I almost agreed with you 100% until you said this:
“I no longer lust after high-end exotic cars like I used to…most of them now aren’t really fun in any real-world way. They’re mostly about theoretical numbers and bragging rights.”
Believe me, mate…those cars are PLENTY of real-world fun. While driving that S4 I was having way too much fun with the handling, the engine, and shifting around through the gearbox to miss the clutch pedal. Would I rather have had a clutch pedal? Yes. Was I a sad panda without it? Noooooo!
In the SPIRIT of what you were saying, of course I agree. Consumers shouldn’t care whether the car is 2% faster on a closed circuit. They should care about the visceral aspect, the feeling of connection with the car, the experience, etc. The auto manufacturers should therefore focus on giving their customers exactly that…a visceral experience. And you’re right, that focus is waning in high-end car development.