People will give you a myriad of reasons why they like older sports cars, but drive one for a day and you’ll probably come to the conclusion that in most situations, they suck. They can be crude and demanding, but under the right settings they are undeniably exciting and leave you wanting more. The sound and vibration from the engine, the smell of the brakes and clutch, prodigious body roll and poor sound insulation all contribute to a full sensory experience, so much more than just “feel” through the steering wheel.
Contemporary sports cars strive to expand that window of accessibility. They aim to be more competent in more situations, and I don’t see anything wrong with that. I appreciate properly sorted suspension, brakes that work under repeated use and reliable engines. The overall result is a more predictable car. The one bit of older tech I’m not so excited to see replaced is the manual transmission.
I’m going to skip the longwinded diatribe on why a manual is more engaging that a paddle system. I think it has its advantages, but they are purely subjective in nature. However I think the rise of paddles signals a very distinctive shift in automotive philosophy; the driver has become the weakest link in the system.
Error-prone, inconsistent and slow compared to software, drivers only hamper performance in contemporary sports car. This trend has been a long time coming. The manual has survived as long as it has because there was no suitable alternative from a performance standpoint. Relinquishing control began with the advent of ABS and the acronym-heavy driving aids that followed. Making increasing more decisions without the driver’s consent, let alone knowledge, these systems have relegated the driver to a second-class citizen of their own car.
The compelling nature of older sports cars stems from their dependence on the driver. Performance was not a question of the car’s abilities but rather those of the person behind the wheel. Today, all that is required to drive quickly is blind faith that the electronics will sort everything out for you. Just floor the throttle and hold on. The sports car has become its own worst enemy; homogenized through the pursuit of performance.
All of the important cars launched in last week’s Geneva Auto Show eschewed the manual in favor of paddles and promised new levels of performance to boot. Yet, absolute performance isn’t gratifying. It’s a novelty, and novelty fades.