A love of sports cars is rarely compatible with the demands of everyday life. But this is all about to change with the evolution of the four-door coupe.
SLEEK, COMPACT AND BUILT FOR optimum speed - the sports car has always brought with it an image of muscle, power and, most importantly, luxury. It's what every teenage boy dreams of driving and what every middle-age crisis brings home. But the sports car is evolving.
Traditionally, sports cars take the form of a coupe. Speed and power are their main functions, leaving little room to think about comfort. Manufacturers are starting to recognise this and are beginning to incorporate practicality into their new coupe designs. The next few years will see a slew of four-door cars with high-end sports performances that will appeal to those who motor at the weekends but still need to drive their children around during the week.
Mercedes-Benz started the four-door coupe concept with its CLS line, but its CLS 63 AMG takes the concept to a higher level. The car boasts a 6.3-litre V8 AMG engine with around 20 per cent more torque than comparable engines in its class, and can accelerate from zero to 100 km/h in 4.5 seconds.
Borrowing technology from motor racing, AMG Speedshift 7G-Tronic transmission offers the driver a choice between automatic and manual shifting, using either the selector lever or activating the aluminium gearshift paddles, Formula One style. A Racetimer has been implemented, enabling the driver to measure lap times on an enclosed track, storing the time of the fastest lap, the average and top speed and distance.
This, however, does not mean the car is strictly for race play. The 63 AMG has taken passenger comfort into consideration with seat heating, Alcantara inserts at shoulder level to give lateral support while cornering at high speeds, and a memory function that makes it possible to store various settings.
Furthering this concept of practicality and power, Aston Martin has developed the Rapide, due out in late 2009. Inspired by the tight, poised stance of the DB9 and flanked by the Vantage, the Rapide is strong and rigid but light in weight. Despite having more space, the car's fluid graceful lines flowing through the body to the tail mean it does not stand out as anything other than a solid member of the Aston Martin family.
The car has been designed with extra passengers in mind. Though the doors still feature the 'swan wing' design, the rear doors cut deep, increasing the width of the opening for better access. The dashboard is driver-focused, but the satellite navigation system is fully accessible to all passengers and a handheld Bluetooth unit can be used by those in the back. In addition to the ample rear luggage compartment, the rear seats fold down individually, allowing for greater storage. For the journey's end, there is a chiller cabinet in the boot, perfectly shaped to hold a magnum of Champagne Jacquesson and four flutes.
Last year, Porsche announced its first four-door sports coupe - the Panamera - scheduled to enter the market in 2009. The front engine and rear-wheel drive will be powered by a similar version of the 4.5L V8 found in the Cayenne. The car is still being developed, but artist renderings have shown a streamlined low-slung, four-door car with narrow side windows.
BMW's contribution is its Concept CS, a four-door, four-passenger luxury coupe recently unveiled at the Shanghai Motor Show. The Concept CS is elegant and understated, introducing a new sharp headlight style and a 'notchback' body. Showcased only as a concept car, BMW remains tightlipped about whether it will go into production. Whether it does or not, for BMW and for the motoring industry, it is a preview of things to come.