Power versus pounds


A moment of idleness turned into an interesting experiment last week.

Having succumbed some time ago to the somewhat dubious charms of Twitter I posted a tweet asking if a new supercar offering less power, but a better power to weight ratio than its predecessor would help or hinder its sales.

With one exception, everyone who posted a reply thought sales would be harmed. More interestingly, every one who expressed an opinion said they thought the car itself would be improved.

Now of course this might say as much about the curious kind of cove who thinks following my Twitter feed a worthwhile activity as it does about the future of the supercar, but it still got me thinking.
Are we really saying that people who buy supercars are more interested in a headline power figure than what the car is like to drive? Is the need to demonstrate that ‘mine really is bigger than yours’ so overwhelming they’ll happily accept a compromised car to achieve it? Certainly according to one small section of Twitter-literate car fans, that appears to be the case.

All manufacturers have been adding more weight and power to models

If this is true, those who feel that way cannot be blamed for it. The fault lies with car manufacturers and the people who help form opinions about the cars they make. Like me.

The incentive for a car manufacturer to make each successive sporting or supercar more powerful than the last is easy to see. Put bluntly, performance has to be seen to improve from one generation to the next and it is far easier, cheaper and commercially effective to do this by adding power rather than removing weight. But more power requires more control, which means beefed up suspension, brakes and bigger wheels and tyres. This not only adds weight but, crucially, adds it just where you don’t want it, as unsprung mass.

But can they really be blamed for providing what their customers tell them they want? Should we, the motoring media, not think a little harder before lavishing praise on a car whose weight has risen another 100kg to the detriment of every single area of dynamic endeavour save ride quality? Should the fact the 0-60mph time has fallen another couple of tenths only because even more power has been added really be seen as such an admirable, aspirational thing? I think not.

The good news is the ship is starting slowly to turn around. I can’t think of a mainstream manufacturer who’s recently launched a fast car with less power than the one before, but it seems that at least the ever-spiralling weight gain is in the process of being checked. Ferrari was the only manufacturer to spare the time to wade into my impromptu Twitter debate and while the next 599GTB will have over 700bhp (can you imagine how good that’s going to sound?) it is expected that the weight will remain the same.

But more needs to be done: sporting car manufacturers and car magazines, websites and television programmes should talk about weight first and power second, and make the power to weight ratio the figure the number owners want most to brag about in the pub.

I guarantee you this: the first supercar manufacturer who replaces, let us say, an 1800kg car with 600bhp with one weighing, say, 1650kg with just 570bhp will have a car that’s quicker to accelerate, slow down and corner, will use less fuel and emit less CO2 and which will, all other things being equal, be better to drive in every way that matters to every car enthusiast. Surely that has to be preferable to a bit more power?

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