If you listened closely last month, amidst the general clamor concerning the new Corvette’s square tail lights, you could hear a subtle bass layer of another variety of complaining – about the power. “Only 450 hp?” comment section PhDs whispered. “That’s not much.”
Now, we know what they meant. That it’s not much compared to the Viper and the Shelby Mustang and probably some Astons and things. That it’s not much for a Corvette. But four hundred and fifty horsepower is actually very much, indeed. It’s more than most of us pack in our daily drivers, and could light up the rear tires on a Uhaul full of your creepy newspaper collection.
And yet we have this persistent public mentality that dwarfs horsepower figures when we’re comparing them with other cars in the segment. That’s why consumer cars today are more powerful today than they’ve ever been. That’s why the 2 liter Cadillac ATS has been turbocharged to 270 hp.
Now don’t get us wrong. We’re not complaining about massive power figures like the 370 hp bleeding from the seams of the Dodge Charger R/T. We love that you can get a muscle car disguised as a family sedan. Horsepower is awesome.
But if you don’t have so much horsepower, can you still have fun?
We raise the question because last week Dodge released some info on the newest special version of the Dart – the Mopar Edition. It’s basically an ad for Mopar aftermarket parts, with bolt-ons galore, but there will be 500 factory official examples built in Michigan. And none of them will have much more than 170 hp, just a handful over stock due to a performance exhaust. Yes, it’s front-wheel-drive, but if Ford can make their FWD Focus ST spit out 252 hp and handle like a 1982 F1 car, surely Dodge can turn up the power and still avoid torque steer.
That doesn’t seem to be their goal, however. And while this might be due to a potential SRT version of the Dart a little later on (surely jacked up to 300 hp or something ridiculously awesome), they’ve chosen instead to focus on the Dart’s handling. The Mopar has been lowered slightly and amended with a ground effects kit. Brakes, steering, and tires have all had the wrinkles pressed out.
It’s reminiscent of an earlier time, when power wasn’t everything, and no one expected it to be. The Mk 1 VW Golf GTI, the original hot hatch, which fathered a line of hopped-up VWs that flourishes to this day, only came with about 110 hp. Getting to 60 took 9 seconds. But everyone loved the GTI, even if they couldn’t beat anything off the line. They were tight, engaging, and fun to drive.
Or look at the NA Miata, maligned in its day but now widely regarded as one of the best two-seat sports cars ever produced. Its 1.6 liter puttered out all of 115 hp. But try marketing a new dedicated sports car under 200 hp today and you’ll be thrown in the stocks. Just ask Toyota, whose 200 hp Subaru BR-Z and Scion FR-S can scarcely make it through a conversation without a couple of lip-chewing hop-ons berating its paltry 198 hp and groaning for an STi version.
But perhaps this is all turning around. Materials are getting lighter and stronger to counteract the massive bloating brought on by safety regulations. Direct injection is becoming commonplace, and the stick shift is making a comeback. Maybe we’re returning to an age when a slow car will reward a fast driver.
There’s nothing wrong with insane amounts of horsepower. Heck, we love horsepower. We love burnouts and drifts and window-shaking exhaust notes. But if we’re ever going to learn to master these powerful beasts we’ve now mysteriously saddled, perhaps we should start a bit smaller.
Photo Courtesy Chrysler Group LLC