STRANGE things happen these days when I get involved in certain car talk. I find that the minute people start bickering on which car is faster, or fastest, my eyes start to slowly glaze over, and my interest begins to fade away dramatically.
It is a difficult thing to get away from nowadays. With headline breaking horsepower, the amount of turbos or how quickly a car accelerates, these points easily become the focal point of the discussion.
It's really boring.
Even though the people who do talk about these things and find them important are probably individuals that do 'get' cars, but I feel that they are falling into a trap. One that sees them missing the point entirely.
The point I am referring to is that the enjoyment that most gearheads get from a car is HOW it drives.
If you're purely in it for speed then I wish you the best of luck and salutations if and when you hit or break the records that interest you. In fact go one better, ride a superbike and see how that takes your fancy.
There are many examples of car manufacturers giving in to the consumer demand for such a ludicrous approach to motoring, and there are hardly any that actually put driving dynamics and purity first. There are even less car makers that produce cars that are not only fun to drive but affordable to do so.
Let me admit to two things. Getting the best of such vehicles requires a completely different mindset. Someone expecting great things from such cars will always be on the losing end of such a battle of expectations. The experience from driving cars either sporting- or performance-based hinges on one thing, and one thing alone.
Secondly, this isn't about having a devil may care attitude, but rather being thoughtful and executing driving basics with finesse. You don't win any medals for driving recklessly anywhere in the world, so don't start just cause you're driving a car that makes you feel special.
It puts the onus on the driver to learn their craft. While the manual transmission is slowly being phased out, I remain an advocate. Only because if you can't produce the required level of performance from your car while shifting gears with a gear lever and clutch pedal, should you really be allowed to go fast on a track or closed road in something that takes away this "handicap" and potentially endangering your life?
It is the only way to get the best out of any vehicle in any motoring experience.
I have what is probably a Bruneian motorist's equivalent of a dirty little secret. No, it isn't using the inner lane of major roundabouts and cutting across the whitelines (there are enough errant drivers here doing that), rather I have a slight fascination for small French frontwheel drive cars.
Seeing as I'm in Brunei and not Europe, it is a bit bizzarre I have to admit. Especially since the last two decades have produced some of Japan's most interesting cars that have become industry benchmarks and game changers, and are usually the staple diet of fast cars found in Brunei.
Being in this part of the world, we are quite lucky to have some of the best cars in the world provided our disposal income allows us to indulge in them. Yet the car or cars that I've been secretly going "ooh and aah" over aren't exactly considered the mainstream here in Brunei.
Case in point, Renault's Clio Renaultsport 200 (Clio RS). There are those that recognise the Clio and think, "oh yeah that small car to the groceries in". I admit, when the latest Clio was launched here, I thought it was rather underwhelming. To be sure the hot hatch that is based on the run of the mill grocery go-getter would arrive with much more fanfare. To my disappointment no one really batted an eyelid. I asked a salesman at the dealership if they could be ordered, and he told me a flat out no.
The real travesty here is because no one realises what a gem of a car the Renaultsport version of the clio is. Even if the styling is a bit out there, it's a small mercy you don't see yourself when driving. Small and light, especially in the "Cup" form which throws everything that isn't necessary out of the window, radio and air-conditioning and makes the most of what is a very good chassis and tweaks the suspension of the car so that it handles exceptionally.
Don't worry, if you're in a country where they bring them in, you can still get the Cup settings with radio and A/C on your Clio RS.
Consider this, its been dubbed the hatchback equivalent of the 911 GT3, a car that has captured the imagination of trackday drivers the world over. It's why I love the Clio RS. Look into the past and its old hat really, the French have been making hot handling hatchbacks for years now.
Handling in particular has been a hallmark of the Clios of old, which thanks to their links with Formula One engineering have seen them deliver precise driving machines. Even if they are underpowered, especially in this age of turbos and maximum attack top speeds.
Despite the Clio RS having almost 200bhp, forced induction cars like the Golf GTi with its far more accessible torque curve will usually leave it behind, unless you're talented behind the wheel. Which is the beauty about the Clio and other cars that have been built with the emphasis on a "fun to drive" ethos.
While they remain normally aspirated and with relatively low power (compared to contemporaries), these cars are usually lighter in many respects. Making them able to decelerate and stop far quicker, using late braking techniques, the right racing line and keeping the engine buzzing in the right power band, you would be surprised how these types of cars perform against far more expensive and exotic machines on the track.
What other cars am I talking about? Lotus were one of the first pioneers of such an engineering philosophy.
Honda produced a plethora of Type-Rs with in the same vein, the original Mini Cooper one of the most iconic cars the world has ever seen won many races and rallys simply because they were able to out manouver their rivals.
At the end of the day, that's what makes cars like the Clio RS and other "driving" cars a rarity these days. These are cars that you drive, and not the other way around. They offer rewarding driving experiences for those who can extract the best out of them, and the most beautiful thing is that you don't need to be driving at the limit to enjoy them. These cars, they make you feel like a hero. The Brunei Times
Sunday, October 16, 2011
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