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Performance stigma out the exhaust

2014-01-13 20:36

QUINTTESSENTIAL MUSCLE CAR: Seems cars such as the 2015 Ford Mustang are no longer considered "politically incorrect". Yay! Image: Supplied


Ford's iconic Mustang is headed for South Africa. From concept to production, check out how the new SA-bound muscle car is made in this awesome video!

DETROIT, Michigan - To look over the roster of racy new and future vehicles at the 2014 North American International Auto Show here the initial impression is that US, European and Asian automakers want to turn back the clock to a time when performance and speed trumped oil reserves and the environment.

So-called green cars - battery vehicles, hybrids, hydrogen fuel-cells - are heavily overshadowed at the show by sports cars in a broad spectrum of sizes, shapes and price segments, from Ford's redesigned 2015 Mustang to Kia Motors' zippy GT4 Stinger concept

"Sex sells! Speed sells!" The words of Michael Tracy, principal at Michigan-based consultancy Agile Group. "People don't talk about wanting to buy a Camaro because the base V6 gets great fuel economy."


In fact, however, there is more than a hint of green lurking in even the sexiest sports cars at Detroit which opened to the news media on Monday (Jan 13, 2014). Take the new Mustang which late in 2014 will offer buyers the choice of a 313kW five-litre V8 - a throwback to the classic street cars of yesteryear - or an economical 2.3 four-cylinder EcoBoost engine that still cranks out an impressive 227kW.

Industry consultant Lincoln Merrihew said: "We're seeing a new era of performance cars that are very safe, very fuel-efficient, more mainstream."

The latest edition of Volkswagen's Golf R, which will be in showrooms in early 2015 in the US, is a good example. Under the familiar hatchback shell of the long-running Golf VW is a 216kW turbocharged two-litre four. VW says it's the most powerful Golf yet in the US but uses less fuel than the 2013 model with an EPA highway mileage rating of 7.6 litres/100km. To help improve the car's stability and traction, all-wheel drive is standard.

The definition of "performance" is evolving, from the old-school values of straight-line acceleration and cornering capability. As with the Mustang and the Golf, engines are getting smaller to improve efficiency, but devices such as turbochargers provide more power, so there is less trade-off between going faster and going farther.

Perhaps the epitome of the modern sports car is Kia's GT4 Stinger, a compact, low-slung four-passenger model that hints at a future rear-wheel drive performance model from the Korean manufacturer. Makers of traditional sports cars are reducing weight, which further enhances both sides of the power versus economy equation.

Even the next Chevrolet Camaro Z28, which goes on sale in the early months of 2014, has benefited from General Motors' "lightweighting" efforts. GM engineers shaved mass from the $75 000 muscle car by using a smaller battery and thinner rear glass, as well as eliminating the  boot carpet and the tyre-inflator kit.


BMW says its redesigned 2015 M3 sedan, which will reach dealers around the middle of 2014 has shed 80kg, in part by using more aluminum and carbon fibre-reinforced plastic in place of steel and by switching from a normal four-litre V8 to a twin-turbo three-litre six. The smaller engine makes more power and, given the weight reduction, can accelerate faster while reducing fuel-gulping and noxious emissions by 25%.

Both the M3 and its two-door companion, the new 2015 M4 coupe, also provide an array of driver assistance systems, ampng them a new "active driving assistant" that warns when a human is in the way. Enthusiasts will find many of the same safety systems and focus on efficiency in the latest supercars from Europe, Asia and the US, notably the 362kW 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, which will go into production in late 2014.


Chevy also aims to ramp up the fun quotient. The Corvette will offer an optional performance data recorder - essentially a built-in high-def videocam and microphone that will enable drivers to record up to 13 hours behind the wheel and play it all back on the car's in-dash touchscreen or upload it to Facebook and other social media sites.

Sort of "selfies for wannabe race drivers". Sweet...Anyway...

Five years ago, Merrihew said, during the depths of the US auto industry's recession, "excess went out of fashion" as automakers parked performance in favour of green. Now the economy has rebounded and automakers are redefining performance as a combination of speed, safety and efficiency, "that stigma is starting to fade".

"It's again OK to buy performance cars."
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