What It's Really Like To Drive A Car With 500+ Horsepower

It's a bitch and a half.

It's been a good three years now since I first got behind the wheel of a car with over five hundred horsepower. Jalopnik's old Editor in Chief Ray Wert wanted to drive the then-upcoming New York/New Jersey Grand Prix course in something fast. We at Jalopnik got a hold of Jaguar and they said that we could have an XKR droptop, all 510 horsepower of it.

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I was Jalopnik's intern back then, so I got sent out to Jag's NJ mini-HQ in my folk's last-gen Prius.

A polite wait at the service counter, a hand-over of the keys, and the red Jag was mine.

I had never even been in a car like this. The hood stretched out longer than anything else I'd driven and the actual nose of the car dropped down so I couldn't see its corners. The roof shut me in close.

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On Route 7, after letting the paddles cut me down a few gears and singing the V8 to me, I screamed.

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I'm in a cocoon of leather and power

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I had to crawl the the car back down to bottom of Manhattan, and there is no way to explain the soul-affirming joy of sticking a bratty 22-year-old with a six-figure car in the Financial District. Some skater punks snickered. I flipped 'em off with the top down.

A day or two later, Ray was done with the car. I got the keys from Ray. He made it clear to me that the car could take an extra hour or two to get back to Jaguar. He made it clear to me that I was very disposable.

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With the thought of a single scratch ending my career, I set off into New Jersey traffic.

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On the highway, before, the Jag was impossibly relaxing. Driving towards NYC, I had time to spare and I could soak up the leather and the supercharged V8. Driving away from NYC and towards the car's home in New Jersey, I had a limit. I couldn't spend all day loafing around in the car. I needed to experience it in full, and there weren't many good roads showing up on the impossibly arcane in-car nav.

I spent the better part of the day searching for a road to use that 510 horspower.

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I needed something remote, something away from cops. I needed something twisty, to try and test the handling. I needed something clear, to give me room to run the engine all the way out.

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It was one dead-end after another. One suburban New Jersey town faded away into the next. Roads that looks twisty on the screen were lined with houses in real life. Cul-de-sacs became my enemy. Speed bumps and 25mph speed limits the bane of my existence.

I managed to find some kind of loop out near Mahwah and a little road snaked off of it. I drove down a ways to check for surprises then pulled a u-turn. The road was clear. I floored it.

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Honestly, I can't even remember how fast it felt. It was like the adrenaline washed everything out of me, spilling away as I got pressed back into the seat.

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The rear end sort of shimmied, and set, and the fall leaves whooshed and the trees turned blur. An instant later a guy on a motorcycle was passing me going the other way, tapping on his helmet. I slowed down. I never saw the cop; the cop never saw me.

The point of this story is that there are unbelievable highs with a 500+ horsepower car. It's like the earth is splitting on a fault line between the rear wheels, you outrunning the opening fissure.

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But it's also work. It's stress. Speed limit signs grow big in your eyes. Uncooperative roads make you angry. There are moments when everything goes right, but most of the time, it's you against the world. It's you against a society with speed limits. It's you against the roads and the residents and everyone. You're not happy until you're on the bleak grey inhuman autobahn or some death stretch of Montana you've paid a cop to close.

I'm not saying that slow cars are better. I'm not saying that there's no place for high-horsepower in today's world. I'm not saying that fast cars are bad.

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I'm just saying they can turn you into an asshole and make your life real difficult.

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Photo Credits: Raphael Orlove

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