No, You Don't Need the Sportiest Version When You Buy a Car

Obsessing over all things sporty will see you spending a lot of money for features you'll never use.

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The car world abides by a simple truism: faster is better. We obsess over statistics like horsepower, torque, 0-60 mph times and top speeds. When we buy cars, we try to climb as high up the performance hierarchy as we can. We thirst over expensive, exclusive performance beasts like the BMW M5 Competition and the Mercedes-AMG E63 S.

Carmkers know how much we lust after these things, of course, so they offer tastes of them at lower price ranges. The mortals who can’t afford BMW M and AMG 63 cars can still choose broadened ranges of M-badged cars and AMG 35 and 53 models; hose relegated to the base models can still add M Sport and AMG styling packages.

Even non-sporty cars now feel compelled to genuflect before the altar of performance. Toyota now has a boy-racer version of the Camry — the byword for a dull and practical vehicle. Volvo, long a builder of safe, sensible family cars, will let wrench-wielding owners manually adjust suspension stiffness on the Polestar Engineered though that is something a Volvo owner would ever risk doing.

Now, I’m not saying sporty cars aren’t great. But the obsessive aspiration towards them may be misguided. Or, to put it another way: let's stop thinking that the less-sporty trim is always a downgrade. In many cases, if you have no plans to regularly hit a track day (which is most of you, especially if you have a crossover), the less-sporty choice may be the more affordable, practical and enjoyable option.

There’s only so much power you can use

Speed limits and traffic exist. So, presumably, do your fears of injury and death. So do the laws of physics. The result: there’s only so much power you can use on a public road. And I'd argue that the threshold isn't much higher than a 335-hp BMW 540i or the similarly potent four-banger Mustang. Leveling up beyond that? You’re doing so for reasons other than regularly deploying the power of the vehicle.

Often, the tweaks one gets from leveling up make no discernible difference in the real world. BMW, for example, will upgrade you from the M5 to the M5 Competition for about $7,300. Maybe you’re the driver who can discern the difference from an extra 17 horsepower (+2.8%) and a suspension lowered by seven millimeters. But you’re probably not.

Sportier cars are usually less comfortable

Sportier cars generally ride lower than the alternative, and are thus harder to get in and out of. Stiff suspensions are great for body control when cornering, but in real driving, they make the impacts of bumps far more brutal than they need to be. And sportier cars often drop weight by cutting sound insulation, making them louder inside. That boring, less sporty ride is bound to be a lot more pleasant and comfortable around town.

Sporty options can be needlessly expensive

When you build a performance car online, it feels naked if you don't select the upgraded brakes. Those brakes could be carbon-ceramic; perhaps, if you're buying a Porsche, they're surface coated. But whatever the compound and caliper color, they are bound to be expensive.

Slapping some Brembos on an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, for example, costs $8,000 — more than 10 percent of the car’s base value. And unless you’re on a track, the stock brakes will be more than adequate for your stopping requirements. You're just throwing good money away.

Sportier cars are less practical

Excessive sportiness makes cars less good at everyday tasks. Want to spice up that luxury crossover by choosing a sportier sloping roofline? Excellent. You just dramatically reduced your potential passenger and cargo volume — the having of which is the purported point of owning a crossover.

Another example: the bite at the pump. That sportier car with the tuned-up engine is almost undoubtedly going to be less fuel-efficient than the alternative — particularly in city driving, which is what most of us spend much of your time doing.

The best sports cars aren’t the sportiest

If you ask enthusiasts about the best value driver’s cars, you'll probably get two answers starting below $30,000: the Mazda MX-5 Miata and the Volkswagen GTI. Neither car shoots for maximal horsepower (the Miata has less than your typical crossover), overwhelms you with an aggressive appearance package or tries to tempt you with excessive fancy sport options. Both cars just excel at being excellent cars in normal driving conditions...which is exactly what you should want.

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