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.
Our resident Gearhead tinkers with the highly anticipated new design of the Ford classic.
Everyone, and I mean everyone, is talking about the new 2015 Ford Mustang. On the one hand, I’m kind of wondering what the fuss is all about. You can still get the sweet 5.0-liter V8 with a manual transmission and more than 420 horsepower, so the apocalypse is definitely not upon us. And although the styling’s longer and leaner, with shades of Aston Martin from the rear three-quarter view, there’s still no doubt about what’s filling your rearview mirror when a 2015 Mustang comes up fast.
But on the other hand, enough has changed about the 2015 Mustang to get a lot of longtime fans worried, and understandably so. Folks are concerned that the soul of the car won’t be the same anymore, having run the twin gauntlets of technological progress and emissions regulations. They want to know that the essential stuff has been preserved. In short, they want the beloved Mustang to ride again, with the same untamed spirit as before.
So I thought to myself, why not do a 2015 Mustang Preview piece? After all, I’m the guy who couldn’t stop talking about how amazing the outgoing Mustang was; I even did a special retrospective piece on the 2014 Mustang GT, concluding that it “might just be considered the best Mustang ever when all’s said and done.” If anyone’s gonna look at the new sixth-generation Mustang with a critical eye, it’s crotchety old me. So let’s do it. Let’s go through a few 2015 Mustang headlines and talk about whether the new ‘Stang has got what it takes to make the faithful proud.
Three Letters: IRS
They stand for “Independent Rear Suspension,” and the 2015 Mustang’s got one for the first time in Mustang history. Yeah, I know, the SVT Cobra had one from 1999-2004, but you know what I mean. This is a big deal. For the first time, every Mustang will have a four-wheel independent suspension. If you don’t like it, hey guy, you’re just gonna have to deal.
Me? Believe it or not, I love it. I always believed that SVT Cobra foreshadowed an IRS across the line for the next generation, and in fact, Ford originally intended just that for the 2005-’14 Mustang. Cost concerns crept in, so they kicked the can down the road. But look, the writing’s been on the wall for a couple decades now. A solid rear axle’s great for the holeshot on a drag strip, but it’s a liability everywhere else — and if you don’t think Ford’s gonna have the 2015 Mustang ready to launch like a champ at the strip, you’re crazy. Otherwise, Mustang people like us will chew up the new ‘Stang and spit it out, and Ford knows it. So we’ll have our holeshots, you can bank on it, and we’ll also have the potential for world-class cornering, even when the pavement’s uneven. That’s what you call progress. I say bring it on.
Two Words: Mustang Turbo
There’ll be plenty of armchair heroes who bag on the new Mustang for offering a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine (with around 310 horsepower, by the way, if the rumors are to be believed). Here’s how you deal with this species: ask them for their thoughts on the Mustang SVO. The SVO, see, was offered from 1984-’86 with, you guessed it, a 2.3-liter four-cylinder turbo engine. Actually, the 2.3 turbo appeared a few years earlier, but you’ll want to focus on the SVO, because it was legit, with up to 205 horsepower and a zero-to-60-mph sprint of 6.8 seconds that was awesome for the day. Point being, there’s a strong precedent for turbocharged four-cylinder Mustang performance; it’s not like Ford’s jumping the shark here. The engine of choice is obviously still the 5.0-liter V8, but don’t dismiss the turbo four — it’ll put down some solid times, in addition to getting the high EPA fuel economy ratings that Ford needs.
One Ford: A Mustang for the Modern World
The “One Ford” mission is to serve all major global markets with the same great products, and the 2015 Mustang is very much on board. For the first time, the Mustang was designed with European and other international customers in mind. That means the interior’s considerably more refined, with improved materials quality and more sports-car intimacy in the cockpit. It means the exterior’s got those Aston Martin affinities I mentioned earlier, though without sacrificing that essential Mustang character.
To me, this is the best of both worlds. The ‘Stang’s still got attitude, so we Americans should be happy. But now it’s got class, too, which makes it an intriguing option for folks who might otherwise get something like a BMW 3 Series. Detractors will complain that the previous Mustang was more “real” somehow, but I’m going to call them out right now. The truth is, the 2015 Mustang is every bit as real as before; it’s just got a few more manners now, and that’s only going to help Ford’s cause in the global marketplace.
Friends, I can’t think of a car this year that’s going to generate more conversation than the 2015 Mustang. What do y’all think about Ford’s new direction here? For or against?
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Given my loyalty to old-fashioned muscle cars, you might think that “Hybrid” is a dirty word in these parts. But you’d be wrong. Tell you what, I love the idea of an extra electric motor that helps the gas engine do its job. If you design it right, that electric motor will really kick in at low speeds to give you more torque, and it’ll help you when you’re merging and passing, too. Kind of like a modern turbocharged engine without the lag.
Trouble is, most hybrids are all about fuel economy, which means they pretty much hate fun. But I’ve finally found one that’s a little different, and I’m smitten. Let me tell you a few things about my new crush — it’s called the 2014 Infiniti Q50 Hybrid.
1. It’s Fast
And I mean fast. With its 3.5-liter V6 hybrid system, this thing cranks out 360 horsepower! That’s even more than the regular non-hybrid Q50, which stops at 328. It’s not just about the power, either, because this hybrid makes boatloads of low-end torque. It’s like an old big-block V8 the way it rears back and puts down the hammer from a stop. Like I said, when you add an electric motor to the mix, it can give you a real wallop during acceleration. Infiniti gets that. For the record, the Q50 Hybrid will do 0-60 in 4.9 seconds, or almost half a second quicker than the non-hybrid car.
2. It Drives Like a Champ
One thing about hybrids is that they’ve got big old battery packs to run those electric motors, and you’ve got to put that heavy thing somewhere. If you’re not careful, the extra weight can mess up the balance of the car. But Infiniti has positioned the Q50 Hybrid’s battery pack such that it adds a little rearward weight bias without going crazy. The result, if you ask me, is even better balance than the regular Q50. Going around corners in the Q50 Hybrid, I felt like I was driving an honest-to-goodness sport sedan. It just hunkers down and goes, with no understeer and not much body roll, either. Who ever heard of a hybrid that’s this fun to drive?
3. Its Fuel Economy is Amazing
Quick, name a midsize, five-passenger sedan that hits 60 mph in under 5 seconds and gets 31 mpg combined. Let me emphasize the “combined” part, because that’s what the EPA says you can expect for each tank as a weighted average of city (29 mpg) and highway (36 mpg) driving. Most cars with this much speed don’t even break 30 mpg on the highway cycle, and they’re way down in the 20s or even teens for city driving. That’s the other thing about a hybrid car’s electric motor — it takes a load off the gas engine in normal driving, and that means you need less gas to get around.
My test car came in at a shade over $46,000. That’s actually pretty reasonable when you consider that the Q50 Hybrid is a full-on luxury car with leather, navigation, Bose audio, dual electronics displays, you name it. You could easily pay more than twice as much for a Porsche Panamera hybrid that goes 0-60 in 5.2 seconds and only gets 25 mpg combined. I never thought I’d be saying this about a hybrid, but I would really and truly like to own this 2014 Infiniti Q50 Hybrid sedan.
Am I crazy? Have you ever driven a hybrid that made you fall in love? Tell us your story in the comments.
Editor’s note: Whether you drive a hot new hybrid or a weathered old gas-guzzler, count on Advance Auto Parts for the best in parts—and even better values.
I had a chance to drive a drag-racing car many years ago, and to be quite honest with you, I was too scared to get behind the wheel. Sometimes I find myself wishing I’d taken the plunge. But as I watched the excellent new film Snake and Mongoo$e, I was reminded of just how terrifying these cars can be. I mean, I like speed as much as the next guy — maybe more — but as early as 1970 or thereabouts, professional drag racers were turning quarter-miles in under 7 seconds at over 200 mph. Even as a daredevil teenager, which is what I was back then, that seemed a little too hot to handle.
It made for a great show, though, and no two men were more instrumental to the sport’s growth than Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “Mongoose” McEwen. Initially bitter rivals, the pair formed a partnership in the late 1960s that helped elevate drag racing from fringe spectacle to big-ticket entertainment.
Their most important joint venture was probably the sponsorship agreement they signed in 1970 with Mattel’s Hot Wheels franchise, which put the Hot Wheels logo on both men’s cars — and set a precedent for such agreements across professional sports. But the film goes well beyond the boardroom, of course, delving deeply into the complex personal relationship between Prudhomme and McEwen as it evolved through the years.
Drag racing on the big screen
Now, I’m no movie critic, so when I tell you that I thought the dialogue was mostly by-the-numbers, I want you to take that with a grain of salt. But you know I’m a car guy, so you can trust me when I say that this is one car movie that got my blood pumping. I loved the split-screen cockpit closeups of the Snake and Mongoose, side by side in full protective headgear, with the drag-strip “Christmas tree” lights in the middle.
Another neat idea was the inclusion of archival racing footage from the ’60s and ’70s, reminding you that this isn’t just a popcorn movie; it all really happened. And this flick’s got some star power, too, from a barely recognizable Jesse Williams (Grey’s Anatomy) as The Snake to Hollywood veteran Noah Wyle as Mattel executive Arthur Spear.
As car films go, I still gotta give the nod to Bullitt as the best of all time, but I think Snake and Mongoo$e is right up there with Senna and another recent car movie, Rush, as far as true stories are concerned. If you’re awestruck like me at the sight of those drag-racing cars thundering down the track, you’re gonna want to take this Snake for a spin.
Snake & Mongoo$e is available on DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment.
Check out a clip here:
Dunno about you, but I’m still getting used to the latest Corvette. They call it the C7, because it’s the seventh Corvette since the original model came out in 1953 — back before most of you all were even born. But in some ways, the C7 is a whole new beginning for the ‘Vette, from its square taillights (they always used to be round) to all those gills and strakes and vents that punctuate its surfaces. It’s an awesome car — you’ll never hear me say otherwise — but it’s not instantly recognizable as a Corvette, and that’s a radical change for a long-timer like me.
There’s one C7 that already looks just right, though, and that’s the 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06. Unlike previous Z06 models, which mostly resembled regular Corvettes, the C7 Z06 looks like a racecar without the decals. Two inches wider in front and three in back, with angry-looking creases and folds all over the place, the new Z06 might have the most presence of any car I’ve ever seen. I can’t wait to drive one. In the meantime, let’s take a deep dive into what we know so far.
1. Supercharged 625-horsepower V8
Come again? Supercharged? Yeah, you heard right. The 2015 Z06 will be powered by a 6.2-liter, 625-horsepower V8 with an Eaton supercharger tucked into its vee. For better or worse, the naturally aspirated Z06 is now a thing of the past.
My first instinct was to go with “worse,” because the C6 Z06’s 7.0-liter, 505-horsepower V8 is one of the best motors ever to grace an engine bay. I used to say that it ought to be in every car on the road, and I wasn’t completely kidding.
But then I ran up against a cold hard fact: 505 hp is a lot less than 625. Shoot, 625 is almost as much as the C6 ZR1 put out. Plus, superchargers are much better than turbochargers from a drivability standpoint — there’s no throttle lag when you punch it, which means no waiting around for that crazy quick acceleration. If you’re going to go the forced-induction route, that’s the way to do it.
On second thought, then, put me in the “better” camp. It seems pretty clear that the C7 Z06 is going to be a real upgrade under the hood, though I’ll definitely miss the NASCAR growl of the old Z06’s and 427 Vette’s 7.0-liter V8.
2. Best-Handling Corvette Ever?
I know I haven’t driven one yet, but all signs point to this thing being the most rewarding Corvette to drive, period. It’s got huge rubber, of course — the rears are 335/25 ZR-20s — but more than that, the engineers have made a point of making the C7 Z06 at least somewhat friendly at the limit. In the past, pushing a Z06 hard could be hazardous to your health, but this one’s tweaked chassis, intuitive steering and standard magnetic-ride dampers should make it the most user-friendly version yet. If you’re worried about braking power, don’t be — the pizza-size rotors measure more than 14 inches all around.
3. Got Luxury If You Want It
I remember when the first Z06 came out, the C5 model. The interior of that thing was so tacky, it reminded me of an S-10 pickup truck. But hey, it went fast and sounded great, so people were in a forgiving mood. These days, of course, the standards are much higher, especially at the $75,000-$80,000 price point where the C7 Z06 is expected to start.
Fortunately, the new Z06 starts with the regular C7’s vastly improved interior and gets even better. Extended leather trim is standard, as is a flat-bottom steering wheel that reinforces the car’s close ties with the C7.R racer. Available competition seats should provide even more support than the already decent standard chairs. You know what? They’re even offering an eight-speed automatic transmission in the C7 Z06, that’s how civilized it’s become. Naturally, the standard transmission continues to be a manual — the same seven-speed stick that comes in the regular C7.
I gotta ask: Is there anyone out there who doesn’t drool at the thought of driving the 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06? Is there a better value right now among performance cars? I want to hear what you all think in the comments.
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You know what, this writing gig has its perks. First I got to go to the 2013 LA Auto Show, and now I’m here to tell you about this annual track-day event for auto writers that I was privileged to attend.
I’ve spent a lot of time daydreaming about driving the world’s best cars, so it was truly humbling to show up at the track that morning and see pretty much all of them lined up in front of me, just waiting to be driven. Jaguar F-Type V8 S? Check. Mustang GT? Check. BMW M6 Gran Turismo? Oh yes. I didn’t know events like this even existed, but boy, was I happy to be on the list.
So I did what any red-blooded car enthusiast would do: I kept going around that track as fast as I could, in as many cars as I could. I drove until the sun went down and they closed the gates. It was transcendent. The only problem is that they don’t do it more than once a year. I could talk your ear off all day, but for brevity’s sake, here are the three cars that really got me going.
3. 2014 Chevrolet Corvette
I’ll be upfront with you, as always, and say that I don’t like how the new C7 Corvette looks. Never have; maybe never will. The greenhouse reminds me of a GT-R, and so do the headlights. The rear end with its odd black lower valence reminds me of a Lexus LF-A. All the vents and strakes everywhere remind me of a Mercedes McLaren SLR. The square taillights look like they came from a two-year-old Camaro.
If there’s one thing that the C7 Corvette does not remind me, it’s all the beautiful, iconic Corvettes that came before.
But then I drove it, and I decided that as long as I don’t have to look at the thing, it’s awesome. The new V8 pumps out 455 horsepower and makes the car fearsomely fast: try 3.8 seconds to 60 mph, plus chest-flattening thrust from 60 to triple digits. The steering is quick and direct, making this the most nimble Corvette ever. The interior is massively improved, with nice materials everywhere and finally some seats that you won’t want to swap out for aftermarket replacements. As a sports car, the new ‘Vette is a perfect 10, and that makes its challenging styling a lot easier to swallow. Can the Corvette engineers improve on perfection? Of course they can. That’s why there’s a Corvette Z06.
2. 2014 Cadillac CTS
Now here’s one that I definitely didn’t think would make the cut. I hopped into the new CTS 2.0-liter turbo with a “ho” and a “hum,” figuring I might as well try it out while I was there. After a few hot laps, I hopped out with a “Yeehaw!” You’ve probably heard a lot about the redesigned CTS, but did you know they’ve turned it into a bona fide sport sedan? I drove the M6 Gran Turismo shortly after the CTS, and I couldn’t tell you which one has more responsive steering, or a sharper chassis. It’s that good.
The turbo four-cylinder engine, however, is not that good. It yanks the CTS around capably enough, but acceleration isn’t linear, and it doesn’t sound great either. This is a decent motor that does yeoman’s work in the lesser Buick Regal, for example, but it seems a bit out of place in a $50,000 performance car. The CTS I really want to try is the Vsport with its twin-turbo, 420-horsepower V6–but they didn’t have one on hand, so for now I’ll hold onto the four-cylinder CTS as a tantalizing glimpse of this car’s capabilities.
1. 2014 Dodge Viper
What, did you think my top pick would be some Euroweenie luxury car? Obviously, I’m going with the American sports car at its most essential: the purpose-built Dodge Viper. I say that even though the Viper has a much nicer interior now, with fancy materials everywhere and Dodge’s excellent 8.4-inch touchscreen interface. It’s got a new body, too, and the Italian influence of parent company Fiat is apparent in the sleeker front end and almost too-delicate headlights. But from the rear, the Viper’s muscles are as ripped as ever. If there’s a better looking posterior in the automotive world right now, I haven’t seen it.
On the track, the Viper is still enough of a handful that they had a trained race-car driver on hand to assist inexperienced pilots. But with (government-mandated) standard stability control onboard, it’s not the spinout-waiting-to-happen that it used to be. Of course, with a 640-horsepower V10 pumping under that endlessly long hood, disaster is always just an overzealous right foot away. That’s the charm of the Viper, though: unlike the cool, calm and collected Corvette, this Dodge still acts like it wants to tear your head off–so when you complete a few laps without incident, it feels like a real accomplishment. Not surprisingly, the Viper was the only car I lined up for again and again that day. Every other car was less daunting to drive, but none was nearly as much fun.
Want to know more about these cars? Ask me anything, my friends. Have you driven any hot new cars on the track lately?
Editor’s note: Whether you drive a fancy performance car—as our Gearhead so eloquently praises—or an old clunker, count on Advance Auto Parts to help keep it running right and looking good. Buy online, pick up in store.
To get him out of his undisclosed location for some fresh air, we sent our resident Gearhead over to the 2013 LA Auto Show. Read on for his expert take on the proceedings, and see what’s hot for the coming year.
When I was a kid–before most of you were even born, I’m sure–I remember dreaming of going to an auto show. There would always be shiny photos from those shows in the magazines, and I’d pore over them at the local newsstand, leafing through the pages till the old man told me to skedaddle.
Well, now I’m an old man, and I finally got my chance this week: I scored an invite to the 2013 LA Auto Show. They’ve got these “Press Days,” you see, where members of the media are allowed to walk the halls before they let the riff-raff in. And I’ve been writing these little columns for a while now, so I guess that makes me a member of the media. Got my press credentials and everything, like I’m a regular reporter for the LA Times.
So what’d I think? Great experience overall, a real privilege. Let me say that upfront. But I wish there were more emphasis on the cars this year, and less on the technology that goes inside them. Just my two cents, and hey, there were still some great cars on display. Anyway, here are a couple things I liked and a couple I didn’t.
What I Liked
2015 Jaguar F-Type Coupe
Goodness me, that’s a beautiful car. Beautiful! Well, let me qualify that: it’s beautiful from the back and from the side. I’m talking don’t-change-a-thing beautiful. I just wish the front end didn’t remind me so much of a Nissan 350Z.
But I could get used to that part, I think, especially if I had the F-Type R. That’s a super-fast version with a 550-horsepower supercharged V8, special brakes, you get the idea. I’ve driven the 495-hp convertible version, and the passing power in that thing was just fearsome. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt anything like it. But give me another 55 horsepower and I won’t complain.
Best car at the show, this Jag. Really a job well done. All I want for Christmas is a 2015 Jaguar F-Type Coupe.
Cadillac Elmiraj Concept
This big Caddy coupe caused a stir when it debuted at this year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and rightly so. It’s the kind of car Cadillac should be building. See, I’m old enough to remember when Cadillac only built cars like this. Big, long, elegant cruisers with endless power and opulent interiors. That’s why the company’s old tagline, “The standard of the world,” actually meant something.
But will they actually bring the Cadillac Elmiraj to production? I’ll believe it when I see it. These days Cadillac is stuck on making “sport sedans” that do fast laps at German racetracks. To me, that’s not a Cadillac. But the Elmiraj? Yes sirree, that there is a Cadillac. Come on, GM–let’s get back to the days when Cadillac was the first name in luxury. Enough of trying to beat the other guys at their own game.
What I Didn’t Like
2015 MINI Cooper
Now I’ve driven a lot of MINIs in my day, and I love being behind the wheel. BMW makes modern MINIs, if you didn’t know, and it seems they decided to put all of the real enthusiasts on the MINI team. Driving a Cooper is like hitching a ride on a rambunctious puppy, is the best way I can describe it. It’s the very definition of “fun to drive.”
But I don’t like how this new, third-generation 2015 MINI Cooper looks! Sure, at a quick glance it’s just another MINI, but take a longer look at the front end of the car. From the side, you can see that the nose sticks out over the front axle a lot more than before. This is called “front overhang” in the trade, and MINI used to be known for having basically none of it whatsoever. It gave the car a really clipped, athletic profile that fit perfectly with its driving character. But for 2015, there’s that elongated “snowplow” look out front, and I don’t know if it’s because of crash-test requirements or what. But to me, it’s just not quite a MINI anymore.
Makes me want to go out and buy a used current-generation MINI Cooper S with the turbo before they’re all gone.
I’m not going to pick on any particular car or manufacturer here, and I’ll try to keep it short and sweet. Back when I was leafing through those auto show photos at the newsstand, it was all about design and performance. That’s what these cars of the future promised: radical new looks and envelope-pushing driving dynamics. And that’s what got my heart pumping.
But nowadays, it seems like cars increasingly just look the same, like melted bars of soap, because they’re all designed with computers to be perfectly aerodynamic for fuel-efficiency and whatnot. And the emphasis isn’t on performance anymore, either; it’s on how many whiz-bang gadgets and TV screens are stuffed into the dashboard. Don’t believe me? Just look at the entire first day of the 2013 LA Auto Show–it was a “Connected Car Expo” that was solely about technology! You had to wait till Day 2 if you wanted to hear about the cars themselves.
And you know what, I did wait till Day 2. While they were talking about computers at that Expo on Day 1, I put the top down on my V8 convertible and drove up the Pacific Coast Highway. I may be in the minority here, but I still think that’s what driving is all about.
The Bottom Line
Don’t get me wrong, I still had a blast. And there’s a ton of photos out there covering all the new metal at the 2013 LA Auto Show. Y’all got any questions for me, since I was there? What are your likes and dislikes from this year’s show?
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It’s hard to believe the Mustang is about to turn 50. I’m old enough to have driven the first-generation Ford Mustang when it was new, so take it from me: the Mustang has come a very, very long way over the years. Tell you what, I can’t believe they’re about to replace the current fifth generation Mustang for 2015, because the car is just so darned good the way it is now.
I know, I know–they’ve got to make the body sleeker, and it’s got to have more computer screens and warning systems and whatnot. That’s the way cars are going these days. But if you ask me, the 2014 Mustang GT just might be considered the best Mustang ever when all’s said and done. Let me tell you three reasons why.
1. World Class 420-Horsepower V8
I hear the next Mustang’s going to have this V8 too, so fortunately 2014 won’t be its swan song. But my goodness, what a motor! The only real problem with this modern-day “five-point-oh” is that it’s so smooth and high-revving, some folks might tell you it’s not a proper muscle-car engine. To be honest with you, the engine it most reminds me of is the 4.0-liter V8 in the previous-generation BMW M3. But I see that as a good thing, not a bad thing. When a Mustang V8 makes me think of one of the most thrilling engines ever built, it’s a great day for America. An engine doesn’t have to shake the car all over the place at idle to make me smile.
2. Track-Ready Performance
Pick up any car magazine and you’ll hear them singing the same tune. “The Mustang’s got a solid rear axle! It can’t compete with sophisticated imports!” Listen, that’s just a load of bunk. I drove a 2014 Mustang GT on a track recently, and it was the perfect tool. The steering is sharp, the brakes are strong, and the chassis keeps you planted like–yeah, I’ll say it–a “sophisticated import.”
I gather they’re going to make the rear suspension independent for 2015, and that kind of bums me out. It’s not just a heritage feature, after all; you also get better launches at the dragstrip with a solid rear end, and Ford has engineered the Mustang’s suspension so well that you hardly ever notice any handling issues. To me, you take away that solid axle and you lose part of what has always made the Mustang cool.
3. Plenty of Technology
When you read the reviews of the 2015 Mustang, they’re going to go on about how the previous car was so outdated, but look at all the fancy doohickeys in the new one…yada yada yada. Let me tell you something: the 2014 Mustang GT has enough technology for just about anyone’s taste. Shoot, you can get the full-on MyFord Touch infotainment suite if you want it, but I’m more interested in the functional stuff, like three-mode adjustable steering effort and an available “Track Apps” system that can keep a record of your acceleration runs and lap times.
What’s really great about these gadgets is that they don’t at all detract from the Mustang’s authentic muscle-car character. I’m afraid the 2015 Mustang’s going to be like some sort of spaceship inside, and that’s just going to make me miss the 2014 Mustang GT more.
What do you all think? Is the 2014 Mustang GT the pinnacle for Ford’s pony car, or will the 2015 Mustang prove me wrong?
Editor’s note: As you absorb our Gearhead’s astute observations, make sure to hit up Advance Auto Parts for all the best in auto parts, accessories and more. And while you’re at it, make sure to let us know how we’re doing in the comments section below!
Photo courtesy of Ford.
You may have heard that engineers spend years tuning a car suspension, crunching those numbers to get the best possible ride and handling. Now hear this, my fellow Gearheads: that’s a bunch of hogwash. Why? Because those factory engineers have to think about both cost limitations and what the average driver expects, so there’s a limit to how extreme they can get–and if you’re like me, extreme is the only way to go. If you want your car to corner as well as possible, you’re going to have to modify that suspension.
But the problem is, it’s real easy to go overboard with these modifications. Think about those slammed Hondas out there that are so low, you can’t even see the tops of the tires. Now, if those guys are just going for a certain look, hey, more power to ’em. But they’re not building better-handling cars, that’s for sure. If you’re looking for real driving improvements, you’ll have to find a sweet spot between the factory settings and whatever those Honda guys are doing.
So let’s get right down to it, shall we? Here are my top three car suspension modifications that actually make some sense. And listen, I want to hear what you think, so feel free to chime in afterward and give me a piece of your mind.
1. Performance Coilovers
The term “coilover” just refers to a shock absorber wrapped in a coil spring, and coilovers are common car suspension parts in factory setups. But the ones you get from the factory are typically tuned more for comfort and cost-saving than performance. So one of the best things you can do for your car’s handling is upgrade to performance coilovers, and by that I mean full coilovers–the ones that include both the shock and the spring, so that they’re designed to work together. The great thing about aftermarket coilovers is that they preserve and can even improve your factory ride quality, yet they also dramatically improve handling. And most of ’em are adjustable via a little twisty thing on top, so it’s easy to dial in the setting that works best for you.
2. Strut Tower Brace
It has always amazed me that more cars don’t come standard with a strut tower brace. It’s just a metal bar, more or less, that stretches from the top of one front strut to the other, suspended right over the front of the engine in most cases. What it does is increase rigidity, which makes the car tighter and more responsive when you’re driving hard. Tell you what, if I buy a car and it doesn’t have a strut tower brace, I go right out and have one installed. Big difference for a small price.
3. Wheels and Tires
Last but definitely not least, you gotta have the right wheels and tires, and here’s what I mean by that. The right wheels are big enough to fill out the wheel wells, but not too big–you want sufficient clearance so there won’t be any rubbing against the lip. And the right tires are basically as wide and low-profile as you can go within the limits of the wheels you’ve got. Just swapping the wheels and tires alone can give you a huge improvement in handling; throw in the coilovers and a strut tower brace, and it’ll be like you bought a whole new car.
Oh, and how much does all this cost? Shop smart and I bet you could get out the door for about a thousand bucks all told. That’s for everything on the list. Shoot, they’re charging more at the dealership for a navigation system these days.
Editor’s note: check out Advance Auto Parts for suspension mods and more. Buy online, pick up in store.
Graphic courtesy of Topgear.com.