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The rise and rise of electric vehicles (EVs) will change a lot of our preconceived notions around cars.
Beyond the obvious topics of emissions and charging, the wider acceptance of EVs will fundamentally change the way we perceive performance cars.
Of course, on the road or a track the Volkswagen and Subaru would likely be the far more enjoyable cars to drive - for an enthusiast - but it highlights the way the potency of electric motors will alter the way we measure performance.
Ever since Tesla unleashed the Model S 100D with ‘Insane Mode’ that allowed it to run 0-100km/h in just 2.5 seconds, acceleration has become the key bragging point for car makers. Porsche went so far as to develop a two-speed transmission for the Taycan, in large part to improve its acceleration to 2.8 seconds.
Mate Rimac admitted he and his engineers redesigned the powertrain of the C_Two concept to include a two-speed gearbox just to try and beat Tesla’s claims for its (in theory) upcoming Roadster. Rimac had to use Formula One levels of engineering and technology to build an incredibly complicated two-speed ‘box, only to revert to a single-speed transmission for the production Nevera, simply because it was too heavy and complicated.
But does it really matter to consumers? Because while 0-100km/h has always been an important performance measurement, it’s far from the be-all-and-end-all of determining whether a car is merely powerful or a true performance car.
That will become evident in the near-future as more traditional sports car brands introduce battery-powered models instead of petrol-powered ones. I’m thinking specifically of Lotus, Alpine and even Porsche.
Lotus revealed its electric sports car platform recently, showcasing plans to effectively replace a mid-mounted petrol engine with a battery “chest” to keep the weight distribution similar to its V6-powered Emira. Unlike the Emira, which is also available with an AMG-built 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine, future Lotus EV sports cars will all use variations of the same electric motors.
What’s more, at the same time it revealed it will also be able to deploy the batteries in a “slab” layout under the floor to produce its first SUVs. So, effectively Lotus’ future sports cars and SUVs will ride on the same underpinnings and use the same motors, blurring the line between what we know performance cars to be.
Yes, brands already utilise the same engine across various models - VW Group’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo can be found in a variety of Volkswagen, Audi, Skoda and Cupra models - but the company also offers a variety of more powerful options for other vehicles. The Audi RS6 Avant has a mighty twin-turbo V8, the Audi V8 a screaming V10 and the RS3 its unique and loveable five-cylinder turbo. EVs will be able to be as fast as those three, but can achieve it effectively using the same motors across each model - thus homogenizing performance cars.
The key issue is electric motors aren’t like combustion engines, because aside from the obvious, you don’t need to build a bigger electric motor to change power outputs in the same way you do for a petrol performance car. Whereas something like the Hyundai i30 N uses a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine, the regular i30 uses a completely different engine without the turbocharger.
With an electric car, say the Hyundai Ioniq 5, the company can play around with the number of electric motors (one or two) to adjust performance - but they are fundamentally the same engines. They can also be tuned for different performance levels too, which means car makers won’t need to produce such a wide variety of powertrains, just a few electric motors that can be ‘mix ‘n’ matched’ depending on the size and type of model.
The Ioniq 5 is a good example, as it can be fitted with a single electric motor that makes 160kW/350Nm and is rear-wheel drive, or the addition of a second motor ramps it up to performance car levels with 225kW/605Nm and all-wheel drive.
A performance car used to be easy to define - it was a two-door sports car. Then came the rise of sports sedans then hot hatches and more recently the hot SUV. In the future it may be harder to tell, because as the Polestar 2 and Hyundai Ioniq 5 have demonstrated, any EV can be built with performance car levels of power and torque.
Let me be clear, I don’t have a problem with EVs and I certainly don’t have a problem with them being more powerful than a golf cart. But what happens when every new vehicle is packing enough grunt to run sub-five-second 0-100km/h times? Not only does that raise questions of safety but it also threatens to make the motoring world a less-interesting place.
I don’t want conformity - I like cars in all shapes and size. Small cars, big SUVs, slow ones and, yes, fast ones. EVs threaten to make all cars, regardless of shape or size, ‘performance cars’ and that’s something that may sound good in theory but threatens to make the driving experience less enticing.