Since when can’t cars be sporty only with accessories?

Sure, powerful powertrain and high performance are nice. But the truth is that most cars never even park close to race tracks. When you give that serious thought, many opinions become bound to change

Chevrolet Cruze Premier RS Hatchback

Talking about the sporty version of a car model usually elicits the same thoughts. People picture the addition of rather flashy wheels, large air intakes, bumpers with aggressive design, several accents with special trim (such as carbon fiber, chrome, or bright-color paint) and, of course, high-performance powertrain: an engine with large displacement and/or cutting-edge technology, a transmission with multiple gears and clutches, stiffer suspensions and stronger brakes. While people always appreciate the visual part, many tend to think that only the technical one is what truly defines a sporty car; without that, it would become just boring and pointless. What if there was another way to deal with this?

What fans of high performance truly enjoy is sports cars. Models such as those created by Ferrari and Porsche, often in coupé and convertible guises. The biggest reason is that everything in them is designed to optimize capabilities and dynamic behavior: the external shape makes air flow smoother and aids downforce generation; internal parts make the cabin pleasant for high-speed driving while keeping weight to a minimum; and the powertrain has a series of solutions to increase the output per unit of energy consumption. After learning that, think of this: there are sports cars of many prices, and enthusiasts of many income figures. Shouldn’t sports cars have dominated the market by now?

Fiat Tipo S-Design SW

Not only haven’t such domination ever happened, sports cars actually sell rather poorly compared to sedans, pick-ups and, more recently, crossovers. That can be explained with nothing but a single word: necessity. But if you want some more, here you go: people like sports cars, but don’t really need them. Most of them require seats for many people, fuel efficiency to make commute more affordable, space for large cargo, and mechanical capabilities to defeat off-road paths, but typical sports cars deliver none of that. For most people, life gets in the way enough as to force them to seek cars merely to satisfy their needs. Fortunately, the automotive industry has found ways to make things better.

Sporty versions of regular cars deal with that problem by being intermediate. People still get the “appropriate” car model, with all the rational qualities their everyday life demands, but the sporty version adds other qualities which, in turn, strive to meet those emotional desires which used to be simply forgotten. In other words, the sporty car attempts to give you both what you need and what you want. The array of external and internal visual accessories helps it stand out in the crowd, especially if the base model is rather common on the streets, while the technical improvements make its dynamic behavior more pleasant and interesting for the driver, even during grocery runs. Pretty neat solution, right?

Toyota Camry XSE

Of course, this kind of car trim isn’t flawless. The very fact of being an adaptation means that trim will never make the car a true match to regular sports cars when it comes to dynamic behavior. In some cases, the new visual accessories end up making the sporty trim uglier than the regular one. The owners of these cars are considered riskier drivers than the others, so their insurance policies tend to be more expensive, and so on. These shortcomings might be daunting in a first moment, but they lose importance once you give them that serious thought mentioned some paragraphs ago: sporty trims shouldn’t be seen as a step down from sports cars. They’re actually a step up from regular urban cars.

Once people realized that, labels such as AMG, GSI and GTI became famous. Manufacturers began to offer sporty trims on almost every car model and, at the same time, to make them sportier. Over the years, the visual accessories became more numerous and aerodynamic, the mechanical improvements became more complex and, sadly, the price increase over the regular trims became larger. Models such as BMW M3, Renault Clio R.S. and Volkswagen Golf R became different and expensive enough to attract people who would never buy the base cars at their other trims. The only problem with this is that it makes these cars lose their “intermediate” quality. But that turns out to be quite important.

Volkswagen Saveiro Pepper

That departure was making sporty trims lose their purpose. They would always be far from traditional sports cars, but now were also getting too distant from the people who bought regular cars, who were supposed to be their target audience. Manufacturers couldn’t halt their development because that would make the models less competitive (and anger the enthusiasts) so, by the late 2000s, they decided to apply the basic concept once again. While the original sporty trims were created to bring the concept of sports cars closer to urban drivers, the idea which became one of the latest automotive trends becomes the intermediate solution between regular car models and their own sporty trims.

Accessory packages rose to fame a few years ago for a simple reason: the latest sporty trims were too expensive mostly because of all the mechanical improvements they had, and most people never actually use the resulting performance. In general, manufacturers start with the base car on a regular trim level, just like before, but only add the visual items with sporty orientation — some are even restricted to external items. The appearance is much closer to the regular car’s and the performance figures are pretty much the same. Most enthusiasts profoundly despise this solution, but it’s also true that it’s now available on cars of all body styles, sizes and prices. Why would such thing happen?

Ford EcoSport ST-Line

The average driver uses their car mostly in the city. The usual exceptions are highways and off-road paths, but all cases oppose high-speed driving in a way — whether by traffic regulation or the simple roughness of a trail. As a result, the average driver is likely to spend years without ever having an opportunity to truly enjoy the performance capabilities of a modern sporty car — in some cases, the only exception is the increased cost of fuel and maintenance brought by the more sophisticated powertrain. Visual tweaks, on the other hand, are perceived all the time. The car becomes more attractive on the outside and more pleasant to use on the inside, but costs much less than a regular sporty trim.

In conclusion, the outrage of performance enthusiasts — whether the true ones or the mere Internet trolls — towards accessory packages turns out to be irrelevant because the latter are actually focused on another group: urban drivers. They intend to enhance the base model and cater to the owner’s emotional desires to some extent, like the traditional sporty trims, but they do so in a way which suits the needs of their target audience much better. Things get even more interesting when we realize that the existence of accessory packages is entirely independent from that of sporty trims: it’s possible for a manufacturer to offer both for a given car model, and thus captivate both types of consumers.

Mercedes-Benz C 220 d AMG Line Cabriolet

Over the past few years, the idea of making a car model sportier has proven itself so appealing that the automotive industry has toyed with it in all possible ways. Mercedes-Benz is probably the best example to give on this matter: as of today, some of its cars offer not one, but four levels of sportiness: the AMG Line package of visual accessories, AMG trim levels of moderate and intense levels of sportiness, and the AMG S package which enhances the latter. The C-Class, for instance, comes as Mercedes-Benz C 220 AMG Line, Mercedes-AMG C 43, Mercedes-AMG C 63, and Mercedes-AMG C 63 S regardless of body style. As in life, there isn’t only one way for people to pursue what they truly want.

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