Monday, September 1, 2008

Gas misers just wanna have fun


By Jorge Sosa

The first casualty of $4-per-gallon gas (other than my paycheck) was my manhood.

I used to lust after vintage muscle cars. The earth-shaking rumble of a big-block V-8 sent a jolt to my hypothalamus (you know, the animal part of the brain) and put a great, big, stupid grin on my face.

Now, the sight of a Toyota Prius stirs a similar sense of yearning. How perverse is that? Thanks to the regular whipping I receive at the gas pump, my perception of what's cool has been forcibly re-wired.

"The first casualty of $4-per-gallon gas (other than my paycheck) was my manhood."

I now look upon a snail-shaped lump -- as it lopes to the quarter-mile in 17 seconds -- and grunt in approval. What the heck happened to me? Somewhere back there with my distant memories of $20 tankfuls of gas, I forgot that cars should be fun.

While I appreciate the Prius as a sensible transportation appliance, it has absolutely none of the traits that made me fall in love with cars as a wee Gen-X toddler. Fortunately, it's not too late to de-emasculate myself.

My hope lies with car designers who believe fun, frugality, and eco-friendliness can all coexist in a car that freakin' rocks. What does it take to create such a blend of sportiness and sensibility? Nothing more than a design philosophy that breaks with the old rule that bigger is better.

Lean and mean

The fine folks at Lotus (cars, not groupware) have long embraced the practice of delivering knockout performance through light weight -- not massive displacement.

Compare that to the good ol' supersizing approach and you'll see how Lotus' philosophy lights the way for tomorrow's eco-friendly performance cars. For instance, consider the Lotus Exige and the Dodge Viper. Both cars will do zero-to-60 mph in about four seconds. But, the Exige gets 24 mpg on the highway, to the Viper's 13 mpg. The difference? The Exige weighs 1,300 pounds less than the Viper, so it only needs a supercharged four-banger to peel your face off.

Not surprisingly, Lotus has helped develop and assemble the Tesla Roadster, a zero-emissions screamer conceived by Silicon Valley brainiacs. The Tesla has a zero-to-60 time just shy of four seconds, will run for 220 miles on a single charge, and looks dead sexy.

Actually, the Tesla Roadster reminds me of the first car I learned to drive. It too, was electric powered, had zippy acceleration and turned on a dime. It was a radio-controlled truck, and if the sports car of the future is just as fun to drive, I could care less if it has pistons or not.