These are not cars

Sweaty palms. I feel my sunglasses slipping a little. Push them back in place, then tighten my grip on the wheel. Everything about the Lamborghini Superleggera that I’m sitting in is angles, aggression, animal. I lightly tap the brakes as I pull out behind the pace car and we stop instantly, jolting my passenger and I into our seatbelts. I apologize and we try again. Smoother this time, but the brakes and the throttle are extremely sensitive and even in 2nd or 3rd gear, she wants to leap forward. I pull up to the stop sign, check for traffic, and off we go. The first several miles are winding curves through the woods, and I work my way through the gears and getting a feel for the handling. She’s fast, and I’m feeling it, but the road is just too narrow and the curves are too tight. Still, I’m putting forth some effort to avoid letting things get out of hand. And then we clear the woods, the road becomes straight for miles, and the pace car takes off like a rocket. I put the pedal on the floor and I suddenly realize that even though I got my license twelve years ago, I haven’t been driving. The acceleration is instant. The Lamborghini leaps forward, snarling and clawing up the road. Everything in my peripheral vision is instantly a blur. The engine whines like a jet right behind me and I feel the whistling air ripping at my clothes. Seconds later, we’re doing 110mph and the road that was in front of us is now completely gone, so I apply the brakes and we stop. My heart is racing, my hair is a mess, and I can’t stop smiling.

I received a very special gift for my birthday this year: a chance to spend four hours in Napa wine country, driving five of the most amazing vehicles ever built: Lamborghini Superleggera, Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano, Bentley Supersports, Audi R8 V10, and Ferrari F430 Coupe. Total value: $1.5 million. Total horsepower: 2790. None takes longer than 3.8 seconds to get to 60 mph, and none have a top speed of less than 195 mph. These are superbly engineered driving machines, and I’m incredibly grateful to have had the experience of really spending some time with them.

I enjoyed every one of them for different reasons. The Lamborghini was so aggressive and ferocious, with extremely sensitive handling, but it can hug the curves at high speed without ever making you nervous. The torque on the 599 is incredible, and it just pulls you forward with such force and power. The Bentley is luxurious in the extreme, but it has the performance of a race car. You feel like you’re in upscale sedan until you put the pedal down and realize that this car can easily match all the others. The R8 surprised me most of all and was incredibly balanced and quick. But my favorite was the Ferrari F430, for balance of performance, handling, style, and just pure fun. More than with any of the others, when I was driving the F430, I felt like a kid in a race car. Words cannot do justice to the feeling of rounding a tight curve in a Ferrari F430 at 70mph in 3rd gear and putting the pedal on the floor as the road straightens out. You’re at 100mph in seconds, and the roar of the engine makes your ears hurt, but it’s the best sound you’ve ever heard. Positively sublime.

Every single machine I drove was incredible, and they all had a personality of their own. But they all had one thing in common: these are not cars. They’re something else entirely.