Fat Cars – The Biggest Losers

Bigger isn't always better, pilling on the pounds (or kilos) can seriously affect performance - here are some of the biggest losers

I recently drove my sister’s new 1.2 Corsa and although my expectations were low, I was shocked at how lacklustre its performance was. Apparently, it has 83 HP, quite where this was hiding in the rev range I wasn’t sure, but it was notably sluggish unless being completely thrashed.

I had driven its ancestor, the venerable 1.2 Nova with a meagre 55 HP, many years earlier and this was a nippy car. How could this modern Corsa feel so slow? Kerb weight. While the Nova barely tipped the scales at a measly 750 kg, the new Corsa was over 1,100 kg.

Increased safety provisions, interior comforts, and electrical devices have piled the pounds on cars over the years. This is no bad thing but goes a long way to explain why some cars feel no quicker and don’t deliver substantially better fuel economy than their 80s equivalents.

Here’s the Captain’s list of popular cars that have chubbier descendants.

Volkswagen Golf

Then 750 kg − 805 kg
Now 1,205 kg – 1,395 kg

Launched in 1974, the Golf would go on to set the standard for hatch backs for 40 years. In 1976, the Gti version would spawn a generation of competing “Hot Hatches” throughout the 80s. Sadly, increased weight in the later 8-valve Gti Mk3/4 models meant they were slower than the originals. With the Mk5, the Gti returned to form and no longer offered modest engines undeserving of the Gti badge.

BMW 3 Series

Then 1,010 kg – 1,180 kg
Now 1,490 kg – 1,725 kg

We first saw the 3 series in 1975 and since then it has gone on to become the benchmark of all other executive saloons. The 3 came with some excellent engines for the time; silky smooth 6-cylinder offerings with Bosch fuel injection. However, despite the continued performance increases of the range topping models, by the 90s the 1.6-litre 4-cylinder models were feeling decidedly lethargic.

Porsche 911

Then 1,030 kg – 1,080 kg
Now 1,380 kg – 1,675 kg

The Porsche ran from 1964 to 1998 with air-cooled engines so you can forgive some weight gain for the water and cooling systems in the later models. Over the years, the displacement of those engines has also increased from 2 litres in the original to 4 litres in the latest GT3 RS. Regardless of weight gains, performance for these cars has increased with every incarnation over the last. Although die hard Porsche fans maintain the 993 was the last true 911.

The Mini

Then 610 kg – 645 kg
Now 1,145 kg – 1,215 kg

My, how the Mini has grown! First launched in 1959, the Mini kept its proportions largely unchanged for 41 years until the release of the new “Mini” in 2000. The new Mini might have lost some of the small charm of the original but it hasn’t stopped them becoming a popular brand with substantial sales. Even though the new model is considerably heavier, new engines made sure it was never slower than the original.

Fiat 500

Then 470 kg – 525 kg
Now 1,070 kg – 1,150 kg

The original Fiat 500 was launched in 1957 and brought transport to the Italian masses. Its 2-cylinder air-cooled engine in the rear had just 13 bhp. When its successor was launched in 2007, its engine had moved to the front in a more traditional water-cooled arrangement, although it still offered a 2-cylinder version, albeit with a much more healthy 85 bhp.

Honda Civic

Then 615 kg – 795 kg
Now 1,240 kg – 1,425 kg

The Honda Civic conquered international markets for the Japanese brand and was released in America at an opportune time: the 1973 oil crisis. From its humble beginnings, the Civic has gone from strength to strength and this year, the 306 bhp Type R version set a FWD record-setting 7:50 lap time on the Nurburgring, beating many famous sports cars such as the Lamborghini Gallardo.

Ford Fiesta

Then 730 kg – 775 kg
Now 1,040 kg – 1,100 kg

The Fiesta has been a supermini success on our roads since 1976, consistently appearing in best selling lists year on year. The original base 1-litre model produced a paltry 39 bhp while today’s 1-litre eco-boost is no slouch, producing 3 times that at 123 bhp.

Do you prefer lighter cars of old or do they feel flimsy compared to today’s chunkier offerings? Tweet the Captain your favourite flyweight and heavyweight motors.

Related articles