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February 10, 2005


what would chow yun fat do?

S4 baby.... S4.

Mini Cooper S.

Hands down, the most-fun-to-drive car on your list, and the least likely to seem boring to you 5 years from now. Test drive it if you haven't yet...there's more room in the cabin than you'd think.

Hmm. If you like all-wheel drive, why not that juiced-up Subaru rollerskate -- ah, yes, the WRX? A friend of mine bought one, and has the collection of speeding tickets to prove it.

Me, since I'm probably significantly poorer than you, and the Winnipeg climate isn't kind to cars, I'm sticking to my '94 Corolla for the next little while. The car I'm tempted to replace it with, eventually, is a Mazda 3. No add-on doodads for me, though.

A friend of mine bought a Mini S, and loves it. He came from a BMW Z3, and much prefers the Mini. And aireachail is right, it's way roomier than you'd think.

I'm presuming, based on your comment about Speed, that a WRX is right out? If you don't like the looks (and don't mind spending a little extra money), you could always go for the Saab version.

But really, if you want performance on a budget, why are you looking at cars? Motorcycles are the way to go!


Why something new? For the same 30K you're looking to spend on those cars you could pick up a used Acura NSX, or a used BMW M5 (if you must have a usable back seat) or even a Ferrari GTSi from the early 80's. I mean, you only live once right?

Plus, by purchasing a used car you can say that "Sure, I'm using gas, but no more natural resources were used to create my car."

Personally, my wife and I can and do walk to work so we bought a used 1996 Range Rover to fill our one parking space. If you see a big white Rover with a bumper sticker that says "This vehicle commutes to mountains, deserts, oceans and CostCo...but NEVER to work" around SF, that's us.

If I had my druthers, I'd be on my moto, but the knee recovery puts that off a while. Forced to choose a new car with no ability to haul anything or traverse the off road sections of Death Valley NP, it'd probably be the new Vette, a G35 coupe or the cool new Saturn convertible coming out soon. Money no object (relatively) back seat required? That's easy. Maserati Quattroporte.

The MiniCooper.

Just cause, if I could, I would :)

Well, can't offer advice, we buy boring Ford or Chevy, when we buy. Talked the lady into sticking with the Chevy six months ago, saying:"You love it, it runs well, not costing any money, who cares if the odometer turns over? Why take a chance you might hate a new model?"

One of the amazing things in my lifetime. 80k miles in my youth was a junkheap to be melted down. Which has, I think, also changed what you get when you buy used. People aren't trading in every three years on principle anymore, so why is that car on the lot anyway?

Ah, the TT. If I were going to spend more money than necessary on a car, I'd get one of those.

Still, I have to ask -- what is it about TT owners that makes them get vanity plates that refer to the fact that they're driving a TT? I saw two TTs today, and they both had such a plate. I mean, it's not like I couldn't tell without the hint!

Never driven the new Mini, but it sure looks like a blast. Then again, my old CRX Si was one of my favorites, so that shouldn't be a surprise. Too bad you've had trouble with Audis. My last car was a 98 A4 1.8T and it was fun and reliable - way better value than the beemer, IMO.

Then again, my old CRX Si was one of my favorites

Mine too. I had an HF model and following my dad in a Uhaul got like 70 mpg! Too bad it didin't stand up well to a midwestern hail storm...

People aren't trading in every three years on principle anymore, so why is that car on the lot anyway?

I think people get talked into trading up instead of repairing. The dealer then does the repair and sells the car. My understanding is that cars, US ones at least offer almost no profit to the dealers. They make money on repair and used sales. Trucks OTOH are 50% profit...

It's going to depend on what you are looking for, but for the moment, let's just talk about driving pleasure.

I had a chance, a couple of years ago, when a friend was car shopping, to go drive three cars -

Acura TL
Audi A6
Infinit G35.

Audi A6 was the best combination of performance and luxury. HOWEVER, the price was mid 40's. (The model with all the "stuff".

Acura TL - pretty good comfort, but was the worst in driving.

Infinit G35 - had a very pedestrian feel inside - as if you could be driving a Sentra (this is before the recent version of the G35). BUT, in terms of handling - OMFG!!

The G35 was a racecar - the cornering ability was simply phenomenal - it looked like your average podunk car on the outside, but the speed and cornering were simply out of this world!!

But, it felt a bit chintzy on the inside.

My buddy ended up getting the A6 - splurging, going for the gusto, you only live once, etc, etc. It was a great choice, if $15K more.

It was funny though, how driving 3 different cars only gets one more confused...

I think people get talked into trading up instead of repairing.

I must be going to the wrong shops, then. My cage is coming up on 190k miles...

(I like the Car Talk guys' attitude about when you should trade up instead of repairing your current car: "When you no longer love it." They figure that whatever money you spend on a repair is going to be less than the cost of a new car... OTOH, if you don't love your car anymore, you won't maintain it and then it'll become a money pit.)

Mine too. I had an HF model and following my dad in a Uhaul got like 70 mpg! Too bad it didin't stand up well to a midwestern hail storm...
I could never get over 40 mpg with the Si. Of course, having problems keeping the speed under 75 on long trips may have contributed to that. And the short wheelbase / wide track / low gearing combo made driving in snow more entertaining than it is in most FWD cars.

Well, I don't know how to drive a stick shift (I was going to learn once on a car belonging to some friends of my parents, but my sister went first and inadvertently backed the car into the garage wall, which sort of put both of us off the whole idea. Plus, no more car to learn on.) And from your list I don't think you're going to want my current car, my beloved Prius. But I am besotted with it. I think it's really cool when the motor just switches off at lights, and I play games with myself seeing how high I can get the mpg. And getting to go weeks without filling up the gas tank can't be beat.

My wife recently got a Subaru Outback wagon. We love it. It's got a pretty elegant interior, if you get the upgraded stereo and "cold weather package" that includes the butt-warmers (we did). Of course, it doesn't meet your criteria - it's an automatic (at my wife's insistence; I would have preferred a standard), and it suits someone who's coming to terms with being forty-something, not thirty-something (our three-year-old calls it "the Mom-mobile.")

But here's a funny story - I recently did the 7500 mile oil change, and went shopping for an oil plug gasket. No one has them in the correct size for the Subaru. So I asked the guy at the big chain auto parts store, why not? No demand for them, he says. Not many Subarus on the road. What the hell? Why, I said, every other car parked in our neighborhood is an Outback wagon; they're all over! Sure, he says, here in Seattle they're very popular, but not in Phoenix, where all of the purchasing and stocking decisions are made. So I guess the lesson is this - if you want to get an oil plug gasket for your car, make sure you buy whatever they're driving in Phoenix.

I must be going to the wrong shops, then. My cage is coming up on 190k miles...

Well, you and I both gave our hearts to motos long ago. I think dealers are good at "upgrading" people. Straight out mechanics, not so much. No point really.


From your comment, I'm guessing we're about the same vintage. Back in the day, a car with 80K miles on it was not only ready for salvage, it also meant that it had been through at least four complete sets of tires.

In my twenties, I went through a series of muscle cars which included a '70 GTO "Judge", a '66 427 Corvette, and a '68 Olds 442. They were fast and gorgeous, and I loved driving them. Nevertheless, if I didn't spend a significant portion of each weekend under the hood, I was asking for trouble.

In contrast, my wife drives a Honda Odyssey which is now 8 years old. We've put new tires on it once. Aside from having to replace the battery last year, no component on that car has failed or caused any problem at all. Mileage? Just over 130K!

Speed Racer, eh? It sounds like we are the same vintage as well. Just for trivia's sake, in Japan, Speed Racer is 'Mach go go' which would be pronounced 'maha go go' (just like Bach is pronounced 'baha') and is why there is a big M on the top of his hood.

Hood of his car, that is.

The right 2 person car Don't know if they are importing it in a a manual though....

If you want the g35 make sure to get g35x - AWD, you'll be glad in the winter.

i got the convertible beetle, which, for under $28K, is a bargain, compared with the other convertibles out there: the TT, A4, BMW 3ci, any Mercedes, the new Z, all over $40K. the Solara was out because there were only 4 colors and the Toyota guy was a prick; the Honda S2000 is too small; the little Toyota Spider convertible is a toy - utterly impractical no matter how fun it might be; the Miata is only slightly larger; i don't like American interiors, so that rules out the Sebring; and the Mustang, well, it's just not me. so that about does it - Beetle it is.

if money was no object, a Mercedes SL600 would do the trick (493hp v-12, in a two seater convertible, over $110K). or, if i knew a reliable mechanic, i'd get a Triumph Spitfire Mk3, or maybe a classic 'Vette. but i don't want to spend time maintaining a car, i just wanna drive it - so that means a new car.

the new beetle fit the bill nicely. turbo, 4 seater (back seat is even tolerable for around town drives), a lot of fun to drive, price is right, etc..

of course my wife's 2001 Acura CL is a superior car in almost every way - except that she can't take her roof down. and really, it's a shame Acura stopped making the big 2-door, cause that CL really kicks some butt.

This might be a bit off topic, but you can save 30-40% off the sticker if you buy a car that's 2-3 years old. I got my Maxima SE 2000 in 2003 for $12k, and it had 40k miles on it.


"if i knew a reliable mechanic, i'd get a Triumph Spitfire Mk3,"

Your "reliable mechanic" better work cheap. All those old British roadsters would eat you out of house and home. So would a Saab Sonett, my particular vice back then.

I hate to drag practicality into the mix, but the mini Cooper got seriously dinged by Consumer Reports for reliability.

Me, I'd do something a little off-kilter. About fifteen years ago, Turbo Magazine did a project car: an early 1970s BMW 2002. They tore the engine down, remachined the whole thing, nitrided everything, put special coatings, dry-sump oiling, steel crank, the works. As I recall, it was about 300 hp and thoroughly streetable. The suspension was also reworked, the results being a comfortable yet quite a bit more agile suspension. You'd probably have to drop 20-30k over the cost of a used beemer, but it'd be a scream. Probably you could do 200hp (factory turbo 2002 was 170hp) for quite a lot less.

In So.Cal. convertibles rule! (had the top down just last week. mmmm.) especially for those of us who grew up in NYC.

'96 Mustang GT @160K. I love my car.

but if money were no object the Lexus SC 430 looks mighty tasty.


If you're going British, pick up a Sunbeam Tiger with a 289 Ford V-8 in it. For a few extra bucks, you can get the factory Hi-Po 289.

I'm thinking mopar that is a 1970 440 Cuda.

Volvo V50/S40 T5 AWD (V50 = wagon, S40 = sedan).

Also second the WRX advice. If the Subaru sedan is too econobox, look at the Saab 9-2x Aero, which is a rebadged, interior-enhanced, ride-softened WRX wagon.

Well, if we're talking muscle cars, my dream car was in the garage at my office last week. 1970 Chevelle SS convertible, 454 with Cowl Induction. So sweet...

Then again, my wife has to keep a hold of me lest I buy my old '87 535is back from the buddy I sold it to. Especially after he replaced the leather interior and fixed the AC. Ahhh, if only my garage was bigger.

That's what's nice about motos. Not so expensive that you can't keep the old one when you buy a new one, and about 6 fit in a parking place ;)

Get a VW R32, new if you can find one (only 5000 shipped to the US.) Around 27K and smokes the stock Mini S. AWD, a joy to drive, plenty of cargo space. Not as quick as the WRX/Evo, but ride quality/comfort is way up there. 2-door only.

1970 Chevelle SS convertible, 454, well I always preferred the 442 with a hurst/455.

And besides, Speed Racer drove a GTi when the Mach 5 was sabotaged!

I have a colleague who has two vintage (60s) Jaguars. He was thinking of selling one (alas, he decided not to), and I put dibs on it, since it was hands down the most beautiful car I had ever seen. And then I thought: if I end up buying this, I might just be the only person on earth to own two cars: a Prius and the ravening gas monster that is a 60s Jag... it was a nice thought while it lasted.

If practicality is out the window -- Slarti's turbo'd 2002 (and take it to the track) or aireachail's detroit iron (and take it to Sonic on Saturday).

I second the WRX... I have a 2003 w/ high flow exhaust (w/ race cat, gotta keep my eco-cred), ecu flash, short shifter, and thicker roll bars. It should have a little less than 300hp at the crank and w/ awd and fat tires it is plenty agile. Cost me $23k out the door and the aftermarket stuff was ~$1.5k used. It rides a little rough and is a bit loud but I like it. Every ride to work is a blast PLUS I drove it up to ski in CO during a snowstorm w/ no problem. If you don't like the econobox look, try the Saab version but the ecu reflash and exhaust should be mandatory.

My better half had a G35 sedan as a rental and I borrowed it one day. That really is a hell of a car - handles like the dickens and hauls some butt. I bet the awd manual coup is even better.

People who recommend the WRX know what they are talking about. It's an amazing car, a wolf in sheep's clothing. One of my co-workers has one, and it's an amazing car to drive. 4WD and handling that won't quit. I'm sure you've ridden roller coasters like Space Mountain? The WRX feels exactly the same -- not like it's on rails, like it's got wheels on both the top and bottom of the rails. Try it! The hatchback hauls a ton and hauls ass.

I would also recommend the new RX-8 from Mazda. It's quick like lightning, has a well-proven radical engine, and I personally think it looks quite nice. The suicide doors are cute, the car hold 4 real people.

Both of these cars were built by engineers who wanted to create something well off the beaten path, who took a clean sheet of paper and made spectacular cars, rather than polling test audiences looking for the least common denominator. That kind of attitude has to be rewarded. Let other people drive the marshmallows.


[I drive a 04' Prius, and I love it, but it doesn't sound like your thing]

OK, gotta fess up to a fondness for MOPAR and sleepers. My all time faves of the cars I've owned are 2) an early '70s Datsun 510 sedan that had a ton of unexploited (by me) potential and way ahead of that, 1) A '67 Dart convertible with a small block eight. The car had a perfect unintentional balance - somewhere between 90 and 100 the valves would start to float and the the front end would suck in enough air to start lifting so you ran out of power at about the same time that you lost active steering control. Brilliant!

That reminds me... aireachail boasted-
In my twenties, I went through a series of muscle cars which included a '70 GTO "Judge", a '66 427 Corvette, and a '68 Olds 442

You magnificent bastard. I can't compete but...

I had a '93 Red RX-7 R1 and a '91 MR2 turbo in my 20s. The former was by far one of the sexiest conveyences ever driven on God's green earth. It had so much turbo lag it'd come on like a sledgehammer in the middle of a turn and scare the bejeezus out of me. And this was stock. Some poor fools swapped out the dual turbo setup for one big one. It was, seriously, in the shop about half the time though. It was the closest I'll ever get to dating a high maintenance supermodel. Beautiful but absolutely unreliable and not worth the trouble. Finally sold it to a high school kid who wanted to make it a dragster.

The MR2 had even worse turbo lag and less horsepower but was more reliable. I miss the RX7 waaaay more.

well I always preferred the 442 with a hurst/455.

Meetchya on Hwy 50 and we'll race the straights for pinks...

I've never understood the "the world is going to hell but there's lots of cool stuff to buy" mentality. With the amount of money some people spend on their car, they could instead save the lives of hundreds if not thousands of people, but the car is more important to them. What a weird planet.

I would love to trade up to a 96 civic. Currently driving a 92, dented civic, and as old as it is I just love driving Hondas.

All of the cars on your list would cost between $60,000 and $80,000 here in Norway (taxes, you know). And you can forget about driving a full size SUV here since they cost over $80,000 (unless you can do without the backseats and make them 2 seaters, those get taxed as transport cars).

"You magnificent bastard. I can't compete but..."

Honda 175, Triumph, Honda 350/4, raked Sportster.

Crushed kneecap, bad concussion = pick-up truck.

I noticed that your list is heavy on the horsepower, but light on practicality. Please take a quick look at the Subaru Forester XT. Start with the basic Forester: proven AWD, good cargo room, great visibility, great safety ratings and add the 2.5L turbo engine also used in the WRX. It's conservatively rated to be around 225 HP.

Hmm. Thanks for all the suggestions. I might take a look at a used car, but I'm concerned that an older M5 may have been beaten up a bit. And the WRX and 9-2x just don't move me. The R32 is pretty hot, but, again, it just doesn't have the lines I like. And the chances of my finding a BMW 2002/turbo are, well, very very slim (and then I'd have to find a way to keep it running).

Incidentally, I almost bought a Triumpth TR3 when I was 18 (in '92). I ended up buying a Toyota Corona, vintage '80 (you read that right -- "Corona," not "Corolla"). Though the Corona ran well for more than six years through pretty heavy use (it (literally) fell apart in Chicago in '98), I've always regretted that I didn't get the TR3 when I had the chance.

Well, I was going to chime in on the WRX suggestions -- not that I have one, but I'd like to, but here's my advice to Von. Buying a car, like buyinmg a house, is really an emotional decision. Figure out which ones call to you, figure out why, take your pick and be at peace.

Yeah, I was going to echo the WRX suggestion, but thought it might be to drifter-equse. The most fun car I've ever had the priveledge of owning was a 1994 Mitsu 3000 GT with twin turbo's. God, that car was amazing. It had all kinds of cool (but probably useless) gadgets on it. It's spoiler would auto-adjust at speed, and it had a manual override on it so you could make it "wave" at people at stoplights, a multi-setting suspension system, exhaust that switched from "sport" to "stealth".

But goo-gaas aside, it was the 325 hp, all wheel drive, fat tires, and massive brakes that made it worth owning. I had to give her up in a the controversial motorcycle draft of '01, just shy of 100k miles. I had to trade the car in negotiations with my wife for two first round motorcycle picks. It was a lousy winter car, and got pretty terrible fuel mileage while requiring premium gas, but I will own one again, one of these days. I'd like to get one of the '99 drop top models.

The mini would probably be my choice. Too much watching the Italian Job, I guess.


big fan of the G35--almost picked one up in November and may do so for real in Q2.

We can't get the same color, so we should talk first.

Add the Acura TL to your list too.


The Lexus ES is fun too

Bjurk --

A G35? But what about the purple minivan?

Incidentally, you do realize that if we both get a G35, we'll need to race.

Neolith --

Yeah, I started out desperately wanting the Mini -- going so far as to declare, "I am getting a Mini." But, now, I'm starting to think I really need four doors. (Maybe I'll check out the suicide-door RX8, which someone mentioned upthread.)

von, if you get a hi-maintainance jobbie, you aren't going to have much time to blog. Thus, as one of the liberals here, I want to officially suggest you give up all this foolishness lest the balance here be knocked out of kilter. I don't want anyone trawling through the archives to find a suggestion that you get a car that requires you spend your time in the garage and have myself be accused of taking part in a VLWC to make the blogosphere lean left.

I had to trade the car in negotiations with my wife for two first round motorcycle picks.

And they were......?

Ooh ooh. Can I live my vehicular dreams through you?

Audi TT
Lotus Elise

Lotus Elise

A Lotus. Yes. Some day.

Just finished my test drives: A4 3.0, G35, BMW 330i, Mini. (Which one of these is not like the others.)

My initial impressions.

The Audi is boring, a sleeper, slow. You work the gears of the transmission like a sedan without the "sport"; the 3.0 engine is sedate; the steering is boosted one notch too high -- the long and short of it is, well .... Off the list.

The G35 is wicked. The only manual they had was an '04 coupe, which had the 280 horsepower engine (the '05's have 298). The clutch has wonderful feel, but the short-throw transmission is a bit notchy. With all that power to the rear wheels, it's a difficult car to launch -- this is not a car that's easy to drive smoothly. At speed, it's confident and responsive -- there's far more power than you need. But it's the kind of car that's grand at the track, but not too accessible in every day driving. Still, maybe I like that.

The interior is chinzy. It's easily the worst interior of any car on the list -- including the Mini, which is about six grand less.

Oh, and my wife hated the car. She's being good about not exercising her veto (it's supposed to be my car we're buying), but she really, really wants to.

The 330 was next; all they had was an automatic, so we drove that. It was, by far, the most refined of the bunch. Best interior. Incredibly well balanced. Accessible and plentiful power. But the most expensive of the group.

The Mini S was the sleeper of the group. It won over my wife -- who was trying to convince me not even to consider it -- immediately. Quick. Great handling -- very chuckable, as expected. First rate clutch; longer throw but quite workable transmission. Very easy to drive to nine-tenths -- and, unlike the Inifiniti, it felt like I had been driving it for years from the very first shift. Impressive grip in the twisties, decent space (considering), and, really, just a lot of fun. Indeed, probably the most fun of all the cars I test drove today. (Probably even more fun than the TT I drove home.) It's not the fastest, but it's the sweetest. But how can we justify buying it?

At the end of the day, my wife rated them BMW, Mini, Infiniti (we both eliminated the Audi). I couldn't rate -- the cars are just too different. I think I need to decide whether I want a sedan or the Mini; and, if I choose sedan, decide whether I want to be an adult or speed racer.

And then there're still the Acuras to consider.

'Till next time.

In 1999 I bought my first American car in 20 years, a Chrysler 300M, I put 80,000 miles on it without a problem and bought another in 2002. I loved them. I just picked up my brand new 300C SRT 425 Hemi, AWD five speed auto stick. This car kicks ass and has enough room for you, your wife and the in-laws...I advanced ordered it as a two time 300 owner the car cost $44,000 and change out the door fully loaded but you can get the smaller 350 AWD 5 speed auto stick for $36,00 and it still kicks ass... I am 54 years old and this car is a real musical car ... with all the luxury you can stand... every thing under the body is from a 300S Mercedes with the exception of the Hemi... drive one and see what you think

Considered the Lexus IS300 yet?

I'm afraid that's the only thing that springs to mind that you haven't already considered.

I wasn't impressed by the 330 I test drove. It was perfectly nice, but it certainly didn't stir anything. A lot of it boils down to this: what are you actually going to use the car for, as opposed to what fantasies the car is going to fulfill....

Good luck with your decision, and have fun shopping.

Yeah, I considered the IS. It just doesn't look, well, fun. (I'm shallow in that way.) The 300 is also an outstanding looking car, but it's a bit too big for my current tastes.

The more I consider, the more I'm leaning toward the BMW; with the new, redesigned models coming out in May, the price on the old ones is dropping into my price range. Another chink of the soul gone, I'm afraid.

hey, i'm in chicago too. this is my car:


you can get a fast reliable japanese sports car with worldwide support, robust parts market, and all the style in the world for between 1K and 5K, depending on the year and condition.

embrace the datsun 240Z (or 280Z, which is what I got).

mine cost about 2000 bucks. got it on ebay. love it.

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