Voices

What driving a sports car has taught me

After driving a series of very sensible cars, columnist Jane Speechley shares what she’s learned since stepping behind the wheel of the spirited and nimble Toyota 86.

THE CAR YOU choose to drive says a lot about you, and arguably, a sports car makes a stronger statement than most. With impressive growth in the sports car segment (September VFACTS figures show sales are up 36% to 2,725 vehicles), it’s a statement that’s being made by a growing number of drivers.

In my last column, I wrote about my history with cars and how I came to purchase my current vehicle, a Toyota 86. With just over three years now behind the wheel of my first sports car, there’s a lot I’ve learned.

First – there are sports cars, and then there are performance cars.

When I was researching cars to buy, it became clear there are plenty of sports cars, and there are plenty of performance cars – and while there may be a great deal of overlap, the two are not necessarily the same.

My 86 is a quick little car. She’s light, fun and makes the most routine drive more enjoyable – it offers a ‘guaranteed smile’ as the experts like to say. And I love her. But head-to-head, there are plenty of cars that will beat me off the mark unless I really push it (and usually, even when I do).

When I bought her, a male friend was quick to jump online to check the stats, and delighted in pointing out that his hotted-up, early 00s Astra was technically quicker on the 0-100kmph.

Of course, this bothered me immensely as I sat back in my perfect driving position, turned on my heated seat and swept around the next curve …

Nevertheless, everyone wants to race me.

In my author bio, I say my car makes promises my driving can’t (or won’t) keep. I might need to get it put onto a bumper sticker.

It doesn’t matter that I’m a mild-mannered female in my late 30s driving a factory-standard version. It’s quite common for a routine stop at the traffic lights to be characterised by the revving engine, the jumping forward just a little bit in my peripheral vision, the direct look across to get my attention.

And I don’t think I need to tell you – it’s usually a certain type of driver, in a certain type of car. My favourite trick is to play along until the light turns green, then happily and gently take off long after they’ve gone.

Driving a sports car is a big responsibility.

Even three years on, when there are plenty of examples on the road, my 86 still turns heads and attracts second glances. It’s usually brought to my attention more when I have a passenger in the car, who isn’t used to it.

So it’s important to remember that people will be looking at you when you’re driving a sports car.

You know what that means. No sneaky checks for ‘bats in the cave’ at the traffic lights. No practising your selfie expressions in the rear view mirror. Maybe even tone down the enthusiasm of your in-car karaoke performance.

It’s also a lot of pressure. When I drove a neat little hatchback, I could afford to let a few weeks go by, and let the dust build up between washes. Not now. Spotless, shiny, black tyres (errrrr … most of the time). If you’re going to have a car that asks people to look at it, you’d better be prepared to keep her in tip-top condition. Or at least hide all the rubbish in the boot.

Get ready for a bumpy ride.

Many people aren’t prepared for how different a sport car feels to drive. For those who usually drive a sedan or SUV, the first comment is always, ‘gee it’s low!’. That alone takes some getting used to.

But it’s only after I’ve been in another vehicle that I realise just how much you feel the road in a sports car. Whether you like it or not, that soft cushion of deep shock absorption is a thing of the past. You can pretty much expect to feel every stone and hole in the road, and also feel how your car responds to it, right through your body.

It’s not necessarily uncomfortable or even unpleasant: it’s just that the drive becomes a very physical and involved experience. You can’t avoid hearing and feeling everything that’s happening – you’re not cushioned or cocooned from what you’re doing.

It can do more than you think.

The more I read about sports cars, the more I realise that for many people, their sports model is an extra car, and a fun-on-the-weekends option. Which is great!

But that shouldn’t take away from the idea of having a sports car as your everyday drive.

The reality is, there’s no getting away from the fact that mine is really a two-person car, despite those cute little pretend back seats. I’m hardly going to take her off road or camping, with a kayak thrown in the back.

However, I’ve been impressed by just how much she can do. Of course, I’m single with no kids, so that helps. Still, I’ve moved house twice, and my little car has carried the majority of small to medium sized items for me. She’s has carried drunk friends, work equipment, and large hairy dogs. I’ve even taken it to Ikea several times, which is surely the greatest test of any vehicle?

As we always say, it’s about choosing the car that best fits your lifestyle. Now, I just have to work out whether I chose the sports car lifestyle, or the sports car lifestyle chose me …

Until next time,

Jane.

Find the best demonstrator car deals for Practical Motoring readers around Australia on our Live Deals website. 


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worldwadeweb
worldwadeweb
3 years ago

Hi Jane, great story.
I ordered an 86 (blue GT) in 2012 – and had to wait 13 months for delivery! – as a ‘farewell to freedom’ before my wife and I started a family, and this brings back a lot of great memories.
I never did get challenged to a drag race but I sure put it through its paces, mostly up the famous ‘Heartbreak Hill’ from Rose Bay: I enjoyed it a lot more than those masochists running up there in the City 2 Surf. The handling has been compared favourably with a Boxster and rightly so: I’ve driven both cars and while the weight distribution is different, the steering is eerily similar. And of course there’s Toyota’s reliability and good value servicing.
But the main point is, as you say, that it’s a surprisingly practical car. We took it on road trips north (Hunter Valley), west (Orange via Bathurst) and south (the Illawarra-Southern Highlands loop) and comfortably fitted enough luggage for two for a week away each time. I could also fit my surfboard in it and even did an Ikea run: if you can fit four tyres in the back with the rear seat down, you can fit a lot of flatpacks.
We also sometimes accommodated a third passenger in decent fashion, as my wife is rather petite and could still be comfortable after moving her seat close to the maximum forward setting, but of course there is absolutely zero legroom behind a six footer like me.
We sold that car after 11 months and got 90% of the sticker price back ($27k) and now plan to buy another 86 in two years time when our daughter turns 4 and can sit in a booster seat in the rear. Who said a sports car isn’t family-friendly?

Jane Speechley
Jane Speechley
3 years ago
Reply to  worldwadeweb

Thanks for such an interesting comment, worldwadeweb!

I managed to sneak in after the rush so only had to wait a standard month or so … I was actually one of those masochists this year, but we just walked it – lovely walk for a Sunday!

I reckon the height (for want of a better term) of the rear window makes a huge difference to the feel when you’re sitting in the back – because it comes right up over your head, it feels a bit like you’re sitting under a sunroof. Think it would feel much more claustrophobic if not.

I’m sure your daughter will love it 🙂

The Truth
The Truth
3 years ago

Not 100% sure what a “Sports Car” is, BUT a GT86 it is not,,,sorry

Azmodan
Azmodan
3 years ago
Reply to  The Truth

I agree, it may handle well but a “sports car!” not IMO. I’d call it sporty but lacks about 50kW. Next we’ll be hearing about the MX-5 sports car.
Also Jane those cars are actually quicker, not technically quicker, the 86 is fairly sedate by any measure other than the rest of the woeful Toyota family, where sure it’s a regular hypercar.

PracticalMotoring
3 years ago
Reply to  Azmodan

Where does it say a sports car needs to have X amount of power?

Azmodan
Azmodan
3 years ago

Where is there any definition of a sports car that’s not arbitrary. You have yours and I have mine. I don’t consider a standard 86 a sports car, where do you draw the line. Does it have to be impractical, does it have to have cramped or no rear seating, does it have to look sporty etc.

Squeaky_1
Squeaky_1
3 years ago
Reply to  Azmodan

Interesting points Azmodan. I don’t know the answer, if there is a ‘correct’ one. I do think Jane has every right to consider her beautiful T86 a sports car. More correctly ‘her’ sports car. For what its worth, I fully consider my FG-X XR6 Sprint ‘my’ sports car. Sure, it is a sedan, is factory standard (as much as the new Sprint can be considered ‘standard’) has near 400kws on overboost and handles like no Falcon in history. It can tow the big boat and take 5 adults in supreme comfort. It can also drift until the cows come home . . . I’m told :-)) It isn’t low to the ground like a wonderful MX5 or 86 but looks immensely up to date and classy (dare I say ‘sporty’?). So, what I’m trying to say is that it is indeed each to their own and what makes you happy to call ‘your’ sports car. Sprint just happens to be mine.
.
Here’s some food for thought – how the hell does the marketing world get away with calling the modern-day people-movers “SPORTS Utility Vehicles” (SUV’s)??!! Utility vehicles, yes but SPORT?? There’s nothing even remotely sporty about 99% of them. I’ll tell you how – it is just one of the slovenly idiot Americanisms we sheepishly accept from the Land Of The Free these days. Ridiculous description of a two-tonne+ block of flats on wheels. Maybe THAT is where I’d draw the line at someone describing their SUV as their sports car. I’ve no doubt there’d be someone out there willing to call their SUV their sports car – and it wouldn’t necessarily be a Cayenne driver either! Go figure.

Robert Pepper
3 years ago
Reply to  Squeaky_1

Interesting that the cars which have “sport” in their name generally aren’t 🙂

Jane Speechley
Jane Speechley
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert Pepper

I apply the same rule to any product that has the label ‘fashion’ in front of the title. ‘Fashion t-shirts’, ‘fashion sunglasses’ – definitely not!

Jane Speechley
Jane Speechley
3 years ago
Reply to  Squeaky_1

Thanks for your comment, Squeaky_1 – really interesting point on the SUVs, you’ll see I’ve made a point above about convertibles as well …

Jane Speechley
Jane Speechley
3 years ago
Reply to  Azmodan

Oh, you’re a tough crowd! 😉

I did base my description on the VFACTs Segmentation Criteria which groups (sports) cars, coupes, convertibles and roadsters under the ‘Sports’ category. Surely the ‘convertibles’ is the most controversial choice there …

Interested to know what you’d class the 86 as, if not a sports car? And whether you think there’s anything that doesn’t sit in that sports category, that *should*?

And yes, use of the word ‘technically’ was just to save my precious ego …

GiddyGoanna
GiddyGoanna
3 years ago
Reply to  Jane Speechley

My concept is sports cars have great handling and corner well whilst performance cars exhibit great acceleration and high speed. Cars can be both, either or neither (to varying degrees) 86 & MX-5 are both definitely sports but not performance cars. Turbo falcons, more performance than sports. IMHO.

HarryBrown
HarryBrown
3 years ago
Reply to  The Truth

what rubbish…how old are you?

BrownHarry
BrownHarry
3 years ago
Reply to  HarryBrown

what rubbish…how dumb are you?

PracticalMotoring
3 years ago
Reply to  BrownHarry

Let’s keep this civil, please.

Monty
Monty
3 years ago

Austin Healy Sprite, Triumph Spitifire, MG Midget etc all sports cars. The Toybaru and MX5 likewise. Small, nimble, not high powered, handles well, stops also. A 1968 V8 Falcon would blow away most of the two seater’s you could buy but no one called the Falcon a sports car.

Jane Speechley
Jane Speechley
3 years ago
Reply to  Monty

Thanks Monty, all very good points, especially about the Falcon!

HarryBrown
HarryBrown
3 years ago

Hi Jane, …thanks for another entertaining read…smooth, and easy on the eyes …you sound like you know exactly what you are about. ..and I like the way you talk about ‘her’ … that tells me that I am going to enjoy more of your stories…

Jane Speechley
Jane Speechley
3 years ago
Reply to  HarryBrown

Ah, you’re too kind! Thanks so much for the comments and compliment, Harry Brown. I’m really enjoying the writing, and yes, the ‘her’ was definitely deliberate 🙂 Let me know if you have any story ideas you’d like us to cover in future!

GiddyGoanna
GiddyGoanna
3 years ago

What is ‘sneaky check for bat in cave at traffic light’?

Jane Speechley
Jane Speechley
3 years ago
Reply to  GiddyGoanna

I’ve been trying to find a link that doesn’t lead to the horror that is Urban Dictionary. The most polite description I can find is, ahem, ‘visible mucus in one’s nostrils’ …

Sorry 🙂 but hey, a lot of people do it!

GiddyGoanna
GiddyGoanna
3 years ago
Reply to  Jane Speechley

Thanks for enlightening me!

Matt Page
Matt Page
3 years ago

I’m late to the party Jane, but love my 86. I’m totally indifferent to the argument of sports car yes/no. I know how it feels going full belt up a mountain road and hugging the curves. I love the sound and I love the feel. Share the 86 love!

Jane Speechley

Jane Speechley

Jane Speechley is an experienced freelance writer whose natural curiosity means she knows enough about cars to hold a decent conversation. While happily admitting her Toyota 86 makes promises her street driving can’t quite keep, she’s relishing the opportunity to review some of Australia’s most interesting new vehicles from an ‘everyperson’ perspective. She’s on a mission to understand and explain how all those features and gadgets actually impact upon your driving experience. http://www.charismaticcommunications.com.au