The State of Modern Performance Cars

In a bid to deliver our driving holiday guests with the wittiest and most insightful banter, I spend a lot of time listening to podcasts (especially if I’m being forced to watch Peppa Pig, again). Chris Harris’ “Collecting Cars” has been my latest binge, and quite a good binge it is too. With guests such as Harry Metcalfe, Andrew Frankel, Sam Hancock, and Martin Brundle, there is no shortage of encyclopaedic commentators with something interesting to say….and given just how much Peppa Pig I watch, one starts identifying patterns in the commentary. The state of the car market is an obvious theme, in particular the increasing electrification of vehicles. But listen more closely and you’ll hear a critique of how boring high-end cars have become. There has been endless chasing of BHP figures, Nordschleife lap-times, list prices, ad nauseum. It’s beginning to leave people feeling a bit cold.

Casting my mind back several decades, I learned to drive in my grandads Nissan Micra. I believe it was a 950cc, and my grandad was a pretty easy-going sort of guy, so I extracted every last ounce of performance that little Nissan had to offer. It was small, nimble, had a manual gearbox, and (from my fading memory) sounded ok too. Around the country lanes where I grew up, my Grandad and I would leave many an XR3i standing when things got twisty. Fast forward a few years and I’m running around in a mega 560bhp, 200mph, BMW M5. It is a truly stunning car, and for rapidly wafting down to Monaco, there’s nothing better. But, and it’s a big but, I don’t like it. I don’t trust the brakes, I’m constantly spinning up the rears, it is way too long to drive sideways without hitting anything, and up the Stelvio Pass it was humiliated by everything. The greatest car I have ever driven, was my first ‘proper’ car, a BMW e46 M3, and I wish I’d kept it.

How does this relate to Harris & Co’s commentary? Well, the conclusion to many of their criticisms is that a number of manufacturers are beginning to fight back and produce proper sports cars. And to be a proper sports car, it needs one important characteristic, it has to be light! That e46 M3 I mentioned, was a full 500kg lighter than the F10 M5. Five Hundred Kilograms! No wonder it’s preferable to the flabby M5. We have Renault re-imagining the Alpine, and by all accounts it is fantastic. We have Toyota releasing the new Supra. Which may be a rebadged Z4 Coupe, but my Z4M Coupe was as stunning as it was scary. It weighed nothing, tracked the road, had too quick a rack, was too stiff, but it was bloody brilliant. You never quite knew when you were going to get spat into a hedge, and you were constantly driving it. But that’s what an engaging drive is supposed to do, engage you!

So what about poor old me? I’m not about to buy another e46 M3, because they’re old, and breaking-down when you’re supposed to be escorting 20 cars along the Route Napoleon isn’t a good look. I need at least 300bhp, a short wheelbase, and rear wheel drive. A 911 is out, because my wife still doesn’t believe that you can get a baby seat in the back. I’ve still not seen a Supra on the road, and they have no rear seats. But BMW appear to be doing some fairly good deals on the BMW M2. 400kgs lighter than the M5, 30mpg, and half the road tax of the M5. Who cares if people think I’m a teenager for wanting one, they look like an absolute hoot!

Test drive tomorrow, watch this space!