Silent Speed

Speed. It’s one of the main talking points when owning an exotic sports car. One of the first questions you are asked by friends, relatives and even strangers is always “How fast does that go?”. What’s your reply? Do you quote the top speed, or the 0-60 time, or both?

The bigger question though is; can these numbers really get any more impressive? Back in the early 90’s, the Jaguar XJ220 could break the 60 barrier in around 3.7 seconds. A few years later, McLaren eclipsed this figure, with quoted times at 3.2 seconds to 60mph and a 240mph top speed.

This figure has largely been the one to beat. The standard by which all other cars are measured. Through the 20 years or so since McLaren released the F1 there have been marginal increases in performance figures – the Zonda R for example, claims a 2.7 second time, and Koenigsegg’s CCR has a 242mph top speed.

But these numbers are, in real world terms, small increases (would you really be able to tell?) and this is due to the sheer technological advances required to achieve just a few extra on the top speed, or point-something’s on a 0-60 time. When the Veyron SuperSport came out, it topped the charts with a 0-60 of 2.5 seconds and a top speed above 250mph. This is a limited run hyper-car, but the new Lamborghini Aventador comes close to these figures – and this is a production vehicle.

So, where can manufacturers possibly go from here? In 30 more years, will cars really be able to go from 0-60 in 1 second? If a production supercar can get to this level, then one would expect that your regular hot-hatch would follow suit and have acceleration times of 3 or 4 seconds and 200mph top speeds.

The physics surely can’t allow for this. Can a car get that much traction to allow a sub 1 second 0-60 time? Road safety would then be an issue. Let’s face it, no road-going car ever really needs to get above 100mph and if you were to get a blowout at a 250mph speed, or someone pulled into your motorway lane without realising your there, you’re going to be firmly heading to the gates of doom that are not of this world.

Regardless of whether it is technically possible to get such low 0-60 times (and higher top-speeds) I doubt that this technology would be allowed to end up in the hands of us mere mortals. It will remain as a technical proving exercise, accessible to the privileged few only.

With that in mind, where can the motor industry go now to keep developing cars and making them better, more desirable than the previous model? I think this is where the environment has come to the rescue. Manufacturers have to comply with ever stricter standards on emissions, coupled with a subconscious mood of buyers to get higher mileage from a tank, lower running costs, greater reliability and increased safety.

Whilst our future purchase decision is unlikely to be influenced by the fact that a car is, let’s say 95% recyclable, it will make you feel good inside to know that there is an environmental benefit over the old model. And 60 miles to the gallon from a desirable supercar would also be nice.

Step forward Porsche 918.

A concept car with imminent release. With a hybrid petrol-electric car, the Porsche represents the first phase in a shift towards Supercar ‘green’ness. It will get to 60mph from standstill in 3.2 seconds, so whilst not a trailblazer of performance by Veyron standards, it’s still not something to be sniffed at. But crucially, it uses the latest hybrid technology to develop more than 700hp from effectively a 3.4 engine (218 of those stallions comes from the combined electric power). Being a Porsche it will also be every-day useable (in as far as you’d actually want to) with reasonable running costs. 80mpg too!

It could now be that, thanks to the increasing external pressure on making cars more eco-friendly, a by-product is that manufacturers still have an area of focus and interest. And it is no longer all about headline speed, but about its green credentials. Gone are the days of the Anorak Prius, being eco is becoming cooler.

Speaking with a friend recently, he mused that in a couple of generation’s time, the young drivers of today will be told by their offspring; “I can’t believe you were allowed to destroy the planet like that in those cars, Grandad”. We will all be in fuel efficient, but equally fun cars that don’t operate solely using a combustion engine (if at all).

I’m in agreement on anything that can reduce the impact on the environment (solar powered cars – there’s a dream!), but providing Porsche and friends keep making cars as interesting, sporty and fun like the 918 promises to be, our motoring hobby will continue to thrive – albeit somewhat quieter on the roads.