Text: Vince Pornelos / Photos: | posted January 19, 2016 08:59
Not all it's cracked up to be
We like sports cars. Really, who doesn't?
Many of us covet owning our very own sports car, and why not? They're (generally) beautiful to look at, fantastic to drive, and exhilarating to listen to — sex on wheels that you can buy, drive and keep in your garage — as they say.
But beyond the horsepower, the handling, the curves and shapes, the low silhouettes, the flashy paint, and the head-turning designs, there are many characteristics of sports cars that the marketing people don't really tell us about. These 2-door coupes, fastbacks, roadsters and supercars are divas in a way, and you have to be prepared because there are many compromises that you need to know before even considering buying, much less owning one.
Given our experience testing and living with different models, generations and nameplates of these machines on a fairly regular basis, here are some of the lessons we've learned about them... sometimes the hard way.
Parking is a challenge
Parking a sedan or a crossover is easy to do (most of the time), but parking a coupe is trickier than most think. It sounds odd as coupes are often seen as smaller cars, but there are a lot of considerations to take into account.
The first part is visibility. Being a low car with smaller windows makes all around visibility a challenge when getting into a slot. Sure there are fancy back-up cameras and parking sensors with the new models, but many out there don't have such equipment to make parking a breeze.
A sports car owner must also consider the location of the parking spot. There are a lot of vandals out there who are more than willing to scratch a flashy new sports car for a variety of reasons like (but not limited to) envy, spite, or just for a laugh. Such is the way of the world, and so often when driving something with two doors to places like the nearby mall, I'd look for a spot with a clear line of sight to the security guard. It's no guarantee, but it's better than nothing.
But the most important thing to consider is that sports cars have much longer doors than sedans, and so a typical parking slot can usually end up with a ding or two on the edge of the door. The reason behind this is that the doors on 4-seat coupes are longer to be able to facilitate entry for both the front row and back row occupants. The result is a door that is usually 30% longer than a similarly-sized sedan, something we actually measured on the CR-Z versus the City.
Some sports car and supercar manufacturers have addressed this by trying out creative door mechanisms like Lamborghini with the swing-up scissor doors, but even that's tricky in building parking lots with exposed pipework.
One size does not fit all
Sports cars are usually best for persons of a certain body type, weight, height, and width. These cars aren't very friendly for those who do not meet those dimensions, and yes, I know that from experience too.
If you're a tall individual, meaning 6'0” or taller, small sports coupes might be tricky for you because, more often than not, you might end up banging the right side of your head on the roofline as you try to get in. That's why they invented something called the Gurney bubble; a bulge on the roof of a Ford GT40 so named to accommodate the helmeted head of 6'4” race car driver, Dan Gurney.
If you're a heavy-set person, well, we're in the same boat then. Most performance coupes tend to have seats with firmer and more aggressive side bolstering designed to keep a normal-bodied person in place while cornering. For us bigger individuals, these bolsters usually end up digging into our sides a bit... try driving with that on a long distance trip.
Also, the ergonomics of a sports coupe means persons with larger than normal bellies will have a harder time cornering without shuffling hands from the 10-2 or 9-3 positions on the steering. So if you're really serious about getting that stylish coupe, you may want to consider your body size beforehand; there isn't much you can do about the height, but slimming down for a Toyota 86 might be a good idea.
Prepare for a bit of body pain
Sports cars aren't designed with comfort as a priority; far from it, in fact.
Refinement and performance are really at the opposite sides of the spectrum, and by definition, sports cars adhere to the latter. Manufacturers achieve the levels of performance by sacrificing comfort.
They're not built to deliver magic carpet rides. The suspension on most sports cars are set to be stiff (for better cornering), the suspension travel is shorter, the ride height is lower, the rims are usually larger in diameter and the tires are of the low-profile type. You'll also be more wary of potholes all around, and you'll also hate your village association for installing so many speed bumps on the way to your house.
If you thought EDSA was bumpy in a Corolla wait until you try it in an 86. Don't be surprised if you start browsing Groupon for some chiropractor certificates.
Upkeep is a bit on the high side
Thought all it took was an oil change and tune up every so often to maintain that sports car in your garage? Think again.
Being an eye-catcher, you'll want to make sure it's always clean all day, every day. You get a bit more OC when it comes to dust and even bird droppings. It's the automotive equivalent of wearing a nice suit but with lint all over it; the car's dirty which means you're dirty, and that means frequent car wash and auto detailing packages.
Of course that's not all. Sports cars aren't exactly meant to be driven slow, so you'll often find yourself having a little bit of fun on the weekends in the mountains, on the higwhays, or on the track. High performance driving like that accelerates the wear and tear of any car's consumables.
Be prepared to replace things like clutch disc assemblies, bushings, tires, brakes, oil, filters and sparkplugs more frequently because you'll most likely be driving a bit harder. All that must be accounted for in the budget, and we haven't even started doing any modification or upgrades yet.
Oh, and despite manufacturer claims about consumption, you won't be running a Porsche 911 like its on a fuel eco run, would you?
Getting in and out ain't easy
In commercials they always paint a picture that it's so glamorous to arrive in a sleek supercar, right? Just like Hollywood or Monaco, right?
Unlike a luxury sedan, a sports car is low (try standing when you sit from a low stool), the door opening is short in height (careful that you don't bump your head), and the seat is most likely bolstered (meaning you can't just slide to the side and out). There's really nothing stylish about it, and if anything, most of us end up stumbling out of one.
The most difficult car that I've ever tried to get myself into was the Lotus Elise Cup, especially with the wide bargeboards. If it's a convertible it's much easier to get out if you drop the top, but you'll still have to crouch down after in order to raise it again after... unless you live in a place where parking with the top down is perfectly cool.
And here's another tidbit: most women don't like getting in and out of them either. My wife likes the Mustang, but doesn't like getting in and out of one.
Sure many things about them can be a pain (sometimes literally) when compared to something like a Focus or a Mazda3, but if you thought that we hate sports cars, well, we don't. In fact, we still like them a lot.
All the things that can be considered quirks about them are all part of the experience and character of this class of car. Each model often has unique traits, so just be sure you know what you're getting into.