Performance cars are pointless… in this country?

…That’s a statement that would have been sacrilegious to my younger self, but the world and I have changed, so, is there really any point to performance cars?

THE ARGUMENT SUPPORTING the continued development of performance cars (and I’m talking about the top-end stuff, like Alfa Romeo Giulia QV and up) is that they reflect the highest form of automotive development. Talk to a 15-year old and they’ll tell you that nothing matters more than being able to get from go to whoa in next-to-no-time; car engineers too.

But, honestly, what would they know? Back when I started out test driving cars, I would always reach for the keys to the fastest one and looking back I’m not so sure why. Bragging rights? There was no Facebook, so maybe not. To say I’d driven, ahem, tamed a beast? Probably. Ego? Definitely.

Away from a racetrack the only real place you could ever get a glimpse of a performance car’s might was away from a red light. If you were at the front of the queue. You’d mash the throttle as soon as the light blinked green and then just as quickly get off the throttle because the speed limit would have arrived in less time than it takes to blink… That was a 911 Turbo.

The fastest the law will allow you to drive in this country, leaving aside a stretch of road in the Northern Territory, is 110km/h. And, if you’ve ever driven a 911 Turbo on a highway at 110km/h, well, you might just as well be driving a Toyota Camry. The ride will almost certainly be better in the Camry. And you’ll have room for your entire family.

Look at our Paul’s recent review of the McLaren 720S, now that’s a car that I’d like to get behind the wheel of. On a race track. On the road, driving it would be totally pointless, because none of its might and power can be exploited. It’s what I would imagine owning a crocodile would be like; you couldn’t put a leash on it and walk it down the road because it would likely eat the first person you came across. Pointless. But the McLaren 720S on a racetrack. That’s the stuff of dreams. And probably wet ones.

Sit down at the launch of a performance car and the marketing and product teams will wax lyrical about the braking performance, how much downforce is produced at Xkm/h, how fast the active dampers react, the steering speed, and the acceleration and oomph of the engine. Great. Only it isn’t great because in this country the first time I try and reach into the guts of a super-fast beast and give it a tickle, PC Plod will jump on me and tear up my licence.

And it’s only a very few people who buy a performance car and then unleash it on a racetrack. In this country, anyway. Most of the time, you’ll see someone just creeping down the street with their Lamborghini Aventador; sure, people will stop and turn to look at it but, as a vehicle being used as its maker intended it’s pointless. You’d get just as much attention if you walked down the street in the nude. And that too would be pointless.

Pick just about any performance car you can think of and I can honestly say they’re, well, shite to drive at less than 100km/h. Above that, or on a race track they come to life, though. It’s why Alfa Romeo decided to launch its Giulia QV in Australia at Eastern Creek… it allowed journalists to experience a shock and awe they would never have discovered on a public road. Not unless they were breaking the law.

And, so, this is why some genius invented the hot hatch. A hot hatch sees a car maker take a shopping trolley car and whack in a bigger engine and brakes (hopefully). This is a car that you can generally get the most out of at the legal speed limit; it gives a similar sensation to a performance car/supercar but at about half the speed. Brilliant.

So, while engineers and car marketers tend to focus on the neck of the bottle product in their portfolio to sell the sizzle of their brand, they should probably focus on tweaking the stuff most of us drive every day. Sure, car makers can spend millions developing a new supercar, a halo car for their brand, or they could spend that money ensuring that every variant of their best-selling car has the latest and greatest safety equipment… Yes?

Call me a wowser, if you like, and rant that I shouldn’t have this job if I don’t appreciate driving super-fast cars, but you’d be wrong. I love super-fast cars. I love the way they make me feel slightly nervous. And I love the being-shot-out-of-cannon acceleration… it’s just that they’re utterly pointless in the real world, and when I say real world, I mean Australia. In Germany, on an Autobahn, well, that’s different. I’ve nudged 300km/h in an R8 V10 on the Autobahn and then had to get out of the ‘fast’ lane as I was being overtaken. But then, back in town the R8 felt like any other car; well, not quite, it’s a little more cramped and harder to see out of…

For me, I get just as much of a buzz when testing a car as to whether my daughter’s booster seat fits into the back easily, or if it’s easy to see out of, good to drive and offers decent features for the price. What’s the infotainment like? Does it work, or do I feel the urge to punch the screen every time I try and sync my phone? These are the things, I’m pretty sure, matter to most of you too, just some of you might not admit it.

So, go ahead and perv at a super-fast performance car or a supercar but know this, in this country at least, there’s about as much point to it as the proverbial appendages on a bull.

Cue the disagreement…

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  1. Andrew Riles
    May 12, 2017 at 4:45 pm — Reply

    I agree Isaac, and I think it is in part an upshot of ever tightening emission regulations…..reducing parasitic losses such as aerodynamic drag and rolling resistance not only improves fuel economy, but increases performance….

    As for hot hatches, there are now a number of them that have managed a sub 8min ‘ring time, and its not all that long ago that was only achievable in a supercar…..

    • May 13, 2017 at 7:55 am — Reply

      Bang on, Andrew. Personally, I’d find it more exciting if a car company came out and said ‘our new model can manage 2.5L/100km in real-world driving’ rather than, ‘look, we just smashed the ‘Ring lap record’. – Isaac

      • Hache Sims
        September 27, 2017 at 11:21 am — Reply

        Your other reviews say otherwise…..

  2. Brad Oliver
    May 12, 2017 at 5:24 pm — Reply

    I drive a Porsche Macan Turbo and occasionally take it to the track. Its the ONLY time I can truly drive it the way its meant to be driven. When “commuting” around town, I may as well be driving a Lexus (read lounge chair on wheels), although I do like the extra grunt taking off at a set of lights (if you’re first off the rank) or taking a corner faster than recommended. I love the interior luxury and external aesthetics. But yes you are right, in Aus there is just too much traffic and speed restrictions to really enjoy the benefits of a performance vehicle. In the past I have also owned M3 and RS5….same deal…..you need a track day and advanced driver training to really reap the benefits.

    • May 13, 2017 at 7:19 am — Reply

      That’s great Brad, very rarely see any performance SUVs on the track! How do you find the fun factor for the Macan compared to the M3 and RS5?

      • Brad Oliver
        May 13, 2017 at 3:56 pm — Reply

        I actually have just as much fun in the SUV as the coupes. Porsche engineering is so good, it feels like it handles just as well as the coupes.
        Love the higher riding position and ease of access especially as I get a little older. Makes getting in about much easier, also has heaps of xtra space. Looks really good for an SUV and the twin turbo sounds almost as good as a V8

    • May 13, 2017 at 7:53 am — Reply

      Breath of fresh air, Brad. And thanks for your comment. I was expecting to be hung out to dry, but it’s nice to know that PM readers are a decent and sensible bunch with a very fine taste in machinery. – Isaac

  3. Monty
    May 12, 2017 at 6:59 pm — Reply

    I don’t know that you will get too many arguments, Isaac. We have some good roads but drivers who have no idea how to drive safely at speed. They’ve never been allowed to. I learned to drive well before the nannies took control. You rarely saw the law on country roads. When I moved to Victoria, it was madness. Generally drivers added 20 k to the speed limit. It took me a while to catch up! Of course that was just unacceptable but the pendulum has swung way too far the other way. it will not change; if anything it will get worse. Victoria may go broke when autonomous cars become the norm. No speeding, no fines – how will they get by? So I agree, a genuine performance vehicle is just an expensive ornament of no more use than a Mazda MX5, possibly less.

  4. Kenneth Smith
    May 13, 2017 at 7:22 am — Reply

    Hit the nail on the head, but motorists can be irrational people, that is why television commercials and other advertising material for new cars are full of hype and no substance,
    We see standard production cars with oversize wheels and low profile tyres, when these add cost but no utility to the product, and give a harder and less comfortable ride.
    We see aerofoils or spoilers fitted to production cars, that are the wrong shape in the wrong position, being located in turbulent air, and provide zero or near to zero benefit, but add cost.
    We see a sizable percentage of the motoring public buying large 4 wheel drive vehicles, when they will never go further off road than parking on their front lawn, nor will they being towing anything heavy enough to warrant a large 4 WD. and to top that off, there is a large market for front wheel drive SUVs that look like 4WD vehicles, but don’t have the advantages of a 4WD, but do have the disadvantages and many of the costs.
    Although most people will not admit it, buying a car is far more an emotive decision than one based of genuine needs and actual requirements based rational decision making.

    • May 13, 2017 at 7:50 am — Reply

      Thanks Kenneth, and you’re right. Heart always beats head when it comes to cars for the majority of people.

      • DukeGanote
        May 15, 2017 at 5:15 am — Reply

        Motor vehicles are like marriages: a triumph of imagination over intelligence. A sports car is the triumph of hope over experience.
        (With apologies to Oscar Wilde)

  5. Guest
    May 13, 2017 at 8:51 am — Reply

    Don’t think you’re wrong. I too when I was working in one of the manufacturers that we’d all try to sneak a drive in the faster cars in the fleet but I found the most satisfaction out of one that had a slightly bigger motor hot hatch specially imported from the UK (engineering sample that ended up donated to TAFE for racing… you can google the car I’m referring to). No amount of V8 or supercharged goodness in the fleet gave me that buzz which is all that we get knowing it’s a performance [insert feature] and at the end of the day, that’s why we (the motoring enthusiast) buy them. Sort of why people buy faux 4WD. Because they think they can conquer outback Australia or they everyday obstacles like kerbs and speed bumps.

  6. Matt Waite
    May 13, 2017 at 8:59 pm — Reply

    I got to drive a 2011 Gallardo 560-4 this week and it was spectacular for the 2 seconds I got to plant my foot, but pointless and annoying the rest of the time. The single automated-clutch was jerky and hard to drive slowly, and it was hard to see out of. Don’t get me wrong, it was fun and the V10 sounded great downshifting, but it would be painful to drive regularly. My money at that level would go to Porsche.
    I was actually glad to get back into the BRZ, which you can drive at 8 or 9 tenths a lot of the time without breaking the law.
    But there’s a place for the top level stuff, which lets the good tech and engineering filter down to us plebs. If the manufactures can keep convincing rich folk to buy the supercars, then keep it up!

    • Hache Sims
      September 27, 2017 at 11:18 am — Reply

      And somewhere there’s a little Asian man crying out “Gaaaaaaayyyy”, and it’s for you

  7. Territory46
    May 14, 2017 at 3:14 pm — Reply

    Fully agree, Isaac, although probably because I am past the age where the sheer acceleration of the vehicle is something that excites me! However, performance cars in Australia are generally a waste of money unless you’re only going to drive on some of our motorways. Any road outside a capital city is just going to shake the vehicle apart (and the driver too!). As you said, you may as well be driving a Camry, at least the ride will be more comfortable!

    • Hache Sims
      September 27, 2017 at 11:18 am — Reply

      Comfortable in a Camry? I’d rather sh1t in my own hands than think one of those was anything but a $2 store plastic chair with wheels.

  8. JoeR_AUS
    May 18, 2017 at 11:49 am — Reply

    Well Issac if you consider Performance only, we have more performance now than ever before, so is every car a performance car now?

    As not so long ago 0-100km in 8s was fast but now its common. eg: Take a Astra RS manual and it will do 0-100MPH in 17s which is the same time as a 350 HG Monaro did in the 70’s. Nobody would say the Monaro is slow, even today.

    So, everybody has more performance and it requires less skill to attain. Auto and DSG gearboxes make it easy to just press the pedal. Many drivers are now driving vehicles twice the weight (power steering helps) and twice the performance than before but with no additional training. HWY patrol no longer need to seek enthusiasts as the average driver is speeding…

    When you require to drop the clutch (manage the launch rpm) shift gears and run the 1/4 mile over 100mph, 99% of drivers could not do it. So yes in a way the real performance car is dead.

    The truth is: that even back in the 70’s you needed to go to the track if you wanted to full exploit your cars performance – so nothing has changed there as well!

    • May 18, 2017 at 4:29 pm — Reply

      You’re right, JoeR_AUS, but I was thinking more about the high-end performance cars that simply exist as performance cars. – Isaac

      • JoeR_AUS
        May 22, 2017 at 12:26 pm — Reply

        They exists as the engineering technology does filter down and when your are driving in Germany.

        Also look at a Lambo Countach from 1971

        0-60mph in 5.4s – 279kw (gross) and 260km top speed – hardly Supercar any more !

        • Hache Sims
          September 27, 2017 at 11:17 am — Reply

          Do you think people would care about your opinion if you also had the intellect to construct a proper sentence? Probably not, as it’s also illogical.

  9. Richard Houlton
    June 13, 2017 at 11:54 am — Reply

    I have to agree Issac. And even those hot hatches are getting too quick (well for Victoria anyway). My Megane RS was eating my licence. And performance cars are getting so quick, and so capable, it’s not even much fun to drive them at legal speeds. You can only legally red line a Boxster/Cayman in 1st! Red lining one in 2nd will put you 20kph over the speed limit in Victoria. And it isn’t even much fun until about that speed.

    The answer, I’ve found, is to buy something slow that feels like it’s alive at 60kph. The answer is an MX5..

    • Hache Sims
      September 27, 2017 at 11:15 am — Reply

      Ha, hahahahaha, sorry, but wow. Look at you go. I’ll let my mates in their 10 second Vic cars to sell them because of your experiences in a slow car.

  10. JaiNormosone
    June 14, 2017 at 7:47 pm — Reply

    I cannot disagree with anything you have written above – because it is true. The Australian public, for generations, has been pushed down to compensate for the lowest common denominator rather than bringing people up to a standard where expectations of behaviour and abilities *are* achievable. This is what happens when governments regard the people as peasants who should do what they’re told and exist purely to pay taxes.

  11. Hache Sims
    September 27, 2017 at 11:14 am — Reply

    oh please. The “do-gooders” commenting here are all ful of sh1t. “I drive (insert fast car here) and can’t use it, I should be driving a (insert their sensiable choice here).
    If you honestly believed you’d never use the power you’d have bought the sensinble one.
    Wiling to bet my left nut you’re the ones who do ten under on single anes and then 20 over in double lanes to avoid being overtaken.
    I’m also willing to bet my tidily touched hot hatch has left you behind when you’ve been tailgaiting it trying to feel big about your fast car you can’t drive.

  12. MattyDienhoff
    December 30, 2017 at 2:58 am — Reply

    Now, I love driving. I’ve sought out every good driving road within 2 hrs of my house – and I’m not a family man (yet) so I still care far more about ‘fun to drive’ traits than comfort, features, tech, space, etc.

    And yet, in regards to ever-increasing power and performance, I couldn’t agree more. It’s pointless on public roads, not that the carmakers’ marketing will ever admit it. Power keeps increasing, but the speed limits don’t, not to mention the ever-increasing traffic, the varying road quality or the, uh, inconsistent abilities of other drivers. Suffice it to say, there are a lot of obstacles to driving enthusiastically if you don’t want to be a selfish dick about it.

    So, driving a really powerful car on public roads where you can hardly use any of its grunt seems like a recipe for pent-up frustration to me. It’s not that I don’t appreciate what the cars are and what they can do, quite the contrary – it’s just that if I owned a high-performance car, I’d feel like *I* was letting the *car* down if I didn’t take it to the track to responsibly make the most of its potential (and let’s face it, I probably wouldn’t), and there’s just something sad to me about something that’s never used for its intended purpose. A performance car that’s never driven anywhere near its limits is like a 4WD that never goes off-road.

    All of this is why my attainable dream car is an MX-5. Lightweight and tossable, likes to rev but not actually that fast, great steering, great gearbox, minimal fluff, and I live right near the Adelaide hills with all of its windy roads… That’s the kind of car that I could enjoy to its fullest without instantly losing my license in the process.

    • December 30, 2017 at 7:36 am — Reply

      Great response, Matty. Sometimes less power and a competent chassis can be so much more than big power… – Isaac

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Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober