Love is a strong word. Originally, when writing this article I wanted to title it “Cars That I Like” but I thought back to a business coach of mine who once asked me to tell him about the parts of my job I enjoyed. When I said “I LOVE x” his eyes lit up and he said “There. That. Love. That is a strong word. Do more of that.” And you know what, he’s right – love is a strong word. Love implies that I want more of that. Here’s what I want more of.
AP1, AP2, 2 liter, 2.2 liter, cable throttle, drive by wire – I don’t fucking care. Every single one of these cars ever made is fantastic. I know it’s cliche but this car is like driving a motorcycle. You hear a lot of complaints about VTEC, but honestly, this motor is plenty torquey, especially with the way it is geared, and it really rips in the VTEC range. Coupled to a stiff, lightweight chassis and you’ve got a recipe for awesome.
Let’s not forget that in addition to a fantastic chassis and amazing engine, you have a beautiful, timeless and classic exterior coupled with the fun of top down motoring. Perfection. Why’d they kill the car off? Because the average American consumer is an idiotic philistine – why do you think the Dodge Challenger sells in any numbers at all?
Following the simple recipe for pleasing me, we have two cars that are very well balanced, very light-weight, and near perfect. Now, I will complain – the engine on these cars is a total let down. Around town it is just a dog and there’s a big fat flat spot in power right in the middle of the powerband. Toyota could have put something similar to the F20/22 in the S2000 or the 2ZZ-GE in the Elise – with a nice switchover and lots of top end power. Instead, they let Subaru design the motor and what you got is essentially a tractor engine that sounds like its farting down the road.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about what’s good. Feedback and steering feel. Communication. Playfulness. Grip is actually not that high, especially in stock form – which makes them more fun. While these cars completely suck on the street, once you get them out on the track or at the autocross they come alive and you “get it.” You can’t understand them without pushing them to these limits. But once you start to understand them and realize what it is that Toyota actually did hear, your cold, dead heart begins to grow two sizes too big.
I know it’s been said, but really, these cars are special. They are just amazingly well sorted, well balanced, and well screwed together. I’ve owned a fair number of them and had the privilege of driving a ton of them. It isn’t shocking to see this car on the list. It also shouldn’t be shocking to hear me say that they’re better than the 911.
The biggest problem, as we all know, is that for years Porsche refused to give these cars the balls they deserved. Now, with the new Boxster Spyder and Cayman GT4, Porsche has decided to listen to customers and give them the power they deserved. Porsche did this before in the 80s (with the 944 turbo, which outperformed the 911 of its era) and the results were spectacular, as they are again. With their shift to 100% turbo power, I can’t wait to see how these cars wind up.
Simplify and add lightness. Are you listening? This is hands down the easiest way to improve performance. Sure, more power will make you faster in a straight line, but less weight will make you faster everywhere. It’s demonstrated to perfect here. The Elise weighs under 2,000 lbs.
Lotus gives you a high-revving, charismatic engine built by a reliable Japanese manufacturer and mates it to a super stiff, lightweight chassis tuned by the experts in Hethel. The results are quite possibly one of the best cars of all time. Throw in a blower and some aero and you’ve got the Exige. And now they’ve grown a pair and stuck the supercharged V6 from the Evora into it . . . .
Remember how I said the Cayman and Boxster were better than the 911? They are. But the GT3 isn’t a 911. The GT3 is perfection. You see, the standard 911 is rather soft and floppy, and it isn’t until you add the M030 sport suspension (or X73, or whatever the hell they call it these days) before it starts to get rather good. But even so, the company refuses to give the lesser 911s the good stuff like the ability to adjust front camber, dry sump oiling, limited slip differentials, or engines that won’t commit suicide (disclaimer – at this time of this writing I’ve owned 4 cars with the M96 engine and none of them blew up).
What we have with the GT3 is a car that will do 155 mph down the back straight at Watkins Glen one day while comfortably taking you to Trader Joe’s for groceries the next day. It is light, it is powerful, it is well appointed – yet it is ferocious and ready for hard driving. If Porsche has to build 1,000,000 Panorama monstrosities to afford building this car, I’m ok with that.
The Mazda RX8 is a real gem. Often overshadowed by its contemporaries – the faster, lighter S2000 or the more powerful (yet slower everywhere but in a straight line) 350Z, the RX8 was still a fantastic vehicle. Ignore the fact that it had four real doors, room for adults in the back, and a trunk that could store at least one dead hooker (ok, one dead Asian hooker) – the car had everything that I could ask for.
Light, agile, stiff, revvy – all of the things I love. Could it have used more power? Absolutely. But to be honest I autocrossed one for over a year and at no point on course was I ever clamoring for more power, such was the speed one could maintain through the corners. This was Mazda at its very best and I cross my fingers that the rumors of employees staying late and disobeying orders to continue work on the rotary engine are true.
I’m sure at this point you’ve noticed a theme. Light, rear wheel drive. Proper. What do I want to see more of? Light, rear wheel drive cars (that are also affordable!).
Right now, there’s hope. Two car companies are listening to people like me (i.e. – people with taste).
This ugly little mutant checks all the boxes for me. Small displacement turbo motor, sub 2,200 lbs, and around $20,000. That’s everything I want. Are you listening Mazda, with your $32,820 Miata?
Yamaha Sport Ride
The Yamaha Sport Ride concept is exactly what I’m looking for. 750kg (that’s 1,650 lbs for you backwards hillbillies) and allegedly powered by one of Yamaha’s larger displacement motorcycle engines. This thing needs to be a reality today.