveways, SUV beats wagon every single time. While the absurdity of a sporty SUV is not lost on me, it’s massive breadth of ability can’t be ignored. There is a reason that fast wagons don’t sell in the real world, fast SUVs do everything better.

impulse buy

I read a depressing statistic recently that approximately 70% of lottery winners are broke within five years of hitting the jackpot. Just replace lottery with obscene tech company valuation, and this kid certainly isn’t bucking the trend. This video screams for a followup episode of VH1’s “Where are they now?” when he turns 25. This is ridiculous even by internet standards.

 

know your audience

 

F-Type Coupe

F-Type Coupe

While aesthetics are rather subjective, the general consensus seems to be that Jaguar’s new F-Type coupe is the best looking car in quite some time, and I couldn’t agree more. The proportions are spot-on. It walks the line between elegant and sporty better than any car since Aston Martin’s DB9.

Yet the F-Type’s stunning looks also serve as a painful reminder of the sad state of contemporary automotive design. Jaguar’s designers certainly did their job. What’s every other manufacturer’s excuse? I ponder this question every single day. My completely unscientific theory centers around the notion that designers are too educated for their own good.

The general public has not studied automotive design. We understand and thus can only appreciate the basics. Part of the attraction of classic cars stems from their simplistic approach to design. There is an honest functionality to it. Their styling has purpose that is self-evident to even a layman.

straightforward design

straightforward design with Porsche’s 911

Contemporary automotive design stems from a much deeper understanding and appreciation of design. While there is undoubtedly aesthetic merit to contemporary designs, today’s seemingly overstyled and fussy designs are lost on the public. Best to keep it simple.

how’s your german?

So the video quality is crap, the music is tacky and the narration is in German, but I can’t get enough. Such a sucker for backroad hoonage. While the US spec 997.1 GT3 didn’t get the carbon fiber one-piece seats straight out of the Carrera GT or couldn’t be ordered without a sunroof, it’s probably my favorite GT3 variant. Free of all the unnecessary fluff now standard on GT3s, like active engine mounts (one more thing to break) and wearing 5 lug 18″s instead of those ridiculous center locking 19″s or 20″s found on later models, it’s a focused unfiltered sports car. Best part, you can find a clean example for less than the starting price of a fancy new Cayman GTS.

stupid fast II

I thought the 991 Turbo was a relative performance bargain, but Audi’s TT Quattro Sport Concept, aka the next TT-RS, puts the Turbo to shame. It exemplifies the recent trends in the industry with lightweight construction (sub 3,000 lbs) and turbo-fed power (210hp/liter!!). Coupled with AWD and a dual-clutch transmission, this things is going to be insanely fast at only 1/3 the price of a 991 Turbo.

one angry golf

king of the golfs

While it may seem like a high price for what is essentially a rebodied VW Golf, look at it this way, it has as much power as a 996 Turbo but weighs 600 lbs less. Impressive performance figures don’t necessarily translate to something that’s fun to drive, but they’re not a bad place to start.

reference point

The 918 is undoubtedly the most polarizing car of the moment. A supercar focused on MPG? Ferrari and McLaren have hybrid supercars, but they’re for all out performance, not bragging rights at the gas station. Occasionally driving a battery-laden hybrid supercar in pure electric mode doesn’t make up for the fleet of gas powered cars their owners drive on a daily basis. Why cripple the weakest offender? It just feels backwards.

Shift your perspective

People talk about the purity of the driving experience as if it’s some sacred cow, not to be desecrated by electronics or anything synthetic. But when we break it down, every driving experience is synthetic. At its core, the car is a machine, and machines are inherently artificial by their nature. The term people are really searching for is predictable. Great cars feel intuitive because they operate in a predictable manner. They fall in line with our understanding of how cars are expected to behave.

My first driving experience didn’t convey much confidence. I remember sitting in a grocery store parking lot stabbing the brake as the automatic transmission crept the car forward without any provocation. It felt foreign. I simply had no frame of reference. I developed an understanding of how cars should react with that conventional car as my reference point. So I look at the 918 and see a car that is fundamentally different from almost everything before it, a new form of synthetic. It requires a dramatic shift from those familiar reference points.

Driving aids on

We often associate electronic systems with being a restrictive add-ons to the underlying vehicle’s dynamics, but the 918’s are just the opposite. They are essential to the car’s behavior. In full race mode with the electronics turned off, the systems are still juggling torque between the engine and motors. There is no true “off” switch.

Chris talks about the 918’s electronic systems deciding what the driver can enjoy. I fail to see how this is any different from the choice in spring rate or steering ratio. The engineers tested different iterations of software just like they tested different suspension setups in an effort to get the car to behave in a certain manner. Driving is about the experience. If that experience is enjoyable, does it matter the process?

How many hot laps?

My initial criticism of the 918 (here) still stands. There was never any doubt that the car would deliver tremendous performance. The question is more for how long can it go flat out? One hot lap in your million dollar supercar before you have to recharge your batteries? That would be ridiculously impractical, even by supercar standards.