This past weekend I was lucky enough to drive 6 cars through some of the greatest roads in California via Club Sportiva's Exotic Car Tour
. While it wasn't track time driving near the limits, I did get to drive each car for a good 30 minutes each and definitely put each one to the handling and acceleration test.
First of all I want to say that if you are local in the Bay Area, you definitely should do this sometime. One of the participants there said he's done the Exotic car experience at Vegas Speedway and spending 30 minutes in each car on these roads was much more satisfying than just a couple laps at the track. I can't say that since I haven't been to that event in Vegas yet. However I was extremely satisfied with the experience that day and really got a good feel for each of the cars.
I'm not a very good writer, but I'm going to do my best to throw out a few thoughts on each of the cars and compare them to my M3.
As the title reads, the lineup of the day was as follows: Ferrari F430, Audi R8 V10, Lamborghini Gallardo, Lotus Elise, Nissan GTR, and a Porsche Carrera S. I'm going to order my notes from the worst car to the best based on my personal opinion.
6. Porsche Carrera S
The fact that I don't even have a solo photo of this car sort of says the story here. It's not that I hated the car. It is one fine machine. It was just the most soul-less car of the bunch. I think a big part of the reason I didn't like this car was the PDK. I was told this was the first generation PDK and it honestly felt just like the transmission in my wife's 335i. Personally, I can't stand the feel of auto trannies. The steering was very tight though. I'd say it was the 3rd best car in terms of road/steering feel, but it had the worst transmission of the bunch.
The engine/exhaust noise was also very underwhelming. Pretty good power in the upper rpms, but man I could barely hear the engine and what I did hear from the boxer engine just didn't sound very good to me at all. It could be because I'm spoiled by the M3's music or the fact that I just hopped out of the Lamborghini before getting into this car.
It was a very comfortable car though. I can see why this is the sports car choice of old people. I definitely prefer my M3 over this car. I wonder what I'd think if the car was a manual and coupe?
5. Lamborghini Gallardo
I was actually quite surprised about this car. Before driving them all, I thought my favorite cars to drive would be the Ferrari and Lambo. Lets start with what I did like...the noise. I think how the car looks and sounds is the only reason anyone would want to own this car. Wide open throttle in this car is just bliss. I had a huge grin on my face the entire time I was driving this car because of the noise.
But that's about all I really enjoyed. Everything felt big about this car. Like it was designed for someone literally twice as big (read: wide) as me. This was also the first gated shifter I've ever used and while I really liked it, it did feel a bit clunky. Steering was a little on the numb side and I definitely didn't feel very confident in the corners. I know the car is lighter than the M3, but it felt heavier to me. Maybe it's just the size and width of the car that makes it feel bigger in every way. I think it makes a great car to cruise along the beach with, but not something I was wishing I could take to the track. I was really surprised about this car. Yes it's a supercar, but I'd honestly rather drive my M3.
This car definitely deserves all the hype about it. Everyone on here will say "it's ugly" or "it's too heavy", but behind the wheel you change your tune quickly. And for the record, I've always liked this car, aesthetics and all. The most notable thing about this car is the moment you get on the gas. You can distinctly hear those turbos spooling up right before you are quickly pinned to the back of your seat. What a feeling. Strangely it's a very quiet car for something with so much brute power. The dual clutch transmission feels good as does steering feel. It's just a fun car to drive. My only complaint is how quiet the car sounds overall. If I owned this car I'd definitely be investing in an exhaust.
Would I take a GTR over the M3? Tough choice, but probably not. I think the main reason is I'm still not ready to switch to DCT (although the next car on my list is making that choice tougher), and just prefer the dynamics of a RWD car.
3. Audi R8 V10
First of all, I have just have to say that this is one beautiful car inside and out. It's hard not to love this car even though I'm not much of a fan of Audi's or AWD cars for that matter. This car sort of has everything. Glorious soundtrack, high revs, fast DSG system, and drives very well. Now I know why you DCT M3 owners enjoy your transmission so much. Firing off those downshifts are so addicting. Just a great car all around.
Would I take this car over my M3? The logical part of me says, "hell yes". But I keep having the same thoughts as I had when compared to the GTR. I'm still not over my 6MT+RWD thing. So my answer is, if someone offered a straight up trade of an R8 V10 for my M3, I'd take it. But I wouldn't ever buy the car. As great as it is, it just doesn't fit the mold of a car I'd love to own.
2. Lotus Elise
This was a shocking result as well. One of my favorite cars in the group was also one of the cheapest? The elise is practically a street legal go-kart as far as I'm concerned. I realized that when I was driving on the freeway in it and when a 5 series passed me on the left, I couldn't see anyone in the car because their windows were too high. Suspension is rough, but in a good way. No power steering, no traction control, no stability...nothing. It's all you driving and that's a good feeling. It's a car that you need to be aware 100% of the time when driving. It doesn't feel very fast, but it doesn't need to be. The whole experience of driving this car is very visceral even at lower speeds. I LOVE this car.
It's not without its quirks though. This car feels like a kit car through and through. The tachometer area feels like a school project. When you use the turn signals, there's just a single flashing light on the dash with arrows in both directions. I've been told by other Elise owners that the battery in the trunk needs to be reinforced because they tend to get loose and fly around in the trunk at autox events. With that said, if I ever get a second car for myself next to the M3, it will definitely be an Elise. It's that much fun. You are a fool if you own multiple fun cars and not one of them is an Elise or Exige.
1. Ferrari F430
This is the car that stole my heart. This is what I wish the M3 was like. Driving this car has turned me into a Ferrari fanboy. I could care less how this car looks. Yes it's a beautiful car, but the only thing that matters about this car is how it drives and how you feel when driving it. The moment we got out of the parking lot and I got on the gas, I knew this was going to be the best car of the day. Sure the V10 soundtrack on the Gallardo and R8 was nice, but the sound from this Italian V8 is even more glorious. The car felt like it had the perfect amount of power. Throttle response was spot on. This was the first car where I truly felt like I was in a proper sports car. Steering was telepathic. I felt like I was one with the car. The gated shifter was better than the Gallardo's and nothing felt better than pulling off a couple heel-toe downshifts in this car. Screw V10's, Turbos, and DCT transmissions. I'd take this car over all the others combined. While I was driving all I could think about was how I wish I was driving this car at Laguna Seca at this moment and my next thought was how affordable this car might be to maintain. This is everything I wish the M3 could be. And sadly I couldn't stop thinking how the next gen M3 will be a big step backwards. I want an F430...bad.