One of the greatest things about living in the US is the diversity of vehicles available for sale. Even putting aside the used car market for a moment, there are hundreds of available models from dozens of manufacturers. You can buy a new car with less than 100 horsepower or one with more than 600 horsepower. You can buy one that seats 2 or one that seats 15. Draw the circle wider and include cars from the past (but still very much for sale), and you get a nearly unlimited menu of choices.
There’s also diversity within each category. Few would argue whether a Corvette or Viper is a performance car. But how about muscle cars like the Challenger, Camaro, or Mustang? Then there are the cars like the Miata that aren’t particularly fast, but have excellent balance, handling and steering. All of these vehicles are performance cars in someone’s book; they just happen to adhere to different philosophies as to what defines vehicle performance.
As for my preference, I like to have it all. More specifically, I want…
Firm handling, but I don’t want my teeth to clatter over bumps, nor do I want to feel every bump in the road. When I go over a larger bump or pothole, I don’t want the car to bounce three times.
Quick, accurate steering connected to a small-diameter steering wheel with a thick rim. The car’s steering should be quick and accurate, and coupled with performance tires and a power steering system that isn’t overboosted, it should instantly telegraph what’s happening on the road and with g-forces acting on the tires.
Frenetic acceleration, and preferably from something with lots of pistons and lots of displacement. Boosted, smaller engines are fine – and can be fun to drive, particularly if you take pleasure in preserving momentum on a challenging road and keeping the revs in the sweet spot of the engine’s powerband. But a highly-tuned American V8, like GM’s 6.2 liter LS3, Ford’s 5.0 liter in Boss 302 duty, or Chrysler’s new 6.4 liter HEMI make the hair on my neck stand up. Literally. I’m also quite happy with big import-brand V8s like you’ll find in the Lexus IS-F or Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG since they sound like American V8s and pull like hell. The deeper the bass sound from my engine, the happier I am.
Strong, consistent braking that gives me enough confidence to know that if I get into a situation beyond my capabilities – whether I enter a curve too quickly or a slow car suddenly ends up in my lane – they will most likely bail me out are a great performance-car asset.
Light weight. Thanks to safety and comfort features, the days of lightweight cars may be numbered. Ironically, the only thing that may save us from a fate of shuttling around in two-ton compact cars may be ever-increasing fuel-economy requirements. A Corvette can get 26 miles per gallon on the highway despite a 436-horsepower V8 because of its weight and gearing, despite the big engine. Shedding weight and shedding engine displacement does improve fuel economy, but shedding weight improves economy more than making the engine smaller. The related benefits of weight loss are that brakes, suspension, and chassis can be less beefy because they have to support less vehicle weight, further helping agility, acceleration, and economy.
Does such a car exist in the real world? I have yet to see it; even if it did, it would be almost impossible given current technology to build such a car and still make it affordable to buy and to operate.
What do you think? What traits would we find in your ideal performance car?
This article has not been altered by Chrysler.