Sports Car Safety

U.S. News & World Report
February 20, 2013
Sports Car Safety

Most sports cars have performance capabilities that go beyond what many drivers can safely handle, and safety may seem like an afterthought when you’re shopping for a sports car. Taking safety features and crash test scores into consideration can help you find a sports car that will give you driving thrills and help keep you safe should something go wrong.

Sports Car Crash Test Ratings

Finding the safest sports car based on crash test ratings can be tricky because many of them are not tested by the non-profit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) or the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The Ford Mustang is one of the only sports cars to be rated by the IIHS. The Mustang coupe earns the top score of Good in front and rear crash tests, and receives the second highest score of Acceptable in side-impact tests. The Mustang is not tested for roof strength (rollover).

NHTSA doesn’t rate cars from brands like Porsche or Ferrari, but it does put some non-luxury sports cars through limited tests. In NHTSA crash testing, vehicles undergo rollover risk tests, as well as front and side crash tests, and the agency uses these three tests to give the vehicles an overall score. All NHTSA ratings are given on a scale of one to five stars, with five stars being the highest. The Chevrolet Camaro earns a top overall score of five stars. The Ford Mustang Coupe was also tested and receives five stars for the rollover test. In addition, the Mustang receives four stars in the frontal crash and side crash tests to earn a four-star overall rating. 

Key Sports Car Safety Features

Mechanical safety systems like anti-lock brakes, stability control and traction control work wonders for today’s high-performance vehicles. All three of these systems are in place to help drivers avoid a skid, allowing your sports car to maintain traction and stay firmly planted to the road. Most sports cars on the road come standard with anti-lock brakes, and electronic stability control is included on every model year 2012 vehicle and newer sold in the U.S. Most sports cars let you turn stability control off, which makes the cars a bit less safe, but allows experienced drivers to push their car closer to the performance edge.

A top concern in many sports cars is visibility. Those attractive, swooping rooflines and thick rear pillars tend to limit outward visibility. Blind spots can make it difficult to see smaller vehicles in the lanes beside you, but rearward visibility can also be a legitimate concern in parking maneuvers. To combat issues with visibility, manufacturers have made efforts to include features that aid drivers without compromising design. Ford gives the Mustang standard blind spot mirrors to increase visibility, while the Nissan 370Z allows drivers to park with confidence, thanks to an optional backup camera. Higher-end models, like the BMW Z4, offer rear parking sensors that use an audible warning to tell drivers if there is something behind them.

If you live in an area that frequently sees rain or snow, all-wheel drive can double as both a safety feature and a performance enhancement. All-wheel drive can improve your sports car’s grip both on dry pavement and in wet conditions. The Audi TT comes standard with Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system, which helps it stick to the road during hard cornering or inclement weather.

Driving a Sports Car Safely

Safety is important when you get behind the wheel of any car, but it’s even more important to be cautious when driving a car that begs to be pushed to its limits.

A sports car’s lower stance and higher power-to-weight ratio generally provide better handling and acceleration compared with other cars. However, it’s important to remember that the same features that make sports cars so appealing can also be their weakest links in terms of safety. While improved power eases passing maneuvers and generally makes sports cars more fun to drive, it also increases the odds of the vehicle’s wheels losing traction under power. Loss of traction, even for an instant, is a dangerous situation since it diminishes the driver’s odds of regaining control of the car.

Similarly, high-performance tires and stiffer suspension components, which make sports cars handle so well on dry roads, can be the biggest detriment in less-than-perfect weather conditions. Firmer suspensions do an excellent job of keeping all four wheels planted in tight turns or on a windy road, but they also mean the system is less compliant if you encounter road imperfections. Additionally, many sports cars come with performance tires, which have treads that are geared toward improving grip and handling. However, these are usually not the best in rain, snow or ice since the tread patterns aren’t always designed to cut through the wet stuff.

It’s important to remember that sports cars are purpose-built vehicles that frequently trade off convenience and utility for performance. And while pushing a sports car to its limits can be exhilarating, if you go past those limits, the results can be disastrous. Remember that the best safety feature of any car is a driver with sound judgment.