As is so often the case when petrolheads get together, a recent pub lunch with friends descended into a massive debate about the virtues of one segment of the car market compared with another.
We’ve all been there. It could be American muscle versus JDM touge heroes, BMW versus Mercedes, or fart-cannon-clad Honda Civics versus the world. Over the past couple of years, though, one thing seems to unite car enthusiasts above all else, and that’s that electric vehicles are the enemy.
It was this topic of conversation that saw my friends gang up on me as I tried to stick up for the likes of the Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe and, more interestingly, Tesla’s various offerings, and after failing to convince them that the automotive apocalypse was not upon us, I hope to find kindred spirits here by putting forth my argument...
You see, a lot of weight is put behind noise. For many people, me included, little else gets the heart racing and the fizz… fizzing… quite like the sound of a gloriously complex internal combustion engine sucking, squeezing, banging and blowing.
There are so many different combinations of engine layout and exhaust set-up and countless other factors that give cars character. Whether it’s the angry bark of a Mercedes-AMG C63’s V8 or the low burble of a Subaru’s boxer engine, noise is character and character is good.
Therefore, the fact that electric vehicles are silent means they’re boring, right? Wrong. From the first time I planted my foot in a Tesla Model S, I was an EV convert. For a start, going from 0-60mph in under three seconds and continuing to licence-losing speeds in near silence is addictive.
Yeah, howls and barks and burbles are great, but gut-wrenching acceleration in the absence of noise is just as evocative. But it’s not total silence because – depending on what electric vehicle you’re driving – there will be some degree of high-pitched whirring, which only amplifies the urgency with which the motor spins up and catapults you towards the vanishing point.
It’s not just the noise either. As a driver, it’s the responsiveness that’s truly gratifying. Whether you’re in a Nissan Leaf or a Model S, the fact that 100 per cent of torque is available from a standstill means that throttle response is instant. I once tested a Lexus RC F back-to-back with a Model S, and waiting for the naturally aspirated V8 to wind up made it feel slow; not having instant punch the second you planted the throttle was frustrating.
Even in the Leaf, you can spin the wheels up while exiting a junction if you’re obnoxious enough with the throttle, so it’s not totally dull. As a side note, it’s this reason that I’d urge anyone who can afford an EV hatchback and doesn’t need to drive halfway across the country every day to consider one. If your choice is between that and a dull city car with an unresponsive three-cylinder petrol engine, I guarantee you’ll have more fun in the EV.
Back to supercars though, and it’s the Audi e-tron Vision Gran Turismo that’s thrust the debate about electric supercars into the limelight again recently. I mean, the stats alone should leave little argument about its credentials, with 794bhp and a 0-60mph time of just 2.5 seconds. The batteries make it fairly heavy for a race car, though it’s lighter than an R8 and has all of its weight down low. At 562bhp per tonne, it’s squaring up against the McLaren 720S, which is no slouch.
You only have to watch the on-board footage to hear the racket that accompanies acceleration, with the furious whine of the motors laughing in the face of those who claim EVs are quiet and boring. I can only imagine that tearing up a track or a twisting mountain road is just as much of an assault on the senses as any V10-engined alternative.
Reviews from the launch event of this admittedly one-off racer reported the kind of organ rearranging accelerative punch you’d expect, and fantastically sharp handling. Everything a true driver could really ask for.
I guess my point is that we shouldn’t be so quick to write off something that’s different just because we’ve already established what we like. Electric performance cars offer something that challenges our preconceived notions of driving enjoyment, and if you open your mind you might find a thrilling alternative.
Also, there’s room for all here. If Audi brings along an electric R8 in the not-too-distant future, or Rimac starts to push Ferrari for supercar sales, that doesn’t suddenly mean all V8s and V10s will be banned. They’ll still be available on the new and used markets, so even if you don’t consider variety the spice of life, there’ll be a fossil fuel-burning supercar for you too.