2009-06-09

Supercar autocross at ZMax

So here's the promised detailed report on my "Supercar Sensation" autocross at the ZMax Dragway.

A few weeks ago I read on autoblog.com about a local company that offered a supercar experience at a very competitive price point. Plus, they went beyond the usual boring leisurely tour on public roads, and created an autocross program. Now, that sounded like something I would really enjoy. So, last week, I just went and booked a VIP Track package with Supercar Sensation.

After I began autocrossing and caught the going fast bug, I have made a rule, not to lust after, nor buy, cars that I would not enjoy playing with on weekends. So this was an ideal opportunity for me to figure out what the next car of my dreams could be.

As a background, let it be known that at that point I believed to own a streetable car as close to perfect for autocross as was ever built. Let's see if my opinion has changed.

My first ride of the day was in a Mercedes C63 AMG. Basic stats:

  • 6.3L V8 RWD
  • 7 spd Paddles
  • 0-60: 4.3 sec
  • Top Speed: 155 mph (limited)
  • 1/4 mile: 12.5
I have to say, this was my least favourite car of all I got to try that day. Very soft suspension, coupled with very minivan-like steering made the car feel like a boat. Brakes were near impossible to modulate. The car did not push all that much, but excessive body roll and constantly chirping tires reminded me of a 1970s movie car chase.

The car gets points for good user interface. Without any help from the instructor, I could find the seat adjustment controls and figure out the paddle shifters. Verdict: 1 star.

My next car was BMW M3. Stats:

  • 4.0L V8 RWD
  • Dual Clutch Paddles
  • 0-60: 4.5 sec
  • Top Speed: 155 mph (limited)
  • 1/4 mile: 12.7
This was the car I ran my best time in. Its automatic transmission actually did deliver on the promise to shift more aggressively in "sport" mode, and acceleration and throttle response were decent. The famed iDrive interface never came into play, but I needed help figuring out how to put the car into manual shift mode. Seat position controls were where one would expect them and fairly intuitive to use. I liked the steering response and the stiffer suspension, combining to help the driver position the car precisely on the course. Verdict: 4 stars.

When you think about it, Porsche 911 Turbo was rather underserved by a short, tight, and highly technical course. It felt almost too big for it, but given some time, I could get used to it.

  • 3.6L H6 AWD
  • Tiptronic
  • 0-60: 3.7 sec
  • Top Speed: 193 mph
  • 1/4 mile: 11.6
Needless to say, the steering and handling were impeccable. I loved the little neat trick they did with the throttle: If you depressed the pedal normally, you would hit a stop that you'd have to put extra effort to overcome. Then would come a little click, and you'd feel the pedal go to the floor and the turbos spooling up. Zoooom! Gotta say, I loved that one. Verdict: 4.5 stars, only because I have to give the Lambo 5.

If you spent any time talking to me about cars, you'd know that I am not impressed by the Nissan GT-R. The autocross did little to improve that situation.

  • 3.8L TwinTurbo V6
  • 6 spd Dual Clutch Automatic
  • 0-60: 3.2 sec
  • Top Speed: 193 mph
  • 1/4 mile: 11.6
Again, the tight course did not help, but I was mainly not happy with the feeling of disconnectedness from the road and sluggish steering. On the positive side, you could modulate the throttle nicely, and the transmission put the torque down just as you told it to. Head and shoulders above regular automatic transmissions.

Guess the main appeal of this car is that at less than half the price of the 911 it gives you almost all of the thrills, but the key word is almost. While the Porsche exudes the famous Qualität aus Deutschland, the Nissan looks and feels just like any regular car would. In a 100K car, that is kinda meh. But then again, you're saving upwards of 100K compared to competition, so guess you should not complain. Overall rating: 3.5 stars.

As part of the VIP Package, I also got three fun runs on a separate course in two more cars. I have to admit, I must be a total ignoramus, but I could not see what's supposed to make Aston Martin Vantage so special.

  • 4.3L V8 RWD
  • Sportshift Paddles
  • 0-60: 4.7 sec
  • Top Speed: 175 mph
  • 1/4 mile: 13.8
The soft boat-like suspension rivaled that of a Buick, the laggardly automatic transmission smacked of minivan, and slow steering coupled with imprecise handling just killed the last of the joy of driving this car. If you closed your eyes (not recommended while operating a vehicle), you'd feel like you were driving a Chrysler Sebring. User interface was inconsistent and confusing. It took two guys five minutes to figure out how to put this thing in gear. Luxury interior material and double-O-seven mythology add some points, just enough to get the Vantage 2.5 stars.

Lamborghini Gallardo

  • 5.0L V10 AWD
  • 6 spd Sequential Gearbox Paddles
  • 0-60: 4.1 sec
  • Top Speed: 192 mph
  • 1/4 mile: 12.4
Well, this car I could get used to. The user interface was fairly confusing. Getting into reverse required nothing short of an advanced Kama-Sutra position, and the whole overheating thing and the smell of burnt oil it left in its wake remind you that this car never was intended to be a daily driver. But if you can afford this car, you probably don't have a 9-5 job anyways.

Everything else was beyond reproach. Quick and precise handling and brakes, suspension that allowed the Lambo to slalom effortlessly and go "What? We're done already?" after 5 cones at mild acceleration. The car would benefit greatly from sticky tires, to match the engine and the brakes, but other than that, it was a pure joy to drive. Noisy as you-don't-know-what when you are outside, it was remarkably quiet inside. For a sports car, that is. My verdict: 5 stars, hands down.

Now, back to reality, where I can't afford to hire a stable of mechanics to overhaul my Lambo after each weekend racing... After all was said and done, I caught myself thinking that if someone for some strange reason came up to me and said "Take any of these cars and drive off, in exchange for your S2000." I would have had to say No.

The really fun cars would not do well as daily drivers, Porsche due to its fuel economy and impossible insurance rates, and Lambo because of the same PLUS its high-strung nature that would require a lot of maintenance. For much much less money, my S is precise and responsive, a honest-to-god sports car made to autocross, and when not flogged, a docile reliable Honda which gets up to 30 mpg.

I love you, yellow beast!