The sports car in your future

Posted by: David Welch on October 24, 2008

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I have driven the future and it’s here right now. Granted, oil prices are falling like a Hummer driven over a cliff, but consumers are still going to be keen on fuel economy for the foreseeable future. That being the case, what will sports car buffs drive if money is an object? Try a Mini with the John Cooper Works package.

First, some full disclosure. I drive a 2003 Mini Cooper S and love the car. So I have a bias. But the new JCW is an out-and-out sports car. It has 208 horsepower under the hood that sends the 2,800 pound car off the line like a scalded dog. It handles better than anything BMW makes, the steering offers pinpoint control and I got 31 mpg combined mileage after a few days of driving. The U.S. EPA rates it at 29 mpg in combined milage. In other words, it’s grin factor without having to grimace at the pump.

Let’s face it. Even as gasoline prices come down, both consumers and automakers will be wary of going back to America’s V-8 ways. Given the politics of oil and the forecast for increased demand from India and China, prices could easily rise. Many experts see $80 a barrel as the benchmark price. That being the likely future, four-cylinder sports cars with turbos or high-performance V-6 engines will be the way to go. Ford’s EcoBoost engines with turbo and direct injection are also the right idea. Then there are great compacts like the Mazda Speed 3 or Chevy Cobalt SS. They don’t sip gasoline like a Prius, but they don’t putter along like one, either. Don’t forget the new diesel cars that get the mileage of some hybrids but have serious torque off the line. A Mercedes E320 BlueTec gets a combined 26 mpg and that’s one big, fast sedan.

If sensible fast rides aren’t enough, there will be electric cars that get maximum torque as soon as you punch the accelerator. Mini will show an electric car at the Los Angeles Auto Show next month that will go on sale in 2009. The company will build a special run of 500 Mini E cars. The future may be fuel efficiency. But it can still be fun.

Reader Comments

Chris Terry

October 27, 2008 9:04 AM

By what measurement does this car handle "better than anything BMW makes?"
Not challenging the conclusion, David, just how you might have arrived at it.

Agreed that downsized, gas turbos for mainstream vehicles is the growth market, and for more expensive cars, turbo diesel. The average U.S. car made 50-something hp/liter a few years back; Japan and European market vehicles closer to 80hp/liter . . . meaning smaller, more power dense engines. EcoBoost, Ecotec, Mazda's DISI, VW/Audi's FSI turbos are the way forward for performance and efficiency without huge cost hits.

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Want the straight scoop on the auto industry? Our man in Detroit David Welch, brings keen observations and provocative perspective on the auto business.

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