4x44X4 AdviceCar Advice

Twelve car buying myths busted

Car tech moves on, but the received wisdom from the ever-reliable mate of a mate does not.  Here’s a few things that are said to be true, but aren’t.

1. Turbo are terrible laggards

Older turbo cars had no power, no power, no power and then ooops there goes the speed limit.
 
Modern turbos deliver power so smoothly you usually can’t tell when the turbo kicks in.  Turbo lag is now pretty much a thing of the past.
 

2. Sportscars can’t be convertibles because they’re not stiff enough

Porsche Boxster.  Mazda MX-5.  Honda S2000.  Lotus Elise.
 
Do you need any more proof this isn’t true?  
 
Yet this myth has a small grain of truth to it because to handle well a car needs a stiff body and chassis, and the roof of a car contributes a lot towards that stiffness.  With the roof gone, convertibles need reinforcement on the chassis which adds weight and might not even fix the rigidity problem.  Still, today’s convertible sportscars are well engineered so don’t not buy one on the basis you’re concerned about chassis stiffness.  The Porsche Boxster and Cayman are the same weight, as are the coupe and convertible versions of Jaguar’s F-Type.
 
It’s also worth noting that the Boxster and Elise were produced by Porsche and Lotus at times when both faced serious problems and were heading into oblivion.  Both companies needed a winner, and that meant a car which would handle and perform as well as any of their previous legendary vehicles.  Both chose to make their bet-your-future cars as convertibles, and remember these are companies for whom the sportscar is their reputation.

3. Power and torque Numbers are meaningful

Every car review leads with engine stats, but it’s kind of pointless.
 
Pure engine output numbers don’t tell you the whole story about a car’s performance, and even worse, can mislead.  A powerful car that’s heavy will be slower than a less powerful one with a better power/weight ratio, and the latter will handle better and stop quicker.  You also need to consider the number of gear ratios, and how that power is delivered – linear or peaky.  Finally, there’s just how quick a car feels, as opposed to how quick it actually is – depending whether you want the sensation of speed or just a figure you can brag about to your mates. Best example here is the Toyota 86 and supercharged Range Rover.  The Rangie is quicker, but feels slower as it’s effortless and you’re far higher up.
 
Take it from a car tester – the engine output numbers bear about as much relevance to car performance as megapixels on a camera.  More on that here.

4. The 50-50 front-rear weight balance is perfection

You can produce a 50-50 weight balance by hanging two giant weights at the front and back of the car, creating a perfectly balanced pendulum.   What’s more important is weight distribution – down low, and central, as opposed to equally balanced – and weight distribution is why mid-engined sportscars have a handling advantage, not weight balance.
 
Even then the best weight distribution will vary according to the design principles of the car such as which wheels are doing the driving.  There’s a strong argument for a slight rearward weight distribution in rear-drive cars for better braking and acceleration.  It also matters what sort of driving you’re doing.  A huge amount of weight over the driven wheels is great for motorkhanas, not so good for high-speed direction changes. 
 
In other words, the concept of the 50/50 weight balance being perfect is mostly a marketing invention, albeit one with a grain of truth.
 

5. 4WDs need to be manual

Modern automatic 4WDs are better offroad – easier to control, often with more gear ratios than manuals and not lacking for engine braking downhill.  Get a manual if you really want it, but don’t pretend it’s better.
 

6. 4WDs need to be diesel

Modern petrols offer plenty of low-down torque, especially combined with today’s low gearing.  The advantage of diesel is lower fuel consumption and greater range, not better offroad performance.  If you’re looking at low cost 4WD ownership experience then you may well find you’ll never recover the diesel’s higher purchase cost through fuel efficiency.
 

7. Diesels are slow, ugly, smelly, noisy….

Not in 2015.  Audi make a diesel SUV that beats some current Porsche 911s to 100km/h from a standing start. Back around 2006 I used to tell friends my current test car was a petrol, and they never realised I was just experimenting to see if they’d pick it was actually a diesel.  Now in 2015 the diesel beats petrol on just about every score except price, because you do need to do a lot of kays to get back the extra purchase price you’ll pay for a diesel.
 

8. Automatics can’t tow

Oh yes they can.  The modern ones don’t overheat and are easier on the transmission than manuals.  You’d pick an auto over a manual for towing every time.  Modern autos have plenty of gears to choose from so don’t overheat in the same way as older 3-speed plus overdrive as they spend a lot less time hunting for gears with the torque converter slipping.
 

9. Sportscars can’t be front wheel drive

Drive a Fiesta ST, Peugeot 208 GTi, Mini or Megane RS. Or even a Fiat 500.
 
This simply isn’t true and has never been true.  The only sportscars that need rear wheel drive are very powerful models as there’s a limit to how much power the front wheels can handle, but that limit is in the order of 200kW.  Below that power level you’d want a rear-driver if you intend to drift.  If not, and you’re just looking for a fun drive on public roads then a lively front-drive hatch is what you want.  Front-drivers are no slower than rear or all-wheel drives of the same power and weight either, and in fact all else being equal, the front-drive is lighter and therefore quicker.
 

10. Fuel efficient cars cost less to own

Maybe, maybe not.  Aside from fuel there’s servicing, insurance, reliability and depreciation which typically cost you a lot more than just fuel.  You also need to check the price of the fuel – an efficient car that demands premium 98RON petrol may be more expensive than a less efficient car running on cheaper 91RON fuel.   In general, there’s too much of a focus on fuel efficiency when people are choosing cars that are cheap to run.
 
We looked at the running costs of hybrid cars in detail here, and did a real-world test of a Hyundai diesel vs a Toyota Prius here.

11. Your car or 4X4 can really tow what the manufacturer claims

The short answer is that the car can tow the rated figure, but probably with such a reduced load it isn’t practical in real life.  For example, the top-end Everest can take a load of no more than 105kg when pulling its maximum.  All this is fully explained here.
 

12. True Sportscars can’t be automatic

Yep, well, got me there.  That’s “true” 😉
 
 


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David Kelly
David Kelly
4 years ago

You got me hooked down to 12! Great article.

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper