Fuel Economy is Still Important, but Performance Reigns in 2015

Source: Ford

While everyone is busy tooting their horn about the latest plug-in hybrid, or the advancements in hydrogen technologies, the performance car and truck market continues to excel. A report by Automotive News says that even with increased emissions laws and looming fuel efficiency requirements, “sales of high-performance models in the U.S. have outpaced global growth since the teeth of the recession in 2009″ and according to Dave Pericak, director of Ford Performance, “Performance vehicle sales around the world continue to grow — with sales up 70% in the United States and 14% in Europe since 2009.”

Most buyers still put fuel economy at the top of their checklist when shopping for a new vehicle, but for some reason we still feel this undeniable draw toward the sportier side of things; and with companies like Subaru announcing that it will invest more heavily in its performance department, it is obvious that automakers are bending over backwards to give the people what they want. This is most apparent over in the compact side of things, where America will finally see Honda’s 300-horsepower Type-R Civic, and that Ford has agreed to unleash the Focus RS in the U.S. in order to challenge the little Japanese rocket.

Meanwhile, on the heavy-hitter side of the market, Dodge says it can’t keep up with orders for its 707-horsepower Challenger and Charger Hellcats, and Tim Kuniskis (head of Dodge and SRT) says the company is “up over 90% on those cars [since the crisis]. We saw this [coming] a long time ago, and that’s why we started to move in this direction.” This is pretty impressive, considering that most people grimace when they see that a Hellcat gets around 13 miles per gallon around town.

But now that aftermarket developments allow us to tune our motors like never before, higher horsepower models don’t have to suffer from poor fuel economy like they used to decades ago. These performance models also offer engineers a fun break from mundane everyday routines and often give automakers an excuse to test out new performance-oriented designs like what we saw with Honda’s 400-horsepower IndyCar Accord Pacecar.

Source: LA Auto Show
Source: LA Auto Show

While the Japanese and Europeans never really stopped bringing us unrestrained powerhouses in one format or another, America took a step back from the extreme for a while, and basked in the safety of SUV, economy car, and pick-up truck sales. But as the demand for performance cars has grown in recent years, so have the sporty vehicles that are being made available to us. Automakers rarely provide trim-level sales numbers, but with a sport model of damn near everything being thrown around, it is hard to imagine people aren’t buying them. Take a look at the Lexus NX 200t F Sport and the 467-horsepower RC F that I reviewed the other month; Lexus is offering a compact crossovers in a fantastic performance package that is actually more than just a set of shiny badges and a handful of sporty-looking trim pieces.

But not all makers are as comprehensive, and many sport models are made of nothing more than body kits, bigger wheels, stiffer springs, unique badges, and maybe some bucket seats to go with the chrome exhaust tips out back. To get adjustable suspension, noticeable power-gains, and beefier brakes you are going to need to shop around and do some homework so you don’t get ripped-off. Paying for unrestrained performance is one thing. Overpaying for a modest bump in fun is another. Nissan’s Juke Nismo RS only sees an extra 27 horsepower, and while it does indeed offer us bigger front brakes, sharper styling, and Recaro seats, it costs a staggering 37% more than a base Juke.

We understand that manufacturing performance parts is never cheap, and the R&D process isn’t inexpensive either, but automakers don’t have to gouge us. Car makers can transition sport technologies into other models to recoup costs, with lightweight race-ready materials at the forefront as they typically will aid in increasing fuel economy. A recent report we did on Ford’s invested interest in the use of carbon fiber is a prime example of how performance-oriented thinking can influence an entire line of cars and a company’s image for the right price.

So while we may have to pay more for high performance models, consumers typically do indeed get more in return, as Auto News says that sales of premium high-performance cars are still selling quite well. Cars like the Corvette and Jaguar’s F-Type have been doing far better than expected, and in 2014 the redesigned Corvette was up 101% over 2013. Nissan’s GT-R also saw a 16% sales spike, along with the Dodge Viper, which jumped 29% over the previous year.