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…

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober