The performance car has changed though; it is no longer necessarily an impractical, sleek and unattainable sports car. In fact the term performance car encapsulates a range of vehicle so diverse that we’re at a point where we’re dividing fast automobiles in to several segments and even segments within segments. So this segment-ception, if you will, means that we have a great deal to consider when approaching the subject of fast cars, because at the rate we’re going, fast is truly one of the most relative topics that we can discuss.
Allow me to explain, from racing cars that emerged as early as 1905 to where we are today, the idea of basic transportation being made fun or competition-ready has always been in our minds as car people. If we can’t race then we sure as heck want something that at least has a sporty persona. Up until the rather genius advent of the fast saloon and hot hatchback we had to compromise, if we wanted something performance orientated it was normally impractical, expensive and generally something aspirational.
This is no longer the case you see, because car makers are in the business of selling cars and therefore making money, it’s simply good business to listen to market demand. The market spoke and we received cars that were faster, variants of existing cars that has breathed upon with a performance magical wand. The development and testing that went in to successful racing teams bred technology that started featuring in road cars.
From this, the everyday person could and still can, walk in to a dealership and buy a car that provides everything that they need and the performance that was/is so desirable. Today there is quite literally a performance version of every type of vehicle. From performance hatchbacks, to super saloons, coupes to MPVs, SUVs, traditional sports cars, supercars and hypercars and many more.
Now within those segments are even more segments, you get traditional hot hatchbacks, think VW Golf GTI, Ford Focus ST, Renault Mégane RS for example, then you get small performance hatchbacks, think Ford Fiesta ST, Renault Clio RS and VW’s Polo GTI. Then consider the uber or hyper hatchbacks currently on sale, think VW Golf R, Ford’s Focus RS, Mercedes-AMG A45, Audi RS and BMW’s M2 which all provide the type of performance seen in many supercars of a decade or so ago.
That’s just one segment, saloon cars now get coupe and cabriolet versions of their performance flagships while most manufacturers also offer fast SUVs of varying sizes in both traditional and coupe body styles. Then in the supercar segment we now have traditional supercars and alternative energy supercars, think of the Audi R8 as traditional and BMW’s i8 as the latter. There are many more examples of this segmentation of performance, as manufacturers create niche markets to satiate our need for individuality.
Then we get to how fast cars have become, again not because the manufacturers want them to be, but because of us. We want more, more performance, better braking, faster acceleration, better handling, improved fuel consumption, better aerodynamics and cars that have a lesser impact on the environment.
This has resulted in the current crop of performance cars being almost ludicrously fast. We no longer look at 0-100km/h times; we’re on the 0-200km/h times now. I drove a Ferrari 488 recently; it is biblically fast, with almost 500kW, for what is essentially the entry point in to the Ferrari range. South Africans are a bit more obsessed with performance than other nations too, we consume an impressive quantity of fast cars per capita and I don’t see that changing.
Now don’t get me wrong, faster cars are more fun, the engineering leaves us in awe too every time we ask “What’s next” and something better comes along. My question is where to from here? I know that hybrid performance cars will be the next generation of performance but I am talking about how much faster can cars get?
Fast hatchbacks with light modifications are running quarter mile times and setting lap benchmarks that multi-million Rand cars were struggling for a decade ago. I don’t have an answer for my own question yet, but I am just really happy and privileged, as we all are, to be able to live through this new era of performance.