What is “Car Lust?”

Among the many other bloggers—cars and otherwise—there is one from Amazon which I’d become aware of years ago.  Titled “Car Lust,” one can gather it speaks of all the vehicles they have ever found appealing in one form or another.

Car Lust isn’t relegated to superb and often gushed-over supercars and sportscars, but more quirky or forgotten vehicles—deserving of credit or not.  That’s one of the great aspects of the blog; reading a fellow car-nut going on about a vehicle I may not have even known what to think about.  Car Lust shows that one mans lemon is another mans lemonade.  I have a few car-lusts myself… alright, far more than a few.  Several dozen is more like it.

Who ever thinks of the first generation of Hyundai Tiburon as a dream car?  Oh yes, I said dream—as in I think of what it’d be like getting to know it both to drive and to “play with” like I have with Pheobe, my Toyota Echo.  What could possibly enhance the little coupe?  I remember the shock when I read a review about it on Motor Trend, and that Porsche helped develop the suspension.  Car & Driver even said the car had a better shifter than the Honda Civic.

1997 Hyundai Tiburon

But like many of my “quirky-wants” list, the common theme is imperfection.  They are all cars that have a reputation to them that I overlook for the sake of the vehicle: expect the worst and hope for the best.

It’s hard to look at a clean Lincoln LS or Chrysler 300M and see them as gremlin-laden.  When they came out they were very good vehicles.  Subaru Baja’s may be ungainly to look at and not a particularly chuckable car, but I do enjoy rowing through that rubbery (but relatively short) shift throw and getting that Boxer going up front.

I get as excited seeing a Chevette on the road as a Viper, not because I love the Chevette itself but the rarity.  To keep something like that around over 25 years says something of love and character regardless of the vile nature.  It’s the same premise of the classic sports cars of Alfa Romeo, MG, and Triumph.  A friend of mine who had a Triumph Spitfire mentioned how the fuse for the headlights and windshield wipers was the same, and that in the rain one had to make a choice.  Using both simultaneously wasn’t an option, as the fuse would render both useless.  Jeremy Clarkson of the show Top Gear once said “Alfa build a car to be as good as a car can be… briefly.”  Is it a hassle?  Yes; loaded with personality.  Personality leads to love somewhere.
Snapshot 1 (12-29-2012 8-58 PM) copy
Being stuck in a car that always works with a simple push of a pedal and turn of a wheel isn’t enough.  I remember one time my families 1987 Ford Ranger blew a seal on a recently rebuilt transmission.  It was a triple-digit July 3rd, and I had a hole in my jeans right on the knee.  Pop the hood, move forward, and realize that “hey, my knee has been exposed to chrome!”  It was an excruciating experience not just for the second-hand sun burn, but as someone who isn’t used to being stopped because of a cloud trailing behind.

The second time this happened was another hot day, but not at all as inconvenient even with the addition of an anxious year-old German Shepherd whining in the cab to the equation.  This time I knew what I was doing, had different intentions with the trip, and even made a video while traffic rumbled by up the mountain.  In that video I said I don’t mind it like I used to.  The truck cleans up nicely and gets a lot of compliments.  It’s also been a big (and surprising) help for moving big loads around.  Besides the fact my mother is sentimental to the truck because it belonged to her late younger sister, I also brought up that it’s a classic vehicle now, which would be fun to try and maintain and fix to take to shows.

This love I have for my Echo or Ranger doesn’t quite translate to my parents Hyundai Sonata.  While I am the co-owner (as with the Ranger), and I have sentimental value for it, there are quite a number of vehicles I’d soon consider far more worthy of my affections.  It’s a nice car that does everything well enough for me and then some, but doesn’t excite as much.  The ultimate grip feels low, the transmissions manual-mode is sluggish, the engine lacks the torque I wish (and expect) it to have—and it’s beige.  One can’t take the wood and tan leather with olive-khaki (aka beige) exterior and make it a beastly vehicle.  Yes, I know that there are intake manifolds from larger Hyundai’s that I could easily swap with what’s there, along with headers, an intake, and a computer reflash for another 40 horsepower (or so), and upgrade the brakes with Hyundai SUV pieces that’d still fit under the stock 17” alloys.  But for what?  The passion simply isn’t there.  Not yet, anyway.

What does all this have to do with lust for cars?  I think it just comes down to finding what moves you as an owner; as an enthusiast.  Potential can be found everywhere, and I think that’s one of the things that most pulls me: what something can be… briefly.

Image for Tiburon was sourced from Consumer Guide’s used car section.

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Rebadge Round: Eclipse, Stratus, Sebring.

This week is another Rebadge Round which comes early (or late, however you see this) for Christmas.  Rebadge Round is going to be a series which takes vehicles based on the same platform (or is a kissing-cousin) and sees which one I’d subjectively find more appealing.  Feel free to comment below as to whether or not you’d agree.

For decades, Chrysler and Mitsubishi had a close relationship with many different results, and just as many rebadges and shared platforms.  Everything from the tiny Mitsubishi Mighty Maxx/Dodge Ram 50 pick-up trucks, to the Mitsubishi 3000GT/Dodge Stealth sports cars were a result of these companies working together.  Among the most common on roads, even today, are the Stratus/Sebring/Eclipse Coupes.  Come the era of Y2k, the trifecta of MitsOdgLer came to fruition.

With the Eclipse hitting its third generation, it brought with it a slightly more mature air to it—something the Eclipse followers weren’t too fond of.  Gone was the massive hoop spoiler, fang-shaped ducts up front, and of course the replacement of the turbo-four with a V6 in its place (a reversal of many cars today—how about that).  The Eclipse was larger, heavier, and suspension was squishier.  I’ll admit that when my parents pulled up to my grandparents home in Nevada, and seeing the new hatchback (the Dodge and Chrysler merely have notch-back trunks) sitting in the driveway, my 12-year-old self was giddified all sorts.  Enough where my arthritic grandfather and name sake stepped out in the freezing, high-desert air that November to snap my glee on his humongous Sony digital camera.  Oh yes, a monster of a thing that took floppy disks.  Kickin’ it old school.

Like my grandfather, my uncle and aunt both liked having new toys—my uncle had the last generation (parked alongside), and my aunt and her husband recently bought the brand-new one I’d had pinned up in my 7th grade cubical… yes, a cubical.  Mr. Erich, if you actually read these: that was one of those great ideas that makes you a memorable teacher.

Likewise, there was a school-yard chum whose mother owned its platform mate (much to my surprise some 15 years later), the Chrysler Sebring Coupe.  It was black with chrome wheels, and beige interior.  A very clean looking machine, much like the last couple Honda Accord Coupe is.  Regardless, I paid relatively no mind to it as back then, it was still about spoilers and 0-60 times.  That cubical wall had everything from Lincoln LS’ to Ferrari F50 GT’s, and the Sebring Coupe wasn’t there along side the Eclipse and the next triplet.

Dodge brought along the Stratus, replacing the old Avenger of the 1990’s, and was equally short for this world with only one generation (the Sebring badge is a long-lasting name, only ending recently with the release of the Chrysler 200).  Unlike the Chrysler and Mitsubishi, the Stratus didn’t come in a convertible.  Technically, neither did the Sebring, and the Sebring convertible wasn’t an Eclipse at all, underneath.  The closest it came was the 2.4L inline-four shared through all three model names.

Later Dodge/Chrysler interiors (bottom) changed from the earlier trim that was more directly shared with Mitsubishi.  Mitsubishi kept the same design until the next generation in 2006.

What set the Dodge and Chrysler coupes from their sedan and convertible counterparts—besides Eclipse bones—was the V6 option: a 3.0L as opposed to a sludge-happy 2.7L.  What’s more, the 3.0L could be had with a five-speed manual in all three vehicles, putting down the 200hp the most proper way a coupe should—and frankly the only way these can be had without being a laughing stock.  I say that because the Stratus RT automatic pulled a 0-60 time of 8.7 seconds under the shoes of Car & Driver… they pulled 8.5 seconds from the Toyota Echo manual sedan, and that was weighed slightly by the options list (a more basic coupe like mine will have been yet spryer).  Regardless, it won a comparison over both the Monte Carlo SS and (more surprisingly) the Mustang GT of 2002.  Give it, or any of these rehashed coupes a manual transmission, and that 200hp would put down around 7.2-7.6 seconds.  Suddenly I sound like that 12 year-old again.

In any case, all three share darn-near the same dashboard.  Chrysler stuck their stereos in so you wouldn’t forget what you bought, and changed some gauges and binnacles.  Otherwise, you’d find soft-touch materials around much of the doors and dash—something that surprised me when a friend went and bought a 2003 Eclipse GTS Spyder.

Speaking of the GTS, that’s something the Eclipse brought to the party that the others didn’t.  With 210hp from an added Mitsubishi Variable Induction Management system (MVIM), it could gun to freeway merging in 6.7 seconds or so.  MVIM was another way of saying variable-length intake manifold… I didn’t make that any easier did I?  Still, a very respectable sprint at a time when the only family sedan doing the same (or faster) was the 3.5L Nissan Altima, and soon the Accord would follow suit.

Of these three cars, what would I choose?  As an enthusiast, the Dodge Stratus R/T Coupe is a sporty-tuned little bugger that isn’t as acknowledged as the 2Fast2Furious Eclipse is, and is round-about as fun per reviews.  However in the real world, I’d love to combine the supple cleanliness of the Sebring Coupe, the exhaust note of the Dodge, and the extra 10hp from the Mitsubishi’s MVIM.  From what I see, the Sebring seems to look better in person, and more often they don’t look as abused as the Eclipse or Stratus.  Add on the rarity of the manual, and the surprise of a Sebring Coupe being driven with some spirit; that’d just suit me more.  Any would be fine by me, though.

Images were all sourced from Consumer Guide’s used car section.

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Fiat 500’s vs. Hyundai Veloster’s: A perfect comparison of imperfections.

Retro cars hit our shores when the VW New Beetle was introduced in the late 1990’s.  It was never considered a car for driving enthusiasts, and was never meant to be—even the Turbo S model.  But why should it have?  When the original Beetle was finally popularized in the U.S., anyone looking for speed was far from their wits end as MG, Triumph, Alfa Romeo, and other companies covered their post-war wants of that European feel that got Chevrolet started with the Corvette.  So what of the New Beetles and other retro brethren like the Mini Cooper?  Most have fallen from the ranks—Chevy HHR, PT Cruiser, Ford Thunderbird among them.

Yet the Mini thrives not just as a single car, but an entire company.  When Mini came to America in 2003, it offered the cool style of the VW Beetle but in a more compact, less bubbly, and better-driving way.  This isn’t about drivers, however.  Instead, it’s about the form-over function design that is both praised and loathed for the little car.  The window switches and speedometer, for example, are hurdles for an owner to overcome.  Even now, Mini is known for being an ergonomic headache.  Yet people still buy into them for the driving pleasure and cute aesthetic they possess.  However, they’ve become such a common quirky car, can one really call them different anymore?

Enter the Fiat 500 and Hyundai Veloster:  two cars of ‘round about the same price as each other ($20,000 well equipped), near 40-mpg highway fuel economy rating, close performance stats (if you care), with just four seats each.  They have a very “look at me” sense of entitlement on the road.  The Veloster takes a different route from the Fiat’s diminutive footprint and cartoon eyes, with a long and low look that can be anything from sports car to tadpole to firin’-ma-lazer internet meme—it’s supposed to polarize rather than be cute.

Fiat 500 Sport

Hyundai Veloster

They differ enough where cross-shopping isn’t likely.  The Fiat is much smaller inside for both passengers and cargo, and will be more of a chore when merging on the freeway.  It fits well as a city runabout.  Meanwhile the car with an “H” up front has a hidden third door on the right side, a larger cabin, and more power (138hp to the Fiat’s 101).

Veloster Turbo, with larger grille opening, different foglights, and LED’s lining the headlights.   High-Intensity Discharge  (HID) headlights not available on regular Velosters.

Where they become better competitors, just add turbo.  Each car is equally impressive for the magical oomph of their engines (the Hyundai scoots up to 201hp while the scorpion-badge festooned Fiat Abarth—said “Uh-Bart,” though I doubt anyone will correct you with “Ah-barth”– manages a still competent 160 for its light weight).  Each car gets a different look from their less-powerful kin, with large dual exhausts and meaner details aplenty.

Different exhaust, reflectors, LED tail-lights, and body-color rear spoil differentiate the Turbo from basic Veloster.

Abarth one-ups the Hyundai for a little more fun as the engine makes a delightfully growly note, and more underskin details that a gearhead would easily discern, but for the casual driver the Hyundai might still be the best choice.  The ride hardly changes in the V-Turbo, and you get upgraded lighting front and rear for better visibility not just for the drivers sake, but others around them (albeit the 500’s all come with cats-eye style Xenon lights standard, while basic Velosters have less techy projectors).  Another reason the Hyundai may seem a better buy, the fuel economy hardly drops with the turbocharger added to the engine (35mpg while the 500 Abarth dips to 34mpg– or two down versus six).  However, there is an “Abarth Lite” that has come out recently; the Fiat 500 Turbo.

500 Turbo. Features Abarth-esque front end, unique smoked lamps. Bridges the Sport and Abarth with Sport suspension, wheel/tire combo, and interior trim.

With 135hp (down from the Abarth 160hp), the Fiat 500 Turbo pulls something more like the Veloster Turbo.  It keeps the suspension from the slower model (it has the 500 Sport trims suspension, which is still improved over the 500 Pop and Lounge trims), and also keeps the less-grippy seats of the Sport as well.

While I can applaud the many varieties of 500, I can’t help but see that no matter what they throw at the Veloster, it’s a questionable vehicle to cross-shop not just because of the different sizes, but the combination of price, efficiency, and performance.

Remember, the Veloster in either the regular or Turbo trims are just-about as quick as the corresponding 500 Sport and Abarth, but wins out in highway MPG (and will be more likely to achieve them).  Consider the prices, and the Veloster starts at $17,500—a tie with the 500 Sport, but comes with more room and power.  Give them booster-snails (turbo), and the gap is widened from $22k, to $24,000.  Advantage: Hyundai, though the Abarth has the perks of more extensive performance tuning and a limited-production badge of exclusivity.

But hold on… I mentioned that 500 Turbo that sits between the Sport and Abarth?  Okay, it gives a modest price of $19,500.  But for the drop in hp (135 vs. 160), gaining zero improvement in mpg over the Abarth isn’t what I’d call a celebratory shimmy.  Then consider it’s still lacking the fun-pieces the Abarth would otherwise given to the suspension, brakes, and exhaust… oh yes, one has to give up having the burbly-pop of the scorpion trimmed Abarth.  Regardless, I commend the functional front end of the 500 Turbo and Abarth.  The front air dams and vents in the front bumper direct air in—and out—of twin-intercoolers.  Again, for those who may be in “the know,” an intercooler is basically a radiator for the turbo.

What this comparison comes down to is that these are each alright cars, though not the apex predators in their respective classes.  There isn’t a winner here, so much as choosing which one would better suit ones needs.  Velosters will be bigger and easier to get into the back, get better mileage, be cheaper, and have a better warranty (recently a recall has been put out fro shattering glass roofs).  The Fiats will all make a better sound, feel better to drive, and be a little better for parking with a more lively interior sitting-place than the more structural Hyundai.

Veloster Turbo interior

For the sake of added visual cues between the Fiat’s, here are some shots and labeled differences.

Abarth rear. Note dual exhausts.

Fiat 500 Sport rear. Single exhaust, unique rear bumper.

500 Turbo. Similar rear bumper to Abarth, but still only a single exhaust.

Abarth interior.

Image sources:
-All Hyundai and Fiat photos are readily available in their model galleries.
-Fiat 500 Abarth front-end cutaway from http://automotivesreview.blogspot.com/2012/09/fiat-500-abarth-2012.html

For some additional content/car porn via Winding Road Magazine, this is why the difference between the Abarth and Veloster Turbo sounds are such a difference.

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Respect is deserved for the Plymouth/Chrysler Prowler.

An early blog for a non-apocalyptic apocalypse, for those who may be bummed they have a bunch of canned food they now have to go through.  Enjoy!

Prowler Concept

When I was a child, I saw an ad with an unmarked model.  Not realizing what a “Plymouth” was, the other cars in the ad weren’t in my automotive diction.  Thus, I embarked on the search for the Chip Foose penned body.

At that time, the Prowler wasn’t even in production yet, and I was maybe in second grade.  Also around this time, I started looking under vehicles to see if they were front, rear, or all-wheel/four-wheel drive because my father and oldest brother showed me what to look for.  That helped me recognize cars like the Mitsubishi Eclipse and Dodge Dakota—but there was still so much to learn.

By 1996, the internet became a reality for my family, and when I had the chance to look at car-maker websites, I could look at pictures and get to know them.  All that stuff about transmissions and engines was still beyond me—does a V12 mean it has twelve valves?  What’s a cylinder?  What’s a valve?  That took freshman year in autoshop to learn, but back to the story.

In came the Supercars.net website, loaded with many exotic and obscure machines.  Alongside the internet, my brother (the middle of us the three sons) sported a Playstation on his side of our shared room (though divided by a wall).  He had Madden and MLB games, and I had Test Drive 5.

After learning all those hundreds or thousands of names and stats from Supercars.net, I finally tracked down my mystery car was the Prowler.  Those massive 20” wheels in the back, the smoothly-sculpted rear end, and some really weird looking metal thing going on under the back—it was all so exciting!

Production Prowler; later becoming Chrysler Prowler when Plymouth met its demise in 2001.


Fast forward to learning it was a mere 250hp, and not paying up the hot-rod bill the body racked up, many hated it instantly.  But the power (not even the handling) isn’t what I like—it’s the fact they even did it to begin with.  The Prowler was taken from a halo-car concept and turned into a reality.  Not just that, but it still possessed great engineering for what Chrysler Corporation was usually known for.

The body and chassis is littered with aluminum (according to Edmunds Insideline, close to two-thirds of the car) keeping the weight down under 2,900lbs, the suspension was (as far as I can tell) similar to that used on formula race cars, and the weight distribution was a damned-near 50/50 front and rear thanks to a rear mounted transaxle (like the Corvette, many Ferrari’s, and Alfa Romeo’s of the past, among others).  Yes the powertrain—both engine and transaxle—was sourced from the front-wheel drive Chrysler LH-cars (Intrepid, Concorde, 300M), but even that platform of cars was capable of being rear-wheel drive because that’s how they were designed.  Sadly that never got past the testing stages, but water under the bridge.  The Prowler took the potential and made it happen.

Performance wise, the numbers posted were great for the late 1990’s with 0-60 reaching as low as 6.3 seconds (with some claims even faster at 5.7 seconds).  Considering for an automatic-only car with super-fat rear tires, that was an impressive feat when looking back.  Seriously, the rear tires of the Prowler were among the largest ever placed on a vehicle, though not the widest (the 295mm wide rears are actually somewhat modest by todays standards).  Those 20” rims were unheard of on production cars, as even Ferrari didn’t pass 18” at the time (Prowler wore 18’s in front).

Prowler engine bay and suspension.

Another thing to remember, the Prowler didn’t always house 250 horses—the early model was a mere 215, and would still do 0-60 in a respectable 7.1 seconds, per Motor Trend.  I’d like to see a similarly-weighted Subaru BRZ with its fancy six-speed automatic match that (lower 200hp be damned).  They also pulled .9g on the skidpad test—again, acceptable against even todays standards.

Custom Prowler that parked next to Pheobe, my Echo, back in 2009.

There are plenty of bad things to say about it, though.  The Prowler may have pulled .9g on the skidpad (sustained turn left or right).  However, the transition of swerving was a mere 62.5mph in that test.  To put that into perspective, my Toyota Echo could slalom faster (heavier, well equipped Echo sedans slalomed 62.9mph, and held the skidpad at .79g).  I say mine could do a little better because as parenthetically mentioned, it’s lighter, but moreover has 10mm wider tires and upgraded KYB shocks that the tested Echo lacked.  What’s more, the base Echoes that lacked folding rear-seats had additional V-bracing… negligible, perhaps; still possible all that can improve such a light car.

Toyota Echo V-brace with Pheobe in Superleggera mode. Mmm, exciting.

Back to the Prowler downfalls, since comparing a beat-up econobox is unfair and childish.  The trunk of the modern hot-rod was minimal.  In fact, with the roof down and tucked in back, the 1cuft cubby was gone.  If you ever see a Prowler with matching trailer, that’s why.  Add in that it had a very high belt-line, visibility was a challenge for those days (though the current Camaro Coupe gives a good run for its money).

Optional matching trailer.

Looking not far from the Prowler, the other car Chrysler brought out from being a concept was the Viper.  Of course the Viper was a V10 powered coupe or convertible, six-speed only, crudely put together out of more simple cast-iron and fiberglass.  There was less theater than the Prowler had.  To use the ricer mentality of horsepower-per liter (a size versus output ratio), technically the 250hp Prowlers were putting out more with their 3.5L V6 than the 8.0L V10 Viper’s 450hp of the same period.  Plymouth: 71hp/L and Dodge: 56hp/L.  Don’t even bring up torque—the Prowler still sits at 71ftlbs/L while Viper is 58ftlbs/L.  Yes the Viper will still walk all over it, but it’s not nearly as comfortable or well equipped doing it.

Dodge Viper GTS

Dodge Viper RT/10

With a blog named Manually Shifter Soul, you’d think I’d be rooting for the snake and not the cat, but as you might have noticed, I dig an underdog just as much as three pedals.  The Viper is still a far better drivers car, and I’d love to have one because it’s what I tend to celebrate in a car: a simplicity in how it operates for the sake of driving it.  The Viper took forever to gain things like ABS and only recently received stability control in 2013.  But it doesn’t appeal to me as a driver, either, because it’s always seemed to be a car that needs to be tamed, rather than one that wants to work with the driver.  Not to mention, there will never be another Prowler.  With pedestrian safety standards today, the closest things you can buy to it are kit-cars like the Ariel Atom and Lotus 7 knock-offs.

The Prowler doesn’t even want to be pushed hard, and I’m fine with that.  I could live with that V6 exhaust note and excruciatingly tall-geared four-speed automatic because that’s the best car that engine was ever put in.  What, the Dodge Charger, Magnum, and Challenger?  Those weighed a good 1,000lbs more—the Challenger and Magnum in particular can struggle to run next to a Grand Caravan.  The Prowler, then, did have the go with the show.  And did I mention the Prowler has held its value better than the Viper?

Image Sources:
Prowler Concept
Prowler front
Prowler rear
Prowler engine
Prowler trailer
Viper pictures

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Rebadge Round: SLK or Crossfire? Either?

Platform sharing can often be under-done in the automotive world.  For those who don’t understand what this means, think of it like a template: take the formula and make what you want of it.  Half-baked versions of this are thinly veiled as “superior” models in a range, such as the famously derided Cadillac Cimarron was a tarted-up Chevrolet Cavalier.  On the import front, the Toyota Camry and Lexus ES are often very closely styled (although for the 2013 model year the ES350 platform moved to the Camrys big brother, Avalon).  Try not to get lost; there is a point to this.  It may even become a theme.

Platform sharing makes for more choices in what would otherwise be a more limited market.  The Dodge Nitro is an urbanized version of a Jeep Liberty (which have both since been discarded from the Chrysler Corporation gene pool, or close to it).  Likewise the Dodge Durango is the seven-seating Jeep Grand Cherokee that can have a sporty RT package with a 5.7L Hemi, while the Jeep in turn is either a more capable off-roader or a racetrack-ripping 6.4L Hemi snorting SRT8 version that puts the Durango RT to shame.  But there are all those different choices—the Durango with two engines, a choice of rear or all-wheel drive, and four trim level to choose from.  The Jeep follows suit with rear-wheel drive, but offers a more rock-crawling friendly 4×4 version throughout the line.  The number of trims of the Jeep is a whopping nine (if you include special editions like the SRT8 “Vapor”).  Think of it like soda concoctions like Coke Lime and Vanilla Coke—it’s Coca Cola of a different flavor.

While Chrysler was combining forces with Mercedes from the late-1990’s to late-2000’s, there were two cars that shared the same general formula, but had their different flavors.  Neither are perfect (in fact buying either, expect things to break), but are still of interest compared to… say, a ’97 Malibu.

First comes the Mercedes SLK 320 Sport.  Yup, the hard-top convertible that Yale cheerleaders would (I’d imagine) sport a whole lot, and that (upon its arrival in 1997) rebooted the hardtop convertible.    The SLK 320 Sport wasn’t quite as feminine as the four-cylinder, 190hp model that the SLK had been when it started production in 1998.  Instead there was a 215hp 3.2L V6 connected to either a five-speed automatic, or a six-speed manual—amen.  Given it has to have the sport package, it was a decent vehicle to drive (according to reviews).  Not the sharpest of sports cars, but capable.

Next was the Chrysler Crossfire, which was sharing a lot of Mercedes underneath and even a sprinkling on top.  The exterior was sleek… at least until one got to just behind the door and it turned into what is best described as “tree-frog butt.”  The roof came to an awful tapered arch at the rear (the back), with two large fenders sticking out either side (the thighs).  Otherwise the front end wa— is—a thing of beauty for a company with such otherwise poor products of the same period.  Inside was a different story.  The interior from the vents down was a direct theft of Mercedes’ plastic molds, then done cheaply and spray painted silver.  It came standard with the SLK320’s V6 and transmissions (thus dodging the four-cylinder altogether), but didn’t have the mix-n-match hardtop-convertible solidity of the Benz (Crossfire was either a fixed roof or a fabric topped convertible).  Another weak spot of the Crossfire was those large wheels.  They were too heavy, and made it feel clunky and over-tired—meaning there was too much rubber for the car, but I suppose it’s the same general idea.

There’s an asterisked third, less thought-of median in the not-so-loved C-Class Coupe.  Asterisk comes from the fact it’s not actually based on the R170 platform the SLK and Crossfire shared, but a shortened W203 C-Class, coded CL203.  The C-Class Coupe was something like a Mercedes C-Class sedan, but as a coupe more like the CLK—and then had the tail cut off like a Doberman Pincher.  This made for a sometimes awkward rear for an odd concoction of a toenail-looking rear spoiler, and a massive amount of tire-to-shoulder metal.  In other words, from the top of the rear wheel-well, to the hip (under the rear window) is one big wall of nothing.  But with that said, of these three cars, that’s the one I’d have.

Alright, yes.  It’s pegged as a girls car by many (as is the SLK).  But it offers up the same V6, manual transmission, and sport suspension of the other two, with the benefit of a useable trunk, a rear seat, and a mix of a coupe-stiffness with a large, retractable sunroof for open-air driving.  The car was only out from 2001 until 2005.  The Crossfire lasted a similar lifespan from 2004 until 2008.  The C-Class Coupe didn’t share the same interior pieces, instead using the newer Mercedes style inside.  Albeit the base models had cloth (even manual) seats in them, the C-Coupe offers up a nice change from the other two that can’t be ignored.

SLK, Crossfire and C-Class Coupe interiors

Image sources:
-SLK front shot originally sourced from http://www.yakez.com/for-sale-detail/Used-Mercedes-SLK320-320-Convertible-auto-with_10798141924714341960.html
SLK rear shot
Crossfire front
Crossfire rear
C-Coupe front
C-Coupe side
C-Coupe roof
-Interior images saved, then stacked onto single file.  Sources found here for SLK, Crossfire, C-Class Coupe.  Not responsible for content on those sites.

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Who says German cars are all cold and soulless?

While the English television hit Top Gear suggests that all German cars seem to lack any passion or style “for the sake of making them;” I find myself in disagreement.  The example isn’t something as recent as the Mercedes AMG Black Series cars, or the same marques outrageously fast G63 AMG brick.  Instead there is BMW.

The BMW Z8 is a car that is an odd, somewhat pointless creation.  Like the modern BMW M6, the Z8 used the engine of the BMW M5 of the time (the E39)—a car with superior practicality with damned-near the same blistering performance numbers.  Differentiation here is that the Z8 really wasn’t as good as an M6 (that is, had Bimmer made an E39 based 6-Series to begin with).

Likewise, the Z8 was a roadster-only affair while the M6 is always first and foremost a coupe, and might have a convertible version later down the production line for those who cared less about weight addition and rigidity subtraction.  The interior of the Z8 sat two—half the capacity of an M6.  Moreover, the Z8 had far less practical interior adornments, such as the hated center-mounted gauges, salad fork-like steering-wheel spokes, and tiny climate-control switchgear that blended far too much with the glaring-silver upper dash.  All this style-based inconvenience would set a buyer back some $130,000—the M5 took a check of $68,000 to own.  The Z8 elicited such technologies as stability control, tire pressure monitoring, and electronic brake-force distribution.

Interior of the Z8

Something missing here, though, is the realization that the Z8 wasn’t really supposed to be a factory hot-rod or track car.  It was a fast luxury cruiser.  The entire monocoque was made of aluminum, as was most of the suspension.  The engine was mounted ahead of the windshield, but far enough back to make it mid-engined for 50/50 weight distribution.  The lighting was mostly piping, from the tail-lamps and turn signals, to the side-grille where it’s actually a cleverly hidden touch resembling a simple stream of metal.  The engineering was there, yes, but it wasn’t for speed so much as evocative touches.

Hidden Z8 side lamp

What makes the Z8 special is that it was the Germans letting their hair down.  It’s a machine of romance and not engineering coldness.  I would even argue that this is the coolest BMW one can buy to this day, and might even be cooler than the AMG SLS and countless Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s.  Buying those Italians for passion, speed, sound, and looks is too much of a stereotype these days.  The closest thing to the Z8 today is the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione Spyder—yet another less-than-perfect V8 powered GT that looks and sounds spectacular for the sake of difference.

Image sources:
Z8 Front 3/4
Z8 Rear
Z8 interior
Z8 side-vent light
Novitec Alfa Romeo 8C Spider

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The “Best Honda” of the 21st Century

What is the best Honda of the 21st century?  This is a question based on a company that long had a following of fun and performance for a cheap price, and has a reputation for the import crowd—both good and bad.  For example, say “Honda Civic” and chances are you’ll either picture a JDM-clean Civic coupe, or a badly done project with a crooked spoiler and a body kit more befitting for a lawn mower.

JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) modified Civic

JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) modified Civic

Stereotypically, poor-modified Civic (and this is far from the worst example)

Stereotypically, poor-modified Civic (and this is far from the worst example)

Regardless, Honda has put some good vehicles out over the years for enthusiasts, even though they’ve been declining for the style and excitement they once had.  Such eye-opening examples of great Honda’s of recent years could include the Ayrton Senna-tuned NSX, or the S2000—both of which were sold in the 2000’s.  However, they were engineered in the 1990’s, thus blocking them from being the best Honda’s of the 21st century thus far.

Early Honda NSX

Early Honda NSX

Honda S2000

Honda S2000

Late-model NSX
Late-model NSX
2006 Civic Si

2006 Civic Si

The 2006 Honda Civic Si coupe is still a good (if buzzy) machine if you’re young and willing to still have the boy-racer stigma, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  But for the more mature driver—say, one who would have an Acura, but can’t quite find one at the right price or equipment level—there’s a commonly overlooked and rare option:  the Accord.

2004 Acura TL

2004 Acura TL

2003 Acura TL Type-S

2003 Acura TL Type-S

The Accord?  That old, boring family car?  Why yes.  Specifically of the 2005-2006 era, equipped with the V6, four doors, and a six-speed manual transmission.  This oft forgotten gem is a bridge between the well-aged 2004-2008 Acura TL, and the old ’99-2003 TL.  It offers a 244hp V6 which again straddles the two cars in power (225 for the old, 258 in the new), and offers a six speed manual that the older TL’s were never graced with.

2006 Honda Accord V6 Sedan

2006 Honda Accord V6 Sedan

Armed with nothing more than a “V6” badge in red as opposed to black surrounded by a chrome square, the Accord 6-6 (as owners call them, for the V6/six-speed combo) becomes a better sleeper than the TL counterparts, Camry SE’s, and Altima SE-R’s (the latter two taking more “aggressive” styling).  There’s nothing loud about the styling of the Accord 6-6.  It even borrows the 2003 TL Type-S alloy wheels.

The 6-6 may not be the screaming track machine the S2000 was, or the ‘80’s Kid poster child from Gran Turismo stardom, or even the quick-selling Civic Si, but the Accord 6-6 sedan showed the world that Honda could still offer something most other manufacturers at the time wouldn’t, and did so in a practical, comfortable, and still-fun way.

*As a side note, this was originally written before the 2013 Honda Accord had really been seen in anything but spy-shots.  As it turns out, the new four-cylinder Accord Sport also offers a six-speed manual transmission in the sedan.  It also turns out to be quite a rocket, with a 0-60 in around 6.7 seconds.  That’s in tune with turbo-charged cars in the midsized class it competes in, and the Accord lacks the turbo doing so.  What’s more, one can still opt for a V6 (albeit only as an automatic) that will lop even more time off in acceleration.  I’ve personally driven the new Accord four-cylinder, and can say that compared to the 2013 models of Camry, Sonata, and Altima among it in the same base trim, the Accord came across as the best driver.  The new Accord also has me smitten every time I see one pass by on the road—I can’t help but like it, regardless of the unanimous-among-friends agreement that the tail is a Hyundai Genesis copy.  It’s a cleanly styled, if conservative midsizer that holds its own quite well.  I’d still have the old Accord 6-6 for quirk value, though.

2013 Accord Sport

2013 Accord Sport

Image sources:
JDM Civic
Stereotypical Civic
Early NSX
Late-model NSX
2004 Acura TL
2003 Acura TL  Type-S
2006 Honda Accord
2013 Accord Sport

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