7 cars that choose fun over fast - and are all the better for it
It's all about smiles per hour
It may sound obvious, but modern performance cars really are getting ridiculously fast. Take the Mercedes-AMG A45S: when the new one comes out later this year, it will be the first 400bhp hot hatch. Then there’s the BMW M5 Performance - a big, luxury family car that goes from 0-125mph in under 11 seconds. That is preposterous performance, and no doubt an impressive feat of engineering. But it’s not exactly… useable.
Unless you’re at a track day or have your own airfield, top speeds and 0-60 times don’t really matter beyond a certain point. What matters far more is how enjoyable a car is on real roads, in real conditions. And that’s why we need more cars like this lot.
This is a list of seven cars that aren’t bothered about Nurburgring lap times, and don’t care if their rivals are faster. They are designed specifically to be as enjoyable as possible, as much of the time as possible - and the world needs more like them.
1. Mazda MX-5
Where else to start but with the poster child for “having fun while going slowly”? The MX-5 is the driver’s car distilled. Rear-wheel-drive, a perfectly balanced chassis, and a sweet gearbox. Job done. If you’ve not driven one, you could be forgiven for thinking the gutless engine might detract from the experience, but if anything it adds to the fun: the MX-5 is so slow that you can drive the wheels off it 100% the time - without getting points on your license.
2. Abarth 595 Competizione
I recently spent two weeks in one of these, and it inspired me to put this list together. The 595 Comp is a quick little car - but with 176bhp, the fastest hot hatches of today would monster it. That’s not the point. The 595 has an unparalleled ability to inspire bouts of childishness. Everything about the car, from the carbon fibre/alcantara wheel to the outrageous exhaust note - is about having fun. It’s so delightfully juvenile that if your nan drove one, within five minutes she’d be blipping the throttle and dumping the clutch at lights.
3. VW Up GTI
When the spicy Up first was revealed, people were quick to draw comparisons to the Mk1 Golf GTI, and it’s easy to see why. Same size, power output, same plodding 0-60 time. If this was a deliberate move by VW, it was an inspired one: identifying that while still brilliant, their Golf GTI had grown heavier and faster over its seven evolutions, they gave it a baby brother, offering the low-speed thrills and chuckability of the original, in a trendy modern package. It’s so cute!
4. Toyota GT86
The GT86 has been the victim of many a meme since its release, often mocked as the boy racer’s car that’s looks fast but isn’t. Again, people are missing the point. If Toyota wanted trouser-wetting performance, they could have given it that. But instead they gave it a peppy little normally-aspirated engine and deliberately fitted skinny tyres, so that the limits of grip could be easily reached. That’s a brave statement of intent that this is a car more interested in fun than fast. And for that, we salute it.
5. Alpine A110
It was pretty much everyone’s performance car of the year in 2018, despite being a good 100bhp down on its sports car rivals. How did it manage that? Lightness. The A110 is a good half a tonne trimmer than a Porsche Cayman and with that lightness comes agility, and a sense that you can throw it around without consequence. The Alpine proves that when brands focus entirely on driver enjoyment - rather than falling into a horsepower war with their competitors - beautiful things happen.
6. Porsche 911 Carrera T
There’s no bad apple in the the modern 911 range, but the Carrera T is the one geared most specifically towards fun. In truth it’s little more than a well-specced base Carrera, but the combination of reduced noise insulation, a stubby gear shifter and optional radio and rear seat delete give it a different personality. The T offers some of the focus of the bigger, scarier GT cars, in a more accessible package. It’s a manual 911 with a loud exhaust - what more could anyone want?!
7. Singer 911
A half-million pound, hand built masterpiece like the Singer may seem out of place on this list. But it shouldn’t. Singer’s new DLS - developed in tandem with Williams F1 - is a demonstration of what they can achieve when they do decide to go fast, but the original Singer (the one that, to the uninitiated, could pass for a lovely old stock 911) is all about specialness. Every last exquisite detail is designed to make it feel alive, to make every single drive an unforgettable experience. It is the ‘fun over fast’ mantra taken to the Nth degree, and that’s why - for me - it’s the most desirable roadcar ever made.