Does Power and Performance Matter Anymore?
Unless you have unlimited funds available to you, when you’re looking to buy a car you probably have to compromise between what you’d like and what you actually need. This is particularly the case when it comes to choosing the spec level of your next vehicle. One of the most expensive upgrades you're likely to be confronted with will be the engine, but does that really matter anymore and wouldn't you be better off spending your budget on more important things?
The engine isn't important?
Obviously, the engine is important. It would be pretty dumb to buy a car or SUV without one. But have you ever stopped to consider if there's really any point in spending several thousand pounds more to get the 2.0-litre instead of sticking with the 1.5-litre and getting some goodies you'll actually get some proper use out of?
I had this epiphany a few years ago when I was driving up the M1 heading north after coming back from a holiday in California. A journey I used to be able to complete in the late 1980s in a bog-standard 1.6-litre Ford Sierra in no more than three hours now takes between six and nine hours. The opportunities to even attempt to reach the national speed limit can be rare, and it's not uncommon to spend a lot of time sitting stationary in a traffic jam.
Why does it matter then if your engine can get you from 0 to 60 in 6.5 seconds instead of 7.8 seconds, or if you have a top speed of 140 mph instead of 125 mph? I thought about this for quite a while, and I now no longer care whether I have the base engine or something more powerful.
Think about the alternatives
It dawned on me that it's better to spend my available budget on features I'm actually going to get full use from. I'll admit that a lot of features I now want on a car would be considered superfluous by some, and I used to think the same.
Until I got a company car that had them, I used to think rear parking sensors were only for bad drivers who couldn't parallel park. Now I wouldn't consider a car without them. Likewise, I used to think a heated steering wheel was the height of pointless opulence. That was until I had a Range Rover for a couple of months during a particularly cold winter that had a heated steering wheel and then I quickly changed my mind.
Be honest with yourself for a moment. Would you rather have a relatively basic model with the extra power and performance of a bigger engine or would you prefer leather upholstery, heated and cooled seats, a digital virtual cockpit or a top-notch infotainment system?
Not always an easy choice
Of course, sometimes you can’t pick and choose as much as you might like to be able to. In some cases, to get those desirable luxuries you have to go for a higher trim level that also comes with a bigger, more powerful engine.
But if the car you're looking to buy is one where you can have the standard engine but still get all those desirable comfort, luxury and driver-assist features, wouldn’t it make more sense to choose the features instead of a few extra horsepower you're unlikely to be able to use?
Obviously, if you’re buying a performance car like a Lamborghini or a Porsche it's all about power and performance. But if you're checking out something like a Peugeot 308 or a Ford Focus, stop and think about what you’re getting for your money and don’t waste precious cash on a more powerful engine you have no need for.