When you first get behind the wheel of a true supercar, the visceral rush of sensory impressions can be quite overwhelming. The sounds, the raw power, the unprecedented public attention, all of these things can be intimidating to a newbie. There are, though, a few simple rules that will make the experience as memorable as it should be. Hopefully, in a good way.
The first and most important rule is, take your time. Make sure you understand every control and vehicle setting – a modern supercar dashboard can resemble a fighter aircraft cockpit. It simply won’t do to say “I wonder what this red knob does” once you’re already underway. The next most important rule is that you should explore the car’s performance slowly and progressively. If you simply stomp on the gas and hope for the best, many supercars will just spit you sideways into the weeds. Indeed, if this is your first experience of a supercar, chances are it is more powerful than your daily drive by many multiples. It’s no surprise, really, that the Internet is absolutely littered with supercar rookies who got it wrong (thankfully, mostly in-town low-speed prangs).
Then there’s the good bit – get out of town, find some quiet country roads and begin to properly enjoy the supercar experience. The hair-raising scream of, for example, a Ferrari V12 closing in on the redline will stay with you forever, as will the otherworldly thrust rocketing you down the road. It’s true – even after all these years, I can relate every single moment of my first drive in a McLaren F1 as though it was yesterday afternoon. So in anticipation of your first supercar drive, here is a list of mistakes every supercar rookie is likely to make at some stage. I certainly have.
Switching Off Traction And Stability Control
There was a ritual at one time in the road testing universe which involved getting into a supercar for the first time and reflexively switching off all electronic traction and stability controls. It was a bit of a macho pose, as in “I can control power-on oversteer, and I am my own stability control.”
To be fair, early traction and stability control systems were a bit heavy-handed in their interventions – it was often more entertaining to just switch them off and pretend you were in a scene from Ronin (on closed circuits only, mind you).
But modern traction and stability control systems are much better and far less intrusive. The latest generation of road testers tends to leave them on, especially on the road. But for a rookie, the rule is simple. Don’t. Touch.
Underestimating The Braking Power
While the ability of a proper supercar to generate huge accelerating force is a given, the best of them are equally impressive for how they shed speed. The McLaren P1, for example, will brake from 60mph to a standstill in just 98 feet – a 2018 Honda Accord needs 135 feet for the same maneuver, according to Motor Trend.
Even more impressive, the McLaren takes just 6.2 seconds to brake from 186mph to a standstill.
So somebody applying the brakes on a supercar for the first time might reasonably use the same force that they would in their regular daily ride. With luck, they might not exit the car via the windscreen – so the word is, try the brakes on a clear road with nothing behind to get a feel for stopping power.
Grounding The Front Spoiler On Speed Bumps
This is one of the most common – and most annoying – supercar foibles. A big part of the dynamic package of a supercar is its aerodynamic layout, which includes very little ground clearance compared with conventional cars. Most of the time, that’s not too big of a deal, but when encountering speed bumps, in particular, you’ll need to exercise real caution if you don’t want to leave the car’s front spoiler behind.
The best approach is to attack the bump at a more diagonal angle as you go over, which gives a bit more clearance at the front. Obviously, you should slow to less than walking speed, too. Alternatively, lots of supercar manufacturers offer a front-end lift kit, which does exactly what you’d expect.
Fuelling With Low Octane Gas
Even very rich people are tempted to save a few bucks by fuelling up with the least expensive blend of unleaded gas, which also has the lowest octane rating. While this is a perfectly reasonable strategy for owners of common Hondas or Toyotas, it’s a bad idea for supercar drivers.
The average supercar engine will have a much higher compression than conventional cars, and higher compression engines need much higher octane ratings to avoid detonation.
‘Detonation’ is when an explosion happens in the combustion chamber before the system sends a spark to the plug, which results in two separate explosions. This can cause serious damage to an engine, so best pony up for the good stuff.
Speeding (Way) Over The Limit
It’s a bit of a cliché that a supercar will cost you your license. As with most clichés, though, there’s more than a grain of truth to it. It’s pretty easy to see why – getting out of a conventional car and into a supercar, it’s natural that you’d bring old habits with you.
So in your Honda Accord, giving it wide open throttle from 1st to 3rd gear will be amusing and result in a reasonable turn of speed. But run, for example, a Ferrari 488 at max revs through the first three gears and you’ll be facing a ban, if not a spell behind bars. Save the supercar heroics for the track, and if you can’t resist the redline howl of the engine, reserve it for first and second gear.
Shifting Mistakes With Paddle Shift
While manual gearboxes are still available, the majority of current supercars rely on a paddle-shift automatic transmission of between 6 and 10 gears. They are super-slick shifting affairs, and tend to generate quicker acceleration figures than manual ‘boxes.
But there is a tendency for newcomers with manual gearbox experience to bring their old ways with them.
Namely, these drivers will lift off the throttle momentarily when shifting up, the way you would with a conventional manual ‘box. That’s not necessary – keep your throttle foot planted and just shift up when you’re ready for the next gear and the gearbox will handle the rest. When downshifting, the most modern ‘boxes will even automatically blip the throttle to match revs.
Shifting Into Neutral At Lights To Rev Engine
One of the most inspiring aspects of a supercar is the noise that its engine makes. That could be the chesty rumble and snarl of a V8 or the spine-tingling wail of a V10 or V12. Small boys will swoon, and everyone else within a two-block range will turn their ears and wonder what fierce machine is producing such a wall of sound.
So at the lights, you’re tempted to drop the car into neutral and give observers a bit of a supercar symphony.
This is a bad idea, mainly because you’re in neutral and will not be ready to move off when the light goes green. It’s those unfocussed moments when accidents happen. Besides which, you’ll also look like a bit of a pillock.
Putting Way Too Few Miles On The Car
This element of supercar proprietorship falls distinctly into the ‘life is too short’ category. While it is true that supercar used values can be particularly sensitive to higher mileage, that’s hardly the point. If you bought the car to enjoy, then ignore the odometer. If you bought it as an investment, fine, but you’re not a car guy so not part of this conversation.
It’s also not good for any car, and supercars, in particular, to sit in a garage without being driven. Rubber seals and gaskets dry out, brake discs rust and fluids become contaminated with water. Supercars need to be driven to stay healthy, which brings to mind the phrase ‘Italian tune-up.’ Basically, that’s taking the car out on the highway and running it hard through the gears.
Failing To Plan Ahead For Parking
One of the most important elements of any supercar road trip is the arrangements for parking at journey’s end. The thought of leaving a car worth well into six figures sitting on an urban street should make any supercar driver go white.
Ideally, a supercar should be tucked up in a parking garage with security and cameras.
But you will occasionally need to park on the street – the more public the better, as hiding the car down a back street will mean no witnesses if some ne’er do wells decide to mess around with it. As for valet parking? No. Just no.
Inappropriate Use Of ‘Sport’ Exhaust Setting
Virtually all supercars have a variable-tune exhaust system. Usually, there’s a normal setting where the car is growly but won’t have people jumping out of their skin. Then there is another mode usually called ‘sport,’ which decreases back pressure in the system and opens baffles to allow freer breathing and a more inspiring exhaust note.
With supercars such as Ferrari and Lamborghini, the ‘sport’ exhaust setting is fantastically loud, with crackles and pops on the overrun. It really is an essential part of the supercar experience. But here’s the thing – you need to think carefully about where to uncork the big noise. Do it at the crack of dawn in your neighborhood, or down a busy main street and you’ll be tagged as the jerk that many people think supercar drivers are.
Getting Totally Distracted By All The Attention
Supercars can be a very public event. Arrive in one and you are guaranteed to be the center of attention. This is even truer if you have dramatic gullwing doors such as those on the BMW i8. You will have to get used to swarms of strangers taking stills and video with their phones.
As you roll down the road, the level of attention won’t drop off – people in other cars will wave, pull their phones out for a bit of video and worst of all, dive in for a closer look – it’s a given that if you are looking at something as you drive, you tend to drift in the subject’s direction. As for the supercar driver, all that attention can be very distracting, so a conscious decision to focus on the driving should keep things on the straight and narrow.
Running Out Of Gas
This is one of the more embarrassing, but surprisingly common fails of a supercar rookie. Perusing the official fuel consumption figures may be a good rough guide, but the reality is that supercars aren’t going to be driven with economy in mind. Lamborghini’s Aventador, for example, claims to return 11mpg around town and 18mpg on the open road.
My guess is that in the hands of an enthusiastic pilot, the big Lambo would return single-figure gas mileage. This would mean its 18.6-gallon tank, if it were run bone dry, would return considerably less than 180 miles. Of all the gauges in this supercar that require constant attention – namely, speedometer and tachometer – it’s easy to see how the driver might miss the fuel gauge heading rapidly for empty.
Not Taking Enough Time To Get Familiar With Controls
The average practical hatchback is built to be as easy and intuitive to use as possible, and for the widest range of customers. As anyone picking up a rental car at the airport will know, the vast majority of mainstream cars take seconds to get familiar with – major controls are pretty much where you expect them to be.
Supercars, not so much. They tend to be pretty much bespoke creations, so their control layout might not comply with the usual protocol. Further, they tend to have far more complex systems, which take some learning. So supercar rookies should really avoid the temptation to pretend knowledge – there are no such things as stupid questions when it comes to successfully launching a supercar.
Trying To Impress With Smoky Burnouts At The Lights
It’s the stuff of YouTube glory – a supercar surrounded by billowing clouds of white tire smoke, all to the accompaniment of a howling engine and a cheering crowd of onlookers recording video. Sometimes it ends well, but more often it does not.
If the subject car turns left or right, the car is going to oversteer, needing a sharp correction.
A driver with little experience will overcorrect, which more often than not will send the car into a spin. Even if the car is going straight ahead when the light goes green, supercars are powerful enough to begin fishtailing in a straight line. Again, that’s another spin cycle.
Passing Slower Cars Without Leaving Enough Space
The vast power that most supercars wield can lead rookie drivers into a false sense of invincibility. There is no more dangerous scenario for this attitude than overtaking on a two-way road – the driver pulls out, sees a car approaching in the distance and goes for it, thinking that the supercar’s power will easily close the gap. That might sound like a safe bet if you have six or seven hundred horsepower to command, but it’s also a very risky bet.
If you haven’t lived with a supercar for a good long period, you won’t have recalibrated your judgment based on the car’s performance. That takes time.
So before you truly understand the performance envelope of the supercar you’re driving, use the same calibration for overtaking that you would for your daily driver.
Curbing Alloy Wheels
Curbing alloy wheels is probably the most common form of minor damage to supercars. It’s also the most annoying, as wheels are an essential part of the supercar aesthetic. It’s also easier to curb supercar rims as they tend to be wearing low-profile tires that expose the rims to curbs.
It’s probably fair to say that if you can afford a supercar, you can probably afford to have the rims reconditioned. But if you curb hard enough, the car might need to have its suspension re-aligned. That becomes a significantly more expensive event
Wearing The Wrong Kind Of Shoes
There is something cringe-making about supercar drivers who insist on donning string back leather driving gloves. You don’t need them. Sure, in the 1960s when steering wheels were often skinny Bakelite affairs it made some sense, but today, manufacturers wrap thick wheels in tremendously grippy leather.
Shoes are another matter, though. A large part of the feedback you get from a car is through your feet, especially when braking. Big, clunky, heavy shoes are not a good fit, particularly with a manual car – you want to be able to heel-and-toe, which means manipulating the brake and throttle at the same time. For that, a soft, suede pair of driving shoes is ideal.
Leaving Hand On Gearshifter Between Shifts
A very powerful supercar with a manual gearshift, such as a Porsche Cayman GT4, will scream through the gears in what seems like a blink of an eye. Often, you’ll see YouTube videos of drivers doing maximum attack acceleration runs and leaving their hand on the stick shift as the next gear comes up. That’s a bad idea.
Taking your hand off the wheel and putting it back on takes little more than a second.
And here’s the thing – doing a max acceleration run, or just making progress on a fast road, you risk the car going into a sharp skid. In that sudden instance, having both hands on the wheel might make the difference between having a ‘moment’ and dealing with something much worse.
Getting In-Out Without Embarrassing Acrobatics
This is a fact of supercars that you just need to get over – unless you are unusually young and lithe (not many supercar drivers in that category), you are going to embarrass yourself getting in and out of the car. Many examples of the breed have unusually wide doorsills that require a graceless slide-and-bump to get in. Likewise getting out can sometimes resemble falling face-first onto the sidewalk.
There are a number of techniques, but one of the most popular is bum first followed by feet. Depending on your physiognomy, this might vary. Best to find a quiet, secluded spot and practice until you arrive at the least embarrassing solution.
Misjudging The Width Of The Car
Misjudging the width of your supercar can result in a whole world of pain. They do tend to be quite wide – the Lamborghini Aventador is a phenomenal seven feet five inches wide (including the rear-view mirrors). So if you find yourself navigating city roads, it might be a good idea to check that your route doesn’t include width restrictions – having backed up rush hour traffic in London (UK) whilst failing to negotiate a width restriction in a Dodge Viper, I can testify to the public’s reaction. It isn’t good.
Wide supercars can also be tricky to place on winding country roads – you might find yourself having to use more of the road than is strictly allotted to you, which also won’t win you friends.
Using Too Much Throttle
The most common mistake a supercar newcomer makes is to open up with too much throttle. In the average commuter car, mashing the throttle to the floor will result in chirping tires, a lot of noise and what feels like rapid progress. It’s usually not too dramatic an event.
A rookie trying the same thing in, say, a Lamborghini Aventador will find themselves in a whole world of bother (this car will reach 60mph in 2.9 seconds, less time than it takes to say ‘Aventador’). So they’ll be piling on far more speed than they’d expected, and that will be accompanied by a rear-end struggling to stay planted to the asphalt. Catching any Lamborghini when it’s going unexpectedly sideways requires a fair dose of experience and ability. Not for beginners, then, so use the throttle as though there’s an uncracked egg underneath.
Not Taking Account Of Blind Spots
You only have to look at the stance of Ford’s supercar GT to know that it will be challenging to see out of. That’s an issue with most supercars, although with sensor technology and cameras, things are a little easier. In the 1990s, for example, the only way to reverse a Lamborghini Diablo was to open the door and slide onto the sill, peering behind as though a ship’s helmsman.
It can also be difficult to judge where a supercar’s extremities are, making tight parking a real pain – depending on how spatially aware you are, it might be a good idea to bring a co-driver to help with maneuvering duties.
Not Paying Attention To Vehicle Settings Mode
The majority of current supercars have different electronically adjustable suspension settings that allow the driver to select from a wide range of suspension modes. That can range from ‘comfort’ to ‘track’ and everything in between.
It’s really worth getting your head around these settings as it will have a dramatic effect on your experience with the car.
The McLaren 12C, for example, features an Active Dynamics Panel – this has a handling mode with normal, sport or track settings, which alter the suspension damping accordingly. There’s also a powertrain mode, which progressively increases throttle response and makes the engine snarlier as you progress to track mode. Understanding these settings will make or break your supercar experience.
Ego Overload – Driving A Supercar Doesn’t Make You Superman
Another pitfall of the supercar experience is ego inflation. No matter how humble an individual you are, being sat behind the wheel of a Porsche 911 GT3, Aston Martin DBS Superleggera or Koenigsegg Agera RS is going to make you feel a bit smugly superior. It just is.
All of these cars will also flatter your driving ability, so the biggest potential downfall here is that you come to believe you’ve got more driving talent than you do. That path leads to an inevitable conclusion, which at the minimum will involve police. At worst, it’ll involve an ambulance. So best to remember that a proper supercar glorifies the journey, not the driver.
By Hot Cars
“name”: “How to flex with your super car”,
“description”: “When you first get behind the wheel of a true supercar, the visceral rush of sensory impressions can be quite overwhelming.”,
“name”: “How to flex with your super car”,