While I was sitting at a traffic light recently, an Audi pulled up alongside me. This wasn’t just any Audi – it was an RSQ3 — the hottest SUV that Audi produces. With 228 kW of power and 420 Nm of torque, this little crossover is properly fast. And as the “RS” in its name suggests, it was designed to handle corners like a sports car.
I couldn’t help glancing over to see who was driving this little beast. To my surprise, the person behind the steering wheel wasn’t some Vettel wannabe. It was a mother, taking her kids to school.
Why, I couldn’t help wondering, would someone purchase an RSQ3 – or any other sports car, for that matter – to perform the school run? Despite their many positive attributes, performance cars don’t make good mom’s taxis. Driving them at speed on open roads is reckless, especially with kids in the back. Their sporty exhausts serve only to garner disapproving glares from other parents. And they tend to give a hard ride, especially in the rear. The poor kids will start visiting the physiotherapist before they hit puberty!
So why use a performance car to take the kids to school? I suspect it has less to do with the fact that it is a performance car than with the fact that the “sporty” model of any line-up is usually the most expensive and exclusive version on offer.
A lot of people drive these cars not because they are fast and handle like an F1 car, but because they are desirable.
The question is: are they desirable because they are fast and nimble? Does speed necessarily equal desirability? I don’t think so. Sure, some are. Supercars need to be fast, of course. Vehicles such as the BMW M3 and Golf GTI are desirable because of their performance. But many others, especially SUVs and crossovers, don’t need to be fast.
Manufacturers should end their obsession with sportiness. Every car, even 4x4s, seems to be marketed as “sporty” nowadays. Why?
The focus should be shifted to comfort and connectivity. These are the things that really matter on a daily basis. What use is a burly V8 in a traffic jam? When it comes to getting to and from work, I’d much rather have a cushy seat, automatic gearbox and decent sound system than a powerful engine.
Don’t improve the performance and handling characteristics of the top-of-the-line models — improve their sound insulation, comfort features and connectivity.
Comfort should become the benchmark, not performance. Most importantly, suspension should be softened and tyre profiles should be enlarged. Harder doesn’t automatically mean better. A little roll in the corners is fine if it improves overall comfort.
Mind you, I have nothing against sporty SUVs. I love the Porsche Macan and Range Rover Sport. But many people only drive sporty SUVs because they are status symbols. They are only interested in the “badge envy” that these cars can generate.
So why waste a good engine on a bad commute? Very few people ever find themselves in a place where they can make use of a performance engine. And even fewer really know how to handle a performance car.
Speed and performance are not the most important things a car can offer. At least, not when it comes to daily driving. We’ve become so obsessed with speed that we expect every luxury SUV to offer mind-boggling levels of power and torque. It’s silly.
Once upon a time, during a gentler and more refined age, Rolls Royce didn’t even disclose the performance figures of its cars. It simply described power as “adequate”. Now even Rolls brags about kilowatts and Newton metres.
In the film, Be Cool, John Travolta’s character is mocked for driving a Honda Insight hybrid.
“What about speed?” he is asked.
“If you’re important,” he says. “People will wait.”
Perhaps that’s a philosophy that luxury car makers should embrace.