What You Should Know Before Buying Performance Vehicles
Not unlike the luxury side of the showroom, performance is in the midst of a redefinition. No longer are rear wheels propelled by a V8 or V12 the preferred performance platform (although there’s nothing wrong with Maserati V8s and Ferrari V12s). Instead, a buyer might extend the performance descriptive to his or her time behind the wheel of Tesla’s all-electric Model S, or a 20-something buyer waiting for the Focus RS or Honda’s newly announced Civic Type R. And the numbers – of course – have evolved with the definition. When smog regulations were still constricting performance cars some thirty years ago, a 0-60 time under eight seconds was considered quick; today, that figure can be achieved by any number of entry-level hatchbacks. And if you’re looking for a heavy dose of traditional performance, you need look no further than Dodge (Challenger), Ford (Mustang) or Chevy (Camaro/Corvette) showrooms. Finally, one note on the increasingly popularity of boosting small displacement powerplants with superchargers or turbochargers: The power is great and efficiency is improved, but there’s also an added layer of complexity that – once the years and miles pile up – will probably lead to more expensive maintenance and repair. You’re probably not hearing it here first – but it’s worth repeating.
Exterior – Automotive performance can be purchased on a showroom or added to an existing vehicle through what is known as the performance aftermarket. And on that showroom performance entries can be found as 2-door, mid-engined GTs such as the Alfa Romeo 4C, or luxury 4-doors such as Porsche’s Panamera. Most recently, high-performance spec can be purchased with an SUV. Porsche’s Cayenne was there first, followed more recently by the Range Rover Sport, Bentley’s Bentayga, Jaguar’s F-Pace and Maserati’s Levante. At the entry point of performance, expect it to be offered in something as innocuous as VW’s 4-door GTI or Mazda’s MX-5 Miata.
Interior – Performance, almost by definition, is sourced from under the hood, but within the interior is the proper environment to manage that performance – or not. Seats should be more supportive for high speed cornering and braking, pedals should be adjustable, and within the high-performance cockpit controls should be intuitive. Even in entry-level performance hatchbacks, all-enveloping Recaro seats are offered, instrumentation is more complete, and careful attention is paid to pedal placement.
Of course, technology plays a significant role in any interior menu, and performance models typically offer tech enhancements, either within the standard equipment menu or as an option or option package. Whether an audio improvement, enhanced navigation or a suite of trackday-specific upgrades, if someone manufactures it a performance car, truck or SUV will probably offer it.
Powertrains – In the crossfire between a consumer’s desire for performance and the government’s very real desire to keep everyone (even owners of performance machinery) as efficient as possible sits the product team. Historically a performance coupe or convertible means big V8 power in America or tuner-type power from Europe and Japan. Think Fast and Furious meets the Fonz. The good news: At a time when technology seems to have finally caught up with mandates, Ford doesn’t need to reintroduce the Mustang II. Rather, they simply turbocharge the heck out of a 2.3 liter 4-cylinder, giving it V6-like horsepower and V8-like torque. And they’ve done that, while Chevy follows a similar strategy with a 4-cylinder Camaro. The cars aren’t smaller, but the EPA estimates would suggest they are. At FCA (Dodge and Chrysler) the Hemi still rules, and its Hellcat iterations deliver something north of 700 horsepower. Across the Atlantic, Audi, Benz and BMW are committed to the turbocharged four and – for those driving on that side of 150 miles per hour – the turbocharged six. And they go like schnell.
Safety - Given what is typically their lower, more rakish profile outward visibility might be compromised, but the performance platform’s reduced ride height also suggests a lower center of gravity and better inherent stability. There is a more driver-centric culture revolving around the design, build and specification of a high performance vehicle, and to that end the nanny features you might find in your family wagon are deemphasized, are less intrusive or are simply not offered. From a personal perspective, Autoblog staffers typically find a high performance coupe the safest way to enjoy high performance.
Technology – Today, if a manufacturer opts for an introduction at a major auto show the offering is more typically devoted to newly-introduced technology within the product than the outside sheetmetal or under-the-hood enhancements. Of course, within any vehicle automotive technology can take many forms, including those intended to improve the aforementioned safety, efficiency, connectivity or entertainment. With its Tech of the Year Award in 2016, Autoblog recognized Apple CarPlay for its user-friendliness and “overall impact on bringing our connected lives into the car.” If you’re an iPhone user, the control of apps is done via a familiar interface on an infotainment screen while adding features that weren’t originally installed at the factory. Android Auto was second in the voting, delivering to the user essentially the same capabilities via Google’s phone OS.
With automotive technology’s trickle down, you can expect in-car WiFi to enjoy greater availability, and its integration into a ‘media hub’ increasingly common. Rearview cameras are the norm, and they are not a bad idea when attempting to park your Aston Martin.
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