Ultimate Beach Bum Vehicles

VW T2 Van picture

With Memorial Day on the horizon and summer soon to follow, our resident Gearhead dishes on his favorite beach bum rides. 

When I start talking about cars, it usually isn’t long before I’m quoting zero-to-60 times, horsepower numbers and all that stuff. I’m just an old speed freak, you know? It’s in my blood. Can’t help myself.

But today I want to talk about a type of car that’s all the way on the other end of the spectrum.

It doesn’t even have an official name, so let’s just call it the Beach Bum Mobile.

I know that sounds vague, but you know one when you see one. First and foremost, it’s got to have room for a mattress in back, if not a full-on bed. Rear windows are optional, though a nice round porthole job with a curtain is a classy choice. You can live out of a Beach Bum Mobile if you need to, but you can also just keep it in the driveway for the occasional trip through the countryside, stopping where you please.

Got the picture? Like I said, we all know one when we see one. Now let’s look at a few of the ultimate Beach Bum Mobiles, from my childhood in the ’50s and ’60s to the present.

VW T2 van photoVolkswagen Bus

This is arguably where it all started. Technically known as the Volkswagen Type 2 (it was VW’s second car, after the Beetle), the “Bus” goes all the way back to the ’50s. Soon after showing up in the U.S., it became a fixture on the beaches of both coasts, showing a particular affinity for the laid-back Southern California lifestyle. You could get it as a passenger van or a panel van — the pickup version is a separate story — and folks quickly got creative, coming up with all sorts of camper-type variants. The rear-mounted, air-cooled boxer four-cylinder barely made enough power to get the Bus up a hill, but it was also incredibly easy to wrench on. This van is a legend; if you ask me, it’s still the best Beach Bum Mobile of all time.

Toyota Previa photo

Photo credit: Mr. Choppers

Modern Minivans

They may not have the character of a VW Bus, but modern minivans are perfect for Beach Bum duty. You can usually fold the rear seats down or remove them entirely, and there’s plenty of room in there for an air mattress. Plus, minivans get better fuel economy than those full-size vans with their thirsty V8 engines.

If you’re strapped for cash, as beach bums tend to be, you can set your sights on aging workhorses like the Nissan Quest from the ’90s, or even an original Dodge Caravan from the ’80s. My personal favorite is the Toyota Previa, which rocked out in the ’90s with its supercharged engine and available all-wheel drive. If you’ve got a little more scratch, early versions of the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna make for great pre-owned options.

2014 Mercedes-Benz Freightliner Sprinter Van photoMercedes-Benz Sprinter

Let’s say you’re a beach bum in spirit, but your bank account says otherwise. Cost no object, there’s one current Beach Bum Mobile on the market that would earn my vote, and it’s a stoic German van called the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. To me, this is today’s equivalent of the VW Bus, albeit with a starting price in the $40,000 range. Powered by a torque-rich turbodiesel V6 that’s reportedly capable of 30 mpg on the highway, it’s offered in passenger and cargo versions, and the aftermarket is full of awesome conversion options, from pop-top camper roofs to full off-road kits with massive tires. The styling is so anonymous that it’ll never be an icon like the Bus, but it certainly has everything the well-heeled beach bum could ask for.

What’s Your Beach Bum Story?

Have you spent any time in a Beach Bum Mobile? Tell us all about it in the comments.

Editor’s note: Beach bum or garage guru, Advance Auto Parts is here to help with a wide selection of auto parts and tools for most all projects. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

Crucial Cars: Dodge Charger

Dodge Charger red picture

From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

In this installment, our man Gearhead digs deep into one of the baddest muscle cars in the land: the mighty Dodge Charger.

Calling the Dodge Charger a Crucial Car is kind of like calling asphalt black.

It pretty much goes without saying.

You’d be hard-pressed to find another model through the years that’s been as meaningful to enthusiasts as the Charger. In the ’60s and early ’70s, it was a king-of-the-hill muscle car that young men (including yours truly) fantasized about owning. In the ’80s, it was reborn as a sporty front-wheel-drive hatchback. All the while, the Charger name stayed relevant for folks who loved to drive.

But as the politicians like to say, I’m here today to focus on the present. Since 2006, the Charger has gotten back to its muscle-car roots, with one exception: it’s got four doors instead of two. Let’s take a few minutes and appreciate what the modern Charger has accomplished.

Dodge Charger 2 photoHemi V8 Power

From the get-go, the four-door Charger has been available with a brawny 5.7-liter Hemi V8. Now, does it truly have a hemispherical combustion chamber like Chrysler’s so-called “Elephant Engine,” the monstrous 426 Hemi from the ’60s? Some say no, because the chamber’s too shallow. But when an engine hauls this much you-know-what, who cares? Initially rated at 340 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque, the 5.7-liter Hemi has seen various improvements since, with output now creeping toward 380 hp and 400 lb-ft. But the basic design remains remarkably true to the original Hemis from my childhood, and if you ask me, that’s pretty doggone cool.

Of course, the modern Charger offers other Hemis, too — and by “other,” I mean bigger and better. There’s the Charger Hellcat’s supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi, of course, which makes an insane 707 hp. But that’s not the one I want, believe it or not. I want the 6.4-liter Hemi, naturally aspirated, with 485 hp and 475 lb-ft. It sounds like NASCAR when you’re on the throttle, and if you get the Charger Scat Pack model, you can have all that motor for a shade over $40 grand.

Luxury-Car Credentials

Underneath, the current Charger dates back to the ill-fated Daimler-Chrysler merger, which is actually a very good thing for Dodge. Basically, Mercedes shared its midsize sedan platforms and suspension technology with Chrysler, and the Charger’s still using that Benz know-how on the road today. Listen, don’t knock it just because it’s not the latest and greatest; Mercedes has been building tank-like sedans for decades, and that’s exactly what the Charger feels like from behind the wheel. It’s large, it’s hunkered-down, and it’s unflappable at any speed. Bottom line, it’s a luxury car in disguise, and that even goes for the ambient noise at speed — it’s almost nonexistent.

Aftermarket Support From the FactoryDodge Charger 3 photo

One of the great things about Dodge performance cars is that they’re backed by a factory-certified speed shop. Mopar is the name, and personalizing your Charger is what they’re all about. I’m talking about big wheels, slammed suspensions, audio upgrades, you name it. They’ll even help you squeeze some more power out of that Hemi if you want, and they’ll certainly hook you up with an awesome exhaust system to make it sing. If you’re a Charger fan, the stock specification is just a starting point for your creativity, and Dodge knows it.

Tell Us Your Charger Story

Have you owned or driven a modern Charger (2006 – present)? Leave your impressions of this four-door muscle car in the comments.

Editor’s note: Whether your drive a muscle car or a mini van, Advance Auto Parts has the parts and tools you need to keep it running right. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

Top 5 Car Engines Shared Between Models

Our man Gearhead talks through his top interchange engines.

If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to light an enthusiast’s hair on fire, it’s a purpose-built engine that doesn’t appear in any other car.

Car guys like me will geek out for hours about the Porsche Carrera GT’s 5.7-liter V10, for example, or any number of air-cooled Porsche 911 engines. Lamborghini’s distinguished line of V12s also comes to mind. If you know cars, you’re no doubt thinking of other candidates, too.

But there’s a flip side to that coin. Just because an engine is shared between multiple models doesn’t mean it’s a dud. In fact, some of the greatest engines ever have enjoyed multiple applications, because if something’s that great, why not spread the love around?

With that in mind, I racked my brain — or what’s left of it at this point — and came up with my personal Top 5 engines that have known more than one master. There are a lot of illustrious motors out there fitting that description, so it wasn’t easy to whittle ’em down. Check it out and tell me what you think.

Dodge Viper engine 8.0-liter V10 pictureDodge Viper V10

When Dodge brought out the Viper exotic sports car back in the early ’90s, they needed something that would shock the world. The radical styling was almost enough in itself, but the engineering team chipped in with an 8.0-liter V10 that made an even 400 horsepower — heady output for the day. Never mind that it sounded like a UPS truck; the Viper V10 was the stuff of dreams, and it helped make the car a legend virtually overnight.

Since then, the V10 has gone through a few iterations, now displacing 8.4 liters and pumping out a just-plain-silly 640 horsepower at last count. But that’s not all; it has also been borrowed by two other vehicles for limited-production use. The first, Dodge’s gonzo Ram SRT-10 full-size pickup truck, used an 8.3-liter version of the massive motor that was good for a truck-record 154 mph. The second, the Bristol Fighter, was an exotic British sports car that reportedly sold just 13 copies.

BMW S54 Inline-6 engine pictureBMW S54 Inline-6

So many great straight-sixes have come out of BMW’s factories over the years, but for my money, the 3.2-liter S54 is the greatest of them all. It debuted in 2001, appearing simultaneously in the E46 M3 and the Z3 M Roadster and Coupe. The S54 was limited to 315 hp in the latter pair, but it cranked out a full 333 hp in the M3.

With a sky-high fuel cutoff at 8,400 rpm, this engine loved to rev, yet it also had muscular midrange response that always felt like enough. The sound was nearly as thrilling, a metallic banshee wail that got more and more frantic as redline approached.

BMW gave the S54 new life when the 330-hp Z4 M Roadster and Coupe debuted in 2006, but it was brief, as both models bid adieu in 2008. Even today, I still cruise the classifieds looking for all of the above models. It’s on my engine bucket list, for sure.

Chevrolet LS7 V8 engine pictureChevrolet LS7 V8

When the C6 Corvette Z06 bowed for the 2006 model year, it came with a great big surprise under the hood. Displacing a full 7.0 liters, the LS7 was the biggest small-block V8 that GM had ever installed in a factory model. Unlike most small-blocks, the LS7 had an affinity for redline, making it ferociously fun when driven to its full potential. The noises were sublime, and 60 mph was yours in less than 4 seconds via the 6-speed manual transmission — no automatic was offered.

Now that the C7 Corvette Z06 has come out with its supercharged 6.2-liter V8, it looks like forced induction will carry the day going forward. But if you’re like me, you know there’s no replacement for displacement. Plain and simple, the LS7 is the best small-block V8 there ever was.

Thankfully, the C6 Z06 team wasn’t a selfish bunch. The LS7 has turned up in all kinds of places since it appeared, including the Corvette 427 Convertible (basically a Z06 drop-top), the Chevrolet Camaro Z/28, the Hennessey Venom GT supercar and even a helicopter.

Mercedes-Benz M156 V8 engine pictureMercedes-Benz M156 V8

If you don’t think Mercedes-Benz and NASCAR belong in the same sentence, you haven’t driven one of the cars from the “AMG 63″ series. Ranging from approximately 450 to 580 hp, and technically displacing 6.2 liters, the M156 V8 was the first engine to be developed from start to finish by the performance wizards at AMG. You can certainly feel that hand-built touch. There’s endless thrust throughout the operating range, and the sound is astonishing — like a Detroit muscle car with impeccable manners. It’s impossibly well-behaved for such a beastly engine, but those noises betray its animal nature. Pity that Mercedes never saw fit to pair it with a manual transmission; otherwise, the M156 is a perfect 10.

What’s particularly awesome about the M156 is that it was made available across most of the Mercedes lineup, from the humble C-Class to the exotic SLS AMG sports car. Turbocharged V8s have since taken its place, but only recently, so there are plenty of low-mileage used M156 cars out there for the taking.

Volkswagen Golf 2.0T Inline-4 engine pictureVolkswagen/Audi 2.0T Inline-4

You don’t always need huge horsepower to have a good time. It took me decades to realize that, and the VW/Audi “2.0T” turbocharged 4-cylinder engine helped me see the light. There are actually a bunch of slightly different engines that fall under this heading, but you know what I’m talking about, right? Volkswagen has been putting a 2.0T in the GTI for about a decade, to take one example, and Audi offers a similar 2.0T in seemingly everything it makes. Whatever the setting, this engine serves up an amazing blend of refinement, fuel economy and smooth, spirited acceleration.

If there’s a better all-around engine that you can have brand-new in the $25,000 price bracket or thereabouts, I haven’t met it.

What’d I Forget?

A lot, I’m sure. My wife’s sure, too. Did any of your favorites get unfairly excluded? Let’s have it out in the comments.

 

Editor’s note: Keep your engine running right with parts, tools and accessories from Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

Quick Spin: 2015 Hyundai Sonata

2015 Hyundai Sonata pictureRead our exclusive review of this latest model.

If you’ve read any of my columns, you’re probably aware that I’m a muscle car guy. A horsepower guy. Big numbers, fast times. You get the idea.

But I’m also a man who likes to give credit where credit’s due.

When the Hyundai Sonata was redesigned for the 2010 model year, everyone wanted to crown it king, but I had my reservations. Where others saw a revolutionary exterior with ultra-sleek styling, I saw some overwrought lines that were bound to age poorly. And amid all the noise about its futuristic interior with a Volvo-inspired “mode man” for the climate vents, I wondered why no one mentioned that mode man’s head didn’t even work.

Sheesh.

But now there’s a new model — the 2015 Hyundai Sonata — and this one’s got my attention. I still say the critics were too eager to embrace the previous model, but this latest effort is the real deal.

Here are three reasons why.

  1. It Looks Like Money

I saw a 2015 Sonata on the road the other day, and this rarely happens to me, but I really didn’t know what it was. Maybe a new Genesis, Hyundai’s full-on executive sedan? Or some other premium car that just hit the market? Nope — it was a Sonata. You know, the one that competes with Camrys and Accords. And with its LED headlight accents, crisp new contours (none of that swoopy stuff from the previous model) and strong trapezoidal grille, it was a revelation.

When you see a new Sonata in the flesh, I think you’ll agree that it just looks like money. It’s a car that would look good in any driveway; there’s nothing about it that says, “I settled for less.”

It’s a downright handsome automobile.

  1. It Drives Like a Luxury Car

Behind the 2015 Sonata’s wheel, I truly am reminded of the Genesis, which starts at about $40,000 but looks and feels like about $60,000. Okay, that’s a bit of an overstatement; if you’re on a mission to find some average-quality plastics in the Sonata’s interior, you’ll eventually come up with a few examples. But by and large, the Sonata comes across as decidedly upscale, from the cohesive flow of its dashboard design to its supple, well-damped underpinnings that keep road noise at bay. The steering’s more responsive than I’m used to in Hyundai products, and there’s a real confidence at higher speeds that belies the Sonata’s bargain pricing.

I’ll tell you something else I like — in well-equipped Sonatas, you get a 4.2-inch color trip computer along with an 8-in touchscreen navigation system, and they both look beautiful. I’m talking high-resolution graphics, smooth transitions between screens, you name it. They thought of everything. This really is Genesis-grade technology, and it puts those Camrys and Accords to shame, no doubt about it. You’ll pay for the privilege, of course, but even a fully loaded Sonata is still a good deal.2015 Hyundai Sonata 2 picture

  1. It’s Still a Great Value

So let’s talk pricing. Looking at Hyundai’s MSRPs for the 2015 Sonata, you can get into one for as little as $21,150 plus destination. That includes stuff like alloy wheels, those LED running lights, power everything, convincing “metalgrain” interior trim and 6-speaker audio with Bluetooth. An enticing Popular Equipment package ($1,150) adds automatic headlights, a rearview camera, a 10-way power driver seat, leatherette door-panel trim and a 5-inch color touchscreen. If you’re a sensible shopper, you could stop right there and be perfectly content for $22,500.

That’s what I call value.

2015 Hyundai Sonata engine pictureBut let’s say you want to go all-out and get the color trip computer and 8-inch touchscreen I mentioned. Say you want the optional turbocharged engine, too, because I sure would. Listen, 245 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque beats 185 and 178 any day, and that’s the difference between the “2.0T” turbo engine and the base, non-turbocharged 2.4.

So let’s zero in on the Sport 2.0T trim level, which incidentally throws in an exclusive flat-bottomed steering wheel, paddle shifters, xenon headlights, quad exhaust tips, a sport-tuned suspension and some other nifty touches. It’s the one I’d recommend if you want to treat yourself. You’ll also need the Tech package ($1,750) to get the upgraded screens, and that package tacks on a premium audio system and an auto-dimming rearview mirror for good measure.

Ready for the total tab?

How’s $30,325 strike you?

I’m ready to rest my case on that one. I’m telling you, I can’t think of a midsize sedan on the market that gives you more for the money.

Like I said, I’m a muscle-car man at heart.2015 Hyundai Sonata dash picture

But if I had to buy a family sedan right now, there’s no question where my hard-earned dollars would be going.

Your Thoughts

What do you all think of the new Sonata? Are you with me in thinking that Hyundai really turned a corner this time? Give me a shout in the comments, let’s hear it.

Editor’s note: Visit Advance Auto Parts for all of the parts and tools needed to maintain your muscle. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

Crucial Cars: Chevrolet Blazer

Chevrolet Blazer pictureFrom timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

In this installment, Ol’ Man Gearhead digs up some dirt on one of his favorite SUV’s—the iconic Chevy Blazer.

When you think about the Chevrolet Blazer, what comes to mind? These days, chances are it’s the Trailblazer, a short-lived SUV from the 2000s chiefly remembered for its quirky 4.2-liter inline-6 engine. Or maybe you’re thinking of the S-10 Blazer, a popular SUV from the ’90s based on Chevy’s compact pickup.

But those aren’t real Blazers.

If you want the real deal, you’ve got to go back in time to the so-called K5 Blazer, which debuted in 1969 as an SUV version of Chevy’s full-size C/K truck. That’s what a Blazer is supposed to be. Chevy calls it the Tahoe now, and there’s not much of that original rough-and-tumble character remaining. But back in the day, the Blazer had attitude like no other SUV on the road.

No-Nonsense Capabilities

If you look around today, it’s genuinely difficult to find a true SUV with body-on-frame construction. The Tahoe’s one of them, but between you and me, it’s tuned more for suburban shopping malls than off-roading. The Blazer, though, was all muscle, all the time. From ’69 until its demise after the 1994 model year (the final chassis actually continued on as the Tahoe through ’99), the Blazer rode atop a short-wheelbase version of GM’s full-size truck platform, and four-wheel drive with low-range gearing was always available. An off-road package added various beefed-up components for even more trail-busting ability. You could even get removable top until ’92, which meant the Blazer was kind of like a full-size Jeep Wrangler. They don’t make SUVs like this anymore, and that’s a shame.

Plenty of Power

The Blazer also came with plenty of motor. Right off the bat, Chevy offered the legendary small-block 5.7-liter V8, and that continued to be the featured engine throughout the Blazer’s run. With ample thrust across the powerband and an exhaust note that announces your presence from blocks away, the small-block is one of the great motors in automotive history. It’s also one of the easiest engines to work on yourself, and that’s one of the charms of owning a Blazer, even today. If you find a used one in decent condition, you can rest easy knowing that any engine work can be done by a decent shade-tree mechanic.Chevy Blazer picture

SUV Functionality

There’s a reason that real enthusiasts like body-on-frame SUVs so much: they’re as tough as the trucks they’re based on, yet the offer the interior accoutrements and passenger space of a wagon. True to form, the K5 Blazer always provided the most luxurious features available on the C/K trucks of the day, and the spacious backseat made it a viable family vehicle. These were do-it-all SUVs that could handle whatever you threw at them — and still can. If you’ve driven a K5 Blazer, you know what I’m talking about. For my money, you still can’t find a cooler all-around SUV than the original Blazer, no matter what era you’re talking about.

Blazer Fan Forum

Let’s hear from you, Blazer fans. You know that SUVs don’t get any better than this. What are your favorite K5 Blazer stories?

Editor’s note: To keep your Blazer and all other vehicles in check, count on Advance Auto Parts for the best in savings and selection. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

Cars of the World: Ireland

St Patricks Day car picture

In this new blog series, our trusty Gearhead explores the cars of his heritage, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day.

 

Everyone knows about the illustrious history of British motorcars — emphasis on the history part, since it’s all foreign ownership now — but what about Ireland? You know, the Emerald Isle? It’s where my people are from. I understand that my dear old uncle Gearhead O’Malley is still roaming the countryside with his trusty pint glass in hand. They must have some homegrown cars over there, right?

Well, technically, yes. But only in that sense. Turns out there’s virtually nothing to be proud of if you’re a car-loving Irishman like me. But in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, let’s do a little historical review anyway, shall we? No doubt these automotive misadventures have given the self-deprecating Irish plenty of laughs over the years.

Alesbury

Starting the Irish auto industry off with a bang — of the self-destructing variety — the Alesbury hit the cobblestone streets in 1907, featuring a Stevens-Duryea engine built in Massachusetts. Not much is known about the Alesbury other than the fact that production ceased shortly thereafter in 1908.

DeLorean Motor Company

The DeLorean DMC-12, on the other hand, is famous the world over thanks to its Hollywood turn as Marty McFly’s time machine in the Back to the Future trilogy. But did you know the stainless-steel sports car with gullwing doors was built in Ireland? Northern Ireland, to be exact, in a 660,000-square-foot facility near Belfast. Alas, the factory was plagued by delays and ballooning costs from the get-go. Then founder John DeLorean got ensnared in a drug controversy, and DMC folded in 1982.

Ford Motor Company

Henry Ford’s father was born in County Cork, Ireland, and Ford paid homage to his ancestral homeland with the Ford Cork plant, which opened in 1917 and kept on cranking till 1984. Best known for producing popular cars like the Cortina and Sierra, the plant was a landmark in Cork’s center of industry for the better part of a century. Of course, the company itself was Detroit-based, but we’ll take what we can get.

Heinkel Kabine

Inspired by the uber-cute Iso (later BMW) Isetta “bubble car,” the Heinkel Kabine was designed in Germany and built for a spell by the Dundalk Engineering Company in Ireland. Like Alesbury before it, Dundalk had quality-control issues and was forced to cease production mere months after starting.

Shamrock

With a name like that, how could you lose? Sadly, the fiberglass-bodied Shamrock is yet another Irish car with a comically brief production history. Designed to be a luxury car that would compete with America’s finest, the Shamrock was confusingly equipped with a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine rated at a pathetic 50 horsepower. The car was a colossal failure, with barely 10 examples being produced before the factory was closed.

TMC Costin

Best for last? Quite possibly, though that’s no great honor in this bunch. Built from 1983-’87, the Costin was a lightweight, elemental roadster with two seats, rear-wheel drive and a 1.6-liter four-cylinder that made 82 horsepower. Even though the car weighed just 1,450 pounds, those 82 horses could only pull it to a top speed of 112 mph. Although the company met a familiar Irish end — production ceased after the 39th car rolled off the line — the Costin’s spirit lives on in the high-performance, American-built Panoz Roadster, as Panoz bought the rights to the Costin’s chassis design and used it for inspiration.

DeLorean DMC-12 picture

DeLorean DMC-12

Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

There may not be much to celebrate in the history of Irish automobiles, but that’s never stopped Irish folks from celebrating anyway. Cheers, my friends!

Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more installments of Cars of the World, right here on the DIY Garage Blog. In the meantime, hit up Advance Auto Parts for the best in savings and selection. Buy online, pick up in-store—in 30 minutes.

Top Rally Racing Cars You Can Drive Every Day

Rally Racing pictureOur resident Gearhead reminisces on the timeless art of Rally Car Racing and shares his wisdom on three vehicles that fit the bill today—on or off the track.

 

If you know me, you know I’m all about American muscle. But I do occasionally make an exception, and rally cars are one overseas product that can definitely get my blood pumping. Growing up in rural America, I first learned to drift a car on all those local dirt roads to nowhere, and that’s what rally racing is — getting sideways on slippery tracks through the wilderness, as fast as your sense of self-preservation will permit. So naturally I’ve always been drawn to the World Rally Championship (WRC), which started as a mainly European thing but has since risen to prominence almost everywhere except the U.S.

To be honest with you, I’m not sure why there’s not more professional rallying on our shores. We’ve got more land than just about anyone, after all, and that includes countless mountain and desert tracks that would be perfect for rally stages. But for whatever reason, it’s never really been an American thing to do, so the only way most of us can experience the thrill of a rally car is by driving one of the few rally-derived models available in U.S. dealerships. Today I want to tell you about the three such models that I’d most like to have in my garage.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution photo
Popularly known as the “Evo,” Mitsubishi’s turbocharged, all-wheel-drive compact sedan is actually on its last legs with an uncertain future, I’m sad to report. Mitsubishi has officially announced that there will be no Evo after 2015, though a lot of diehard fans refuse to believe that the company would just kill off its most iconic nameplate. Whatever happens, the current Evo will go down in history as one of the most capable four-door cars ever built, and not only because of its deep roots in rally-racing history. The boosted 291-horsepower engine under the hood is just the beginning; this Mitsu also comes with a telepathic all-wheel-drive system that shifts all that power side-to-side during hard cornering, effectively eliminating understeer. Additionally, its dual-clutch automated manual transmission is one of the best, ripping off instantaneous upshifts and flawless rev-matched downshifts that no human could ever match. Bottom line? Mitsubishi nailed everything with this car, and I feel like a WRC champion every time I drive it. It’ll be a damn shame if they let the transcendent Evo go out with a whimper.

Subaru WRX STI

Subaru WRX STI photo
The top-of-the-line WRX is known as the STI, and it’s the closest you can get to Subaru’s legendary WRC race cars. It’s also all-new for 2015, and I was lucky enough to get the keys for a full day recently. As ever, the six-speed manual gearbox — no automated manual here — is a work of art, with short, precise throws and perfectly placed pedals for heel-toe downshifts. The steering feels heavier than before, in a good way, and it’s razor-sharp, with none of the on-center slop you expect in an all-wheel-drive car. Another thing Subaru has improved is the STI’s body control: the previous generation heeled over in corners like a sailboat, but the new model stays nice and flat, as a performance car should. If I had one of these bad boys, the only thing I’d modify the hell out of is the engine, because it basically hasn’t changed in 10 years. Sure, 305 horsepower from a turbocharged 2.5-liter four is nothing to sneeze at, but I expect progress after all that time. Crank up the boost and give me 400 horses, now we’re talking. Otherwise, I would gladly drive one of these Subies every day. It would be an honor to be just a few production tweaks removed from Subaru’s WRC glory.

Ford Fiesta ST

2015 Ford Fiesta ST photo
The subcompact Fiesta comes only with front-wheel drive, so you might not make the rally-car connection right away. But there’s a rich history of Fiesta rally cars dating back at least to the 1979 Monte Carlo Rally, when a couple extensively modified Fiestas braved the icy conditions and achieved respectable results. Since then, numerous Ford rally cars have worn the Fiesta badge, most recently the Fiesta R5 with its all-wheel-drive layout and turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder motor. Swap out the AWD system for front-wheel drive, add a few creature comforts and voila — you’ve got the showroom-ready Ford Fiesta ST. Rated at 197 horsepower, the flyweight Fiesta ST has plenty of punch, and it’s also an ace in tight corners thanks to a brake-based electronic limited slip differential. You can even get a pair of Recaro sport seats that are more or less full-on racing seats in disguise. Throw in the MyFord Touch infotainment system and you’ve got a fully equipped daily driver that just so happens to be a terror on the racetrack, too. For the price — the 2015 model starts at just over $22,000 — the Fiesta ST might be the ultimate road-going rally car, absent AWD system notwithstanding.

What’s Your Practical Rally Car?

Tell me about your daily-driver rally ride in the comments, won’t you? As long as it’s got a sporting chassis and some kind of racing heritage, it’s fair game in my book.

Editor’s note: Rally racing or not, treat your ride right with parts and accessories from Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in-store, in 30 minutes.

Top 10 Most Lust-Inducing Cars

heart car pictureOur lovestruck Gearhead lists his 10 most desirable rides, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

 

I’ll be honest with you: I’m not exactly the biggest fan of Valentine’s Day. The cards, the candy, the overpriced roses — I’m not just over it now, I was over it decades ago. What they’ve done is taken an innocent little day on the calendar and turned it into a consumerist free-for-all. I swear, by the time you get done buying everything — and don’t forget the fancy dinner — you’re out a few hundred bucks and thinking wistfully about all the fine car parts you could have bought instead.

But if there’s one thing I can get excited about this time of year, it’s some kind of connection between Valentine’s Day and a bunch of great cars. This year, I’m going to kick off the festivities with a Top 10 list of the most lovable (get it?) cars on the road. These are the cars that I would ask to be my valentine, if I were into that sort of thing. Any time my heart goes pitter-patter, chances are it’s because one of these masterpieces just drove by.

1. Audi RS 7

2014-Audi-RS7 picture

Twin-turbo V8, 560 horsepower, zero to 60 in three-and-a-half seconds. Quattro all-wheel drive with a torque-vectoring rear differential. Need I say more? Oh yeah, it’s got gorgeous fastback styling, too. You will be mine, RS 7; you will be mine.

2. Chevrolet Corvette

Corvette C7 picture

The C7 Corvette is so seductive that it ought to be rated NC-17. It’s got curves in all the right places, and the 6.2-liter LT1 V8 purrs like no other. Don’t even get me started on the 650-horsepower Z06. Can I use the phrase “sex on wheels”? No car embodies it better.

3. Porsche Cayman GT4

cayman car photo

Folks have been grumbling for years about how Porsche knowingly neuters the perfectly balanced Cayman in order to keep the tail-heavy 911 atop the food chain. Well, now the GT4 is here, and it’s packing a 3.8-liter, 385-horsepower flat-6 borrowed from the mighty 911 Carrera S. There’s one transmission, by the way, and it’s a six-speed manual with three proper pedals. In this case, the car is basically a Valentine’s Day present to all of us.

4. BMW i8

BMW i8 picture

Another gift this year is the fact that the i8 is finally on the road. I remember when it showed up in the latest Mission: Impossible flick a few years ago, and then everyone kind of forgot about it when BMW didn’t bring it out soon thereafter. But now it’s here, and it was worth the wait. You get 0-60 in 4.5 seconds, 20 miles of electric-only driving range and some of the coolest styling this side of Lamborghini. Be still my heart.

5. Ferrari 458 Italia

Ferrari 458 Italia picture

What would a Valentine’s Day list be without a Ferrari, the brand that only looks right in red? The 458 Italia has a special place in my heart because it could be the last of the iconic midengine Ferraris with a high-revving, naturally aspirated V8. Seems like everyone’s turning to turbos these days, but the 458 soldiers on for now with one of the sweetest sounding motors ever built.

6. Ford Mustang GT

Mustang GT photo

Speaking of naturally aspirated V8s — and cars that look great in red — the latest Mustang GT’s got the most refined V8 on this side of the Atlantic, and its new independent rear suspension makes it one of the best handlers, too. Right now the headlines are all about high-performance Mustangs that cost more than the workaday GT, but the latter is plenty good enough to make your heart swell every time you lay eyes on it.

7. Ford GT

Ford GT photo

Ah, turbocharging. Here we see it rearing its head in the all-new GT supercar, which is powered by a twin-turbo “EcoBoost” V6 rather than the supercharged V8 of yore. Okay, so it won’t sound as good. But the new GT’s styling is so fantastic that I don’t even care. Hey, don’t judge; we all lust after certain things based on looks alone.

8. Dodge Viper

Dodge Viper picture

The knock on the Viper has long been that its V10 engine sounds like a UPS truck, but here’s my question: Have these armchair critics actually driven the car? The driving position is cartoonish in the best possible sense, with the windshield right in front of your face and the hood stretching out for miles in front. The clutch and shifter require more manly effort than anything on the market. The handling (now with stability control!) is astonishing. The Viper is nothing if not a hot date.

9. Mercedes-AMG GT

Mercedes-AMG GT photo

When’s the last time a Mercedes ignited your passions? For me, the new GT is my first. Benz has always been about massive, intimidating road presence, with sporting thrills a marginal concern at best. But the GT is clearly aimed at the Porsche 911, and it’s certainly got a shape that can seduce. I don’t mind the turbos in this case, incidentally — Benz’s twin-turbo V8 is a thing of beauty. Can’t get enough.

10. Bentley Mulsanne

Bentley Mulsanne photo

I can’t say that I’ve got an extra few hundred grand lying around, but if I did, my sedan of choice would be the big Bentley. What makes the Mulsanne so lovable is that it’s authentic. The platform is a rear-drive, Bentley-only item, in contrast to the Volkswagen/Audi-sourced front-wheel-drive platforms that underpin other Bentley models. The engine, too, is a genuine Bentley article — the legendary “6.75-litre” twin-turbo V8 with dump-truck torque. The interior, of course, is hand-made with the most opulent materials imaginable. Every day is Valentine’s Day if you live with one of these beauties.

What Do You Love?

Help me round out the list with some other rides that get your blood pumping.

Editor’s note: If you love working on your car, count on Advance Auto Parts for the best in selection, service and value. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

 

Crucial Cars: Jeep Cherokee

Jeep Cherokee XJ pictureFrom timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

In this installment, Gearhead’s Garage turns back the clock to look at one of the most significant SUVs of all time: the Jeep Cherokee XJ.

Quick, what comes to mind when you think about classic, hardworking, never-say-die SUVs?

I guarantee you the Jeep Cherokee is at the top of the list.

No, I’m not talking about the current Cherokee that looks like a modern hatchback and shares a platform with the Dodge Dart. Honestly, I don’t ever want to talk about that thing.

And I’m not talking about the first Cherokee, either, though I gotta tell you, I had some wild times in one of those back in the ’70s with the 6.6-liter V8 under the hood.

What I’m talking about is the first unibody Cherokee, the so-called XJ series, which was built from 1984-2001. You know, the boxy one. Couldn’t improve on that styling if you tried. Everyone over 30 knows someone who drove an XJ, and there are still a ton of these things on the road today. Let’s take a look at what made this Cherokee so great.

 

Easy to Maintain, Hard to Break

With due respect to the lesser engines Jeep offered, including a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that was pretty popular, I’m going to focus on the iconic 4.0-liter inline-6 here. Whenever I see a Cherokee in the wild, I look for that “4.0” badge on the back, because that’s the one you want. It was only rated at 190 horsepower, but owners will tell you it feels stronger than that, with a nice low-end punch courtesy of 225 pound-feet of torque. The five-speed manual transmission was key for maximum performance, but the Aisin-Warner four-speed auto turned out to be a robust unit in its own right.

Either way, this powertrain is known to run for hundreds of thousands of miles without complaint — you’re more likely to encounter electrical gremlins in the power accessories. And if you’re mechanically inclined, you can do most of the required work by yourself. That’s why you see a lot of Cherokees in remote areas where the nearest mechanic is many miles away. Folks know they can count on this Jeep through thick and thin, and that’s a big part of its legend.

Unibody Visionary

Jeep Cherokee XJ 3 pictureWhen the Cherokee XJ debuted back in the mid-’80s, carlike unibody construction was all but unheard of. If you were designing an SUV, it had to be body-on-frame, just like a truck, because it just wouldn’t be tough enough otherwise.

But then the XJ came along, and the SUV landscape would never be the same.

That’s right. As unlikely as it seems, this boxy, go-anywhere Jeep is the one that got the unibody trend started. Nowadays, you have to look long and hard to find a body-on-frame SUV in dealerships, but back then, the Cherokee was an innovator. There were plenty of doubters, of course, but the Cherokee proved its mettle in countless off-road scenarios around the globe. At the same time, it provided a relatively smooth ride and agile handling, which is why practically every SUV today has a unibody platform.

Easy to ModJeep Chrokee XJ 2 picture

Although those unibody underpinnings were a revolutionary step forward, the XJ is still a simple beast at heart, and that means mods are a cinch. There’s a whole forum dedicated to various Cherokee XJ tweaks, from lift kits and lockers to winches and performance exhausts. It’s an open secret in off-roading circles that the stock XJ makes for a cheap and reliable rock-crawler with just a few alterations. You can pick one up for a song and have plenty of cash left over for building your dream XJ.

Tell Us Your Cherokee Story

The Cherokee XJ is the kind of SUV that inspires intense loyalty in its owners. I know some of you guys can speak from personal experience, so let’s hear it in the comments.

Recap: Detroit Auto Show 2015

Our resident Gearhead recaps one of his all-time favorite events: The North American International Auto Show, in Detroit, Michigan.

Let me say this right upfront: It’s always a privilege for an old fart like me to attend a major automotive event like the 2015 Detroit Auto Show, or NAIAS, as it’s sometimes called. There’s nothing like that buzz in the air when a new car gets unveiled, or when the next automaker’s press conference is about to get underway.

But recently I’ve been feeling like there aren’t as many awesome rides at the auto shows as there used to be. With the internet, of course, you get all manner of “teasers” and information leaks on social media before the show, but the cars themselves just haven’t been doing it for me.

That’s why I was so pleasantly surprised by the action this year in Detroit. For once, the focus wasn’t on electric-powered this or hydrogen-powered that; there were simply a bunch of amazing cars that I’d love to own, and I got up close and personal with every one of ’em.

I’d have you here all day if I gave you the whole list, so tell you what, here are the three vehicles at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show that I liked the most.

1. Ford F-150 Raptor

Ford F-150 Raptor 2017 photo

 

The all-new, second-generation Raptor off-roader was love at first sight for me, and the more I learned about it, the more infatuated I got. Well, for the most part. To be honest with you, I wish the previous Raptor’s 411-horsepower, 6.2-liter V8 were still around. The newly standard 3.5-liter “EcoBoost” twin-turbo V6 is said to make even more power than the outgoing V8, but I promise you it won’t sound half as good when you’re on the throttle. Otherwise, though, the new Raptor is a home run, from its handsome, muscular styling to its beefed-up underpinnings that are even more capable than before. The specialized Fox Racing Shox have more travel, there’s a new terrain-management system with driver-selectable modes, and the transmission is a novel 10-speed automatic that’s being co-developed with General Motors. I’m not even a truck guy and I want an F-150 Raptor. Bad.

2. Ford GT

Ford GT picture

Ford managed to keep its next-generation supercar under wraps until the company press conference, and let’s just say everyone was shocked in the very best way when it broke cover. I mean, look at the thing — it’s gorgeous, but with a definite edge, like a Ferrari that went to finishing school in America. It’s even got Lambo-style scissor doors, trumping the previous Ford GT (sold in limited quantities a decade ago) with its conventional forward-hinged swingers. In the engine compartment, located behind the seats and beneath a clear window, the 3.5-liter EcoBoost takes up residency, relegating another fine V8 to the dustbin. But in this case I’m in a forgiving mood, because Ford has cranked the twin-turbo V6 up to more than 600 horsepower. Offered solely with a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission, the latest Ford GT figures to be a world-beater at the racetrack, yet the interior’s decked out with high-tech furnishings like a configurable TFT instrument panel and the SYNC touchscreen infotainment system. If there’s one car at this year’s show that’s bound to become an automotive icon, it’s the reinvented GT.

3. Acura NSX

Acura NSX picture

But for the Ford GT’s presence, the new NSX would have stolen the show. Like the GT, the NSX has had about a decade off since the previous generation bit the dust, and it’s been similarly rejuvenated with a twin-turbo V6 of its own and a nine-speed dual-clutch automated transmission. Unlike the Ford, however, the NSX also features an all-wheel-drive system with tri-motor hybrid assist (two motors for the front axle, one for the rear). Total output is estimated to be in excess of 600 hp. Beyond the numbers, the NSX looks great with cool LED headlights, massive wheels (19-in fronts, 20-in rears) and a body that actually takes some chances, at least by Honda/Acura standards. The interior looks beautiful, too. Audi and Porsche might want to check their rearviews, because Acura wants in on the premium sports-car business.

Let’s Talk

Come on, I know you were following the Auto Show at home. What were your favorites this year? Tell me why I should have picked yours in the comments.