Fun Stuff

Driving a Sports Car in the Winter Makes Commuting a Vacation

If you’ve ever taken a much-needed mid-winter vacation to someplace warm and sunny, you’ll know how I felt when I twisted that left-hand starter in the Porsche 718 Boxster. The engine snarled to life, the shifter fell perfectly to hand, and that bucket seat felt tailor-made to hug me. It didn’t even matter that the weather was too grey and cold to put the top down; simply driving such a wonderful, engaging machine can have an utterly restorative effect during this drabbest of seasons, just like that first kiss of sunshine on your face when you step off the plane.

That’s right, I was breaking the cardinal roadster rule by spending my mid-February driving around in a pair of slinky, low-slung convertibles, despite the grungy roads, and it was downright blissful. You should do it, too.

What’s the Big Deal?

Far too many sports car buyers think their machines can only be enjoyed if used as an occasional toy reserved for blue-sky days, likely kept tucked away from all the elements the vast majority of the time. But here’s the thing: it’s still just a car, and if it’s a modern one, it has been engineered to survive a winter here, just like any other car.

All those poor souls stashing their fair-weather playthings are missing out on the delights a roadster provides, like the unmatched connectedness from the steering wheel to the pavement. A roadster’s responsiveness to small, measured steering or throttle inputs is an increasingly rare treat in the automotive realm these days, but top it all off with open-air freedom, and it’s an experience unmatched by anything else on four wheels.

Years ago, as a young guy with fewer familial responsibilities, I drove a brand-new Mazda MX-5 Miata as my only car. In the summer, it was sensational fun, and then in autumn, I fitted a set of Pirelli winter tires, and the fun continued all winter. The only downside was that the light and lowered car tended to float up and atop deep snow, getting us stuck once or twice.

Sunshine – Even in the Winter

It doesn’t happen nearly often enough, especially as the grey, damp winter stretches its misery week after week, but occasionally, the sun comes out, the temperature rises just enough, and it’s the perfect opportunity to drop the top. With so few daylight hours and too much time spent indoors, most Canadians are vitamin D deficient during the winter months, and if you can get your daily dose by commuting to and from the office, isn’t that better than taking a supplement?

Of course, top-down winter driving has other benefits for roadster buyers, too. With the tilt of the earth leaning away from the sun, there’s more atmosphere to filter out some harmful UV rays. I find this particularly helpful since I – like many roadster drivers of a similar vintage – have a scalp that’s become increasingly unprotected by hair. Some will suggest a hat is the answer, but after having a prized chapeau lift off my noggin while piloting a soft-top Mercedes across the Confederation Bridge several years ago, I’ve steered away from that solution, lamenting the lucky halibut who’s surely enjoying my cap.

Equipped for Four Season Enjoyment

Modern convertibles are loaded with features that help advocate for winter enjoyment. They’ve all got anti-lock braking, plus traction- and stability control programs mandated by Canadian law, so a loss of control in slippery conditions is mitigated. Still, as with any other car, truck or SUV, a good set of winter tires should be considered mandatory. Even my old MX-5 was available with heated seats, and with such a tiny cabin, the car’s heater had no trouble bringing it up to toasty conditions in short order.

Costlier convertibles like the BMW Z4, Lexus LC 500, and Porsche 718 Boxster add niceties like a heated steering wheel and multi-layer, insulated power tops, some of which can even motor up or down while the car is motion. And unlike earlier roadsters that had plastic rear windows prone to aging and cracking, every contemporary soft top has a glass rear window with a defroster. This Boxster test car was even fitted with Porsche-brand, rubber floor mats to protect the carpet.

Breathing in the crisp, cold air on a drive is invigorating and one of the best reasons to drop the top in the winter. Even those small wind deflectors found behind the front seats on every modern roadster do an admirable job of reducing buffeting while giving the heater a fighting chance at staving off the cold. Taking it a fabulous step further, Mercedes-Benz has a system that pops a small fairing up off the windshield header, while the climate control system blows warm air through the back of the seat and out around the neck and shoulders.

A winter week spent with Jaguar’s sensual F-Type convertible revealed how viable a four-season machine it could be with not only a specific snow drive mode, but also a windshield embedded with a series of tiny filaments designed to keep the glass free of frost and condensation. And if a 575-hp V8 roadster that will rip a zero-to-100-km/h time in 3.7 seconds sounds like a handful on frozen pavement, note that the Jaguar also features all-wheel drive, resulting in an impressively usable sports car, regardless of what Mother Nature throws down.

Watch the Salt!

There was a time when most cars would begin disintegrating at the very sight of road salt, but over the past few decades, considerable effort has been made in the science of rust-proofing, and a roadster is no different than any other modern machine at surviving the brine. Naturally, if the roads are particularly sloppy, any car can quickly become a crusty white-grey-beige mess, and regularly stopping by the local self-wash bays to clean off the worst of it is always helpful. The fabric soft-top may require a little bit of extra love if the debris gets embedded in the weave, but they’re treated to avoid staining, and the owners’ manual has some helpful tips to keep it clean and in tip-top shape.

The Moral of the Story

All this enthusiasm for throwing off the car cover and playing with our automotive toys all year round is, admittedly, directed at the current crop of sports cars. Older machines may be just as fun to wheel around in the snow, but exposing a one-of-kind collectible or particularly rust-prone classic to the elements is sure to have disastrous results – at least to the car’s value. But a modern roadster deserves better than being a museum exhibit in a garage; it should be allowed out to play all year round.

Sports cars are meant to spread joy, not just to the driver, but to those around you on the roads who delight in seeing the artful lines of a soft-top machine and someone clearly making the best of going from point A to point B. The number of folks waving, snapping photos, and offering a thumbs up I experienced while driving the Boxster seemed to prove this (although it may have also had something to do with the hot pink paint).

Don’t be afraid of driving a roadster all year round. It’s like making your daily commute a little vacation every day.