Whether your ride is trying to rock a fatigued factory or ancient aftermarket audio system, one of the best ways to bring back its sonic boom is by changing out and/or adding speakers. And if you’re not an expert on all things audio, fear not. We’ll walk you through the basics and provide you with, literally, sound advice for tuning up your car’s tunes.
Hearing the highs and feeling the lows
There are basically four types of speakers: tweeter, midrange, woofer and subwoofer. Each is responsible for respectively reproducing the high, middle, low and super low frequency notes of the music. Let’s say you’re listening to “Stairway to Heaven” and you’ve got a system sporting all four types of speakers. The flutes would come through the tweeters, guitars would come through mostly the midrange while the bass and drums would speak to you via the woofers and subwoofers (or “subs,” if you want to sound hip).
Although some speaker systems will incorporate say a tweeter and a midrange in a single unit, high-end audio systems typically have dedicated (stand-alone) tweeters, midrange, woofers and subwoofers. This is why you see 9- to 14-speaker systems (and even higher) in more modern, premium-brand vehicles. These speakers are placed strategically for the best sound, typically with the tweeters up high, closer to the listeners’ ears, and with a subwoofer (or two) under the seat or behind the rear seats. Back in the “good old days” having four full-range speakers, two in the front and two in the back, was living large.
Spending for sound
Of course, your budget will dictate how far you can go with your speaker upgrades. If you’re tired of your car’s buzzy speakers, simply replacing them with higher quality units is the easiest and most cost effective way to restore your listening enjoyment. For example, your car may have had a simple four-speaker setup with a pair on either end of the dash and a pair in the back seat area. Those old factory speakers may be a basic, single-cone full-range design, with those cones made of now cracked and/or ripped paper. Swapping them out for a set of higher quality speakers with composite cones and a separate, built-in tweeter will make a world of difference.
This handy audio guide from Crutchfield electronics provides even more detail as far as what to look for when upgrading your car’s speakers. Indeed, this gentleman from Crutchfield shares his story of how his car’s paper-cone-equipped system sounded so bad that he stopped playing music on it and resigned himself to talk radio. Once he upgraded his speakers to more modern units with composite cones and coaxial tweeters, he rediscovered the joy of full-bodied music in his car. This “plug-and-play” install that uses the existing speaker holes is the easiest way to improve the quality of your sound system.
If you want to go bigger, then you may want to consider adding a subwoofer or two for tight, thumping bass that’ll have you thinking Larry Mullin Jr. is in the back seat with his Yamaha kit. To go with the demands of more speakers, and to pump up the sound, you should also consider installing an amplifier. Advance Auto Parts offers a large variety of speakers (including subwoofers), amplifiers and accessories to help you get that big sound for little expenditure.
More serious self-installations
Up until now, we’ve been talking about upgrades that should be fairly easy for any competent DIY-er. Those who are more advanced can look into installations that typically involve fabricating custom kick panel, door panel, rear quarter trim panel and cargo area speaker enclosures. As such, one should make sure they know what they’re doing before, say, cutting holes into the door panels only to discover the power window or door lock mechanism is in the way. As with anything, some folks go way over the top and use nearly every square inch of the car’s interior to create the ultimate mobile sound system.
All that said, there are plenty of car audio forums and enthusiast clubs that can offer tips and maybe even examples of custom setups for your specific make and model. A few we’ve seen online include caraudio.com, and Car Audio Help.
Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts is here to support the cause with a vast selection of parts, tools and accessories to keep your ride on track. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
In this installment, Street Talk puts the spotlight on a rare but desirable bird in the sport compact segment – the Eagle Talon
One of a set of automotive triplets, the Eagle Talon is a rather rare bird in the sport compact car arena. Indeed, can you remember the last time you saw an Eagle Talon flying down the road? Yet this product of American and Japanese parents was one of the more interesting choices in its segment. Along with its aggressive, head-turning styling it offered available turbocharged power and all-wheel drive, the latter two features giving it a wheel or two up on the more popular kids in this class, the Honda Civic, Acura Integra and Nissan 240 SX.
The Eagle has hatched
Debuting for 1990 along with its Plymouth Laser and Mitsubishi Eclipse triplet siblings, the Eagle Talon was a product of a joint venture between Chrysler and Mitsubishi. All built in the U.S. at the “Diamond Star Motors” plant located in Normal, Illinois, these three cars shared similar sporty hatchback styling and Mitsubishi mechanicals. The base Eagle Talon came with a 2.0-liter, 16-valve four with 135 horsepower, while the TSi and TSi AWD versions packed a turbocharged 2.0-liter sporting 190 and 195 horses, respectively. Transmission choices consisted of a five-speed manual and four-speed automatic. Initially at least, unlike the Laser and Eclipse, the Talon didn’t sully its image with a price-leading, 92-hp stripper version. With 135 hp, even that base Talon provided peppy performance, but we know you’re probably thinking: “Yeah, that’s great, but tell me about the turbo!”
In 1990, squeezing nearly 200 horsepower from a four-cylinder turbocharged engine was big news. And thanks to the stout low- and mid-range grunt that a turbo provides, this meant blowing off less-muscular rivals from Honda, Toyota and Nissan was a breeze. Capable of sprinting to 60 mph in less than 7 seconds and running down the quarter mile in the low-15-second range, a Talon TSi was a genuine thrill ride back in the early ‘90s.
Offering all-wheel drive to more effectively put that power to the pavement provided an edge in handling, especially in foul weather conditions. The AWD version of the TSi also featured a more sophisticated rear suspension (multi-link versus torsion beam) as well as limited-slip center and rear differentials. Outfitted with a set of Bridgestone Blizzaks and a ski rack, a Talon TSi AWD was a skier’s or snowboarder’s dream.
Changes from 1990 through 1994 were mostly minimal. Notable highlights included, for 1992, slightly revised front- and rear-end styling and a switch from pop-up headlights to exposed units. The following year saw the debut of a declawed Talon. Dubbed the DL, this downgraded version shared its 92-hp engine and sparse standard features list with its entry-level Diamond Star siblings. The previous “base” Talon essentially continued as a new “ES” trim level.
Eagle Talon Version 2.0
As with the Eclipse, the Talon was redesigned for 1995 (the Laser was dropped after 1994). The two cars looked even more similar than before. One might argue that the Talon had more handsome styling, with a larger set of tail lights that helped minimize the heavy, “loaded diaper” rear bumper look of its Mitsu relative.
More importantly, performance was boosted via a pair of more powerful engines. Seen in the new entry-level “ESi” trim, the 2.0-liter non-turbo four now made 140 horsepower, while the turbocharged versions seen in the TSi and TSi AWD made 210 hp (205 with the automatic transmission). As such, acceleration times were a few tenths or so quicker, meaning a TSi AWD could hit 60 in about 6.3 seconds and rip through the quarter mile in the high 14-second range.
Sadly, the Eagle Talon, and indeed the Eagle brand itself, would soar no more after 1998, having been discontinued after that model year. The biggest changes for these second-generation models took place for 1997, when once again Eagle debuted a stripped-out base model that deleted the ESi’s rear spoiler, audio system and intermittent wipers. Thankfully, this entry-level version did not substitute a weaker engine as it had in the past. That year also saw rear drum brakes replace the previously standard rear discs in non-turbo models, while the TSi AWD version got larger (17-inch versus previous 16-inch) alloy wheels. A larger front badge and rear spoiler are the more notable visual clues to these later second-gen Talons.
Should you be a fan of these exciting Eagles and want to capture one, you’ll likely find that task fairly difficult given that they were last produced nearly two decades ago. Still, that doesn’t mean impossible. Checking out the enthusiasts sites, such as DSMtalk and DSMtuners can provide a wealth of information, such as the most effective and economical mods, as well as classified ads for the cars themselves. And there’s always craigslist, eBay and bringatrailer.com, where your chances of finding an unmodified example are likely much greater than doing so on the dedicated sites.
Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts is here to help in the care and feeding of your Eagle Talon, or otherwise. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.
In this installment, Street Talk puts the spotlight on the darling of the import tuner set – the Honda Civic Si.
Something of the poster child for the import tuner movement, the Honda Civic Si has long been prized for its performance, reliability, tunability and style. Even bone stock, this sprightly Civic usually satisfied those looking for kicks behind the wheel. Eager acceleration, athletic handling, supportive seats and subtle styling tweaks round out this pocket-rocket’s impressive credentials.
The feisty first edition
One could argue that Honda’s first sporty Civic was the Civic S of 1983, but we’re putting the spotlight on the sportier and more significant “Si” variants, the first of which debuted for 1986. Boasting fuel injection (hence the “i”) and other engine tweaks, the debut Civic Si had a noticeable bump in power output compared to other Civic hatches – its 1.5-liter four packing 91 horsepower versus the 58 to 76 horses found in its siblings.
Ninety-one horses may not sound like much, but in a car that weighed only about 2,000 pounds and running through a five-speed manual transmission (no automatic available), it was enough to send the Si to 60 mph in about 9 seconds flat. Twisty roads provided the most fun, as the light and nimble Civic Si also had firmer suspension calibrations, upgraded tires and front sport seats, the latter with pronounced side bolsters for added lateral support when attacking the curves.
Redesigned for 1988, with smoother body lines, standard fuel injection across the line and a double-wishbone suspension system at all four corners, the 1988 Civic took a leap forward in sophistication. Notably, that suspension design, shared with Formula One race cars, did a fantastic job of providing sharp handling along with a firm yet comfortably controlled ride. There was no Si for that year, but it returned in 1989 with a 1.6-liter high-output engine sending 108 horses to this Civic’s front wheels.
More power and performance
The next generation Civic debuted for 1992 and the Si, like the other Civics, got a little bigger and heavier. It also got more power, its 1.6-liter mill cranking out 125 horsepower. Honda’s new VTEC (Variable valve-Timing and lift, Electronic Control) system was the chief reason this little engine made such big power. VTEC essentially allowed the engine to be efficient at lower rpm, while allowing it to breathe deeper at higher rpm for increased performance. By now, the Civic Si could hit 60 mph in about 8.4 seconds.
Where did you go, Civic Si?
When the Civic was redesigned for 1996, a key member of the team was missing; indeed the Civic Si would be absent from the lineup for three years. Finally, for 1999 the Civic Si returned, this time in the handsome, crisply-chiseled coupe body style and sporting 160 horses, good enough for a low 7-second 0-to-60 mph time and a quarter-mile ability in the mid-15-second range. Those are seriously quick times for a naturally-aspirated (not turbocharged or supercharged) four-cylinder-powered compact car. Sadly, this sharp Civic Si coupe was produced just two years, 1999 and 2000.
For 2001, a new Civic lineup arrived, sans Si. The following year, 2002, brought back the Si. Now based on the European Civic hatchback, this Civic Si’s breadbox styling, softened suspension calibrations and tamer power delivery all conspired to make it a disappointment to those fans of the harder-edged Si Civics that came before. Indeed, this automotive writer recalls driving a 2002 Civic Si at the racetrack and wondering if someone had sprayed Armor-All on the tires’ tread, as their lack of grip and propensity to slide made for a somewhat entertaining but frustrating time around the track.
Although the engine was upgraded slightly (same horsepower but more torque), this Civic Si tipped the scales at nearly 2,800 pounds, so performance was about the same as before. And while the power delivery was more linear than before, it just wasn’t as exciting as it lacked the pronounced “VTEC” kick at higher rpm the older car had. A cool feature was the car’s manual shifter, which sprouted out from the lower portion of the center stack, Rally car style, putting it close at hand.
Back in the game
For the Civic’s 2006 redesign, the Civic Si came back strong. Although the styling was a bit odd, with its massive windshield and resulting stubby hoodline, the Si seemed to have returned from a summer at fitness camp and to its earlier, sporty self. A taut, buttoned-down suspension, sticky tires, quick steering and a more aggressive V-tec kick once again made the Si a hoot.
Engine displacement now stood at 2.0-liters while output rated nearly 200 horses (197 hp, to be exact). And with an added gear in the manual gearbox (now six speeds versus the previous five), this Si could sprint to 60 mph in a factory-claimed 6.7 seconds. The quick-revving engine would take on a seriously urgent demeanor once the tach’s needle swung past 6,000 rpm, a potent rush that lasted right through the 8,000 rpm redline.
For 2007, Honda introduced a four-door version of the Si, making this little firecracker more attractive to enthusiasts needing a more accessible and usable back seat. A rare sight is the limited-production 2008 Mugen Si sedan, which featured a stiffer, track-tuned suspension, larger (18-inch) wheels, a performance exhaust and styling tweaks that included a big rear wing.
The most recent full redesign of this icon took place for 2012, when the Civic family received more sculpted body styling and unfortunately a cheapened interior that irked consumers and car critics. That prompted a refresh the very next year that brought styling tweaks and more importantly, upgraded interior materials and added standard features for all Civics, including Bluetooth and a rearview camera.
As far as the Si, 2012 brought a larger (2.4-liter) engine with 201 horses. Although the bigger engine boasted a fatter, more useable powerband than the last Si, it wasn’t as much fun, as it lacked that high-rpm kick that the previous Si had brought back. Handling was similarly muted, lacking the point-and-shoot personality held so dear in the past. On the upside, the ride was better as the suspension was more compliant over pockmarked pavement and freeway expansion joints.
Even folks not into the tuner scene likely know that Honda’s Civic, especially the Si version, is a favorite of folks who enjoy modifying their cars. After all, who hasn’t witnessed a slammed Civic with a rasping “coffee can” exhaust cruising the boulevard or blasting down the highway?
With massive support from aftermarket suppliers, one can turn their Civic into a capable track day weapon with a few weekends’ worth of wrenching. Installing stiffer springs and dampers, thick anti-roll bars and larger yet lighter wheels with high-performance rubber are popular upgrades. Then there are the quarter-mile enthusiasts, who, via forced induction (turbocharging or supercharging) and perhaps nitrous oxide injection, can turn a Civic into a 12-second drag strip terror.
Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts is ready to help Civic enthusiasts out with a large selection of quality parts and accessories. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.
In this installment, Street Talk pays tribute to a street-racing icon in the twilight of its career: the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.
As recently as seven years ago, it was unthinkable that the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution could be on its last legs. Fully redesigned for 2008, the Evo built on its legendary rally-car heritage with even more turbocharged power and its most sophisticated all-wheel-drive system yet. Dubbed “Evo X,” it graced the cover of seemingly every magazine in the industry, promising near-supercar performance for the price of an entry-level BMW 3 Series.
But then the Great Recession arrived, severely depressing demand for thirsty thrill-machines. In point of fact, Mitsubishi didn’t even build any Evos for 2009.
And when the economy eventually rebounded, the Evo X just couldn’t get back on its feet.
So here we are in 2015, preparing to bid sayonara to one of Japan’s true performance juggernauts. Let’s give the Evo a curtain call by remembering what made it great.
Invincible AWD Handling
The rally-derived Evo has always utilized a fancy AWD system to optimize handling, but in the United States, we didn’t get the full treatment until the Evo X arrived. The big news was the debut of Active Yaw Control (AYC), an electronically controlled feature that automatically transfers torque to the wheels that have the most traction. It was a revelation on the road, eliminating understeer in tight corners and making the Evo feel like it was quite literally on rails. Not many cars in the world could keep up, regardless of price.
Of course, some Americans were a bit miffed that they had to wait so long for an unadulterated Evo to arrive. In Japan, AYC had been offered since the mid-’90s, going back to the Evo IV, but Mitsubishi didn’t sell the car stateside till the Evo VIII turned up in 2003 — and neither that car nor its successor, the Evo IX, had AYC. Still, one spirited drive was typically all it took to heal those wounds. The Evo X stands as one of the best-handling cars ever created, and we can only hope that there’s a reborn Evo XI somewhere in Mitsu’s future.
A remarkable fact about the Evo is that it has been extremely fast forever, dating back to the Evo I’s debut in 1992. That car carried a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that pumped out nearly 250 horsepower, and by the time the Evo III came out in 1995, the turbo-4 was up to 270 horsepower, which is roughly where it’s been ever since.
Technically, the Evo X’s 2.0-liter turbo-4 is from a new aluminum-block engine family, supplanting its iron-block predecessors. It’s also rated at a slightly higher 291 hp. But in terms of real-world acceleration, an Evo is an Evo, regardless of vintage. Plus, the older iron-block design is more receptive to major modifications. The one thing the Evo X really has going for it in the powertrain department is its available dual-clutch automated manual transmission, which rips off ultra-quick shifts that no stick-shift driver can match.
The Evo’s full name is “Lancer Evolution,” underscoring its sensible origins as a compact Lancer sedan. Indeed, this sports-car-shaming dynamo is nearly as practical as a Corolla in daily driving, from its reasonably roomy backseat to its serviceable trunk. Sure, you could get a Nissan GT-R for three times the price, but it’s a glorified two-seater that feels bulkier besides. Naturally, the Evo’s impeccable handling comes at a cost in the ride-quality department, but we’ve never heard enthusiastic owners complain.
Have You Driven an Evo?
If you haven’t, go try one at your Mitsubishi dealer before it’s too late. This is a bucket-list kind of car. And if you have, what were your impressions? Give us some highlights in the comments.
Editor’s note: Whether you drive a foreign or domestic vehicle, count on Advance Auto Parts to keep your projects on track. Buy online, pick up in-store.
It’s a lot of things to a lot of people.
You can say it started in Japan, or America, or even Germany. There’s always another side to the story.
You can say it’s only about certain engine or suspension modifications, but you know there are some awesome mods out there that you’ve haven’t even heard of.
You can say it’s only about particular brands or body styles, but there’s a tuner forum for practically every model ever built.
Ultimately, tuner culture is where the cars we love meet the limits of our imaginations.
That’s something worth celebrating, and here at Street Talk, we want to do our part. Let’s take a look back at the origins of tuner culture and how it came to be an integral part of the automotive landscape.
If you want to go way back in the day, the Indiana-based Roots brothers were hot-rodding blast furnaces in the mid-19th century. They needed a better way of melting iron with hot air, and an air pump with rotating impeller blades proved to be an excellent solution. That’s where the phrase “Roots-type supercharger” comes from, if you didn’t know.
But the Roots brothers never supercharged a car motor, because they lived out their lives in the horse-and-buggy era. That task fell to German engineer Gottlieb Daimler — the surname might ring a bell — who in 1885 was the first to apply the Roots’ forced-induction principles to the internal combustion engine. As for the turbocharger, it was more of a team effort, coming into its own from World War I through the 1920s as a performance-enhancer for airplane engines around the globe.
Of course, forced induction only represents one branch of tuner history. If you want to talk about naturally aspirated performance, you’ve got to give the USA its due — as early as the 1930s, American tuners were dropping hopped-up Ford “flathead” V8s and such into anything with four wheels. Later, the Italians and Japanese would perfect the art of the high-revving naturally aspirated engine, from Honda’s screaming inline-fours to Ferrari’s legendary wailing V8s. In Germany, meanwhile, Porsche turned the flat-6 engine into a museum piece that has lately struck the fancy of American tuning firm Singer.
Today, it seems like anything’s possible under the hood. But the truth is that modern tuners are standing on the shoulders of engineering giants, from all corners of the globe.
Another aspect of the tuner scene that we take for granted is the emphasis on cutting-edge style. But there’s plenty of history here, too.
For the American aesthetic — think side-outlet exhausts, power domes on the hood, that sort of thing — you’ve got to go back to that hot-rod scene, say from the 1930s to the initial postwar years, and follow it through to the muscle-car era of the ’60s and early ’70s.
When it comes to slammed Civics and Integras and that sort of thing, you’re looking at the results of parallel movements in Japan and Southern California. Starting in the late ’70s and early ’80s, newly prosperous middle-class kids in both locales had access to a wave of affordable Japanese compacts, and their exuberant fashion sense spawned a movement that the manufacturers themselves came to embrace (see, for example, Honda’s Type R factory street racers).
Then there’s the German tuner sensibility, which tends to err on the side of subtlety and refinement. The body kits preserve the stock design language rather than reinvent it, while the custom exhaust systems amplify the engine note without overwhelming it. German manufacturers have gotten in on the action with their own in-house tuning operations, most notably BMW’s M division and Mercedes-Benz’s AMG.
If you look around today, though, what’s striking is the cross-pollination on all sides. A tuned 2015 BMW M4 might be bright orange with a huge wing on the back, while a modded 2015 Ford Mustang might be as sleek and restrained as an Aston Martin. Globalization has hit the tuner scene, and if you ask us, we’re all the richer for it.
Freedom of Expression
At the end of the day, the tuner scene is about the driver. Factory cars come off the assembly line built to a specification; tuned cars are built to your specification. It’s no wonder, then, that aftermarket tuning has risen to such prominence in the automotive era. Our cars are a big part of how we present ourselves to the world, and tuning is our chance to make a unique statement. That’s a universal desire, no matter where you’re from, so it’s fitting that the tuner scene itself is a historical melting pot.
Where do your tuning influences come from? Tell us your story in the comments.
Editor’s note: Hit up Advance Auto Parts for your performance needs and more. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
In this installment, Street Talk takes on one of the truly unsung heroes of the tuner scene. Promise you won’t laugh, because we’re talking about the Chevy Cavalier.
To driving enthusiasts of a certain age, the Chevrolet Cavalier inevitably brings to mind the movie Swingers, wherein Jon Favreau’s character has the following exchange with a smoking hot model:
Model: “What kind of car do you drive?”
JF: “Uh, Cavalier.”
Model: [disdainful silence]
JF: “It’s red. I have a red…it’s a red Cavalier.”
Naturally, he doesn’t get the girl, and that’s largely how the Cavalier is viewed by the masses today — as a failure.
But if you’re into the tuner scene, you might be amused by the idea of tricking out a Cavalier to within an inch of its life. It’s certainly unexpected, and it’s bound to be relatively affordable, too. Could be a fun project, right? Let’s explore some of the possibilities.
The Cavalier’s successor, the Cobalt, came in a sporty SS trim level with a supercharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine cranking out 205 horsepower. Zero to 60 mph took about 7 seconds, and there was a lot of midrange passing power on the road.
The final-generation Cavalier’s humble 2.2-liter Ecotec 4-cylinder, on the other hand, most certainly did not have a supercharger.
But if only Favreau’s character had known the possibilities. Turns out you can grab the Eaton M62 supercharger off a Cobalt SS (or just buy a GM supercharger kit separately, supplies permitting) and bolt it right onto the 2.2-liter Cavalier motor. Give it a custom tune and you’ll be pushing 230 horses, easy peasy. That’s a lot of power in a lightweight sedan, and it just might be enough to convince you that a tuned Cavalier is worth the trouble.
One of the Cavalier’s best qualities is that Chevy made about a billion of them, so there are a lot of owners out there who might want to add something extra to their rides. Predictably, the aftermarket has responded with a wide range of products, including plenty of lowering springs that’ll drop your Cavalier as far as you want to go.
You can go the eBay route, of course, but they call it “fleaBay” for a reason — there’s a lot of questionable stuff for sale up there. Here at Street Talk, we’re partial to established brands like Tokico, Eibach and Koni. If you opt for a known commodity, chances are you won’t be disappointed. In any case, dropped Cavaliers can look pretty mean, and Chevy’s simple suspension design means you can probably do most or all of the work yourself.
If you haven’t looked into scissor-style Lambo doors before, you might be surprised by how simple they are to install. You actually get to keep your original doors; the difference lies in the hinges and gas shocks that take the place of the factory hinges. Just imagine how differently Swingers might have gone if that red Cavalier had Lambo doors that popped up on cue. A supercharged, slammed and Lambo’d Cavalier would be a real sight to see.
Of course, there are plenty of other visual enhancements on the market, including spoilers, aero kits, graphics kits, you name it. And we haven’t even talked about interior tweaks like metal pedals, custom shift knobs and racing seats. If you buy a used Cavalier, you’ll likely get a sweet deal on it, so with any luck there’ll be enough cash left over to fund some sweet mods.
Do you push a Cavalier with a little flavor? Any tips for our friends out there who might want to do the same? Let’s get a conversation started in the comments.
Editor’s note: Hit up Advance Auto Parts for the best in savings and selection—to keep your Chevy (or most anything else) running right. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.
From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.
In this installment, Street Talk heads down memory lane to appreciate the remarkably practical, but fun-to-drive Honda Accord EX.
Back in the 1990s, there were only a few midsize sedans that really appealed to driving enthusiasts, and the Honda Accord EX always stood apart. Man, I can remember going on a test-drive with my dad in a ’94 Accord EX sedan, five-speed manual of course, and I’d never known the old man to have an inner Earnhardt until he redlined that VTEC four-cylinder through first and second gear, cackling all the while.
Tell me something: What other volume-selling family car could bring a grown man that kind of joy?
Any mass-produced product that’s this good deserves its own retrospective, doesn’t it? Let’s hop in the time machine and give the various Accord EX models their due.
The Accord EX first appeared on our shores as a high-end version of the fourth-generation Accord, which is still a great-looking car, by the way. This was back when Honda was light-years ahead of just about everyone on the design and engineering fronts. You got a standard sunroof, upgraded interior trim and extra speakers for the stereo, which would become the basic formula for most EX Accords to follow. Oh, and you got a little extra under the hood, too, culminating with the 140-horsepower engine fitted in ’92 and ’93. It was a tantalizing taste of things to come, and even today, I wouldn’t mind picking up a well-cared-for EX from this generation. Goodness, Hondas were gems back in the day, were they not?
The Accord went all futuristic with its styling for the fifth-generation model, and the EX continued to lead the way. The ’94 and ’95 Accord EX shared a particularly attractive set of alloy wheels, and all EX Accords from this generation boasted the first application of dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder with variable valve timing technology, or DOHC VTEC for short. The sharp triangular taillights got a bit generic with the ’96 refresh, but the engine — same one that put that silly grin on my dad’s face — was still a highlight, and the EX’s six-speaker stereo was amplified by Alpine for crisp, clear sound. Let me tell you something, driving a fifth-gen Accord EX with the sunroof open, the stereo cranking and the VTEC on boil might be the best time you’ll ever have in a top-selling family car.
The Accord got bigger for ’98, but not too big, with the four-cylinder engine swelling to 2.3 liters but carrying over that DOHC VTEC technology. In fact, all four-cylinder Accords shared in the VTEC love this time around, but the EX continued to offer its exclusive sunroof, trim and stereo upgrades. If you ask me, this was the last time that the Accord’s dimensions were just right. It had plenty of room in the backseat, but it wasn’t that big on the outside, and it maintained Honda’s traditional low cowl for superior outward visibility. Throw in a five-speed manual that positively glided from gate to gate, and you had an all-around package that was still tough to beat.
This period includes three Accord generations, and I’m lumping them together because in my humble opinion, they’re all too big and boring to be considered in the same league as the EX Accords that came before. When the seventh-generation Accord appeared in ’03, it lacked that low cowl and tidy styling that had always set the Accord apart, and the eighth-gen model was just plain overgrown — the EPA even classified it as a large car! The current Accord (2013) is the best since ’03, no doubt, but it’s still a relatively tubby, ungainly thing that’s nothing like the sophisticated, visceral, light-on-their-feet EX Accords from 1990-’02.
Honda had something special going there for quite a while, and talking about it makes me nostalgic for those days. If I could turn back the clock and buy any of those first three Accord EX models brand-new, I’d do it in a heartbeat — wouldn’t even think twice about other family sedans on the market today.
Let’s Talk Accords
Have you ever owned a 1990-’02 Accord EX? Have a different take on how Honda’s been doing since then? I love talking about these cars. Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
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Yeah, we know what you’re thinking. Tributes typically come toward the end of a career, but the BMW M3’s still in its prime. After all, the brand-new 2015 M3 sedan (joined by its coupe/convertible siblings, now known as the M4) is out right now, code-named F80. It looks great, it’s got 425 horsepower, and the steering and suspension systems are purpose-built for people who love to drive. You could even argue that it’s a decent value at $62,950 including fees, especially when you consider that the M5 starts at $94,550.
So what’s this business about a “tribute”?
That’s simple. We’re here today to pay tribute to what the M3 used to be, what made it truly great. Because the new M3 is not a great car. It’s merely a great numbers car, the kind that’ll get armchair jockeys all excited about its 0-60 time, its cornering g-forces, that sort of thing. Look, at the end of the day, it’s got a turbocharged inline-6 under the hood, just like the lesser 335i/435i. If you test-drive one, it’s not going to feel like some wholly different beast; it’s just going to be a 335i/435i cranked to 11. Previous M3s, on the other hand, had race-inspired, naturally aspirated engines that were unlike anything else in BMW’s lineup, and that’s what made them so special.
They were undeniably a breed apart, and sadly, now they’re gone.
Let’s take a minute and give them their proper due.
The M3 that got it all started was powered by a four-cylinder engine making a humble 194 horsepower, give or take, and it remains the only four-cylinder M3 ever built. But in terms of character, it’s an M3 through and through, unlike the current 425-hp turbocharged model. You had to cane the little 2.3-liter four to get much action out of it, but once the tach needle swept past about 5,500 rpm, a whole new personality emerged. The E30 M3 rewarded drivers who were adept enough with three pedals (no automatic was offered) to keep the engine on boil through the turns. Driving one was a skill to be mastered, and that’s what whetted everyone’s appetite for the genuinely fast M3s to follow. Kids these days might laugh at the goofy rear wing and some other “period-correct” details, but the E30 got the M3 dynasty off on the right foot.
The E36 M3 was the first to get its power from an inline-6, which had long been BMW’s trademark engine type (the four-cylinder E30 was an outlier). For M duty, the engineers whipped up a doozy — a 3.0-liter mill that pumped out 282 hp. By the time the E36 M3 made it to American shores in 1995, however, BMW had elected to give us a tamer 3.0-liter straight six that dipped to 240 hp, but it still got the M3 to 60 mph in under 6 seconds, an impressive feat for the day. BMW rubbed a little salt in our wounds for ’96, when the displacement of both motors increased to 3.2 liters, yet the US-spec version held firm at 240 hp while the Euro version improved to a formidable 316. Nonetheless, even the defanged American E36 M3 was a sublime car, with a slightly feral roar at full throttle that would turn into a full-on yowl in the E46.
Ah, the E46 M3. Some say it’s the greatest all-around car ever built, and we wouldn’t disagree. It had luxury, style, space for four adults (though it wasn’t offered as a sedan) — and most importantly, it had the same engine around the globe, a 3.2-liter inline-6 cranking out 333 hp. That’s a number that enthusiasts will always remember, and for those lucky enough to have driven this M3, the distinctive velvet-chainsaw wail near its 8,000-rpm redline is equally unforgettable. It’s not that this engine lacked torque down low; on the contrary, it was a tiger at all operating speeds. But taking it to redline unlocked something extra, and once you experienced it, there was no turning back. You just had to keep doing it again and again.
The “X” signifies that the fourth-generation M3’s three available body styles (the sedan returned from its E46-era exile) had individual codes: E90 for the sedan, E92 for the coupe and E93 for the new folding-hardtop convertible. Another departure from tradition was the 4.0-liter, 414-hp V8 under the hood. There was actually some grumbling at the time that this M3 wasn’t a suitable heir to the throne. Too heavy, too insulated, too much technology — the naysayers were initially out in droves. But as with its predecessors, the engine made the difference, and it would not be denied. Running the V8 through the gears, shifting at its 8,400-rpm redline, you could be forgiven for thinking BMW must have borrowed the engine from Ferrari. The E9X was faster than its forebears, yes, but that wasn’t really the point. What mattered was that it had the spirit of those previous models, that insistent growl from under the hood constantly egging you on. Where would BMW go from here? Would we see a V10 M3? A return to a naturally aspirated inline-6? Whatever the answer, it seemed that the M division could be trusted to do the iconic M3 brand justice.
But then fuel-economy regulations got tighter, and automakers started realizing that they could achieve alluring economies of scale by tweaking existing engines for use in high-performance machines, and the F80 M3 happened. Turbocharging both dulls the new car’s throttle response and strangles its exhaust note, which is why BMW has seen fit to pipe fake engine noises through the speakers during acceleration. A turbo inline-6 plays perfectly well in the 335i with its civilized sportiness, but the M3 had always been about authentic performance-car spirit, an exercise in joy rather than jadedness. The joy, alas, is gone.
Ah, but what a car it used to be.
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Take a ride down memory lane as Street Talk explores the incredible early ’90s output of Japanese sports cars and tuner contenders.
Do you remember when the best sports cars in the world came from Japan?
It’s hard to imagine if you weren’t there, because these days, the Japanese sports-car market barely exists. Okay, Nissan still makes a couple — the world-beating GT-R and the rather uncouth Nissan 370Z — and Scion and Subaru offer the affordable FR-S/BRZ twins. There’s also a new 2016 Acura NSX right around the corner. But otherwise, it’s a barren landscape in the land of the rising sun. The rest of the world has left it behind.
In the 1990s, though, Japan was showing everyone else who was boss. Let’s take a moment to appreciate what’s arguably the most compelling collection of sports cars a single country has ever produced.
With all due respect to the new twin-turbocharged NSX and its three hybrid motors, it can’t touch the legend that is the original NSX. Thanks to exotic styling and a mid-mounted VTEC V6 that could scream all the way to 8,000 rpm, the NSX fully lived up to its “Japanese Ferrari” nickname. Well, mostly; there’s one way in which the NSX has proved to be decidedly un-Ferrari-like, and that’s cost of ownership. Properly maintained, an NSX shouldn’t run you much more than any Honda/Acura product of its vintage. It’s that combination of exclusivity and reliability that makes the NSX a sought-after sports car to this day.
Younger driving enthusiasts will be more familiar with the recently discontinued RX-8, but the “FD” series RX-7 of the ’90s is the true king of Mazda’s hill. Boasting a lightweight, perfectly balanced chassis and a twin-turbo 1.3-liter rotary engine that cranked out roughly 250 horsepower, this RX-7 was a scalpel that could carve up the most challenging circuits with ease. It also happens to be one of the most beautiful cars ever built, and its intimate, wraparound interior was the perfect sports-car cockpit. Unlike the NSX, it’s not renowned for being unbreakable, but when an FD RX-7 is running right, it’s one of the most engaging cars you’ll ever experience.
Known as the GTO in Japan — Pontiac wouldn’t have liked it if Mitsubishi tried that one in the U.S. — the 3000GT was the tech-crazed member of this group. When the high-end VR4 model first came out, it was loaded with all-wheel drive, four-wheel steering, adaptive spoilers, electronically adjustable exhaust tuning and adaptive dampers with selectable drive modes. Not all of these items made it all the way through the production run, but the 300-plus-hp twin-turbo V6 sure did, and it enabled this aggressively styled Mitsu to run with the world’s finest.
The Z Car has a long and illustrious history, but if you’re looking for the Z that blended style, performance and refinement better than any other, the Z32 series from the ’90s is where it’s at. Even the base car had a creamy-smooth 3.0-liter V6 that got you to 60 in the mid-6-second range, but naturally the Twin Turbo model stole all the headlines with its 300-hp motor that reached 60 a full second sooner. The turbo Z also offered a four-wheel steering system dubbed “Super HICAS,” and both models displayed cutting-edge style, including a slippery exterior and a futuristic dashboard with a rakishly sloped center stack.
Many enthusiasts will tell you that the Supra was the pinnacle of Japanese sports-car performance. The Turbo model’s inline-6 engine made 320 horsepower right out of the box, but as legions of tuners have since discovered, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As it turns out, Toyota engineered this motor to such exacting standards that it can easily be cranked up to 600, 700, even 800 horses without flinching. Some say there’s even more room at the top without compromising reliability overmuch. Sure, the ’90s Supra was relatively long and heavy, but the turbo-six’s reputation is second to none among those who know.
The NSX may have been the true Japanese Ferrari, but the midengine MR2 was a closer match in terms of physical resemblance, drawing heavily on the contemporaneous Ferrari 348. The ultimate “Mister Two,” of course, was the Turbo model with its blown four-cylinder that pumped out 200 horsepower. The MR2 Turbo required a firm hand in tight corners, as its mid-mounted motor made the car susceptible to Porsche 911-style lift-throttle oversteer. But with its removable roof panels, snick-snick manual gearbox and head-turning looks, this Toyota definitely deserves a place in the pantheon.
What a Run
We’ve limited ourselves here to American production models; otherwise, the Nissan Skyline R33 and R34 would have been at the top of the list, and Mazda’s singular Eunos Cosmo would have made the cut as well. Are we forgetting any others? What are your favorite high-performance rides from Japan’s glory days?
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In this installment, Street Talk goes in-depth on perhaps the first affordable performance sedan of the modern era: the Nissan Maxima.
Do you know about the original four-door sports car?
We’re talking about the Nissan Maxima, of course — but a lot of people would have guessed something else. If you want to talk about cars that don’t get enough credit for being cool, the Maxima’s right up there at the top. This car should be a legend in its own time, yet all it is to most folks today is an overgrown Altima with a price tag to match.
But we’re not talking about the current Maxima, see, or even the previous one; we’re talking about that sweet spot back in the 1990s, when the Maxima gave you performance you couldn’t get anywhere else for the price.
So we’re going to take a minute and set the record straight. We also want to talk about some cool mods that Maxima owners are still rocking on the street.
Wearing that simple acronym — 4 Door Sports Car — on a sticker affixed to its rear window, the 1989 Nissan Maxima started a revolution. Actually, some would argue it was the preceding Maxima (1984-’88) that commenced the true sportiness, what with its 3.0-liter V6 engine and available adaptive suspension, and you could even go back to the first two generations (1976-’84), which shared their powertrains with the iconic Z two-seater. But if you ask us, the official beginning of the Maxima’s dominance was when they slapped that “4DSC” sticker on the window. Nissan had brought together the strengths of the earlier models into a cohesive whole, and the result was the perfect antidote to the common Camry.
What made the 4DSC Maxima so great? Styling, for one thing. Even after almost three decades, this is one slick-looking sedan, with smooth lines that clearly distinguish it from its blocky, ’80s-tastic predecessor. But the real star was the SE model, which featured a 190-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 that put it in the upper echelon of performance sedans. If you wanted a quicker midsize four-door in those days, you had to go European — and even then, the Maxima SE had a fighting chance. Consider this: with the five-speed manual transmission, the Maxima SE did zero to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds. Shoot, the Mercedes-Benz E420 with its 275-hp V8 would have had a hard time keeping up.
Naturally, this Maxima cost a fraction of what the Europeans were charging, and it also offered cool stuff like a legit sport-tuned suspension, a Bose audio system, a sunroof and attractive alloy wheels. The icing on the cake was its incredible reliability, with 200,000-mile-plus specimens becoming increasingly common as the years went on.
Check out this vintage commercial on the 1989 Nissan Maxima:
The Torsion Beam Fiasco and General Decline
To be fair, the subsequent Maxima (1995-’99) was a great car, too, even though it carried over the SE’s 190-hp V6 (now standard on all models) and didn’t really break new ground otherwise. That was still good enough to make it the enthusiast’s choice over the humdrum family sedans in its class. But some bemoaned its droopy rear-end styling, and even more shook their heads at its solid-axle torsion beam rear suspension, an explicit cost-cutting move that effectively conceded the handling crown to the previous car with its four-wheel independent setup. The “4DSC” sticker had disappeared from the rear window, and that wasn’t a coincidence.
To this Maxima’s credit, reliability remained a strong point, and many are still on the road today with insanely high miles. But it wasn’t as awesome as its predecessor, and unfortunately that was the start of a trend.
Since then, each subsequent Maxima has grown more powerful but less engaging, culminating with the current model, which comes only with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and is indeed little more than an overgrown Altima.
But for a decade or so, the Maxima was the best affordable performance sedan that money could buy. When you look around today at high-powered midsizers like the Accord V6 and Camry V6, you gotta give a little nod to the four-door sports car, the granddaddy of them all.
Street Mods for your Maxima
If you want to put your finger on the pulse of the Maxima community, check out the forums. They break it down by generation, and if you look at the two we highlighted — 1989-’94 and 1995-’99 — they’ve got tens of thousands more threads than the rest.
No offense if you own a different Maxima, but we weren’t kidding that those are the ones to have.
Now, supposing you want to put your personal stamp on your Maxima, there’s no end to the possibilities. Slap a turbo kit on it for more power? No problem, the powertrain’s certainly robust enough for that. Crazy subwoofers in the trunk? Been there, done that, with extensive DIYs in the forums. You’ll see a lot of the ’89-’94 models slammed to within a millimeter of their lives, and some of them look damn good, too. Ground effects, sick rims — you name it, the Maxima can rock it.
The best part is, these cars are so old that you can buy one for a song, leaving you plenty in the bank to customize to your heart’s content.
Tell Us Your Maxima Story
The Maxima is a car that engenders serious loyalty. We know a number of “Maxima families,” and all of them got started with one of the early models that never let them down. Have you had that kind of Maxima experience? Tell us about it in the comments.