SIMPLE DRIVERS CARS are a rare breed, and if we’re not careful they’ll die out altogether.
First things first; I like gadgets. I love my Sky+ HD box, I love my Mac, I love being able to send a tweet from my phone whilst in a field or watch a video on YouTube of a cat with a funny face whilst walking to the shop. But there’s a time and a place for gizmos, and in the car isn’t it.
I hate this current obsession with flappy-paddle gearboxes. In a supercar like the Ferrari 458 (above) a ‘box like that does make sense, although I’d still prefer a proper manual, but in a Polo GTI? No. The level of car-driver interaction provided by a manual gearstick far outweighs the miniscule speed advantage that a DSG provides, but 0-60mph figures sell cars. This and the lure of “F1 technology” means that buyers are favouring paddles, with some manufacturers not even offering the option of a proper gearstick.
Secondly, there are far too many nannying electronic systems on cars nowadays, designed to make the most mediocre drivers look like Sebastian Vettel. All of a sudden, oversteer and drifting have become dirty words amongst manufacturers who instead favour maximum cornering grip and Nurburgring laptimes.
The majority of buyers do not know about steering feel or handling, so the only way for them to appreciate the performance of their car is by bragging to their equally clueless mates at the office about their car’s 0-60 time or how fast it lapped the Top Gear test track. These ESP and traction control systems make sure that the car doesn’t step a millimetre off-line and people don’t end up parking their shiny new cars backwards into hedges, having not understood the warning signs as they unwittingly push the limits of grip.
My final gripe is the power race. Again, it’s all about headline figures and makers are desperate to have more bhp than their rivals. We have hot hatches with well over 300bhp now, which is absolutely ludicrous. The latest arrival from Ferrari, the F12 Berlinetta has 730bhp and is the “fastest Ferrari ever built”, faster even than the Enzo hypercar.
There is light at the end of the tunnel though, in the form of the new Toyota GT-86/Subaru BRZ. This joint venture between Subaru and Toyota is a small, light, rear-wheel-drive sports car. And that’s about it.
It doesn’t have 400bhp, it doesn’t get to 60mph in 3.5 seconds and it won’t go round the Top Gear track in 1:21.4, but it is fun. It won’t impress the average car buyer and it’s a brave move from the two Japanese manufacturers, but for those of us who really cherish driving it could signal a new age.
I salute Subaru and Toyota and I hope that these cars are the commercial successes that they deserve to be, because other car makers might just realise that there are some of us out there who still enjoy driving.