“Electric cars are boring” is a refrain I hear often from old-school car enthusiasts, and I understand why. With EVs, the sound that we associate with speed is gone. The “jerks” associated with gear shifts are gone. Engine vibrations are gone. Unique torque curves are gone. The stick shift is gone. But are EVs really boring relative to the best ICE cars? To find out, I drove one of the most exciting mainstream EVs — the Audi E-Tron GT — as well as one of the most thrilling gasoline cars — the Porsche 911 GT3. Here’s what I surmised.
As the auto industry transitions to electric cars, long-time car lovers are voicing their skepticism, saying EVs just don’t offer the same excitement that gasoline cars do. A lifetime lover of gasoline machines (especially old ones), I myself have had some of these thoughts. I recall driving a Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 not long after piloting the most exciting mainstream EV on earth, the Porsche Taycan. “My god, the GT350 is so much more fun,” I remember thinking.
The Taycan was actually the quicker of the two vehicles, but it didn’t feel as exciting. The GT350’s sound is unbelievable; the engine’s torque curve means you can rev the thing up to 8,000 RPM and feel the car just continue accelerating; the Tremec TR-3160 six-speed manual is literal perfection in stick-shift form; handling is fantastic.
Meanwhile, the Taycan’s torque curve is essentially the same as every other EV’s. The Porsche sports sedan makes very little sound. Its handling is limited by an astronomical curb weight courtesy of a giant battery pack, and there are no dramatic “jerks” — no changes in acceleration that one would get from a multi-speed transmission (the Taycan does have a two-speed in the rear, but even that single shift isn’t particularly abrupt). There were definitely things missing.
Still, I did have a good time behind the wheel of that Taycan, and I will admit that it’s different to recollect how I felt while driving two cars than it is to actually drive the two back-to-back. So when I attended the German Car of the Year event in Friedrichshafen, Baden-Württemberg last month, I jumped at the chance to drive a Porsche 911 and Audi E-Tron GT, one after the other.
I had access to two Porsche 911s (a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic 911 GT3 and a six-speed manual 911 GT3 with Touring Package) and two Audi E-Tron GTs (an Audi E-Tron GT Quattro and an RS E-Tron GT). The 911s each have a rear-mounted 4.0-liter flat-six engine sending 503 horsepower to the aft wheels. Both E-Trons have an electric motor on each axle, driving all four wheels through a two-speed automatic gearbox in the rear and a single-speed reduction up front.
The RS E-Tron makes up to 637 horsepower while the E-Tron Quattro cranks out a maximum of 522 ponies. Those are the “overboost” figures (i.e. available for only a short duration); nominal horsepower numbers for the Audi RS E-Tron GT and E-Tron GT Quattro are roughly 590 horsepower and 470 horsepower, respectively.
The curb weight difference between the Porsche and Audi is absurd. Audi lists the RS E-Tron GT’s weight at over 5,100 pounds; the Porsche 911 GT3’s curb weight is listed at nearly a full ton less — roughly 3,200 pounds. You can thank the E-Tron’s size (it is a four-door sedan, after all) and also its giant battery pack for that delta.
Digging into the difference in Fahrvergnügen between the two cars, let’s start with sound. Does it matter? This seems like perhaps a silly question to diehard car enthusiasts, but, as I entered these vehicles, I had to wonder how much of my appreciation of vehicular music is a result of entrenchment — years of me associating sound with speed.
Are future generations going to look at that video of me yelling in excitement over the 911’s engine sound and wonder, “Uh, what’s this weirdo yelling about? The car is horribly loud, and it’s no quicker than a typical EV sports sedan.” Here’s me pondering that question:
I think the answer is that sound is always going to be cool to whomever is driving the loud car. Even if someone has driven EVs their whole life, once they get behind the wheel of a car like the 911, they will begin to associate sound with speed, and they’ll immediately grow to love the noise. I do not believe that the sound of a glorious flat-six will ever be derided by the car’s driver, even after silent, lightning-quick cars have taken over the world’s roads.
This is to say that, yes, in the E-Tron, I did miss the sound. And it does significantly influence the overall experience of driving. The Audi was missing an additional sensory input, music that — and this part is crucial — we ourselves get to make by manipulating the car’s controls.
Oftentimes EV proponents dismiss the value of sound, saying it’s coarse, and that our love for it is simply a byproduct of the technology the auto industry chose over 100 years ago. “If cars had been EVs all along, and someone came by with an ICE car, we’d all scoff at that horrible noise.” I can’t definitively counter that point, but I don’t agree with it.
I think people in the future who are used to driving only EVs will get into a 911 and say, “I’m not used to acceleration being accompanied by sound like that. But in this car, sound equals acceleration. Therefore sound equals fun.” It’s the same feeling you get when you drive a Dodge Challenger Hellcat; you may have driven quicker cars that don’t have that loud supercharger whine, but that doesn’t make the Challenger’s whine any less epic. (You can say similar things about blowoff valves and induction noise, etc.)
With all of that said, EV automakers can pipe “fake” sound through a vehicle’s speakers (fake in that it’s not the result of some mechanical action), and that’s what Audi has done with the E-Tron GT. Kicking the accelerator pedal yields a futuristic whirr that, at first, I thought would be wack. But actually, I liked it despite knowing it was synthetic. I don’t think I’d use it for daily driving, and it’s possible that, in time, I would tire of it, but during my short drive (during which I got blitzed by Germany’s speeding cameras at least once), I enjoyed hearing fake motor sound; I found it to be additive to the overall experience, even if it didn’t satisfy in the same way that the 911’s flat-six did.
Acceleration, Pedal Response, Torque Curves
Audi says the RS E-Tron GT can sprint from zero to 60 mph in 3.1 seconds; Porsche claims the automatic 911 GT3 can get to that same speed in 3.2 seconds from a standstill. Independent testing by car journalist Matt Watson of Carwow has shown that both vehicles are capable of launching to 60 mph in under 2.9 seconds, so in terms of acceleration, both cars are basically a wash.
Sort of. See, zero to 60 times don’t tell the whole story.
When it comes to the overall driving experience, perhaps even more important than a launch time is a vehicle’s response to the driver’s pedal input. The degree to which pedal position corresponds with vehicle acceleration plays such a huge part in making a car fun. And in that area, EVs will never be beaten.
The amount of stuff that needs to happen when you press a gasoline car’s accelerator pedal is absurd: pedal position sensors have to tell the throttle to open, sensors have to read that throttle position and adjust the volume of fuel entering the cylinders, ignition timing has to change, in some cases actuators will have to adjust valve timing, the transmission has to downshift, the additional fuel has to actually be burned and turned into power, and on and on. With an EV, you put the pedal down, and you’re essentially just moving electrons. And electrons are fast.
Okay, admittedly there is some control logic that needs to read pedal input, there are some limitations when it comes to current leaving the battery pack (especially thermal concerns), and it’s not like current goes directly to the motors (it has to be converted in the inverters from DC to AC), but all of this happens very, very quickly. When you put the pedal down in an EV, you can expect to move. Right now. And this pedal response is far more immediate in an EV than it is in any internal combustion engine vehicle.
Aiding in that response is an electric vehicle’s flat torque curve, whose maximum y-value on the plot is often a very large number (in other words, EVs make loads of torque). That results in incredible response at a variety of vehicle speeds, as Motor Trend describes in its review of the Audi E-Tron:
Audi claims a 0-to-60-mph time of 3.1 seconds for the 590-hp E-Tron GT RS (an overboost feature bumps output to 637 hp in short bursts), but as is so often the case, that number doesn’t tell the whole story. Its 3.1-second time isn’t just mash and go, mind you, as its Quattro all-wheel-drive system lets the rear end skitter around a bit before it digs in. But it’s when you hammer the throttle while on the move—no matter if you’re going 15 mph or 50—that the rush of its 612 lb-ft of on-demand torque really hits you.
So yes, the 911’s zero to 60 mph time is about the same as the E-Tron’s, but when you’re actually driving the car at speed, and you want to accelerate, the Audi just feels more responsive — pressing its accelerator pedal quickly results in a thorough hammering. The Porsche doesn’t quite offer this same sensation despite being elite in pedal response among ICEs.
Expanding this topic beyond the two vehicles in question, EVs just generally out-accelerate ICE cars. You’ve probably seen plenty of videos of Tesla Model S’s crushing Challenger Hellcats at drag strips. EVs often make more torque, they make it down lower in the rev range, and they’re able to deliver that torque in a way that’s just far more responsive to pedal input.
All of these things matter in the overall driving experience. I used to think “Wow, I get it, EVs are quicker. But that’s just one party trick.” But after driving a 911 and an E-Tron back-to-back, I realized that I shouldn’t underestimate how important acceleration is in the grand scheme of the fun-car equation. People literally ride roller coasters for the acceleration; acceleration is just fun, and EVs are the acceleration kings.
So EVs are more responsive, and they generally accelerate more quickly. But what about the unique torque curves of ICE cars? You know how some iconic engines, like the Cummins 12-valve diesel, make tons of low-end grunt while some — like the 12A Mazda rotary engine or the S65 BMW V8 — like to scream well above 8,000 RPM? Isn’t that cool?
Yes. It is cool, and it is such an important player in differentiating cars from one another. EVs producing power the same way as one another is a bit boring, there’s no question. But that same-ness is more than made up for by the incredible acceleration and pedal response.
I mentioned the roller coaster analogy earlier; people love to go to amusement parks because they love acceleration. So it’s no wonder that EVs are so fun, since they are the GOATs of acceleration. But I have to admit that there’s more to a roller coaster than pure rate of change of velocity; change in acceleration matters, too. When your roller coaster enters a sharp turn and then goes goes into a wider turn, then into a straight section before hitting another tight turn — you’re not only feeling lateral acceleration, but you’re feeling many changes in acceleration. And that’s fun, too.
In a car, that concept of change in acceleration — called a jerk — manifests itself in longitudinal and lateral ways. The latter involves handling, which I’ll discuss in a minute, but the former is all about shifting.
There is just something awesome about gear changes in an internal combustion engine car. You slam the accelerator pedal, the car jolts forward, accelerates at an absurd rate, then just as the rate of acceleration decreases, BOOM you get a gear change and the acceleration increases. It’s just exciting.
You often hear car journalists refer to EVs’ acceleration as “linear” in that it’s just a smooth increase in speed; there’s really only one “jerk,” but it’s a huge one — one larger than any you’d find in most ICE cars not involved in a crash. I’m referring to the initial jerk — the change in acceleration from 0 meters per second squared to whatever ungodly figures cars like the Porsche Taycan and Tesla Model S Plaid reach. But after that initial kick in the pants, it’s generally smooth sailing at any given pedal input.
Still, even though EVs don’t have jerks from shifts, you can still get wild jerks by simply changing the pedal position. If you’re overtaking a car gradually and then realize a car is coming, you can hammer the pedal down, and you’ll definitely feel a jerk from those torquey electric motors.
So yeah, EVs don’t shift gears, so you don’t get those cool jerks from shifts, but the sheer amount of torque at the wheels, available as soon as you touch the rightmost pedal, means you can get that jerk in other ways, which is not quite as cool, but cool nonetheless.
The Stick Shift
I drove the dual-clutch automatic (PDK) 911, and it was fun. It was loud, the transmission jerked from gear to gear, and acceleration was prodigious. But the stick shift 911 GT3 with Touring Package was leagues more fun to drive; it was fantastic. There were so many inputs to the driver — acceleration, jerk, sound, and now you had the feeling of the clutch pedal and the shifter. With each shift, the vehicle responded instantly. Literally instantly. Once a gear had been selected and the clutch had been released, the car was going to change in some way or another.
The sound would change, the acceleration would change, the vibrations would change. My input led to a dramatic and immediate output, and that’s just thrilling.
Response to the driver’s input is such an important part of what makes a car fun to drive, and a lack thereof can ruin a car — think of all the vehicles let down by transient response issues such as turbo lag and poorly-calibrated automatic transmissions. Drivers want a vehicle to heed their inputs immediately.
With an EV, drivers get that fun with the right pedal, which responds in a way that no ICE can. With a manual transmission in an ICE car, you’re physically changing gears with your right hand, and the car’s behavior is changing as soon as you’ve let off the clutch and it’s finished slipping. Making music with my right foot, left foot, and right hand never got old. The 911 with a manual transmission was — from a driving perspective — on another level than either the automatic 911 or the E-Tron GT.
It’s a bit unfair to compare the handling of the E-Tron GT with that of the 911, since the two vehicles are in different classes. But these two cars do highlight one of the downsides of EVs: They weigh a lot. Here’s a table of various EVs’ curb weights; the figures are astronomical, largely because battery energy density is not nearly as high as that of gasoline.
The RS E-Tron GT weighs over 5,100 pounds, or about 400 pounds more than a similarly-sized V8 Porsche Panamera Turbo. The 911 weighs around 3,200 pounds, and while, yes, it is a smaller vehicle, its overall demand energy (which is related to drag, among other things) probably isn’t much different than the Taycan’s (particularly while cruising). I bet if you wanted a car as small as the 911 and with a similar aero treatment to have a similar range as the Taycan, the little EV 911 would still need a battery pack not much smaller than the Taycans. That is to say: Even a 911-sized EV (with reasonable range) would probably weigh way, way more than 3,200 pounds.
Weight is the enemy of handling.
Sure, electric cars have low centers of gravity since that absurdly heavy battery pack is mounted low in the chassis, but still. Their weight is a burden, especially when compared to ICE cars with low centers of gravity — cars like the 911, which utilizes a flat engine design precisely to lower the car’s Cg.
This all comes down to that point I made earlier about how “fun” is largely determined by how quickly a car responds to driver input. A heavy car generally doesn’t change directions as quickly as a light car does, and that can be frustrating.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that automotive joy isn’t just about performance, it’s about style and cool features, too. And there’s no question that EVs open up car designers to much more styling freedom, since electric vehicles’ cooling requirements are so much lower, meaning there’s less need for a large frontal opening or for space for a cooling module. Plus, motors are smaller than internal combustion engines (so the hood can be lower without worrying about pedestrian protection regulations) and single-speed gearboxes are smaller than multispeed ones with torque converters/clutches. On top of that, drivetrains are simpler, in part because motors are located at the axles (meaning there’s no need for long driveshafts) and instead of pumping fluid, EVs send power via flexible cables.
Obviously, battery packs are huge. But with those packaged between the axles, designers have loads of room to let their pens scribble a bit more freely on their pads. I mean, just look at the front end of this retro-futuristic Hyundai Ioniq 5. The thing is awesome, and like nothing I’ve ever seen before:
Check out the Rivian R1T. Have you ever seen a truck that looks anything like this? Yeah, me neither:
And then there’s the packaging fun. Have you seen the Canoo van? The interior is a “loft on wheels,” per the fledgeling automaker:
Oh, and here’s how that prototype vehicle looks from the outside:
Here’s a look at the vehicle on the road:
Then there’s Bollinger and its B1 and B2, which offer awesome interior storage solutions, in part thanks to a pass-through dashboard and a slick “frontgate”:
Here’s a closer look:
Also, have you gawked at the Rivian’s Gear Tunnel behind the cab? Try fitting this into a body-on-frame gasoline truck equipped with a transfer case, driveshaft, exhaust system, fuel tank, etc.:
Rivian even offers a kitchen accessory powered by the truck’s battery:
And that brings me to another fun opportunity that EVs offer: You’ve got a huge battery onboard that allows you to power all sorts of cool stuff. While at the German Car of the Year Event, a black Kia EV6 was powering a heating pad that boiled tea; you can see it in the background here:
So, Which Is More Fun?
I love old internal combustion engine-powered cars and pray that I can continue driving them into the future. But that doesn’t mean I’m blinded by the light of the spark plug. No; it’s clear to me that EVs are fun.
They don’t make much noise, they don’t jerk (i.e. they don’t shift), they weigh far too much, and their torque curves are pretty much all the same. Plus, there’s nothing fun about waiting a long while for your car to “fill up” or about searching forever to find a charging station nearby. But EVs are incredibly responsive to pedal input (and response to driver input is a huge part of what makes a car fun), they accelerate absurdly quickly, they can be used to power all sorts of cool electronics, and they offer loads of design freedom and introduce fun new packaging solutions.
To me, a stick-shift ICE car is likely always going to be more fun than any EV, but then again, it’s also going to be more fun than any automatic ICE car. In fact, when I got out of the automatic 911, I thought to myself: “Unless you’re on the track, why even bother with an automatic sports car? Just get an EV.” I realize that’s a hell of a hot take, but I’m sticking with it.