Slow Car Fast

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Danoff

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There is something frustrating about driving a fast car on the road (and let's face it, that's where road cars belong. Track cars are a different animal). There's something great about it too. The ability to just think about touching the accelerator (such as in a Tesla) and already be at the speed limit is wonderful at times. But at other times, when you don't just want to get from A to B quickly, and you really want to drive it doesn't feel so great. It feels like you're spending all of your time cruising at the speed limit.

A similar effect can be noticed in the turns. If you have fantastic tires and 500 hp, you're up to speed for the next turn instantly, and you've got just unending amounts of grip that let you fly through the turn at break neck g-forces. And that can be fun for sure. But it can also be fun to truly pilot a car through a turn at a much slower speed but closer to the limit of the car's abilities. Such that you're really working the car.

James May goes on about this during The Grand Tour at one point (which I haven't found), about how driving a slow car with skinny tires and poor acceleration, but whose limits can be approached on the street is more fun and engaging than driving a monster fast car.

Doug DeMuro talks about it in reference to the M3 and the M5 (which I consider to be a little faster than what I'm talking about) at these points in his video.

Electric cars, which are all the rage at the moment (and rightfully so), get rid of so much that is really engaging about driving. Engine noise, pushing the car, low weight tossability, manual transmission (for some). They're still absolutely fun, and bonkers fast. But there was something about driving a slow car fast that's... gone.

I think that's it really, that experience (on the street anyway) is just gone. Cars of every lineup rocket down the road with limits that are absolutely miles past what you can really wring out on the road. My minivan is not my slowest car, but it is the least fun.

What cars did/do you love that capture slow-car fast? Do you know what I'm talking about, and do you agree?
 
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8,740
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Marin County
There is something frustrating about driving a fast car on the road (and let's face it, that's where road cars belong. Track cars are a different animal). There's something great about it too. The ability to just think about touching the accelerator (such as in a Tesla) and already be at the speed limit is wonderful at times. But at other times, when you don't just want to get from A to B quickly, and you really want to drive it doesn't feel so great. It feels like you're spending all of your time cruising at the speed limit.

A similar effect can be noticed in the turns. If you have fantastic tires and 500 hp, you're up to speed for the next turn instantly, and you've got just unending amounts of grip that let you fly through the turn at break neck g-forces. And that can be fun for sure. But it can also be fun to truly pilot a car through a turn at a much slower speed but closer to the limit of the car's abilities. Such that you're really working the car.

James May goes on about this during The Grand Tour at one point (which I haven't found), about how driving a slow car with skinny tires and poor acceleration, but whose limits can be approached on the street is more fun and engaging than driving a monster fast car.

Doug DeMuro talks about it in reference to the M3 and the M5 (which I consider to be a little faster than what I'm talking about) at these points in his video.

Electric cars, which are all the rage at the moment (and rightfully so), get rid of so much that is really engaging about driving. Engine noise, pushing the car, low weight tossability, manual transmission (for some). They're still absolutely fun, and bonkers fast. But there was something about driving a slow car fast that's... gone.

I think that's it really, that experience (on the street anyway) is just gone. Cars of every lineup rocket down the road with limits that are absolutely miles past what you can really wring out on the road. My minivan is not my slowest car, but it is the least fun.

What cars did/do you love that capture slow-car fast? Do you know what I'm talking about, and do you agree?

My 100hp Mazda2 was a very fun car....ultimately probably more 'fun' than my Porsche is, even though the Porsche is overwhelmingly better. Ever driven a 1940s Willys Jeep? Unbelievably slow, but probably the most engaging vehicle I've ever driven...you really feel like you're doing something.

My RX-7 was/is also an incredibly engaging vehicle to drive and to own. All the weird smells, the strangeness of the engine, the agility of the chassis...all with 135hp or so.

I also had an LS Integra (b18B) and a 1994 Civic (b16a swap) and they were each pretty good examples of slow car fast. The Integra had a decent amount of torque and you could just lump around on that. The B16a Civic required absolute thrashing to get anywhere and revved clear to 9,000rpm. It wasn't fast (ran high 14's in the 1/4 mile) but it sure felt like a racecar.

My next car might just be a Fiat 500 Abarth, which is one of the best examples of slow-car-fast I can think of, though it's probably bordering on not slow.

On the other hand, I've also driven a few Z06 Corvettes and the sheer brutality of those V8s is hard not to love.
 

Joey D

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I agree, a slow car fast is a great feeling. The RallyX car I built with my buddies before I move was a 1995 Dodge Neon that we swapped a Stratus engine and PT gearbox in to. While it was fastest than a normal Neon, in the grand scheme of things it was really slow. It was still incredibly fun to drive, even on the street with a set of very used Continental DW's. It was loud, had a stiff clutch, and always was on the verge of stalling out. It was an adventure for sure.

As for personal vehicles, the two Volvos I've had are really the only fast-ish cars I've had. The MINI Cooper was always a blast to drive despite being a non-S. The Focus wasn't horrible and I always seemed to find a road that could be entertaining. My Tacoma was also engaging but in a completely different way. Taking it off-road pose a whole nother sort of challenge and was always fun.

My C30 had a decent amount of power, but not so much that I couldn't use all of it on a road like the Dragon. My S60 is the most powerful car I've ever had at 325hp. I feel like that's really all I ever need in a car that size.

I buy weird vehicles though and have an odd taste in cars. What many gearheads find important, I don't. I want something decently quick and fun to drive, but comfort is a big thing for me since a road trip is a fun drive for me.
 
4,841
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United States
Stawookie
At a car show last year, a friend of mine allowed me to test drive his 1921 Ford Model T Roadster. 20 Horespower with a top speed of 45 MPH means the car is not fast at all. But with the controls being so unorthedox, sitting really high up, and being attached to the vehicle mechanically makes the experience extremely fun with such a high sence of speed. You'll never have as much fun in ANY modern car at 20 MPH as a Ford T.
 

McLaren

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I think this comes down to how engaging the car in question is for me, personally. The car has to have a rawness to it that makes you feel everything about it, and my Z06 satisfied that; its only creature comforts were a Nav screen and heated seats. Otherwise, it would shake at idle & was not the most comfortable vehicle compared to what I'm used to. But, it was responsive to inputs and you could feel everything you did. As you mentioned, you could feel yourself working the car.

Of course, more credit due to your point, it was also a car that was more about your limit than its limit. It could definitely go in from a fun corner to a scary corner very quickly where as something slower like a S2000, you'd have a lot more leeway and ability to toggle that limit without breaking your comfort zone. And that's likely the appeal of slower cars where you can really toy with them and explore their limits. I believe Clarkson had a lot of praise for the GT86 because Toyota had put Prius size tires on it which meant you could break traction easy without going over the limit.
 

homeforsummer

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Both the cars I currently own fit the slow-car-fast definition. Neither weighs more than a metric ton (the Peugeot is sub-2000lbs with a full tank of fuel), both have fairly skinny tyres (175s on the Peugeot, 185s on the Mazda), both are manual, only the Mazda has PAS, neither has ABS/TCS/ESP. I'm not against safety features like ABS incidentally, but it's an illustration of how basic each is.

I'd say I enjoy both more than the majority of cars I drive for the day job. They're engaging over any journey length rather than requiring a dedicated trip to a special road (or a track) to enjoy, they trade actual speed for feeling fast, and both offer loads of interaction through their controls - great gearboxes, responsive throttles, brakes that need a bit of effort but have great pedal feel, and loads of feedback through the steering.

@McLaren is right that it's very car-dependent in the first place, and I'd say that just because a car is quicker or its limits are higher, it doesn't mean it can't be enjoyed legally on the road. The current Mustang GT is like that for me - you can enjoy that engine from the moment you turn it on to the moment you turn it off, even if you never break the speed limit.

But what you can't do in many modern performance cars (in the UK at least - from experience I know it's a little different on the right kind of roads in the US) is experience that feeling of really working a car hard without driving irresponsibly fast. Some cars get up to speed so quickly and sustain it so easily that to feel like you're working the chassis, tyres and performance you're at speeds that frankly are better off experienced on a circuit.

@Volksauto makes a great point too. Some of the most fun I've had in a car this year was in a Renault 4. It's obviously not a great car dynamically and it's certainly not a fast one, but the experience is so mechanical and you feel like an important part of making the car go where it goes, which is fun in itself.
 

Danoff

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I'm finding myself thinking about this more this morning. Yesterday I drove my FX35 maybe 10 miles from my house and back. It's fun, I always forget how fun that car is. It makes a great sound, and you don't need much on the accelerator to really move. But you can't really get on it. Taking that car ice driving is the closest that I've come to really exploring its dynamics. Sure I take a few corners quickly in it, and it's rewarding to do that, but I can't get anywhere close to the limit on surface roads. You can't really floor that car without doing something stupid on public streets.

I was sitting here thinking about it, and I came to the conclusion that 4 out of my 5 cars can't be really pushed on city streets. If I'm going to rev up the engine, get on the gas, turn hard, and really lay into it, 4 out of 5 of them, including my minivan, will go way too fast on city streets and get me a ticket.

It's just the NA MR2 that I can do that in. That car, unlike any other car I have, will make any trip fun if you really feel like driving. You can floor it and rev it up anywhere, push it in the turns, downshift aggressively... There's no such thing as a boring trip in that car. There is such a thing as a tiresome trip in that car, it's not great if you just want to get from A to B and not be really energetic. But man, when you're up for a drive, I dunno... it's just such a sweet spot for the street.

Edit:

Unless you couldn't tell, I'm up for a drive right now. But it's too cold outside for my tires, and I need to work. :(
 

Beeblebrox237

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I used to hire a Toyota Aygo by the hour last year and that was another perfect example of slow car fast. You could drive it flat out everywhere and barely break the speed limit, but the three pot made a great noise and it was tiny and tossable.
 

Moglet

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I'm finding that driving my Focus is a lot more fun than I ever thought it would be because of the fact I can use 100% of the power more frequently and push the car a little without it getting dangerous. I can floor it when leaving a roundabout and it'll quickly catch up with the car in front without ever feeling out of control, and with the airbox resonator removed it makes a fun noise too. It's made me reconsider wanting something faster. A 0-60mph time of 8-9 seconds seems to be the sweet spot for fun on the road for me.
 
7,185
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I understand the sentiment, but I prefer having a car that's more capable than the road requires rather than the other way around. Practically, it means your car will handle anything that the road can throw at you, from inconsiderate traffic to questionably short on-ramps. While I do enjoy tossing a car around anywhere, I try to be boring and predictable on the streets.

I have only a handful of track time from my FSAE days but that's the most fun I've ever had in a car. I'm OK with experiencing that only once in blue moon so I haven't really sought ways to make daily driving more involving.
 
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Ive thought about this topic a lot based on the two cars I drive.

The “slow” car is a 2007 STI, almost completely stock, with low-grip all-season tires fitted.

I know people on here, especially in other parts of the world, won’t see an STI as a “slow” car. But living in Texas, with mostly long, straight, flat roads, a 300HP 4 door sedan really isn’t all that quick by today’s standards.

Whenever I DO find a good backroad though, it is so much more engaging. You can really push the car, and the tires will scream at you long before they truly give way.

Particularly in the rain, the AWD gives enough of a security blanket to help you know you won’t die, while still letting you get some push on corner entry, and some tail out on corner exit.

Thanks to it not being too loud, I can also rev it however high I like, especially on downshifting, without feeling like I’m ruining everybody’s day.



The MUSTANG, on the other hand, is what I’d consider a fast car, since it’s kinda the opposite of the Subaru, i.e. very not stock.

Stiffly sprung, double stock horsepower, and R888R tires. On a track, it’s brilliant. On the road, there’s never a situation where I can even get close to the limit on a good day.

The only time I “can” is when it rains. But this isn’t in a fun way like the STI. This is a “You go above 50 MPH, you WILL aquaplane and crash” kind of limit. There is no screeching to help you know you’re near the limit in a corner.

Particularly during winter times like this, the tires are more like hockey pucks, and they will instantly lose traction without giving you a second option. It’s far less progressive than the tires on the STI.

It isn’t a fun situation where you get to push the limits of the car. It’s a scary situation where you push the limits of your bravery in whether or not you think the tires will grip, or give up out of nowhere and throw you into a tree. It’s testing your OWN limits of how much confidence you have in R Compounds that behave like an on-off switch. It is NOT enjoyable.

There also is no AWD to save you. Everything is from the rear wheels. On rainy days, on backroads, I can’t come close to accelerating the same as people in Camrys without lighting up the rear tires and looking like a tosser.

Speaking of that, it’s so loud that I feel guilty about going above 3k RPM. This is a massive shame when driving a car that will happily rev to 8,000. It really does give me the feeling of “what’s the point of all these mods, all this potential in the car, all this power, all this grip (in good conditions) if I can’t even use half of it without going to jail?”
 

VXR

10,242
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motorforum
I drive a Swift Sport when I could have waited and tried turbocharged alternatives. Enough said.
 
8,740
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Marin County
But living in Texas, with mostly long, straight, flat roads, a 300HP 4 door sedan really isn’t all that quick by today’s standards.

This is actually a really good point. I used to live actually pretty close to you, in Ennis & Fort Worth Texas. A car that I would consider fun here in Northern California would probably be boring as hell in Texas. I'm constantly arguing with my car friends who are still back in Texas about how much power is enough. For a road like this:

L6Pe5x3.jpg

(this is actually one I used to enjoy quite a bit)
where it's "POWERRRRRRRRRRRR....BRAAAKEEE.....POWERRRRRRRRR" you would easily by bored by something with less than 200hp.

But for a road like this, one of my new local favorites...

24d8w2B.jpg

which is more like POWe...rrr...RRR....braaaKEEEEEeeee...pow....br....pw...pw...PWRRRR...braaaakeeeeeee.......BRAKEEEEEE...pow....pWERRRRR...OMG BRAAAAAAKEEEEE ohhhh **** thats a CLIFFFFFF....

anything more than 200hp is honestly like, too much.
 

Danoff

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This is actually a really good point. I used to live actually pretty close to you, in Ennis & Fort Worth Texas. A car that I would consider fun here in Northern California would probably be boring as hell in Texas. I'm constantly arguing with my car friends who are still back in Texas about how much power is enough. For a road like this:

L6Pe5x3.jpg

(this is actually one I used to enjoy quite a bit)
where it's "POWERRRRRRRRRRRR....BRAAAKEEE.....POWERRRRRRRRR" you would easily by bored by something with less than 200hp.

But for a road like this, one of my new local favorites...

24d8w2B.jpg

which is more like POWe...rrr...RRR....braaaKEEEEEeeee...pow....br....pw...pw...PWRRRR...braaaakeeeeeee.......BRAKEEEEEE...pow....pWERRRRR...OMG BRAAAAAAKEEEEE ohhhh **** thats a CLIFFFFFF....

anything more than 200hp is honestly like, too much.

It is the thing I miss about southern california, the great driving roads. I shouldn't complain so much, I have some great driving roads not far from me here in Denver, but they usually have traffic, and you don't want to visit them out of season. There were long roads in southern california that went nowhere that anyone wanted to go. You'd head back there and all you'd see were porsches and sport bikes tearing it up. I do miss that.

I used to live in Texas, ironically I lived down a windy road. But I know of the long straight roads that you and @KinLM speak. I'm not sure how much gobs of horsepower really does it for me on long straight roads. I find that I usually get up to the speed limit and then don't really need the car to do much of anything except be comfortable and quiet. Blasting an on-ramp can be fun though.
 

homeforsummer

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Adding that one to my "list" in Google Maps :lol:

Having looked at it on street view a road that narrow and twisty is a fairly good representation of a lot of UK backroads or a lot of French/Spanish/Italian rural roads, and it's the exact same situation here. You should only drive as fast as you can see, and when you can't see very far then there's not much point having loads of power as you can't use any of it. Better to have momentum (and an engaging chassis) through the corners you can attack hard, and not be carrying too much speed into the ones you can't see around.

I was thinking about the braking thing just yesterday as well. Even on a track I'd put really consistent, fade-free brakes above more power, because extra power is only fun if you know you're not going to have to back off early before every corner to give your brakes a chance. My Mazda is not a fast car, but after I put some performance discs and pads on it I could do a dozen laps at a time at the local track braking as late as I dared with zero fade. That was more fun than the ~200hp hot hatch I was running at the time whose middle pedal started to go to the floor after three or four laps.
 
8,740
United States
Marin County
Adding that one to my "list" in Google Maps :lol:

Having looked at it on street view a road that narrow and twisty is a fairly good representation of a lot of UK backroads or a lot of French/Spanish/Italian rural roads, and it's the exact same situation here. You should only drive as fast as you can see, and when you can't see very far then there's not much point having loads of power as you can't use any of it. Better to have momentum (and an engaging chassis) through the corners you can attack hard, and not be carrying too much speed into the ones you can't see around.

I was thinking about the braking thing just yesterday as well. Even on a track I'd put really consistent, fade-free brakes above more power, because extra power is only fun if you know you're not going to have to back off early before every corner to give your brakes a chance. My Mazda is not a fast car, but after I put some performance discs and pads on it I could do a dozen laps at a time at the local track braking as late as I dared with zero fade. That was more fun than the ~200hp hot hatch I was running at the time whose middle pedal started to go to the floor after three or four laps.

Right. I owned several 'performance' cars in Texas

1991 Mustang LX 5.0 with cam & intake (~240hp, 300lb-ft)
1994 Honda Civic Coupe with tuned JDM SIR-II Swap (~180hp @ 2300lbs)
1984 Mazda RX-7 with engine work (~160hp @ 2400lbs)
2003 Mustang Mach 1 (305hp)

On none of these cars did I ever even think about upgrading the brakes. It just didn't seem necessary. Any time you accelerate hard you just kind of slow down gradually because the roads just go on straight forever. Even if you did get on to a 'twisty' (meaning usually a few 90deg bends followed by 2.5 mile straights lol) you could just trust that the brakes would be fine because they weren't being subjected to conditions that would cause fading. To be fair, I lived in a particularly flat part of Texas for the most part....the area out by KinLM is actually quite a bit more varied topographically. Down near Austin it's actually quite hilly.

Out here in NorCal, even on my daily commute, some of the roads have me wanting to get at least upgraded pads and fluid for my Boxster, which I should mention has FAR better brakes than any car I've owned before. (The Civic had drums on the rear the size of microwavable pot pies :lol:)

As an aside, just a few miles from the road I screenshot above is this beauty, which even the Scottish girl I work with said reminded her of home. Quite a few cattle grates and some really, really bad pavement in a few sections, sadly. But man, when you get up there on a foggy day (which happens a lot), you'll swear your out on a 'misty moor'. I keep thinking about how fun both roads would be in an Abarth 500.........
 

homeforsummer

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which even the Scottish girl I work with said reminded her of home.
I mean it's in a place called Inverness so maybe she was just being literal :lol:

Adding that one to the list too though...

(Though it's not so much a list as a map)

driving roads.png
 

Hayden

Chrysler Racer
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I took my GT86 for a hills drive the other day and felt exactly the same sentiment. There’s something so nice about being able to work a car without feeling like you’re doing anything dangerous or illegal. :)
 
4,681
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Motorsport288
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Depends on the car IMO. Great in a Miata or Mini, but pretty awful in a 2.2 n/a Subaru or my girlfriends 07 Yaris.
 

homeforsummer

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Depends on the car IMO. Great in a Miata or Mini, but pretty awful in a 2.2 n/a Subaru or my girlfriends 07 Yaris.
Yeah, how engaging the car is does factor into it, though I think context and attitude does too.

I always enjoyed "slow car fast" in my old Insight - it didn't have much steering feel, didn't make much noise and had really long, economy-biased gearing, which would normally hinder enjoyment even for a slower car. But it was fun to hustle, at least in part because it was such an unlikely car to drive quickly. I always got a kick out of watching other cars get smaller in my mirror on a twisty road or using the looooooong 2nd gear to overtake stuff yet never dipping below about 65mpg (Imp.) over a tank.

It was also light and small and low to the ground which did help it feel fun, but driving a car quickly that was never really designed for it was always part of the appeal. I find the same thing with Smarts - for all the hate they get, I find they're great fun once you're in the right mindset. They take technique to drive quickly, which is part of the fun, and you get to dine out on the idea that other people get to witness this tiny two-seater being driven like a sports car.
 
38,033
Australia
The Bronx
Depends where you live as well. I loved my 4-speed Festiva, but on long Interstates in NY, it was a pain. I was always pushing it and other drivers still got annoyed by this tiny car in front of them(and I was in the slow lane!).

Today, I'm mainly on 60km/h streets, my old 1L Charade was the best. 5th gear was always reached between stop lights.
Current EK1 is almost a bit too quick. It's only fun upwards of 6500-7200rpm(no "VTEC yo" in the mighty D16).
I even feel a Honda Jazz is too quick on these streets. :lol: The little Kia Picanto, seems about just right.
A kei car, is one of the best ways to enjoy this slow car fast mantra.
 

Crash

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Adding that one to my "list" in Google Maps :lol:

If you want another great driving road in NorCal, the road from Highway 101 to Shelter Cove is magnificent. You cross the California Coast Ranges as you head towards Shelter Cove on the Pacific Ocean, so lots of twisties up and down and makes for a great couple hour diversion when driving down the coast.
 
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