Car enthusiasm has become a numbers game and we have nobody to blame but ourselves. We’ve been doomed to this fate since the first cars were treated to an objective comparison of statistics. The 0-60 test, the quarter mile run, the Nürburgring lap; each of these has contributed to the downfall of fun cars. Everything is fast, but it’s also heavy, plodding, and boring. We’re heading into a new era of car tech as the transition to electric propulsion carries on. We have an opportunity to leave the trappings of fast-over-fun behind with gasoline.
It seems that every new electric sports coupe and sedan launched in the last few years has been imbued with a big power motor. The things that made old-school minimalist sports cars great — relative light weight, good steering, nimble cornering, and a level of communication between driver and car — can still be delivered in the electric era. You might think I’ve lost the plot with that last sentence, but hear me out. With a less powerful motor and a smaller battery stack, the car can be designed around smaller and lighter componentry.
For decades sports car fanatics have valued weight loss above pretty much all else, which is why this idea might seem incongruous. Design an EV around a set of 16 inch wheels instead of 21s, however, and you start to see what I’m talking about. Less battery means you can run smaller brakes, smaller wheels, smaller tires, which in turn means the suspension components don’t have to be as heavy duty. This ethos, from the ground up, can mean a given car weighs hundreds of pounds less. Which also means a more efficient use of the power and battery capacity.
I really like Porsche’s new Mission R concept, and I think electric GT racing will be really cool in a few years once the technology settles out and everyone figures out charging and batteries for a highly intensive sport like racing, but I’m bummed that Porsche felt the need to give the car 1070 horsepower. It’ll still drive great, because it’s Porsche, but a small lightweight EV would be infinitely better. I’ve driven every variety of Taycan, and the rear wheel drive one with the smallest battery and the lowest power output is by far my favorite, not least of which because the steering feels nicer without a motor powering the front wheels, and it’s hundreds of pounds lighter than its AWD big-battery siblings.
Porsche isn’t alone here. Tesla didn’t need to give the Plaid 1000 horsepower, Lucid didn’t need to give the Air 1000 horsepower, Lotus definitely didn’t need to give the Evija 2000 horsepower. If we’re just in an electric horsepower war, what’s the point? Anybody can throw thousands of pounds of battery and motor at that problem. The better solution is to use rare earth metals sparingly, go back to basics, and create the MGB of the future, not the Porsche 917 of the future. There is room for both, but only one of them will actually be fun to use on the street.
I drive a Nissan Leaf with a 24 kWh battery stack. It’s hardly a paragon of performance as a five-seat five-door hatch that weighs 3500 pounds, but it’s not exactly slow with 161 horsepower on board. I constantly think about what this drivetrain could do in a compact two-seat sports car with the motor mounted amidships powering the rear wheels like a Toyota MR2 or something. Cut another 500 pounds out of the car in bodywork and gubbins, tune the motor up for 210 horsepower or so, and you’ve got a potential winner on your hands. That’s basically the spec that Porsche built for the first Boxster (which I also own) and that’s a whole shitload of fun. Wouldn’t it be even better with a lower center of gravity?
Using modern battery chemistry and the smaller, lighter motors that Nissan has already developed, I’m imagining something with around 100 miles of range and modern quick charging. The aforementioned 89 kWh battery in a Taycan can make use of 800v architecture to charge up from 5 percent to 80 percent in about 20 minutes. Now think about the extra charging benefits of a battery around 1/3rd the size.
I don’t want a sports car to commute every day, though 100 miles of range would certainly do the job for most Americans, I want it for a fun run around the good driving roads, which I can easily accomplish with 100 miles of range. Even still, a nice Saturday drive would be great to do 100 miles out to a lunch spot, charge up over lunch, and haul ass back home. That’s what sports cars are good for. They don’t need to run 1000 horsepower and sprint to 60 in 2 seconds, because where the heck are you going to use that?