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Leveling with the modern supercar

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  January 26, 2011 03:08 PM

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(Clifford Atiyeh/Boston.com Staff)

Engineers at SunPower, a San Jose, Calif. maker of solar panels, get down on their knees to inspect the exhaust baffles on the Ferrari 458.


This is a three-part review of the Porsche 911 Turbo S, Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, and Ferrari 458 Italia.

At first glance, supercars make as much sense as the national debt. You can stare at their numbers, decimal by decimal, and still not grasp what they mean in real terms. Not even the U.S. Treasury knows where $14 trillion starts and ends, let alone the amount of lifetimes required to pay it back. The same confusion applies to America's top sports car, the Corvette ZR1, which packs 638 supercharged horses and runs 205 miles per hour. The sums are incomprehensible.

Most of us deal with fractions of those amounts. We write four-figure mortgage checks to the bank each month and know how far our gray, 200-horsepower family sedans take us on a tank.

I deal with sensible numbers, too, except in my job as an automobile reviewer. I'll drive a $24,000 Chevy Cruze to work at 9 and leave with a $160,000 Porsche at 5. So I had to stop myself before writing this comparison of the Porsche 911 Turbo S, Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, and Ferrari 458 Italia. Because no normal person, even a rich normal person who just won this month's Powerball, is going to read a 2.9-second 0-to-60 time and say, "Yeah, that sounds about right."

These three are the fastest cars available, not just from their respective manufacturers, but almost anywhere. All push more than 500 horsepower, carry carbon-ceramic brakes the size of wheels, and, with enough bravery and road, are capable of tripling the interstate speed limits and accelerating harder than commercial aircraft.

Really, beyond a point on a line graph, can you picture 60 mph in 2.9 seconds? Imagine pulling out of your driveway and merging immediately onto a highway, faster than you can put a coffee cup to your lips. That's a full-bore launch in the Turbo S.

OK, so in real life, there are no driveways off I-93 and no real need for a twin-turbo anything. But there are hundreds of short entrance ramps across New England, the kind that rapidly dissolve into an exit or shoulder. Some, like on Connecticut's Merritt Parkway, have stop signs. Twist any key in our trio, and you'll have the grip to corner onramps at the speed of traffic, and the power to surge ahead of that loaded semi devouring the right lane. All in the time it takes to read this sentence.

Disclaimer: A 9,000-rpm Ferrari can become a six-figure scrap heap in the same amount of time. But in proper hands — not necessarily mine — the quickest, most responsive vehicles are often best at avoiding accidents in the first place. And for a couple hundred thousand, they net trillions of fun.

See? Once you've driven these supercars, everything adds up.

Part 1: Porsche 911 Turbo S


This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee
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