Horsepower vs Fun
October 2002

In the age when the whole Europe is pursuing 400-plus horsepower and sub-5-seconds 0-60mph, I have to remind you that fast does not equal to fun. On the contrary, fast cars are more likely to be uninteresting because of several reasons: firstly, their performance is too high that engineers have to compromise handling sensitivity with high-speed stability. Secondly, their high price inevitably put them in a market segment where buyers are likely to ask for more comfort, hence better noise insulation, ride quality, space, equipment etc. All these are enemies to pure driving fun.  

The most enjoyable car should be simple and gadgets-free. Wind back a few decades and you can find all the perfect cars we are dreaming for today - MG Midget, Lotus Elan, Porsche 356, Porsche 550 Spyder, Alfa Spider... these are called Roadsters, which are characterized by their lightweight, agility, involving handling, pureness in design and open air motoring. Sadly, today only Mazda MX-5 remains loyal to this formula. 

Apart from Roadsters, there are some contemporary sports sedans or coupes worth dreaming for: Alfa Giulia GTV, BMW 3.0CSL, Lancia Fulvia... even until the first Audi Quattro and BMW M3 (and don’t forget the flawed but charismatic Alfa 75) the automotive world was still making sensible and really fun cars. Then enter the horsepower racing era. I always suspect it was triggered by the E36 M3, which suddenly jumped from 4-cylinder to 6-cylinder power plant, but actually all German car makers were also responsible. Cars such as Audi S-line and RS2, Mercedes-AMG C-with-growing-numbers-from-36-to-55, the V8 M5, the E55 AMG until today’s 450hp RS6 and 476hp E55, all participated and worsening the horsepower war. 

Give me a break, OK?  

Well, if you are tired of these fast cars, try hot hatches. Not necessarily because of limited budget, but many hot hatches really deliver more fun than megapower saloons. From this year you can even specify a hot hatch capable of 0-60mph in the low 6 seconds - fast enough to most without compromising fun - and looks and feels prestige, e.g. Alfa 147GTA and Golf R32. Clio V6 is extremely attractive to look at, the same goes for Focus RS.  

Our choices are not limited to hot hatches, but also anything cheap and fun. These of course include the mighty Evo VII, Impreza STi and Lotus Elise. But in case they are too predictable, what about Smart Roadster? this car has the spirit of the old British roadsters. Cheap, lightweight, simple and fun. It proves that fun doesn’t relate to speed. 

Mark Wan

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