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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
When 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.
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.
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
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 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
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.
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.
Check out our resident Gearhead’s Top 3 Things to avoid doing while DIY’ing.
If you’re reading this article, let me first extend a warm welcome to a fellow Gearhead. Anyone who likes to get his or her hands dirty with DIY projects is alright in my book. But there’s a dark side to DIY, as we all know, and it’s the simple fact that things can go wrong.
Moreover, things will go wrong if you don’t have a method to your madness.
Now, I’m not here to insult your intelligence. Chances are, you’ve tackled some heavy projects already, and I imagine you’ve been successful. But even experts can learn new tricks, and that’s what I want to talk about today. Let’s consider three things you don’t want to do when you’re taking on a serious DIY challenge.
1. Don’t trust the Internet.
Remember, I’m talking about hardcore projects here. If you’re changing your spark plugs or brake pads or something simple like that, then by all means, consult your online forum of choice and follow the handy DIY guide. But for more invasive procedures, you’re playing with fire if you crowd-source the details. You’re already invested enough in your car’s well-being to be your own mechanic — why not act like a mechanic and get a dedicated shop manual for your car?
If you’re with me on that, you’ve got a couple options. The old-school approach is to track down a manual that you hold in your hands, whether you find it on eBay or through a third-party provider like Haynes or Chilton. If you just can’t stay away from your computer, Haynes has an online version that features color photos and wiring diagrams, videos and detailed troubleshooting procedures. Have a look at http://www.haynes.com/onlinerepairmanuals/.
2. Don’t rely on memory – use your camera.
This one’s so simple that experienced DIY’ers might even find it a little insulting. “I don’t need no stinkin’ photos,” you might be thinking. “I’ve been wrenching on cars for years!” Hey, I hear you. So have I. But with the advent of smartphones that can take a nice sharp photo, you’d be crazy, in my humble opinion, not to use your phone’s camera to document the disassembly process step-by-step. Okay, not every step — some stuff you can do in your sleep if you’ve been DIY’ing long enough. But you know as well as I do that those shop-manual diagrams are inscrutable at times, and anyway, the job’s bound to be a lot easier if you can retrace your steps in full color. The point is to put everything back where you found it, and photos leave no doubt where things are supposed to go.
3. Don’t forget the “While you’re in there” stuff.
This is one that only DIY mechanics will embrace — because real mechanics want you to pay them to disassemble the same stuff as many times as possible! As a DIY’er, though, your time is valuable, and you don’t want to waste it on taking things apart more than once. There’s a counterargument, of course, and it’s that the main point of DIY’ing is to save money, so why compromise your savings by replacing parts that aren’t broken? If that’s what you’re thinking, I hear you, and my answer is that you’ve just got to use your best judgment on a case-by-case basis.
I’ll give you an example: I did my lower ball joints recently, and while I had the control arms out, I thought about other parts in there that might merit the R&R treatment. You don’t want to use a spring compressor more often than you have to, right? Well, I realized each control arm had some rubber bushings in it that had probably never been changed, and new ones cost about 20 bucks for a whole kit. That’s what you call a no-brainer. On the flipside, whenever my engine cover’s off, I’ve got easy access to my mass airflow sensor (MAF), but that damn thing costs 400 bucks. Now you’ve got a no-brainer going the other way. So it’s a judgment call, like I said, but you should always be thinking about reasonably priced parts that can be replaced “while you’re in there.”
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about DIY’ing over the years, it’s that every experienced DIY’er has wisdom to contribute. What are some common mistakes that you’ve learned to avoid? Let’s hear it in the comments.
Editor’s note: After all that, one things’s for sure—what you should be doing is getting the parts you need fast and then back to those car projects. Advance Auto Parts can help: buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
If you know me, you know I love Mustangs. Probably more than any other car on the road. And if you know Mustangs, you know that the original muscle car just turned 50. Like a lot of Mustang fans, I’ve been feeling a little nostalgic about that. Today’s Mustang is fantastic, of course, but I can remember so many outstanding Mustangs that came before it. To fully appreciate what the modern Mustang has become, you’ve got to look at the entire body of work.
That’s why I was so excited to come across Mustang: The First 50 Years, a new documentary that’s sold as a two-DVD set. With a running time of two hours and 30 minutes, Mustang really gets into the details of each of the first five Mustang generations, unearthing a bunch of interesting facts in the process. Did you know, for example, that the Mustang was going to be called “Cougar” until right before it began production? At the last minute, the marketing folks decided that a wild horse was a better fit than a killer cat, so they shelved “Cougar” until it reappeared on Mercury’s version of the first-gen Mustang. The documentary is full of neat little anecdotes like that, and even old Mustang guys like me will end up learning a thing or two.
I’ll tell you another thing the film got me thinking about: my favorite Mustangs ever. There’s a number of interviews with both enthusiasts and Ford insiders, and the question “What’s your favorite Mustang?” is a frequent one. The 1965 Shelby GT350 is a popular answer, and I get that — it’s fast, rare and beautiful — but these days I find myself gravitating toward a couple of the later first-gen models. The 1971 Mach 1 has aggressive, over-the-top styling that I love, and you could get it with the 429-cubic-inch Cobra Jet V8, so that’s one of ‘em. The other is the 1969-’70 Boss 429, which has basically the same 7.0-liter V8 and fastback styling that’s right up there with the best you’ll ever see. If I had my druthers (in other words, if I had just a few more coins in my piggy bank), both of those would be in my garage. The film takes you through every meaningful Mustang for the past six decades, including some great vintage driving footage, so you’ll have ample opportunity to reflect on your top picks.
I should shut up now and let you go enjoy the show, but before I sign off, I want to share one more thing that I really enjoyed. At the end of the second DVD, you’re gonna want to keep watching through the credits, because what’s waiting on the other side is a treasure trove of old Mustang television commercials. It’s really fascinating to see how car ads have evolved over time. I’m guessing a long take of the new 2015 Mustang driving on sand dunes alongside a prancing white stallion wouldn’t really resonate with current shoppers, but it made sense to the Ford team in the ’80s, and that’s just one highlight among many. You really get a sense of how significant it is for one car to be successful for 50 years and counting. Mustang: The First 50 Years made me feel especially proud to be a Mustang fan, and I bet it’ll do the same for you.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve seen the film. I’d love to get a conversation going about some of the history behind this classic car.
I got two grown kids of my own, and thankfully they’re out of the house. (You can’t count on that these days.) Now that we’re empty-nesters, I can drive whatever I want, and believe me, I do. But back when the kids were around, I had to make some compromises. Being a car guy through and through, it wasn’t the easiest adjustment to make.
I made it, though, and today I want to tell you that story. In a nutshell, what I realized was that you can make family vehicles fun if you try — and you don’t have to get rid of your pride and joy in the garage, either. Here are my tips for keeping that racing edge, even with the young ‘uns around.
- Choose Your Family Car Wisely
When it’s time to get a bigger car for family duty, the first thing you gotta do is make sure it’s fun to drive. Trust me, if you end up with some cheesy crossover SUV that hates fun, you’re gonna be mad at the world every time you start it up. So shop around, do your due diligence, and get a family rig that puts a smile on your face. If I were buying right now, my first choice would be the Dodge Durango R/T with its big 5.7-liter V8 and engaging rear-wheel-drive handling. You could go smaller with a Mazda CX-5 or Ford Escape crossovers, both of which have a real sporty feel, or you could even go bigger with the Mazda CX-9. But skip the boring stuff, okay? And for godsakes, don’t get a minivan.
Advance Auto Parts has a whole bunch of accessories for any kind of ride, and that includes family-mobiles. Let me give you a few examples of how you can spice things up. A great place to start is the exhaust — throw a MagnaFlow performance muffler on there and check out the sweet rumble you get when you put your foot down. Any car guy will tell you that a K&N performance air filter gives you a little shot in the arm as far as both horsepower and fuel economy are concerned. Tell you what, just check out AAP’s whole collection of performance parts and see what fits your budget. Remember, the way the car comes from the dealership is just the beginning; you can customize it any way you please and maximize the fun factor, even with family-oriented rides.
- Don’t Sell Your Sports Car
Here’s my last bit of advice: if you’ve got an automotive baby in the garage, don’t sell it unless you absolutely need the cash. Because here’s the thing — if your kids grow up around a great sports car or muscle car, that’s how they’re gonna follow in your footsteps and be car enthusiasts themselves. Take your kids out for rides, and show ‘em how to install that air filter or exhaust. As a parent, you get to shape your kids’ interests from the earliest days, and if you ask me, that’s right when they should start spending some quality time with you in the garage.
Have you gone down this road as a car enthusiast and a parent? Are you about to start? Tell me some other ways that you think parents can keep their racing edge.
Editor’s note: Dad, if you’ve still got racing in your blood, hit up Advance Auto Parts for great deals on racing accessories and more. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
What do you get when you combine the hottest new cars on the planet with a city that’s defined by the automobile?
You get the 2014 LA Auto Show, of course. And I was lucky enough to score an invite to this year’s Press Days, so I got to wander through the LA Convention Center, rub elbows with all the industry folks and check out the latest rides firsthand.
With over 30 world debuts this year, the show was as action-packed as ever. But if you know me, you know I’m not afraid to play favorites. Check out my three favorite cars from the 2014 LA Auto Show.
1. Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang
I’m a diehard Mustang guy, in case you haven’t heard, so I’m always fired up when there’s a new Mustang in town. But here’s the thing — you don’t have to be a Mustang fan to appreciate the 2016 Ford Shelby GT350 Mustang. You just have to appreciate high-revving naturally aspirated engines and manual transmissions, because both come standard on the GT350. In fact, you can’t even get an automatic if you want one. That’s how serious this machine is.
I love the Shelby because it fixes everything I don’t like about the regular Mustang GT. The standard exhaust system is far too restrictive, muffling the GT’s 5.0-liter V8 almost beyond recognition, but the GT350 gets a free-flowing setup that sounds fantastic. I should mention that the Shelby’s 500-plus-horsepower engine is more than just a massaged version of the GT’s V8; it’s a unique design that displaces 5.2 liters and employs a flat-plane crankshaft, just like a Ferrari V8, which is why it revs to 8,200 rpm and sounds so pure. The handling’s tighter, the brakes are bigger…you name it, the Shelby does it better. This is the ultimate Mustang, no doubt about it. If I were going to buy a new Mustang, I’d definitely make it a Shelby GT350.
2. Jaguar F-Type
The F-Type coupe/roadster is Jaguar’s Porsche 911 fighter, and the 2016 model inches closer to 911 territory. For one thing, you can get a manual transmission now, although only with the supercharged V6 engine — the supercharged V8 remains automatic-only. For another, the V8 convertible is now rated at 550 horsepower, just like the V8 coupe, erasing the drop-top’s previous 55-hp deficit. And get this, every V8 model will come standard with all-wheel drive going forward, so if you want a rear-drive F-Type V8, you’ll be looking at a 2015 model or earlier.
I’m a little bummed about that, because the rear-drive V8 was born to drift and do big smoky burnouts. It was an enthusiast’s dream; the AWD system won’t let you have quite as much fun. But it’s safer, no doubt, for inexperienced drivers who might accidentally unleash more of those 550 horses in a corner than they’re ready for. And remember, the Porsche 911 Turbo employs all-wheel drive, too. All in all, the 2016 F-Type is a step forward for Jaguar’s most capable sports car. Maybe next year they’ll unveil the model I’ve been waiting for — an F-Type V8 with rear-wheel drive and the manual shifter.
3. BMW X5 M
I’ve made it clear in my columns that I’m not a big fan of the modern turbo craze, but I make an exception for heavy SUVs, because they really benefit from a turbocharged engine’s massive low-end torque. That torque is the stuff that launches you quickly off the line, and the all-new BMW X5 M’s 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 has got an astounding 553 lb-ft of it. Do you remember the turbodiesel Volkswagen Touareg V10 TDI? I’ll never forget the dump-truck torque it delivered, and guess what — it had 553 lb-ft, too. So the gasoline-powered X5 M matches the Touareg V10 diesel in the stump-pulling department, and oh yeah, it’s got 567 horsepower as well, not to mention a new eight-speed automatic (replacing the old six-speed) with a launch-control mode.
Zero to 60, if you’re wondering, takes 4 seconds flat, putting the porky X5 M in a virtual dead heat with the abovementioned Jaguar F-Type V8.
I’ll tell you another thing I like about the X5 M: it finally makes the new X5’s body look right with its standard staggered-width 21-inch wheels. To my eye, the lesser X5 models’ wheels look too small; they’re dwarfed by all that metal above. But the 21s are proportional. They’re what this truck needs to look its best.
I’ve never really had a thing for superfast SUVs, but I’m not gonna lie, I dig the idea of having one of these babies in my driveway.
Are you going?
If so, tell me about your top picks in the comments.
Editor’s note: Whatever you drive, keep it running right and looking good with Advance Auto Parts. But online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
For this installment, our lovable Gearhead from Gearhead’s Garage discusses the Mazda MX-5 Miata’s iconic past and previews the all-new 2016 Miata.
If you know me, you know that horsepower’s usually what gets me going. And I mean lots of it. Tire-smoking V8s. Twelve-second quarter-miles. These days I’m thinking lustful thoughts about the new 650-hp Corvette Z06. That’s where my head’s at by default.
But occasionally I make exceptions, and the Mazda MX-5 Miata might be the most notable one. We’re talking about a tiny Japanese roadster that started out with 116 hp and still doesn’t even have 170. Like everyone who loves sports cars, though, I love the Miata. With rear-wheel drive and the Lord’s own manual shifter, it’s like an extension of your body on a winding road. There’s a new 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata just around the corner, but before we get to that, let’s take a quick stroll down memory lane and remember where Mazda’s one-of-a-kind ragtop came from.
Code-named “NA” and distinguished by its pop-up headlights, the original Miata (1990-’97) took the world by storm with its proper sports-car handling, Japanese reliability and downright reasonable pricing. Like I said, the base 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine made just 116 hp, and the updated 1.8-liter four-cylinder (’94-’97) only gained about 15 hp, depending on the exact year. But the Miata’s painstakingly tuned exhaust system sounded nice and throaty, and that perfect shifter and rear-drive athleticism made it the darling of critics and consumers alike. Plus, the manual folding top couldn’t have been easier to operate. Even today, there are still plenty of first-gen Miatas for sale, at bargain prices and with many more years of service to offer.
The “NB” Miata (1999-2005) basically kept the NA’s 1.8-liter four, bumping output slightly to 140 horses. Speed still wasn’t the Miata’s thing. But fixed headlights and swoopier styling gave it a more contemporary look, and the overhauled interior offered additional luxuries, including a Bose stereo. Like the original, the NB Miata is widely available on the pre-owned market at very appealing prices. But the one I want is the Mazdaspeed Miata, which was sold for 2004-’05 only with a 178-hp turbo four that finally gave the car a proper sense of urgency. Man, what a motor! It’s night and day compared to the regular one, and there’s hardly any turbo lag, which is amazing given how long ago they designed it. Don’t tell Mazda, but the Mazdaspeed Miata is actually a better car than the third-gen model, which was never offered in Mazdaspeed trim.
The current Miata is about to be supplanted by the new 2016 model, but it’s had a solid run. Blessed with a new 2.0-liter four making up to 167 hp (you’ll want the version introduced in 2009, with its higher redline and sportier performance), the “NC” Miata was the first to offer genuinely respectable acceleration in base form. It was also bigger and heavier, but not by too much, and thankfully it retained the car’s traditional handling excellence despite deviating from the script with a different suspension design. An unconventional offering was the “PRHT” retractable-hardtop version, which added just 70 pounds to the curb weight but still seemed like overkill, in my opinion, for an elemental little roadster. Overall, the NC Miata was a cute and capable update to the Miata line, but if you ask me, it didn’t really move the needle, especially compared to the NB Mazdaspeed Miata.
Hopefully, that’s where the all-new 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata comes in. We don’t know much about its specifications yet, although the word’s out that it’ll have a more fuel-efficient 2.0-liter four. But we do know what it looks like, and whoo boy, that styling’s definitely moving the needle for me. You wouldn’t call this new Miata “cute.” It’s more like a cross between a Honda S2000 and a BMW Z3, and that goes for the sleek, high-quality interior, too. In case it’s not clear, that’s high praise. To me, the 2016 Mazda Miata looks like a real, no-apologies sports car; it’s the first one I’ve actually longed for just based on appearances. I also like that it’s going to be about 300 pounds lighter, which hopefully means it’ll be the quickest base Miata yet. Now, will they finally do another Mazdaspeed Miata after more than a decade? I hope so. But meanwhile, the 2016 Miata looks like a pretty satisfying consolation prize. One thing’s for certain: Mazda’s best-selling roadster won’t stop being a Crucial Car anytime soon.
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When it’s time to put my pride and joy into winter storage, I can’t help but feel a little pang. You know how it goes — you spend all winter waiting to drive the thing, and then it’s winter again before you know it. But I realized long ago that winter car storage doesn’t have to mean total separation. The car’s right outside in the garage, you know; it’s not like you’ve sent it off to Siberia. In fact, winter’s a great time to catch up on all the little projects you haven’t found the time for yet. Here are a few of my favorites.
1. Paintless Dent Removal
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t do this one myself. I’m not exactly an artistic guy, let’s put it that way. But these paintless dent removal guys really are artists, and they don’t close up shop just because there’s snow on the ground. Since your car’s sitting around all day anyway, why not do an inventory of all the dings and dents on the door and body panels, then have your local dent specialist come by and pop them out? I don’t know about you, but I hate when I bring my car out of storage and notice a nasty little door ding while I’m washing it. If you take action now, a few hundred bucks at the most will buy you peace of mind come spring.
2. Full Hand Wash and Polish
This is definitely a DIY, and for me it’s an annual tradition. When it’s time to store the car, first I hose it down in the driveway to get the surface stuff off, and then I roll up my sleeves and get down to business. All you need is a jug of Turtle Wax Car Wash solution, a nice big sponge and a lot of elbow grease. You’ll want to go over every inch of the sheet metal with that sponge. Try to make it cleaner than it was on the first day of spring. Then wipe all the moisture off with a non-scratching water blade to avert streaks and water spots. For the grand finale, get a hold of an orbital polisher and some high-quality Meguiar’s polish. A whole winter is a long time for a car to sit still; it’s only proper to put it to bed with that like-new shine. Quick tip: Consider a one-step sealant to help prevent rust.
3. Clean and Deodorize Interior
There are countless approaches to cleaning your car’s interior, but when it’s time for winter storage, I focus on two aspects: upholstery and odors. For upholstery, I’ve got leather seats, so I start with Lexol leather cleaning spray, let it dry for an hour, and then finish with plenty of conditioner. If you do that every year, your leather should be good till kingdom come. As for odors, look, even if you’re as careful as I am about keeping food out of the car, things just start smelling musty over time. You can get in front of this problem by treating your interior with Eagle One E1 odor eliminator. I don’t understand how it works — they say the stuff actually changes the chemistry of odor molecules — but it keeps my car smelling fresh all winter long, and that’s all you need to know. Quick tip: Place a few dryer sheets in the cabin, and under the hood. This helps prevent mice from making their way into your car or engine bay and building nests over the winter.
4. Check your cooling system
Check your vehicle’s antifreeze to make sure it protects against even the coldest evenings. To help with this, pick up an antifreeze tester to ensure that your car’s cooling system does not freeze solid. A cheap antifreeze tester may be the key to a smooth ride next spring. Mine was a lifesaver last year.
5. Fix What Needs Fixing (and maybe some other stuff, too)
Last but definitely not least, winter is the perfect time to bust out your tool kit and get your hands dirty. Hey, it’s not like you’re going to be busy driving the car, right? Think about all the time you’re saving by not getting behind the wheel — and devote a few of those hours here and there to DIY projects of your choosing.
For instance, I know a lot of folks who put off replacing their spark plugs because the car’s running fine, but why wait for it to start getting rough? Get yourself one of these handy magnetic swivel sockets, if you don’t have one already, and give your engine a new spark for the spring. For those of you who have room to get a floor jack under there and raise your car up, there’s a bunch of sensible preventive maintenance you can do while you’re on your back, including fuel-filter replacement and retorquing all your suspension bolts to factory spec with a quality torque wrench.
A couple other projects worth considering are upholstery repair and chrome upkeep. For the upholstery repair, you’re gonna have to be handier with a sewing machine than I am, but it’s not a terribly difficult job if you’ve got the time. Plan on spending a few days, though, if you have to remove the seat covers for re-stitching — and plan on rejuvenating the foam underneath, too, because if you’ve got rips, you’ve also got cushion compression from years of butts.
As for chrome upkeep, whether you’re talking about wheels, bumpers and tailpipes or headers and such under the hood, you’re gonna want a bottle of Mothers California Gold. Go after any tarnished surfaces with that stuff first. If they don’t get shiny enough for you, I would consider calling in a professional, but you can also get a DIY chrome kit and try to do the job yourself. Be careful, though, because the process involves an acid bath and some pretty freaky chemicals. It’s one you can definitely brag about to the boys if you pull it off.
At the end of the day, you know better than anyone what kind of mechanical TLC your car could use this winter, and now’s the time to do those nagging repairs you’ve been putting off. My suggestion? Make a list of priorities, and check ‘em off one by one until it’s driving season again. Your future self will thank you next year when the car’s performing better than ever. Quick tip: Don’t get stressed out. With the proper prep, you’ll be surpised at how much you can get done before the cold sets in.
Spring’s Around the Corner!
Don’t let the chilly season get you down, my friends. Pass the time with some targeted DIY projects, and before you know it, it’ll be time to hit the road again. Any suggestions for some good projects this winter, by the way? Let us know in the comments.