Cars are a bit like food. Looked at objectively they are nothing but appliances that aid you in your transportation needs in the similar way food is something you need to eat in order to survive. But that’s before you factor in emotions, tastes and flavors. What makes enthusiasts out there fall in love with a specific car, or brand, or type of food for that matter is that in one way or another we gain some sort of satisfaction from it. Cars might all have four wheels and an engine, well most of them, but they go about doing the same thing in very different ways.
Feel, performance and feedback are factors that vary greatly, allowing us to perceive the driving experience in different ways. Technology can pay a very important role in all of this, as well as a manufacturer’s own philosophies. As someone who enjoys driving pretty much any sort of car for the pure thrill of having a go, I think that a worthy addition to our ongoing list of things to do before you die, is to drive a car from every manufacturer.
There’s such a vast variety of cars out there today that it really boggles the mind how it has all evolved over the last century. The car has been shaped and finely tuned to specific tastes and to satisfy different tasks on top of its basic aim as a transportation tool. You can split cars up into a variety of categories, the most obvious being their mechanical layout.
Take the front engined and front wheel drive configuration for example, one that probably everyone has had a chance to experience. It is by far the most common and cheapest option for manufacturers and if done right can be a great deal of fun. It might not suit everyone but there is something so appealing finding the right FF car, especially a powerful hot hatch or tuned up city car like the little Abarth 500 esseesse above. The “chuckability” factor is what makes cars like this so much fun, usually allowing you to drive close to 100% without scaring yourself silly. For outright performance the DC2 or FD2 Integra Type-R comes to mind but Japanese cars have always traded design and quality of materials for more highly developed engines. If you value your fit & finish…
…you will most likely find yourself very impressed and content in the cockpit of a German car. Materials are usually of higher standards and the tactile experience is on another level, from the quality and reassuring click of the switchgear to the rubbery feel of the plastics.
On the subject of driving feel, nothing is more involving to drive than a rear wheel drive car. No matter where the engine may be, front, centrally mounted or slung out at the back like on a Porsche 911, no other type of drive will test your skills. There is a learning curve with RWD, where initially you need to respect the car and try to understand what it’s doing as you throttle the power and get busy with the steering wheel…
…and only when you are confident can you begin to push over the limit and start to have some real fun. This is by far the most rewarding and again here there are a multitude of configurations that are all worth experiencing from turbocharged engines to simple NA ones as fitted to the Mazda Roadster above. As you try different cars it becomes easier to understand the finer points of weight balance and suspension set up.
You know where I’m going next I bet. It’s AWD and this is yet again something that has to be experienced. The car becomes all about traction allowing you to push harder than ever on corners and on slippery surfaces. Subarus have made a name for themselves by creating some of the most fun all-wheel-drive cars around…
…and a quick blast in one is an easy way to understand the potential of powering all four wheels.
It’s always interesting to compare how different manufactures go about achieving the same goals, like on sports cars for example. Take the Skyline GT-R, the supercar-slaying beast that has always impressed for its unrelenting pace, AWD grip and of course limitless tunability.
A well-prepared Skyline GT-R would make minced meat of even the most expensive Italian exotics but when you get behind the wheel of something like a Ferrari F430, outright performance is the last thing in your mind. As you sit in the tightly leather-trimmed driver’s seat, staring at that prancing horse logo on the steering wheel, and allow the sonorous V8 to scream at full revs you quickly realize how emotional a driving experience can really be.
It’s fun to compare how cars evolve too, driving the latest versions of legendary models. Like the R35, they might not tingle the senses as rawer previous iterations, but it’s impossible not to be left shocked at the physics-defying performance of latest supercars as electronic aids take so many variables out of the equation.
Something that everyone has to try and do is get out of their comfort zones. I remember when I first got started testing cars for magazines, among the cool cars that I was asked to review, every once in a while I would have to borrow some underpowered new Kei-car or awkwardly styled people carrier. It might not have been exhilarating, but it was, and still is fun nonetheless, trying to experience “the drive” from a whole new perspective. Every now and again you will surprise yourself as I did with the new-gen Nissan Elgrand…
…as well as (I thought I’d never say this) the Cadillac CTS I drove last year.
Or how about getting to drive cars you have driven many times before, but on the other side of the world! It’s curious to see how a car you thought you knew inside and out feels and drives very differently in other markets as manufacturers try to vary dynamics to suit general tastes in different countries.
And it’s not just that, exploring different continents on road trips is the essence of an enthusiast’s need to drive!
We should be very happy that tuning wings of popular manufacturers like Subaru Tecnica International work hard to create special models aimed at those that enjoy to drive, like the tS version of the Legacy Wagon above…
…or the Ralliart version of the Mitsubishi Colt. Worth a drive? Definitely, as you understand how a few small tweaks can intensify the feel and performance of what may, in many cases be, a regular everyday vehicle.
If you get a chance make sure you experience as many cars as you can on your favorite driving roads, it makes it easier to compare what you may have driven before and really feel how different chassis, suspension or engines behave on a familiar stretch of tarmac.
The important thing is to always stay safe, never go overboard on the road and keep an eye on that speedo because it’s just not worth risking your license, or life, for a bit of fun.
It’s easy to appreciate attention to detail, unsurpassed build quality and effortless pace cars like the Audi S4 Avant ooze…
…but it’s just so hard not to fall for crude performance as well! In fact some of the most memorable drives I’ve experienced were of the latter variety, older cars that may be considered surpassed or outpaced by today’s standards…
…or those that redefine the term “simplicity.” Either way, each one you will sample will contribute greatly to your overall appreciation of the motorcar and make you a better all round driver and connoisseur. So get out there and have some fun!
-Dino Dalle Carbonare