In general, the last couple of decades have seen cars getting heavier and more cumbersome, mainly as a result of safety but also due to luxuries the everyday driver requires, such as air conditioning and increasingly opulent interiors. This has had a dramatic affect on the way a car drives and how it feels to the driver.
Let’s take the VW Golf as an example. When the MK1 was introduced in 1974 it weighed in at a svelte 810kg, but the MK6 version tips the scales at a chunky 1,300kg (46% more). As any keen driver knows, adding weight can severely affect acceleration, braking and handling, not to mention fuel economy. This is one of the reasons people rate the MK1 and MK2 Golf as great driving cars, yet the later models fell short.
Luckily, added weight also means one other thing; increased CO2 emissions. In 2020, the European Commission will require that vehicle manufacturers’ fleet average CO2 emissions for new cars are no more than 95g/km – any more and the manufacturer will incur heavy cost penalties. This means two things; lighter cars and highly-efficient powertrains.
Don’t for one second think that highly-efficient just means economical, either. BMW has released details on the soon to be launched twin-turbocharged straight-six engine for the M3/M4 and it has more torque and horsepower than the larger V8 it replaces. Whoever says there’s no replacement for displacement has clearly never tried forced induction.
Although the 2020 emissions target is some years off, we are already starting to see the affects of this legislation, particularly on performance vehicles. The new Alfa Romeo 4C has a chassis made of carbon fibre, and instead of a traditional V6 they have opted to fit a downsized, turbocharged four pot. Caterham has recently announced its entry level car will be using a turbocharged, three cylinder Suzuki unit instead of its trusted four cylinder Duratec engines. A return to lightweight cars is a welcome change of tack for keen drivers globally.
Emission regulations may be putting a stop to vehicle manufacturers competing amongst themselves for the marketing prowess of having “the world’s fastest car” accolade (except Bugatti of course). Instead they are now driven down a road of producing “the best drivers’ car”. I for one am happy about that.
McLaren is a great example of this. In 1992 the Woking based manufacturer designed the McLaren F1 with a six litre V12 engine, and the aim of producing the fastest car in the world. They achieved that feat, and even today it is still the fastest normally aspirated car in the world. McLaren’s latest creation, the P1, uses a 3.8 litre V8 harnessing two turbochargers which achieves a mere (limited) 217mph, some 23mph short of its predecessor. However McLaren has clearly stated that it isn’t trying to make the fastest car in the world, but the “best super sports car the world has ever seen”. How would you define the best super sports car in the world? For me, it’s not the fastest it’s the one that’s more fun to drive.