Modern cars are technologically advanced wonder-boxes. But the vast majority simply don't impress me.
I don't mean in terms of their luxury, refinement, efficiency, reliability (although a lot aren't that reliable) or relative cheapness I mean that modern cars aren't a great deal different from those of the 70s when you think about it.
Yes a 2014 Ford Focus is all of the above to the nth degree over and above a 1974 Ford Escort but they are both constructed as a steel unibody with an internal combustion engine and have a boot, four seats, the engine at the front, a plastic interior, air-filled tyres and some wiring which connects all the electrical bits.
So a modern Focus has electric windows - whoop-de-doo. That's an electric motor and some more wiring which is hardly futuristic. 50% of new cars are sold with FM/AM radios - no progress there then.
Independent suspension, heated seats and steering wheels and massively improved fuel economy are good things but these are just the result of a rather slow evolution in car technology in general. They're nothing amazing, just the product of legislation, customer demand, and many, many hours of R&D and testing.
If I'm to be impressed I want to see massive leaps and bounds in materials, tyres, drivetrains and, ooh some kind of je ne said quoi. I want to be blown away by something I don't even know exists.
When was the last time that happened?
I suppose electronics has been the big step in automotive terms. I suppose I'm impressed with digital radio, CAN bus wiring and engine management software.
I am massively impressed with satellite navigation but that wasn't even invented by the car industry, and its adoption has been incredibly slow, and some systems (Peugeot Citroen to name one) are absolute rubbish.
Some things are beyond my ken and I'm impressed by them because I don't understand them. I mean how the hell do tyre pressure sensors work? That's impressive because it's black magic to me.
But not a lot else is. It's all just basic engineering and electronics with not much in the way of true, knockout innovation with a big dollop of pazzazz.
To my mind all cars should be built the way a Volkswagen XL1 is as a bare minimum. Carbon fibre is brilliant and futuristic but it should be affordable and right now it isn't.
The XL1 costs £98,000, and it has 27bhp. That's expensive and rather pathetic. It weighs less than 800kg. The Citroen C4 Cactus weighs less than 1,000kg and that's much bigger and has more interior space. Aside from lightness the Cactus' innovation is some plastic bubbles on the doors.
The XL1 may be innovative in some areas (280mpg isn't too bad I suppose) but it is a still just a hybrid with a diesel and electric engine. That's not so innovative. It's just taking today's engineering to the nth degree.
To really impress me I expect to see, within a few years, a car that weighs 800kg, has at least 150bhp, returns 300mpg if hydrogen powered or if electric to do 500 miles on a charge and be capable of fully recharging in 10 minutes.
This car will also need adaptive cruise as standard and full phone integration with voice recognition that actually works. It'll run on something more advanced than mere rubber tyres with air in them. I don't expect punctures in the future. It won't need a service until it's at least three years old and it'll have integrated solar PV to run everything except the engine.
If car makers can sell me a car that does all of the above, and add a few more features that no-one outside of some lab has thought of yet, at a cost of £15,000 then I'll be impressed.
Speedmonkey has driven and written about an absolute ton of sports and performance cars. I thought it was high time I sorted out the best sports and performance cars to buy for a given budget.
From £100k to £10k in £10k intervals I've listed the best performance car you can buy in each price band.
£100k - Porsche 911 GT3
The Porsche 911 range starts at £70,000 for the Carrera and goes all the way up to £150,000 for the Turbo S cabriolet. It would be easy to fill every price band in this article from £70k upwards with a 911 but that'd be boring so I've opted for the sweet spot in the 911 range, which is handily priced at £100,000 - the GT3. Yes it's an automatic (well, double clutch PDK) and has electric power steering but now the spontaneous combustion issue is sorted the 911 GT3 is simply the best sports car you can buy for a hundred grand.
At nearly 1,900kg the Maserati isn't exactly nimble but it is fast and it's powered by a naturally aspirated Ferrari-built 4.8 litre V8. Oh, and it looks sensational and seats four in comfort and with lots of legroom. Speedbumps have to be taken gingerly and the doors are so long you can't park in a normal space and expect to get out of it but who cares. It's a fabulous car.
For £80,000 you get the convertible F-Type V8 S. If you want the coupe you'll need to spend an extra £5k on the V8 R. Either way you're getting the most beautiful sports car on the planet, with a superb chassis, an interior bedecked in leather and Alcantara and 500bhp (550bhp in the coupe) of V8 that sounds downright awesome and could pull the roof off a rice pudding factory.
The E63 AMG is here so we can squeeze a fast saloon into the list. The C63 AMG is arguably the better performance car but Mercedes hasn't added the C63 to the new C-Class line-up yet. The E63 AMG is powered by AMG's phenomenal 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 and does 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds. That'll do.
This is tough territory for Lotus. At this price you could buy a well specced F-Type or Cayman but the Evora S offers something different. It's super quick and has the best steering, handling and chassis of any sports car but some parts of it feel a little bolt on (because Lotus doesn't have the resources to make its own satnav, stereo, air vents, engines etc). Having said that nothing else comes close in terms of rawness of driving experience combined with a superbly appointed interior.
For this price you could have either a hard or soft top 3.4-litre, flat-6, mid-engined Porsche sports car. Which way you go is down to personal preference but I'd opt for the Boxster S which takes little away from the driving experience but adds plenty on a summer's day. Perhaps the definitive performance car(s) at the price and which threatens its £30,000 more expensive big brother, the 911, in terms of everything except a set of rear seats and image.
An M4 costs £57,000 and has 431bhp. The 435i M Sport costs a shade over £40,000 and has 306bhp. The 435i looks great, has the sweet 6-cylinder engine is practical and spacious inside and drives as a performance BMW should. It's a cracking car.
This was the hardest price band in which to choose a car. £30k buys a lot of different cars - the Golf GTi, Toyota GT86 and Seat Leon Cupra are all outstanding but the Audi S1 wins by virtue of its sheer fizz. The S1 has the VW/Audi turbocharged 2-litre engine stuffed into its tiny engine bay and with 230bhp, a sweet 6-speed manual gearbox, four wheel drive and an actual handbrake it's far and away the most fun hot hatch on the market. The interior is great too.
The interior design might be a bit plain and the looks aren't exactly sexy but the Fiesta ST is the best sub-£20k hot hatch on the market. Ford has concentrated on making the ride and handling of its cars the best in class for some time. Add in a sweet 4-pot engine, great gearbox and torque vectoring and the ST has the beating of the Clio 200 and Peugeot 208 GTi by a long margin.
£10k - Fiat Panda TwinAir
This was the hardest category simply because I've only tested two cars that cost less than £10,000 and they were hardly performance cars. The Dacia Sandero is simple, spacious, super cheap and very slow. The MG3 understeered worse than a supermarket trolley. Speedmonkey's Colin Hubbard drove a Fiat Panda TwinAir on holiday and loved it, which is why it's our top recommendation for under 10 grand.