The first time completely stamping your foot on the ground in a really fast electric car is an enlightening experience. The way even a fairly ordinary electric vehicle like a Hyundai Kona Electric leaps forward without hesitation can impress you. And in something like a Tesla Model 3 Performance, or even better a Model S or a Porsche Taycan Turbo S, you’ll be really shocked by the sheer violence over those first few meters, no matter how many supercars or theme park rides you might have experienced.
But is that enough? Sure, it’s exciting when the wind blows out of you as you leave the line and the car disappears out of your side window in the next lane and reappears in the back. But isn’t there more to a great performance car than that? I think there is.
Also read: Our first drive of the Ford Mustang Mach-E
Image Mike Gauthier / Carscoops
And I’m talking about performance cars, cars that are designed to be exciting. I can absolutely see how the noiseless, emission-free, and easily accessible breakdown of an electric vehicle makes the electrical output well suited for regular cars like the Nissan Leaf and even the Mustang Mach-E. But the enthusiast in me still finds it flawed.
I’ve driven various Teslas and the Taycan, and I’ve also been fortunate enough to spend time with many traditional performance cars and gas-powered supercars. And while these modern day electric cars would give the modern day hypercars a serious run for their money off the lights and in a roll-on race, the experience of driving a Taycan is difficult to remember, but easy to remember pretty much every detail of the time spent in a 911 remembered.
I think there are a few reasons for this. The most obvious is the lack of noise. Imagine watching Spielberg’s Jaws without John Williams’ bonfire musical accompaniment or a Western shootout with no gunshots. Or try to watch a sporting event on TV like a soccer game where the teams play in empty, silent stadiums because viewers are not allowed to return just yet to update things and give them a current Covid touch to lend.
Many electric cars have sound synthesizers to give them more character. We should remember that there are several gas-powered cars that lost their voices when they switched to turbo-charged performance. The Taycan’s synthesizer is standard on the Turbo S and optional on smaller models. But these false noises are never that satisfying, partly because we know they are wrong. And also because, whether fake or not, they don’t sound as exciting as a fully illuminated Lamborghini V12.
Great strength, small character
Gas engines also have a nuanced character. Okay maybe less, now most things are turbocharged, but both the noise and vibration transmitted to the driver and the power transmitted to the tires change depending on the type of under Load you put the engine and where you are in the rev range. But you don’t really get that variation with an electric vehicle. If you forgive the foray into bad retro taste, it’s like comparing a car coated in one of those chameleon colors from the late 1990s to the same car painted in a flat red.
And since we’re talking about sound and character, we should probably mention cold starts. Hagerty just made a great video about why cars sound so damn good when you start them first. Yes, cold starting your Lambo at 9 a.m. on a Sunday is likely to annoy the neighbors and fill your lungs with some bad stuff, but it’s definitely fun. And sometimes we need a little fun.
But I don’t want all of this fun to come too easily. Electric cars give you everything off the line, but then have nothing to throw at once the initial feeling of terror / euphoria created by the wild acceleration has subsided. Compare that to the anticipation of waiting for the crescendo to arrive in a vacuum truck that works the better the more you work on it. There is no Vtec, Yo! Moment in an EV.
Ferrari faced a similar problem when they introduced turbochargers into the switch from 458 to 488 and fixed it by carefully adjusting the boost curve to match the feel of an unblown power engine. It will be interesting to see if, when companies like Ferrari are eventually forced to switch to electric vehicles, they will make similar considerations about their electric motor technology.
But until that happens, it feels a bit like automakers are overcompensating for their EV shortcomings in character by just making them incredibly fast, to the point where you have trouble finding an opportunity at all To experience performance.
I can see why a lot of people think it’s a fair trade. I’m not anti-electric – I really enjoyed the Mach-E that I tried the other day, and I think the Taycan is a great daily driver for those rich enough to drive one. But if there’s some kind of emotional connection you’re looking for, it still falls short. When it comes to high-performance cars, I’d love to sacrifice a few tenths to 60 mph for a car with more personality, whether it’s gasoline, hydrogen, or battery-powered. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.
The upcoming Tesla Roadster, expected in 2022