Weight is the enemy of performance. Every tabloid statistic and visceral feeling of a performance car can be improved by lessening weight, with the sole exception of top speed. Maximum lateral G and how the car transitions from turning one way or the other, acceleration from a standstill or a roll, as well as braking distance and brake reliability are all directly improved just by removing weight. Why then, are so many of the world’s greatest performance cars so heavy compared to cars they destroy on track? Because if all those extra pounds are used to improve power, grip, and braking, the weight they add can be effectively counteracted.
Generally speaking, bigger engines make more power, but also weigh more, and the same can be said for higher performance tires whose extra rubber brings more weight, and higher performance brakes whose extra surface area also means more weight. Striking the right balance between what a part is capable of and how much it weighs is the job of the engineer, and not only varies based on the individual specs of each part, but on what application the car being built is meant for. Many cars that get this wrong often don’t understand what their purpose will be, and end up with a weird mix of heavy luxury items without the performance parts to rebalance the engineering cheque book for speed. While lightweight cars always have certain advantages, with the right engineering a heavy high tech car can make any driver fast.
20 Heavy But Fast: Porsche Panamera
The purists for Stuttgart’s most popular sports car brand are a crazed, borderline psychotic, cultish bunch. Their altar may be the Nordschleife, but the object of their worship is the mighty 911. For their idol they forsake everything, including any vehicle bearing the Porsche badge that doesn’t have the engine aft of the rear axle.
These purists, of course, do not speak of the latest Panamera besting many of the older 911s on the Nordschleife, for that is unspeakable.
That a front engined Porsche with four doors and a trunk could nonchalantly best the previous generation 911 GT3 on the world’s toughest racetrack is too brutal for them to comprehend. But it’s true.
19 Heavy But Fast: Dodge Challenger Demon
The lesser versions of Dodge’s poster boy Challenger don’t wear their weight very well. Essentially up-sized versions of their classic counterparts in terms of styling, while they certainly have presence, their performance is somewhat lukewarm despite having significant power. The Demon, as a purpose-built drag racer created by a very straight forward car company, had a simple answer to the weight problem. Add grip, and a supercharger the size of a hatchback’s engine. While the engine is far more sophisticated than just a blower bolted to the top of a V8, it is the Demon’s prodigious power, and not its slight weight loss, that make it a nine second car. That and some drag radials.
18 Heavy But Fast: BMW M6
Starting at 4200lbs, BMW’s flagship grand tourer needs a lot of oomph to get going. Providing that power is a raucous 4.4 liter twin turbo V8 producing what is claimed to be just under 570 horsepower.
While that is certainly enough to get the boat sailing in a straight line when already moving, the M6 is certainly traction limited out of the gate.
The huge grand touring car also isn’t that great at changing directions quickly, making its claims as a full on performance car seem lacking. However, the M6 wasn’t built to be a sports car. And while carving turns might be beyond it, eating up highway definitely isn’t.
17 Heavy But Fast: Nissan GT-R R35
Perhaps the poster boy of modern heavyweight performance cars, the R35 GT-R took the world by storm on its first appearance. Engineers from the likes of Audi and Porsche were stunned with how the car accelerated, saying it should be physically impossible for a car as heavy as the GT-R to do so, even with four wheel drive and an incredibly powerful twin turbo V6. Apparently it was possible, though, as found by the European engineers when they dissected the Japanese monster. Part of what made the GT-R so heavy was an advanced computer system that managed power going to the wheels, optimizing grip.
16 Heavy But Fast: Toyota Supra MK4
In the 90s, Toyota had a weight problem. Their small mid engined sports car, the MR2, could be jumped a couple feet off the ground and drive away like nothing happened. The lower end Toyota engines could be run ragged without basic maintenance for long periods, even after sucking in dirt and sand. These and other events would destroy a normal car, but would bounce off a 90s Toyota like bullets to Superman. Toyotas were heavy because they were freaking indestructible. Apply this mentality to a grand tourer masquerading as a sports car, and you can see where the problems might start. The Supra was too heavy to be used as a sports car in the Japanese sense, and its engine in factory form underwhelming.
15 Heavy But Fast: Mitsubishi 3000GT VR-4
While the Skyline GT-R was the main character car of multiple Fast and Furious movies, and a Gran Turismo star, and a dominating force in both the Japanese street racing and professional racing scenes, it wasn’t actually the highest tech tuner car to come out of Japan in the 90s. That title goes to the tech stuffed VR-4 version of Mitsubishi’s 3000GT.
Active aero, electronically variable suspension, rear wheel steering, twin turbos, advanced four wheel drive, and even a powered folding hardtop were available on a car from 1990.
This resulted in an amazing car that was sadly overpriced and overweight at roughly 3800lbs. Attempts as cost cutting removed all the cool gadgets without lessening the price enough to be worth it.
14 Heavy But Fast: Dodge Challenger 392
Nearly 500 horsepower was once only achieved in the realms of purpose-built race cars and unreliable supercars, but with the Challenger it is an everyday reality. This is a car that one sees everyday out on the streets going to pick up groceries, and it has more grunt than what was originally claimed for the Ferrari F40. And yet it never seems to win those all-too-common stoplight drag races against machines way more mundane than an F40. The problem is weight, but not just in amount, but placement. Most of the Challenger’s large heft is over the front wheels, were it impedes grip on launch instead of aiding it, creating a worst-of-both-worlds situation.
13 Heavy But Fast: BMW M4
Bavarian Motor Works, once the masters of their so-called Ultimate Driving Machine, have hit a rough patch recently, to say the least. The great M3, born of racetracks and sharpened while sideways like any good lethal blade, was rebranded M4 during a company-wide shift in priorities. Before BMW made complex but serious and mature driver’s cars. Now they shifted to plusher, softer cars befitting their upmarket demographic, all while cost cutting to cash in on their former glory. What resulted was an eighty thousand dollar two ton performance luxury car that was bested by a basic Camaro SS on track and had less amenities than a base Hyundai.
12 Heavy But Fast: Nissan Skyline GT-R R34
While the R35 is the current instalment of Nissan’s all wheel drive domination, it is certainly not the only one in the series. Since 1989 the company has been building heavyweight coupes that appear to defy the laws of physics compared to their contemporaries. In 1999, the GT-R to decimate all contenders was the R34.
These days, a curb weight of 3400 lbs sounds normal, but compared to other Japanese sporting machines of the early 2000s this was a full quarter ton heavier.
Balancing out this weight was the now worshipped RB26DETT twin turbo inline six, and the computerized ATTESA system insured all that boosted horsepower reached its full potential on the road.
11 Heavy But Fast: BMW M5
While their shift in focus pretty much wrecked what should have been their lighter weight, more hardcore offerings, BMW’s paradigm shift seems to have somehow reversed by the time the new F90 M5 arrived. While the screaming, howling, eardrum-desecrating naturally aspirated V8s and V10s are gone, the 4.4 liter twin turbo produces even more barking grunt, and delivers it to the ground far better than ever before. While two tons is heavy for the M4, it is roughly the perfect heft for this sophisticated bludgeoning weapon. Calm, mature, and comfortable, until you open her up. Then the dogs of war slip their leashes, and the world will never be the same again.
10 Too Slow: Chrysler 300C SRT8
It is now regarded as a somewhat cruel joke by Chrysler employees, when Daimler-Benz stuck them with an old sedan platform and told them to run with it. The aging and incredibly heavy chassis became the basis of the 300, Charger, and Challenger at what is now known as FCA. It is impressive to see what they’ve managed to accomplish with it. An old Mercedes chassis became the framework of the baddest domestic cars of the Big Three to be seen commonly on the street. The 300C was never going to be a performance master in the sports car sense, with way too much weight and nowhere near enough stiffness. But power fixes everything in a muscle car.
9 Too Slow: 1969 Dodge Charger
The reason power fixes everything in a muscle car, if done correctly, is that it changes what would be objective flaws into subjective character. Unresponsive steering, floppy suspension, bad brakes, and iffy interiors make a normal car seem bad because they drag the experience down. But on a muscle car, all they do is add to the fun and insanity of the whole experience.
Instead of getting inescapable boredom, the driver can’t get the grin off their face.
This is why the original muscle cars, even the heavy ones like the Charger, are driving legends. Fun is not complicated. Fun is awesome. This car is fun, but still too heavy for its own good.
8 Too Slow: Second Generation Acura NSX
Fun shouldn't be hard. But sometimes it apparently is. The original NSX pioneered lightweight aluminum construction and many other weight shedding techniques along with making supercars accessible and easy. The new car is a thousand pounds heavier, and totally out of touch. Far faster, thanks to a heavy and cumbersome hybrid all wheel drive system, but so completely insulated from the driver compared to the first NSX. Adding weight and complexity can make a car faster, and easier to drive, but only when done right. When it's done wrong, all one is going to do is frustrate people. Fast should be fun.
7 Too Slow: Aston Martin DB11
The right amount of luxury seems to be a tricky thing to find in a grand touring car. GTs look like and have similar power to sports or supercars, but have very different goals. Despite looking truly fast, and being able to back it up for long stretches at a time on the freeway, they aren’t built for the track, or a tightly turning road.
The DB11 is at the center of this strange contradiction of purpose.
A 600 horsepower twin turbo V12 is appropriate for hurtling down the highway in comfort and sophistication, but the DB11’s 4100 plus pound weight does it no favours in the corners.
6 Too Slow: Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG
Benz motorcars are known for their luxury, their taste, and their upscale yet comforting manners. AMG’s would rather shoot you in the face with a bazooka. This is why so many love them. The SL65 is a heavy weight bruiser of a grand touring car whose extra fender and tire don’t actually help much in keeping the big two seater pointed in the direction it’s going. The SL65 may have what should be a buttery smooth European V12 under the hood, but for all intents and purposes the AMG models are basically German muscle cars. Luxury and brute force don't mix, and this car is held back by its extra weight.
5 Too Slow: Jaguar XK8
If looks directly translated to speed, the XK8 would be one of the fastest cars in the world. Gorgeous supple curves define the bodywork of this British grand tourer. But these are heavy curves, not athletic ones. Despite the looks, the lightest version of the XK8 was still 3700lbs of sound deadening and plushness. With less than three hundred horsepower on tap to pull the car around, the vehicle’s performance is best described as underwhelming. Perhaps the best 90’s British example of how one should not judge a book by it’s cover, especially if that book could leave you stranded on the side of the road when it breaks down.
4 Too Slow: Aston Martin Vantage
While modern Astons show a significant bias in performance towards power instead of agility, this discrepancy used to be even more pronounced. In the early 90’s, Aston produced the most powerful series production car in the world. A large V8 wasn’t nearly enough, Aston Martin decided, and thus bolted a supercharger on top. And then another. The Virage-based Vantage was twin-supercharged to roughly 600 horsepower, in an era when some F1 cars were only just above this range.
But while modern Astons benefit from modern technology and engineers with a sense of professionalism, the old Vantage was more of an exercise in fly by night car building.
It’s not a good sign when the most powerful car in the world has sketchy brakes.
3 Too Slow: Mercedes-Benz E43 AMG
AMG isn’t quite what it used to be, however. Before, the company built extreme and insane smoke machines that doubled as cars, doling plumes of cloud out of the rear wheel wells. Among these were the Hammer, and other legendary coupes and sedans that looked sane on the inside but were most certainly not under the hood. They raced with aplomb, and partied like bombs. But in the modern era of extreme safety regulations and electronic nannies, AMG’s edge has faded, their more extreme personality snapped off from their main persona and faded into the background. The E43 AMG can be a hooligan, but only if you provoke it.
2 Too Slow: Jaguar F-Type
While the F-Type may be more reliable than the Jags of yore, it isn’t any lighter. How a two seat roadster with less interior room than a Miata can be over two tons is a mystery science may never truly understand. But while 4100lbs of “sports car” is something demonic instead of scientific, the massive power of the SVR models provides the action hero might to vanquish any potential devilish slowness. But the problem with the entire F-Type equation is that every part of the car has to keep up with its weight. In the end, it’s not a sports car. It’s a grand touring roadster. Which makes as much sense as a 4100lbs sports car.
1 Too Slow: Aston Martin DB7
The sister car to the XK8, the DB7 is equally beautiful, and equally slow. Any extra power graced through different tuning or entirely different engines is padded with extra weight to nullify it. While the DB7 is pretty enough to pass just on its looks, its mechanical lack of solidity and total lack of performance punch removes it from the annals of truly great grand tourers pretty much by default. Strangely enough, its handling is not nearly as unintentionally scary as other Astons of the 90’s, which makes its slowness even more of shame. At least the car was pretty.
Sources: Motor1.com, CarAndDriver.com, MotorAuthority.com