As I am still torn appart trying to figure out what car I’m gonna buy that I will be driving every single day for the next 3 or 4 years (first world problems, I know...) and since I don’t know much about Japanese cars in general, I decided earlier this week to give a call to Fun2Drive, a car rental company based in Hakone, Kanagawa. This place is mostly famous for its proximity with mount Fuji which you can see very well from pretty much anywhere and for being the mountains where Takumi and Keisuke fight it out against a Toyota MR-S and a Mark IV Supra in Initial D.
The name of the company may tip you as not being the kind of car rental place you go to when you need a minivan to move out. They only rent cars that, we Jalop, may consider as “interesting”. R32 GTR, Miata, R34 GTR, FC or FD Rx7s, Hakosuka replica, S30 Z....etc etc etc
Originally, my goal was to rent the R32 GTR, an FD-Rx7, the AE86 and the 240Z (last one solely because I find it to be the most beautiful affordable car today...). An hour and a half in each, to see if I won’t get bored too fast with a 4WD Godzilla, with an underpowered Toyota or with a torqueless Mazda as daily drivers.
Unfortunatly for me, with winter approaching, they were about to close the shop for a couple of months and most of their cars were stored for winter or uninsured for those 2 winter months. They had 4 cars left: A tuned S2000, an NSX, an R34 GTR and the AE86.
So I could still test the AE86 and while I was there, I might as well play around with the other cars. So I left early morning and a bit over 2 hours later, I was on the spot, with the cars lined up just for me as I was almost the last client of the season. Not really interested by the R34 GTR, I chose the other cars and focused on the NSX, AE86 and S2000.
Rental agreement papers signed, quick driving assessement test with the owner as passenger, a reminder that “reckless driving” voids the insurance (After first thinking “oh cool, they even have radar detectors in the cars!”, I realized this was actually a dash cam filming how I drive and a reminder that I better not screw up), cars were finally mine for 90 minutes each.
Reviews of the cars:
There I was in the seat of Takumi, with japanese roads waiting for me. Seats are confortable, clutch and gas pedals are light and precise, it’s not too noisy. First impression was really good! Then once I get to the bottom of the empty toll road and start putting my foot down, I realize that I better keep my speed into corners if I want to get back to fun2drive in less than 90 minutes! It’s not fast, at all. I’d say it’s fairly similar in term of acceleration and torque to a basic miata. A miata with 4 seats. On the other hand though, that engine!! Oh my, you don’t feel that in the miata! It’s an absolute pleasure to get it to the red line! That noise, this lack of powersteering, the 80's dashboard in front of you, everything is there to provide you with a huge smile on your face!
In term of handling now, it’s a very predictable car with a natural tendency to understeer into corners but that can go sideways easily if you unbalance it quite harshly. It’s overall a VERY good car, but if you are used to something fast, it’s definitly a major change! It keeps a good place on my list of potential cars to buy. Really liked it!
OVERALL GRADE: 8.5/10
For someone like me who keep saying I like my cars 100% stock, this was quite a change. This car is not really a S2000 anymore. Stripped, roll caged, prepped engine and suspensions, brakes mods, aero mods...etc it even had a differential cooler which I had only read about in the past! Not really the kind of car I’d even think of buying. But now I want one. As a trackday/mountain roads car. I want one desperatly (without the stickers, even if it loses 50hp without them). Oh my god was this car awesome!! It’s noisy as hell, the hartop is the noisiest thing I’ve ever witnessed as it spends its time cracking constantly, it’s unconfortable as hell and the engine does not like to be under 2000rpm (I even stalled doing 10mph) but holy shit is it fun!
You think you can take this corner at 25mph in your car? Well, it will pass at 50mph in this one, with your face stucked against the window. So much grip despite the cheap ass Federal hard compound semi-slick DOT approved tires. And the road was humid wherever the sun did not show up, but it did not matter. When the rear would get a little bit loose, a quick 90 degrees countersteer was enough to put the whole car back on track, thanks to the ridicously tight steering rack of the car. “Pure awesomeness” is the perfect term to describe this car. It was just awesome!
One little downside though. I’ve never owned a car with no torque before and with this car, NOTHING would happen under 6500rpm. 180 degrees tight hairpins had to be taken in first gear despite the car being thrown in pretty fast thanks to the grippy setup. So you had to downshift into first at about 8000rpm just to be able to climb up the damn corner without losing too much speed! It takes lots of practice to keep the car in the power band all the time in all situations while being on an open road. It’s a skill I wouldn’t mind learning really.
OVERALL GRADE: 9.25/10. It loses .5 due to the crazy lack of torque.
The last car of the day. It started snowing a little bit as I was coming back with the S2000 so the roads were definitly humid and I knew there would be some sideways actions if I were to push the car a little. One thing I was worried about though is this thing I was told about mid-engine cars: They don’t like to go sideways, they are tricky to recover and require some pretty good reflexes. Alright, we’ll hope for the best then!
First impressions were good. I was actually surpised by the torque! It’s no corvette, but it’s more than enough and from pretty low rpm! It’s pretty quiet, it has this “german saloon car” type of acceleration feel with great low-end torque, it’s very confortable and stable at high speeds. Really fun! Then comes the twisty slightly wet roads. I took the 401, the actual road used on Inital D and let’s say that it’s not as wide as in the anime. Some places are very narrow with barely anough space to cross with another car. Typical japanese mountain road basically...
But what about this “mid-engine cars don’t like to get a loose rear” thing? Well, it’s not wrong. I didn’t find it very amusing to get it sideways. It does happen quite often as the car gets quickly unsettled in the never ending fast twists that come one after another, but when it happens, you don’t want to maintain it... It happens really fast and the only thing you want is to bring it back to find grip again. Unless you are very much used to it, without a proper fully working LSD (not a 150000km and 24 year old clutch based one), you’re not going to enjoy having the rear of a NSX go out of its way. I did get it loose a lot of time on that 401 road, and I just did not enjoy it. Get the car out when it’s dry and sunny if you want to go fast in the mountains. It would be much more fun, but the lack of a proper LSD would still kill it a little...
OVERALL GRADE: 8/10 (because not THAT fun unless you’re Senna.)
At the end I talked a little bit with the owners, about the cars I’ve owned, what they plan on buying...etc. To those who wonder about the reliability of the NSX: It’s true. The one I drove had 166000km and it’s by far the most reliable car of the entire fleet. Never a problem. On second place came the R32 GTR and as dead-last the FD Rx7.
At the end of the day, I learned three things: tuned cars can be freaking awesome, the AE86 is definitly a car I can live with everyday and the NSX is just not that great... (flame away! )
PS: Yes I have filmed the sessions with each cars and no, I will not put the videos online as I’m not as stupid as Afroduck... speed limits are set at 40kph in the mountains...