A couple of weeks ago, I drove the new Mercedes-AMG A35. Very competent, very well made, a splendidly posh interior and very fast.
Its 2.0-litre turbocharged engine produces 306bhp, which is enough to propel the all-wheel-drive A35 from 0-62mph in less than five seconds. Now Mercedes has followed this car up with a new A45 that packs an astounding 416bhp. That’s 25% more power than the A35, but does it deliver 25% more fun? Of course not. Not that the A35 is exactly fun to drive, it’s just extremely sure-footed and quick.
The horsepower race is completely out of control. A hatchback is warm if it has only 150bhp and a supercar with less than 600bhp, well, it isn’t a proper supercar, is it? It’s all marketing led: engineers know that it’s all nuts and that adding horsepower almost always means adding weight.
You simply don’t need lots of power to have fun, as anyone who has owned a Citroën 2CV will tell you. Or an old Mini Cooper S. In fact, there are plenty of cars that have no more than 100bhp that are a hoot. It’s a nice round figure, 100bhp. Running that number around in my head got me thinking about machines that have that little power but which are huge fun. Not just cars, but motorcycles and other transport devices. Aeroplanes, for example. A Piper Cub is a very basic machine that has as little as 65bhp but which is a joy to fly.
To prove the point, we’ve brought together a collection of wonderful machines, none of which has more than 100bhp – some less than half our maximum, in fact. Some are old and some are new and to counter my reputation as a Luddite, one is even electric. And just wait until you read about the performance of the Cassutt aeroplane that we’ve brought along…
Smart Roadster Coupé Convertible
My sister has never heard of Gordon Murray but she has one thing in common with him: they both own Smart Roadsters. They both love them, too, while acknowledging their shortcomings. The little Smart is almost the perfect sports car in miniature, probably as close to an Austin-Healey ‘frogeye’ Sprite as it’s possible to get in the 21st century. Murray, who owns the car in our photographs, is also a Sprite owner.