Aradune's Top 20 Sports Cars:
The Top 20 -- Cars Driven & My Thoughts/Reactions
The following are brief write-ups on the various cars Iíve driven. They are completely and totally my subjective opinion and, though I donít mean them to be, may very well be controversial. I in no way pretend to be a Ďprofessionalí or even a Ďgreat driverí. If youíre really curious, try to drive these cars yourself (if you havenít already) Ė your mileage will undoubtedly vary, and your opinion is certainly as good as mineÖ probably better. Also, the list is hardly complete and many fantastic cars are absent -- again these are only the cars I've personally had the privilege to drive. I certainly want to experience many more, and when and if I do, I'll try to keep this updated.
0. Ferrari 360 Challenge
I ranked this car zero because, well, itís not street legal. I drove one quite a few laps at Willow Springs and wow, what can I say. Itís a lighter (and therefore faster) 360 with much tighter suspension, fantastic grip (Pirelli P-zero Slicks will do that for you) and amazingly fast F1 shifters. Not only that, a factory roll cage, race seats, racing harness, etc. is stock. If I ever buy a track-only car, this is definitely on my list, especially since theyíre down to about $140k used (well over $200 when I was looking). When you drive a street Ferrari you can tell theyíre bred for the track as well Ė how much more that is true in a real Ferrari race car.
1. Ferrari Enzo
I was lucky enough to drive one briefly just the other day. I put it in the #1 slot but with a small caveat: I didnít drive it more than a mile or two, and didnít get to push the car hard at all. So, ultimately, I canít really write up a legit review. That said, from what Iíve read, and from what I did experience, Iím 99% positive Iíd rank it #1, so I went ahead and did just that.
The Enzo looks better than any other car save maybe the F40, but that may only be true because of the nostalgia I have for the F40 (itís been my favorite car since 1989). Every line that looks strange in a photo is addressed when you see the car in real life. The build quality of the car is amazing and the cockpit very ergonomic and comfortable. The engine sound was not what I expected Ė instead of the higher F1 sound of an F50 or F355 with a Tubi, it sounded a lot lower and staccatoÖ almost like a high-revving Viper, if such a thing existed. The steering and road feel is unparalleled. The feedback is perfect and the steering totally accurateÖ it feels like a go-cart, even moreso than the F40.
And then thereís the power. I gave it 1/3 throttle in first and the wheels spun for a moment before the traction control kicked in and I was thrown to the back of my seat. Again, I did it in second, but had to slow down quickly because I was out of room. I can only describe the power as like riding a friendís CBR900RR street bike hard, and the torque like punching a 2-stroke CR500 motocross bike in the desert. In other words: scary fast.
I donít know what else to say. It left me speechless and shaking. If only I could have experienced the full acceleration curve and its handling prowess. Maybe one dayÖ
2. Ferrari F40 (euro-spec)
I rented this car in Germany and drove it on the Autobahn and on the Nurburgring. Iíd read and even heard from people that this car is very hard to drive, that the power is uncontrollable, the interior plain, and the ergonomics uncomfortable. I say thatís crap. The power was very controllable, the interior very much like the 360 Challenge above (Spartan, and race car-like Ė I LOVE IT), and the ergonomics not really that bad. No, itís not a daily driver, but yes, it is the road car closest to a true race car that Iíve ever driven. And oh, the horsepower. For those that donít know, the European F40 is the true F40 Ė the American spec car was neutered to meet emissionsÖ in fact, it lost so much HP they had to re-gear it just to get like a 4 second 0-60. The European model, on the other hand, has got to be somewhere around 3.5 Ė 3.7 sec. The handling is very stiff and the car is a natural on the track. Also worth noting is how well it accelerates when youíre already at speed (something, as of late, that is becoming more and more important to me). For example, I was able to gain on a GSXR-750 sportbike from about 80mph to around 150mph. Unbelievable. Additionally, the F40 is my favorite car of all time in terms of appearance. And while Iíd still rather have an F50 (or even moreso the Enzo) because of its naturally aspirated V12, this car is still a dream car for me. If only the American-spec car wasnít so much slowerÖ buying one here would be more for looks and less for performance, Iím afraid
3. Ferrari 360F1 Modena
This is truly an amazing car. The build quality is much higher than older Ferraris, its cabin is more roomy than any other sports car Iíve even driven, and the performance and overall feel (the way the car communicates to you, the driver) is astounding. It is much more drivable day-to-day than, say, the F40, but itís still a Ferrari Ė itís loud, and people stare and surround the car whereever you park itÖ so itís still probably not a daily driver for most, although it could be. The power is excellent, and even though it redlines at 8500, thereís still plenty of mid-range torque Ė enough to have fun with, but not so much that it makes it difficult to drive (say, like a Viper). The F1 transmission is a dream Ė while some Ďpuristsí still prefer shifting conventionally, Iíll take the F1 transmission any day of the week, even though it still shifts rather roughly if youíre not under full acceleration (which should be rareÖ say, only when thereís a bimbo box or a cop in front of you).
The car is both amazing on the street and on the track. My only complaint would be that it comes stock with tires too skinny for it (215 front, 275 rear) and with Michelin Pilot Sports (a tire I really donít care for). Once I put tires on it more close in size to what the Challenge car comes with (225 front, 295 rear) and Pirelli P-zero asymetricos, it turned into a dream. Iíve no idea what the skidpad is, but the Zanardi NSX is .99g and the 360 is superior (now that proper tires both in terms of compound and width have been equipped), so Iím guessing 1.01gs or so. It also has Tubi exhaust and air filters, allegedly giving it 5-15 more hp (depending on who you want to believe). In terms of straight line performance, I have drag raced a Viper GTS and we were neck and neck. I have come to a conclusion, however, after driving so many carsÖ I think I prefer specialists to generalists. To that end, I want my Ferraris to be extreme: loud, fast, race-car like, and exotically attractive. The 360 is a little too much of a compromise for me, and Iíd prefer a Euro F40, an F50, or Enzo had I the fundsÖ if youíre going to go Ferrari, I say go all the way.
Update: The 360 Challenge Stradale has been announced and should hit the states as a 2004 model. This car, given my taste in cars, whatís important to me, and the criteria above, could very well be the ultimate street car for me, pushing it to #1 or #2 on my list.
4. Acura NSX Zanardi
Speaking of generalists, I indict the NSXÖ but more on that later. The Zanardi is an amazing car, ranked for me above, for example, the Porsche 996 Turbo even. The car is really just an Americanized Type S, and is therefore lighter, lacks power steering, and has tighter suspension, amongst other details. Basically, you get by default what most enthusiasts do to their NSXes right off the bat anyway, plus the exclusivity and gorgeous grey BBS rims. The strengths of the NSX for me? Beautiful (I donít agree with the assertion that the looks are dated), unparalleled build-quality (it feels even better built than my wifeís Lexus), fantastic handling and feel (second only to the Ferrariís above), and an engine that can survive day to day driving and thousands of thousands of miles (I drove a í91 NSX with 90,000+ miles on it and it was still very tight.. the engine still bright). The cons? Well, we all know them: the car needs wider tires (partially addressed with the latest model update) and more power. (Iíd also say stiffer suspension, but weíre still talking about the Zanardi). All in all, some people have called the NSX the Japanese Ferrari, and I agree. They are indeed very similarÖ similar looks, similar handling, similar philosophy behind the power band (both high revving, etc).
5. Porsche 996TT
My favorite daily driver to date, but thatís also my problem with the car. Having driven it extensively on the street and on the track, in my opinion itís MUCH happier on the street. To me, the 996TT is more of a GT car than a sports car. You sit higher, thereís a little too much body roll, you are insulated from a lot of road feedback, etc. On the track itís easy to drive pretty fast, but then when you really want to push it, and you turn of the incredible Porsche Stability Management System, well, it becomes a bit of a beast (though it is certainly possible I just need more practice with a rear engine car, and that they are more different than mid-engine cars than I suspect). I also donít like the powerband for the track Ė all the power is in the middle, and it just tapers out at the high endÖ plus, itís a turbo, and even though some reviews have said the lagís not there, it IS. The throttle performance and response is nowhere's close to the throttle-by-wire 360ís.
All that said, itís probably my favorite daily driver. Non-enthusiasts really donít know if itís a boxster or what, so thereís rarely a crowd around the car in the parking lot. That extra room and comfy ergonomics? Great for the street. The Porsche, unlike the Ferrari, also has lots of nifty gadgets available, including a sweet sound system and a navigation system. Power? Having mid-range power on the street is perfect, and the car goes from very manageable when the turbos arenít on to one of the fastest cars around when you punch it. And that power is not only available 0-60, but the thing also takes off like a bat out of hell when you downshift into fourth at 80mph. Also, the AWD is fantasticÖ not only do you feel more safe when itís rainy or wet, it helps when accelerating from a stop (you just lurch forward like a tank Ė no stressing about wheel spin or being pushed this way or that). And it also helps when you hit any kind of bumps, sand, whateverÖ itís definitely the safest car when youíre the type that has to drive fast as much as possible (not that that describes me, of course).
6. Ferrari 550 Maranello
I drove the 550 briefly at Willow Springs, the irony being that this is a GT car, not a track or sports car, but Iíve never driven it on the road. I can say this, though: it would be an awesome road car. Though the power is technically comparable to the 360, itís really quite different. The car has much more torque and a very different power band. The car is also very heavy, with more body roll than even the 966tt. Iíd say that if one really wanted to daily drive a Ferrari, this would be the model youíd want. That said, for the money and in that I want my daily driver to be less conspicuous, I rank the 996tt above this. I would have noted also that the Porsche is faster, but then I think this has been addressed by the carís replacement, the 575M.
7. Porsche 996 C4S
Itís really easy to describe this car: itís a 996tt without the turbo. I drove a friendís recently, and it really is just that. The differences are very minorÖ the suspension seemed perhaps a little stiffer, but I may have been imagining it. The power was great, but also like the Turbo Ė all in the middle, with it tapering out at the end: definitely more a street car than a track car, IMHO. Bottom line: if you want what a high-end Porsche has to offer but canít quite afford the Turbo, get the C4S.
8. Corvette Z06 (375hp)
Ok, Iím going to say this right up front: Iím a red-blooded patriotic American, but I donít like American cars. I typically donít like their looks quite as much, and I definitely donít like the build quality (or lack thereof). That said, the Z06 is an amazing car Ė just look at the data. Quite simply, itís the best bang for the buck (especially now that itís 405hp). Not only have I driven one for a bit, Iíve driven with quite a few on the track, and they are incredible. Not only are they fast, but you get like 1.0-1.01g right off the lot. But, though the quality seemed decent, it still didnít feel that great, and my friendís had problems pretty much right away. That, and the front end is long, and I just didnít get very good road feel out of the car Ė it seemed purposely hidden from me, much like the Porsche Turbo. The car just feels large and more like a GT car, despite the performance numbers that clearly indicate it is indeed a sports car, and a formidable one at that. If I was going to buy an American exotic, however, I think Iíd get a Viper GTS ACRÖ say, yellow with black stripes.
9. Dodge Viper GTS
Wow, the Viper. It was hard to not rate it above the Z06 (and maybe, had I ever driven an ACR, I would). Iíve simply never driven a car that felt like it had as much torqueÖ it just doesnít matter what gear youíre in, the power is there. If one was a big street racer, this would be the car to have Ė it just goes, any time, any where. Someone pulls up on you and youíre not ready? Donít worry Ė youíre ALWAYS in the powerband. It also looks greatÖ very aggressive and beautiful, IMHO. And, if you have the talent (and I mean, a LOT of talent) it can be VERY fast on the track. Yes, contrary to popular belief that the Viper is just some straight-line muscle car, it actually is a fantastically performing car on the track, both in a straight line AND in the corners.
The cons? Like I said, itís very hard to drive. For one, thereís tons of engine braking Ė if you canít heal-toe with the best of them, youíre going to have issues on the track. And the braking? Well, they FINALLY added ABS (the Vipers Iíve driven didnít have it)Ö and without ABS, itís pretty scary. Also, you think the nose is long and in your way in a Corvette? Itís even longer in the Viper, really interfering with the Ďone-with-the-roadí 'Zen' feeling I like to achieve. And build quality? Forget it. Itís not there, and they rattle and make noise in a scary way (or, at least, all three Iíve ever driven have).
10. Mazda RX-7 TT
The 1993 Mazda RX-7 that I used to own was a great car. Decently fast with excellent handling characteristics. And it had good build quality, although I hear that I was rather lucky, that many other of these cars have issues. The power band is good, somewhere in-between the Porsche and the Ferrari in philosophy. The turbo lag is pretty bad, though. I sold mine to a friend who then took it and made a barely street legal track car out of it, and it now can beat me in a 360 on the track (and he only put probably another $10k into it or so). Thatís pretty incredible (and heís a really good driver, and I didn't drive the Ferrari at 10/10ths).
If we had access to the newer, Japanese only RX-7s here (that have 280+ HP, as opposed to the 240 or so the American spec cars did, and have Ďtype Rí equivalent model variations), I assume Iíd have ranked this car even higher on the list. But I donít. I will say that in the $10-$20k price range, itís the sweetest used sports car you can buy, and one of the easiest to upgrade for the track.
11. Honda S2000
Well, why do I have an S2000 if Iíd rate it a 10 on my list? Because itís a convertible, thatís why. Itís a small, darty roadster with a 9k redline made by Honda that outclasses Boxsters and M Roadsters. But, when compared to all of these other cars, it does have some issues. For example, itís cramped inside, has NO torque, and the radio sucks. Itís a lot of fun to drive, especially on a hot California night with your lady next to you, but itís definitely no street racer (unless you like to Ďcruiseí with the engine whining above 6k RPM Ė ouch!). On the track itís fun, with amazing balance (50/50 weight distribution, I believe), but also rather hard to drive fast. The opposite of the Viper, the challenge of the S2000 is to KEEP it in its power band. If you do, itís pretty darn fastÖ if you donít, there go a bunch of cars right on by you. I will say, though, that Iíve been on the track, for example in a 996tt, and have had S2000s zip right by me. Why? Hoosiers or Khumos, better exit velocity coming out of the last corner, and probably better drivers than me too. I know, for example, that Doug Hyashi FLIES in his S2000.
12. BMW M3 (E46 SMG)
I just drove one of these recently that a friend finally picked up. WOW. If youíre in the market for a sports sedan, look no further. I used to think BMWs were pretty much snobby status symbols, but this car changed my mind. Itís beautiful inside and out, has a great motor, lots of power (0-60 in 4.7 seconds, plus some sweet torque), and the SMG (F1) transmission seems to be on par with the 360ís (although, granted, this was some quick street driving as opposed to many, many laps on the track in the Ferrari). All that said, however, itís a Sedan, and donít forget that. Itís comfy, itís fast, it has some trick shifting, but it also has like a mid-high .80s skidpad and a BUNCH of body roll. Enough to scare you, in fact, because you think for a second youíre driving a sports car with all this power and great handling characteristicsÖ that is, until you hit your first turn and the tires start screeching and you start drifting off the roadÖ Also, to nitpick, the paddle shifters move with the steering wheel (as opposed to the Ferrari 355/360 setup, where the paddles stay in one place so you always know where they are). To me, this was very disorienting. To a driver who is used to the setup, maybe it's not so bad. It's is technically more 'realistic' in that the paddles in an F1 car move as well.
13. Acura NSX-T '00
Ah, hereís where I risk being banned from NSX enthusiast boards and crucified at the next NSX meet. Pretty much everything I say about the Zanardi above applies, except this thing has body roll almost as bad as the M3 above. And, you know, thatís fine Mr. Honda IF you also sell sportier versions in America as well. But you donít, and thatís pretty upsetting. Sure, release the heavy, boaty targa for the suit who wants people to see him in an exotic, but also give us enthusiasts that new Type R, dammit. We want the handling as well Ė thank God, as is well known, it doesnít take much to turn a stock NSX into a truly fabulous sports car, which is exactly what virtually everybody does.
14. Lamborghini Diablo VT
Boy, was this a let downÖ probably more of a let down than #15 below. Now, Iíve never been a huge Lambo fanÖ the Countach just wasnít my dream car as a small boy (the 512BB was, and then later the F40). But I still thought they were amazing, and was even more excited when the Diablo came out. I finally rented one, though, about 2 years back and at risk of heresy, the car is, well, a bit of a poseur. Yeah, itís beautiful, and yeah you get more looks driving it than any Ferrari Iíve ever driven, but boy itís a boat. Itís certainly a GT car and not a sports car. The ergos and visibility is bad, and the handling feels atrocious. And it didnít even seem that fast (granted, this wasnít the 6.0 model). Yes, going 70mph in first gear is pretty cool for a while, and yes it does feel very secure at speed and I was convinced it would do 190+ down the freeway in a very stable wayÖ were I insane enough to have tried it. But, well, itís just not for meÖ if I wanted a heavy GT car Iíd much rather have a 996tt or a new Ferrari 575M. Iím still waiting for some decent track tests of the Mercialago, and hopefully itís a much better car. (For another similar perspective, check out the CLASSIC Best Motoring January 2000 issue, where they race a Diablo, F40, F50, and other cars at Suzuka Ė the Lambo is pretty embarrassing there as well).
Update: the new Gallardo is getting some rave reviews, though I've not seen a true track test with it up against the 360 and 996tt. Regardless, it sounds like a Lambo that's much more up my alley.
15. Ferrari 355 Spider
This car was also a let down. Itís beautiful, itís a Ferrari, you get all the looks, and man what an incredible exhaust note (sweeter, IMHO, than the 360). But itís slow. And this was the first Ferrari I ever drove, and I'd already put some miles on a Zanardi, so I was very disillusioned (in fact, I wondered for a while if Ferraris were overrated Ė thank God the 360, F40, etc. later changed my mind and renewed my faith in the marque). I just couldnít (and canít) imagine paying that much for a car I know a Zanardi NSX would smoke. Its powerband reminds me very much of the S2000Ö there is NO low end or mid end, and no torque. It does go when you are screaming close to its 8500 redline, but it certainly lacks the 360ís midrange, and even a 3.2l NSXís midrange. I used to say that if you really, really wanted a Ferrari but could only afford a relatively cheaper one, get a 355Ö but then when Wayne Mello bought a 360 in the low-mid $100k range, there went that argument. I will say, though, that I still like the looks of the 355 over both the NSX and the 360.
16. Acura NSX '91
Not too much to say hereÖ it was like the í00 NSX, except older and the 3.0l engine lacks the midrange power to which Iíd been accustomed. A friend of mine bought one for a really good price, I drove it, and this is where Iíd rank it as long as it remained stock. ĎNuff said.
17. Corvette C5
Well, take all the bad about the Z06, keep it, then remove all the good about the Z06, and you have a regular C5. Heavy, boaty, not that fast, big front end, poor road-to-driver communication, and weak build quality. Again, ĎNuff said.
18. Ferrari Testarossa
My criticisms of this car, IMHO, are a bit unfair, because this car is pretty old (I think it was a í90 (pre-512TR), but Iím not sure). I drove it briefly and itís simply dated. Itís about as fast as an older NSX or an RX-7ttÖ itís pretty heavy and boatyÖ the ergos suck, and the build quality was kinda like what I was told some older Ferraris were cursed with. That said, itís gorgeous and you get a lot of looks and itís still a Ferrari. I guess if were collecting cars to collect, not to drive, this car would be up there.
19. Acura Integra Type R
These last two cars are, like the M3, not really sports cars. The M3 is a sports sedan, and the Integra/RSX is a sports coupe. So itís really not that fair to even put them on the list, but I did. The Integra Type R is a fun car, though not very good for daily driving due to the fact that itís not a 6 speed but they geared it for the track anyway. It therefore drives down the freeway in 5th with the RPMs so high itís pretty annoying. That said, if you want a cheap car to go on the track with, I suppose itís decent. Iíd still go with a used RX-7tt any day, but then the Integra is newer and not a turbo. Iíd love to drive a Japanese RSX Type R (still called an Integra there, I believe).
20. Acura RSX Type S
A friend just recently bought one of these and all I can say is wow. Despite it being at the bottom of my list, I canít think of a more amazing new car in its price range. For like $23k you get a 200hp car with an 8k redline. Pretty sweet. And itís a 6-speed, and the ergos are better than the older Integra (e.g. an adult can actually semi-comfortably fit in the back seat without requiring neck therapy thereafter). That said, the suspension is not as stiff, itís certainly not as track ready as the Integra Type R, and itís uglier than its predecessor. Honda, release the RSX Type R here please. Thanks.