- Saturday, April 21, 2018
You don't need a sports car to drive at the limit.
This is my wife's 1998 Toyota Corolla. It's not a car that first comes to mind when you think of something a car enthusiast might buy. It made 120 horsepower when it was new and this particular example has an automatic transmission.
Not very sporty.
Nikki is completely fine with this, because she's not an enthusiast. What she really wanted was to put her car through its paces and learn how it handled when she drove it as fast as she could; that knowledge comes in handy in an emergency situation where quick maneuvers are often required.
A month ago we went autocrossing with the Emerald Empire Sports Car Club. They had two events that weekend (lucky me!) so I took my Miata on Saturday, then brought my wife and her Corolla on Sunday. This was actually my first time autocrossing either car, and her first time autocrossing ever. She was understandably nervous.
I'm happy to report that both Nikki and the car came back in one piece. Not only that, she had a great time and wants to go again! As for the car, I couldn't believe the abuse it could take without skipping a beat. We did several runs full of spinning tires and screaming to redline... yes, we were even banging off the rev limiter. Nikki still drives the car to work every day and it purrs like it always has. Interestingly enough, the car felt every bit as solid as my Miata, which is an actual sports car. For those who don't know, the Miata is one of the most popular autocross cars of all time. It's so agile they may as well have named it the Mazda Kanban.
Not only was it durable, the Corolla was actually fun - it goes where you point it and remains well behaved past the limit of traction. Economy cars are typically easy to drive and don't tend to surprise their drivers with unexpected oversteer. Instead, they're tuned to naturally understeer at the limit, which is a bit more user-friendly for less experienced drivers. This means anyone with a driver's license* can get out there on an autocross course and learn a thing or two about high performance driving while having an absolute blast at the same time. Chances are you have a car like this sitting in your driveway or garage. Why not give it a shot? I think you'll be glad you did.
*Autocross can also be done with just a learner's permit so long as the parent or guardian signs the waiver and accompanies the learner on his or her runs. This would be an excellent way to teach a new driver about car control.