Is there a perfect car to take an advanced driving course in?

It depends on what you are looking for and what car you drive most of the time – that’s the advice we mostly give clients. But what about taking an advanced driving course in a sports car as a one-off experience? It’s a question we asked ourselves and decided to answer. On Thursday, 14th December, we drove a route from Shrewsbury, where our head office is located, to Barmouth on the Welsh coast. An approximately 140-mile round trip. The range of fast, windy challenging roads are perfect for mastering car control and, of course, perfect for commentary driving and advanced observation – key elements of advanced driving.

The Car.

For this session, we used a Ferrari 458 Italia. The 458 (Type F142) is a mid-engined supercar and is the success of the F430. The 458 was officially unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2009. In 2015 it was finally succeeded by the 488 GTB. Taking an advanced driving course in a Ferrari 458 is quite a special experience. It’s powered by a 4.5L V8 engine which makes around 570bhp and redlines at an incredible 9,000rpm. The 458 features direct fuel injection – which was a first for road-going mid-engine Ferraris.

The Drive:

The drive out to Barmouth is a range of fast yet twisty A roads. The car’s suspension has double wishbones at the front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear. Furthermore, it has a very smart electronic differential and F1-inspired traction control systems, all of which make for a thrilling drive. However, while it was mild for December the road was very wet, which somewhat limited the opportunity for progress. Overzealous use of the accelerator can easily break tyre traction – it’s something to be aware of.

For the trip, we mainly used Wet Mode – which is an option on the steering wheel. Other options are Sport (general use), Race and then other options are available which will turn traction control off fully – not recommended for road use, or actually track use for that matter unless you’re well away from hard objects and want to go sideways. If you do we strongly recommend Millbrook Proving Ground‘s steering or dynamics pad.

Wet Mode reduces power to the wheels by intelligent use of the electronic differential. When switching to Sport mode you could feel little difference. We did however try Race Mode, where the suspension became firmer and the steering more focused. This would be perfect for the track. But on a wet December day, Wet Mode was perfect.

As we progressed through the roads, working on various advanced driving techniques we noticed how incredibly easy the car was to drive. It was quick but very tractable, it didn’t carry you away with speed, and the front and side visibility was great.

Some supercars, especially those from a few decades ago were awful to drive. But the 458 was a delight. There was one issue, however. The infotainment was a nasty rats nest of confusing sub-menus and a stereo sound system from a 1989 Ford Fiesta Popular Plus.

But these things don’t really matter. The real car’s sound system is sat just behind you, visible from a glass hood and the volume button is controlled by your right foot.

Back in April, we did the same course in a Lotus Exige. We made a few points about this car and driving a quick car, here is an extract:

The problem with fast cars…..

We love fast cars – but for road use, they can become a little frustrating as you can’t use anywhere near the power, that is, if you like having a driving licence. For those that don’t, we do offer pre-court driving courses 🙂

That was the first sign of frustration with using a sports car for an advanced driving course. You had to be very aware of your speed, especially as the car was regularly inviting you to open up the power and press on. So very quickly, the course became an exercise in:

  1. self-control
  2. speed awareness

What makes things harder here is that you need to be doing both of the above while still making good progress – again, a key element of advanced driving. In a more docile car, it’s so much easier to do as there is less power, less theatre, and the handling characteristics mean you naturally moderate the corner speeds. There is no urge, no urgency – it’s all quite calm and relaxing, which isn’t a bad thing. But things are different in a high-powered sports car. Your world changes somewhat. The whole experience of such a car can temporarily remove you from real-world confines. We refer back to points 1 and 2 above. It may not be so much of a problem if you’re used to such cars, but for those that are not – it’s something to consider.

The Ferrari would be quicker than to Lotus Exige – in a straight line at least. It weighs more, but has over 200bhp extra. But re-reading the italic points above, not all of this relates to the Ferrari. Some will disagree but as the Ferrari was so easy to drive the points about frustrations, self-control and speed-awareness didn’t seem quite as relevant. Yes, you need to be aware of speed no matter what you drive but the Ferrari allowed you to relax a little more than the Lotus. Even at times led you to think things like ‘I could live with this car every day’……

So what is the ideal sports car to take an advanced driving course in? We can’t really answer that as it depends on what you want from the course. If you have a Lotus Exige and want to learn to enjoy it more on challenging roads, then we would suggest the Lotus. Likewise response if you have a Ferrari. If you didn’t own either but wanted an experience in a sports car. What then? We would suggest the Ferrari. It’s easier to drive but it’s also more of an experience – you know you’re driving something very special. The Lotus is special – but the Ferrari is, well, a Ferrari. Just try and pay little attention to the awful infotainment system.

Please get in touch with us if you’re looking at an advanced driving course in your performance car.