More Than Just Performance: The Coming Challenge of Building "Fun" Electric Cars
By this point, just about every auto enthusiast knows the potential of electric vehicles when it comes to performance. We’ve all seen the videos of Teslas smoking muscle cars at the drag strip and seen the astonishing acceleration and grip from cars like the Porsche Taycan Turbo or even something like the Ford Mustang Mach-E GT.
In fact, you can be dead set against EVs and still accept the fact they are capable of doing some pretty amazing things when it comes to performance.
Fast Doesn’t Always Mean Fun
But as automakers and governments continue to tell us about the impending (and apparently inevitable) transition from gasoline to electric power, there’s legitimate reasons to be concerned that enthusiast-oriented EVs will struggle to match their gas predecessors when it comes to overall engagement.
We already know that EVs have no problem going fast, but even among existing gasoline cars one of the biggest issues you run into is that a fast car isn’t necessarily a fun car. And likewise, a fun car doesn’t need to be fast.
The Mazda Miata is a famous example of this. It’s never been a fast car compared to its contemporaries, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the most beloved sports cars of all time.
But will a transition to electric cars erase those attributes that help make a car like a Miata so special beyond its performance figures?
One of the biggest issues facing electric cars (and really all modern vehicles to an extent) is weight. And a lower weight is one of key things that can make a car fun without being incredibly fast.
For example, during our recent piece comparing the Ford Mustang Mach 1 vs Mach-E GT, we pointed out the electric crossover weighs nearly 1,200 pounds more than V8 Mustang (which itself is no lightweight).
That’s not to say you can’t build a lighter weight electric performance car, but with buyers demanding as much driving range as possible it will be hard to sell to drop in a smaller battery to help save weight.
Next we get to perhaps the most drastic difference between gasoline performance cars and electric performance cars - the lack of sound.
While there’s some novelty (and the stealth factor) in going very fast without making much noise, any car-lover can tell you noise is a big part of the automotive experience.
I might sound like an old man talking about the good old days, but the sound of an engine has always been one of the most defining aspects of a car.
Who hasn’t looked forward to a cold start or goosed the throttle in a tunnel just to hear your car? It’s one of those things that brings joy regardless of who fast you are actually traveling. And the idea of that going away completely is depressing.
Goodbye Manual Transmissions
But there’s perhaps nothing better that better represents the “fun over fast” mantra than the car enthusiast’s love for the manual transmission.
In terms of pure performance, a manual gearbox is often clearly outclassed by a modern automatic in existing gasoline performance cars, but that hasn’t stopped manuals from being the preferred choice for many.
That’s because a lot of enthusiasts aren’t always looking for the fastest car at any cost, at the slight trade offs in acceleration or fuel economy are worth it for the added engagement and fun factor.
But when it comes to an electric car, a manual transmission (or any transmission really) is basically out of the question. And this will be one less tool in automakers arsenals to make cars both fun and unique.
Less Character? Let’s Hope Not
Yes, electric enthusiast cars of the future might have different brands and shapes and be faster than ever. But the worry is that all of their personality will eventually be drained out of them.
Because if all these cars sound the same, deliver power in the same way and have their mechanical personalities smoothed over, what reason will there be to be interested in one over the other?
You can already see this in some of the electric crossovers and sedans that are out there now. There’s no doubting their performance, but imagine a world where there’s no more V8 rumble from a Mustang, joyous manual shifters from Honda, no more turbo spool in a Subaru, or the lightweight brilliance of the aforementioned Mazda Miata.
I worry that once the novelty of instant torque and spine crunching acceleration wears off, electric cars are going to have a hard time picking up the where gasoline cars left off when it comes to inspiring lifelong enthusiasts and fans.
Here’s hoping to world’s automakers are working on this and considering these realities as they try to take us towards an all-electric automotive future.
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