I recently watched a youtube video discussion about slow cars that are fun to drive in a fast manner (oxymoronic?). I found myself very much relating to that concept because the car I currently drive, a Toyota Corolla compact family sedan, is just about towards the bottom of the automotive spectrum in terms of speed and absolute power. With a 125 brake horsepower 1.8 litre inline four cyclinder engine, the Corolla can barely get out of its own way (higher merging/passing is always a dramatic affair in danger) when I am alone in the car, much less carrying a full load of passengers (and to think that was what the car was designed for!).
That being said, the Corolla was the perfect car for my first venture into the automotive world of driving. Just like you wouldn’t hand a first time motorcycle rider a Hayabusa, it does not make sense for my demographic of a person (the wild and unchained young teenage male) to get anything remotely too powerful of a car. I cringe when I see kids get high power sports cars as their first car. That is just accidents waiting to happen, and subsequently our insurances rates going up in the process. People really need to be eased into this whole thing about driving, especially when the average car is a 3000 pound weapon of considerable amount of destruction when operated incorrectly.
Since the power of my Corolla is at best limited, the automotive enthusiast in me naturally would find other ways to make it more fun to drive. I don’t buy into the idea of increasing the horsepower of a car with modifications because honestly, it is usually much cheaper (and more reliable) to just buy a faster car (ie. one with more horsepower) in the first place. The only way I saw fit to make my car (or any car for that matter) increase in driving fun is to modify the suspension and thus the handling. That is also the essence that goes into slow cars that are fun to drive fast - those slow cars must have a properly sporting suspension package in order for it to be fun.
To address the handling of the car, the key items are the wheels, dampers, springs, and various chassis bars. I have replace all of those items on my car with better performing aftermarket versions. Lightweight aluminium wheels lower the unsprung weight of the car in all four corners leading to a faster power pickup of and the much easier turning due to various physics which I don’t have the ability to go into. Performance dampers and springs lowers the center of gravity and stiffens up the compression for sharper steering response and body rotation in the corners. Chassis bars assist in doing that even further.
All those things help make my daily commute enjoyable and less taxing than it would have been otherwise. Being trapped in the typical urban jungle of American cities, there are hardly any chance for people to stretch the legs of their car. You can have the highest amount of horsepower possible in a car, but when you drive on city streets, there is no chance that you will get to use even a fraction of it. Germany’s famed autobahn with no speed limit is probably the only place in the world one can actually harness the power of their high power automobiles. For the rest of us, I think it is a just a waste of good money. Bragging rights? They are for the insecure.
What the urban environment do possess are corners and turns, and that is where automotive enthusiast can recapture the excitement that is lost in not being able to just “punch it”. Imagine taking your car at slightly higher than normal speed through one of those iconic sweeping onramps of the American highway system - there is nothing quite like it. Certainly you won’t be able to do that if the suspension of your car has zero sporting intentions. If you have an economy car (like I do), I suggest you do some modifications to the suspension.
Or you can just purchase a moderately powered car with a sports suspension (the proverbial sports car or sports sedan). The consumer has been clamoring for these types of vehicle, and I think what I explained above is the reason - they want some fun in their commutes without having to dole out major dollars for the typical high power sports cars. Cars like the classic Mazda Miata or a Civic Si are some of the best examples of automobiles you can drive daily with a bit of fun (and enough horsepower to move you a bit as well.)
Toyota recently got back into the game with the Scion FR-S two door coupe. Auto journalists praises its handling characteristics but laments its “measly” 200 horsepower. I think that is absolute bullocks because where does anybody outside of people that plan to track it would actually use all the power? I can’t believe there actually came a day where people are complaining about “ONLY” 200 horsepower. That amount of power is plenty adequate for the cars intended purpose - giving the consumer a bit of fun in their daily commutes and driving excursions. The Toyota engineers knew what they were doing - they focused all their attention to the handling of the car (with low center of gravity being of upmost importance) because that is what will shine through when it comes to actual driving.
A car with anywhere between 200 to 300 horsepower I think should suffice for most of the driving population; anything with more power just cannot be properly used in an urban setting. I am all for having fast cars, but those kind of things needs to be thought out with practicality and efficiency in mind. You are just dumping your money into the ocean if the sole purpose of your 500 horsepower car is to drive you to and from work. Will it be fun? Sure, but all I am saying is that you will be having that same fun with a car that has the same handling characteristics but some 200 LESS horsepower - and save a boatload of money in the process.
Me personally, of course I would never stay satisfied with my Corolla, no matter how much fun it has become after the various handling modifications I have done to it. At the end of the day, it still only has 125 horsepower, and that is just not enough for my automotive enthusiast’s of a left foot. However, my next car will definitely fall within the power range stated above - even if I can afford something more powerful. Anything more would just be useless for my intended purposes.