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,