What makes a car great? Does it need to have a striking and intimidating shape? Is it all about performance metrics and engine output? Brand image and curb appeal? Today, I’ll cover my opinion on what exactly makes a car special, and it may or may not resonate with you.
Emotion Trumps Everything
What makes a car an emotional experience? For me it’s a combination of a lot of different things, a performance engine, a slick manual transmission, and a decent interior are some important places to start. A perfect example of this would be the 997 Porsche 911 Carrera S, packing a 3.8 liter flat six engine with 355 horsepower. Zero to sixty sprints occur in under five seconds, and can be controlled through one of the best six speed manual transmissions ever assembled. Ultra precise steering, world class brakes, and a simple yet elegant interior design make the 911 so much more than a sports car. The exterior design is timeless, instantly recognizable and absolutely gorgeous. There really isn’t a bad line on the car, and I’d venture to say that the Carrera S is one of the best cars you could ever hope to own.
I’d also like to make a serious case for the BMW 135i, featuring the loved and famed N54 twin turbocharged 3 liter inline six engine. The 135i is a back to basics approach with a 3,300 pound curb weight and 300 turbocharged horsepower quickly on tap. I remember my first drive in a 135i, it was an Alpine white six speed manual M sport model, and it was instantly a favorite. The minimalist interior was exactly what I’d like in my weekend sports car, super supportive seats and just the most necessary gauges and nothing that really doesn’t need to be there. The manual transmission was pretty good, albeit a bit rubbery in feeling. Nonetheless, the 135i clawed confidently through corners, and always had the correct amount of torque to pull me up to speed when the powerful brakes had halted me. What counted here was the fact that the 135i always put a smile on my face, and that’s all I ever needed it to do.
Just the other day, my childhood best friend and sidekick Nathan had taken me for a ride in his new 1990 Eagle Talon TSi. The car is rigged to shit, and he paid $1000 for it from a Craigslist ad. We had worked for a few weekends to get it right, and we took it for the first drive on Saturday, roughly 35 miles round trip. The Talon is mostly stock, it has a 16g turbo with a nice exhaust and a front mount intercooler system. It’s not fast, but it’s certainly not a slow car. With that being said, that was easily one of the funnest trips I’ve went on in a while, we were just two car crazed friends enjoying an old DSM and listening to the massive Tial blow off valve.
After multiple trips in the Talon this weekend, it really got me thinking about what matters when it comes to great cars. Here we were in a 225-260 horsepower Talon, and we were just looking for reasons to drive it, and there wasn’t a single second this weekend where we weren’t smiling like two idiots. The Talon makes all the right noises and just does all the right things. Sometimes, that’s all you really need as a car enthusiast. Sure, Nathan owns a 485 horsepower Dodge Challenger that sits on drag radials, but I couldn’t help but find myself enjoying the non air conditioned DSM even more.
This brings me to a car I had driven Monday, a Nitrous Blue Ford Focus RS. The RS really needs no introduction, it’s an all wheel drive lunatic with 350 horsepower, a 3,400 pound curb weight, and a serious attitude problem. The exterior appearance is unapologetic, aggressive, and perfectly executed. The interior isn’t luxurious, but it doesn’t need to be. There’s a tachometer, speedometer, boost gauge, a nicely designed steering wheel and world class Recaro seats, that’s pretty much all somebody like myself cares about. The manual transmission and all wheel drive system are beyond great, traction is always there and shifts are very easy to execute. The RS has a very mean exhaust note, it’s always reminding you that you paid more for the RS and you make good decisions.
Steering was quite possibly on par with some of the exotics I’ve driven, move the wheel even slightly and the RS is ready to go EXACTLY where you told it to. This isn’t a car you’ll drive one handed or drive while texting. It’s also not blistering fast either. I’ve driven quite a few cars that would easily show the Focus RS some tail lights. In fact, it was a little on the slow side for the level of power in my opinion. The Lancer Evolution 8 had 276 horsepower and definitely runs faster numbers in stock to stock comparison. With that being said, I don’t care. The Focus RS is perfect to me. $36,000, horrendous ride quality, a slightly cheap interior, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The RS isn’t pretentious whatsoever, it is loud, in your face and it’s not ashamed of what it is.
I drove the Focus for roughly half an hour, and during no point did I ever feel like I was driving a Ford Focus. After my time was up, I didn’t want to give the keys up, it’s been a long time since I’ve felt that way about a newer car. If you’re depressed, upset or stressed out, go buy a Focus RS and I can assure you that’ll quickly change.
Again, performance metrics aren’t everything, reliability isn’t everything, and luxury isn’t everything. You buy a car because it’s a reflection of you, and because it makes a statement about you. Being a car enthusiast is the best lifestyle in the world, and your car should speak volumes about the type of person you are.
Cars like the Porsche 997, BMW 135i, Eagle Talon and Ford Focus RS are perfect because they’re heavily flawed in the right ways. It’s quite paradoxical, but it’s exactly how I see it. If I have a daily driver, I want air conditioning, navigation and satellite radio. Those luxuries are extremely important in a car I’m going to take big trips in and use it in that fashion. When I go to buy my weekend car, it needs to be a purchase that grabs at my heartstrings. If driving your sports car reminds you of your basic daily driver, you chose wrong.
A sports car should be an occasion, something you look forward to. You had a long twelve hour day at the office, and you take the long way home. You’ve had a bad day, and you go drive your car and cannot stop smiling, that’s the ticket. Every swipe of the shift lever, every kick of the clutch, and every blip of the throttle extracts a silly grin. You park your car to go into work and you turn around and snap three pictures of it, because you truly admire your purchase that much.
Nurburgring times, zero to sixty times, none of that carries serious weight for me. Any car can be fast, and fast is subjective anyways. Buy a car because it makes zero sense, because it has quirks you can’t live without, and most importantly, because you can’t live without it.