Building the Perfect Beast

building the perfect beast

On one hand, we have the Lotus Elise. It goes like stink, stops on a 5p piece, corners like a roller coaster, sits lower than your shins, rides harder than a tea tray surfing down a mountain of medium-sized rocks, and is harder to get into than a Latin textbook. It's the automotive equivalent of tequila slammers. On the other hand, we have the Lexus SC400. J D Power's poster child is more car-coon than car— cosseting its occupants in so much luxury that discussing "handling" and "braking" seems churlish. It's a vodka martini, stirred, not shaken.

So, is that our lot? Must we choose between performance cars that punish us for our passion, and luxury cars where passion mandates indecent exposure?

Hopefully not. Hopefully, evolving technology (epitomised by the switchable sports mode) will provide a world without compromise, where all my people may arrive refreshed and relaxed after screaming around the Welsh borders. Meanwhile, luxury car makers are getting better and better at making their cars handle, while sports car makers continue to violate the Geneva Convention.

Take TVR. The Blackpool Bodgers make a car with so much personality it should have its own chat show. Yet the creature comforts are so appalling that Catholics consider driving one in London traffic adequate penance for anything up to and including raping a nun. Thanks to a clutch almost as heavy as the engine itself, TVR drivers are easily identified by the fact that their left thigh is twice as big as their right.

TVR is not alone in torturing you for buying their car. Ferrari, Maserati, Lotus, Morgan, Noble, Lotus— they're all ergonomic disasters. In a "who can clear a fogged windscreen faster" contest, continental drift wins. In a "which one would you like to drive for 700 miles" contest, National Express wins. I know: "real" drivers embrace their sports car's "quirks". Which is like saying that "real" MP's love being whipped. Which, of course, they do. Yes, well, anyway, inadequate driver comfort is more than an enjoyable exercise in motoring masochism. It actually makes sports cars slower.

We all know this much: to make a fast car you need a great engine, superb brakes and fantastic chassis. But to actually drive the thing quickly you also need…

Visibility. In most real world situations, a BMW X5 is faster than a Ferrari 360M. In Beemer's behemoth, the visibility is so good you can almost see your destination. You can certainly see far enough to determine how fast you can go to get there. In a low-slung Ferrari, on a wet day, you might as well study Zen and wear a blindfold. If people had as many blind spots as the average supercar, they wouldn't be allowed to leave the house unaccompanied. Sports car drivers who cannot see the road are condemned to leave it.

Ventilation. Even Paul Ripley might agree that fresh air is a high priority when operating a motor vehicle at high speeds. I'm not saying that most high performance cars have less ventilation than a vacuum-sealed jar of coffee, but I have heard that NASA use a Noble M12 to study the effects of oxygen deprivation on hand-eye coordination. If a Mercedes can get cold enough to hang meat in the time it takes to find the handbrake release, why are so many sports cars still stagnant saunas?

Seats. Michael Schumacher may have won his last four Grand Prix after having his spine removed, but I doubt it. It's more likely that Mikka's Merc comes with a titanium version of the S Class Butt Massager. Serious miles require serious seating. Most sports cars still use knobs, bars, latches and largely immovable steering columns to place the prospect of a comfortable sitting position forever out of reach.

Good acoustics. Everyone knows you can drive more quickly, more safely, listening to your favourite music. Everyone except the Ferrari salesman who answered my complaint about the pathetic radio in his £100,000 car by saying "Ferrari drivers listen to the music of the engine." Sure, but when you're through thrashing, you want your sports car to shut up for a bit. Like fellatio, you can only take so much aural excitement.

And there you have it, my recipe for the perfect sports car: combine the raw ingredients from the world of performance with the creature comforts from our luxury cousins. Obviously, it's a constant struggle to cook up the right combination. Porsche makes the Carrera faster, safer and more civilised, and its core market accuses it of going soft. BMW makes a luxury barge handle, and its core market buys it and enjoys it. The point is this: you CAN have the best of both worlds— just as soon as they make a Fercedes or a Murrari. Roll on the Mercedes SLR!

Join the conversation
  • Tane94 are both eligible for federal tax credits? That's the big $7,500 question.
  • Jkross22 Toenail says what?
  • MaintenanceCosts This sounds like old-school GM drama!
  • SCE to AUX It's not really a total re-badge since some of the body parts are unique, and the interiors are quite different.As I mentioned the other day, the Tonale has a terrible name and a dim future.As for the Alfa team - guess what, this is how corporate ownership works. You are part of Stellantis partly because you're not viable as a standalone business, and then your overlords decide what's shared among the products.By the way: That Uconnect infotainment system found in Alfas was originally a Chrysler product... you're welcome.
  • Kurkosdr Someone should tell the Alfa Romeo people that they are a badge owned by a French company now.The main reason PSA bought FiatChrysler is that PSA has the technology to enter the luxury market but customers don't want a French luxury car for psychological/mindshare reasons. FiatChrysler has the opposite problem: they have lots of still-respected brands but not always the technology to make good cars. Not to say that if FCA has a good platform, it won't be used in a PSA car.In other words, if those Alfa Romeo buds think that they will remain a silo with their own bespoke platforms and exclusive sheet metal, they are in for a shock. This is just the start.