So after compiling the list of 5 cars we looked back and said what do they all have in common?, besides, you know, 4 wheels and an engine. Here are the 2 common traits they all share that was fundamental in making them great:
- A Naturally Aspirated engine (N/A for short) – As in the engine does not have a supercharger or a turbocharger and breathes normally, kind of like us humans (all living things now that i think about it). So why is this important (a) Throttle response – turbocharged engines always have some lag, modern ones have worked to minimize that but its always there, that’s just the nature of turbos. And supercharged engines?, well… that’s just laziness, they take power away from the engine in order to make power and generate a lot of heat and while there is no lag like a turbo, they still do slow down the free revving response of an N/A engine by forcing it to turn some contraption bolted to it . (b) Weight – turbos and superchargers all add weight and complexity, not just the weight of the turbos or superchargers themselves but the additional cooling apparatus that comes with it. (c) Sound – Turbos muffle the exhaust, naturally, because they are located in the exhaust while superchargers overlay the engine noise with an audible whine, some louder than others and all equally annoying. A clever solution in modern cars is to play engine noise through the car’s sound system (or reduce engine noise all together using noise cancelling technologies). So i ask you, is Vivaldi’s 4 seasons better heard through your car’s sound system or live from the 1st balcony at the Boston Symphony Orchestra?. Ok, but why doesn’t the N/A 4 cylinder in my X sound that pleasing? Sound engineers are employed in shaping both the intake and exhaust sounds of sports cars. Toyota famously employed Yamaha instrument engineers to tune the distinct V10 shriek of its LFA supercar. Each of the cars on the this list had the noise tuned to heighten your enjoyment of the car. In your average X they do not, they just want to make it as quiet as they can for as cheaply as possible, a decibel meter rather than a sound engineer was used…sorry.
- A manual Transmission: Or as someone i know called it, an Emmanuel transmission…its religious. These devices are simply more involving forcing the driver to focus more on the driving and inevitably makes the driving experience, and you for that matter, better. Should i be in 2nd , 4th? let’s see how fast am i going?, will i be coming to a stop soon?, do i want to save fuel? or i am going to let the engine rev so i can delight in the exhaust note, these are all a small picture of thoughts in your mind that happens in fractions of a second while operating a vehicle equipped with such a device. That thought process eventually becomes 2nd nature. In most cases manual transmissions are also lighter and more efficient than their automatic counterparts. Even today Porsches equipped with manuals have a higher top speed than the automatics, why? “Hydraulic losses” was the response from a Porsche engineer. Yes in a straight line modern automatics will shift quicker than a mere mortal with a stick and clutch pedal, and if you are a drag racer who makes a living from that then sure go for the automatic. Several manufacturers have actually done a remarkable job adding modern features such as synchronizers, active rev matching and no lift shift to the manual (all features available in the Grand Sport), so it is perplexing that the next generation Corvette will be available solely in automatic, same as every new Ferrari, Mclaren, Acura NSX and the recently announced top tog Mustang GT500. Heck even the “poster child” for enthusiasts, the new Toyota Supra, is not available with a manual, go figure. “It’s quicker” they all argue…unfortunately for enthusiasts, absolute quickest time takes a backseat to the the driving enjoyment / experience / challenge of getting that quick time.
The Wrap up – Ace driver, 5 time Formula 1 (F1 for short) world champion and car collector Lewis Hamilton, commissioned italian supercar builder Haracio Pagani to make him one of the last Zonda models, the aptly named 760LH. It was perhaps the most extreme roadgoing car Pagani had ever built as it was based on the designed-for-the- track-and-not-street-legal, 750HP Zonda R. Unlike the track only version however, Lewis insisted Horacio install a manual transmission in his. F1 is known as the pinnacle of motorsports and F1 cars are part spaceships, part experimental prototypes and generally the stuff of science fiction. Cutting edge technologies on today’s car’s were used in F1 cars 15+ years ago, such is the time it takes for their technologies to trickle down to the car buying public. So surely Lewis must appreciate the ultra fast automatic transmissions in all his F1 cars that shift gears twice as fast as the blink of an eye and carried him to multiple victories, yes he does, but “My company car has a paddle-change gearbox, so when I drive for fun, I want a manual” – Lewis. Another observation is that the Zonda 760LH he commissioned was one of the last naturally aspirated cars Pagani made, in fact at the time Lewis had the car built, Pagani had already started making the twin turbo Huayra models. Curious isn’t it, that he did not purchase the latest and greatest turbocharged Pagani model with an automatic but rather the older Naturally Aspirated model and insisted on a manual. Nuff said let’s move on.
The scoring system explained:
- Speed carries 25% – This is basically how fast a car is from 0-60, 0-100, 0-150, top speed, etc, whatever speed means to you. It only carries 25% of the total score so as not to give overpowered cars an unfair advantage, because a lot of power does not a good car make, in fact many a cars have been ruined by having too much power e.g Corvette ZR1 – 755HP, Mclaren 720s – 710HP, Mustang GT500 – 720HP, Porsche GT2 RS – 700HP, Dodge Demon – 840HP… ridiculous, like dating an axe murderer, at some point it won’t end well. The opposite is also true, it is not too much to ask that a great car be able to out-accelerate a soccer mom (or dad) in a Honda Odyssey minivan at a stop light, …Mazda Miata i’m looking at you.
- Balance carries 40% – Again whatever balance means to you, you are right. Whether its the weight distribution from the front to back or side to side, engine power to chassis ability to handle that power, weight of the car to the tire size / amount of rubber meeting the road…whatever you think of when you think balance, even outside of automotive context, yes that’s exactly what it means here. Or just look up the meaning in a dictionary and apply it here.
- Driving feel 35% – This is more of a “catch all”. It starts with the steering, is it light, fast and communicative like the Grand Sport?, heavy and slow? like the Mclaren F1, twitchy like a modern ferrari or somewhere in between like the NSX. If you drive a car and through the steering can feel exactly what the car is doing at any giving time, or even better, feel what the car is going to do, then you have a winner. In a more layman description i’ve heard over the years, you can run over dime and tell if its head or tails or my favorite, you can run over a bug and tell how many legs it had. It ends with the driving position, are you well positioned with the visibility of a fighter jet a la NSX, Mclaren F1 or Grand Sport, are you in a bunker peering through a slit like a Camaro, sitting in a jacuzzi peering over the edge like a Porsche or are you awkwardly positioned at 1 o’clock instead of noon like the BMW M2 or Saleen S7. Ultimately the best driving position is with your feet outstretched in front of you level with your chin, as far as i know no road car mimics that Formula 1 seating position… hopefully someday.