Car Review Time!

I usually don’t do posts reviewing cars (at least I haven’t in a while), but I recently test-drove a 2017 Kia Soul. My sister enlisted my help in finding a good car for her, and like any good car-loving brother, I obliged. Somehow, there were no strings attached. We made a stop at the local Kia dealer, and looked at a few Souls. Next up was a test drive. Here are my thoughts on the 2017 Soul:

It’s a great little car. Decent power for it’s size and class. Yeah, I might want a bit more power when passing at higher speeds, or when it’s loaded down with people and gear, but that’s what the new turbocharged version is for! That being said, for everyday driving, it’s perfectly adequate. I’ll talk more about the driving dynamics in a bit.

Now onto how it looks. They’re certainly not for everybody, but I think it looks cool. It’s very roomy inside because of the styling, and the tail lights are cool. Yeah, the front end could look better, but that’s just me. Other people like it. Because of its boxier styling, it’s got great visibility. The windshield is big, and when you’re backing up, you’ve got great visibility. Because it’s a compact car with a very good turning radius, it’s great for big cities where space is at a premium. In white, it looks like an enlarged stormtrooper helmet.

This is the Soul "+" (Plus) model shown.
This is the Soul “+” (Plus) model shown.

The salesman was telling us that his first client was a big, tattooed, Harley-Davidson-riding guy, who really wanted a white Kia Soul because it “looked like a stormtrooper helmet.” It turned out that he was tired of nearly getting hit by cars all the time, so he decided to get a car and keep the Harley for nicer weather.

Yes, those are all of the available colors for the 2017 Soul!
Yes, those are all of the available colors for the 2017 Soul!

Inside the Soul, you’ll find a nice interior. By no means is it a Mercedes-Benz interior, but for what you pay for, it’s great. If you’re tall and find yourself in the backseat, don’t worry! I’m 6 feet tall, and had plenty of room behind the driver’s seat set to my liking! I could easily share the backseat with 2 other people. It’s also very quiet, thanks to Kia’s use of expansion foam in the body cavities. There’s a convenient USB charging port on the front console. There are also available fast-charging ports located inside and on the back of the center console. The overhead LED reading lamps work well. It also has fully automatic climate control.

Pretty swanky for a compact hatchback, don't you think?
Pretty swanky for a compact hatchback, don’t you think?

If you want a backup camera, you’ll get a bigger screen than the cars without  one. Spring for the navigation system and you’ll have a much larger screen (8 inches). You’ll also a 3-month SiriusXM All Access trial subscription, which gives you access to over 160 channels. The available UVO infotainment system (Kia’s intuitive infotainment system) has some neat features that are integrated onto your smartphone: it can keep track of where you parked your Soul, download Kia recommended apps through their App Download Center, monitor your driving habits and provide suggestions on how to improve fuel economy, etc., access 911 Connect or Enhanced Roadside Assistance, and check any maintenance requirements through Vehicle Diagnostics, all on the touch screen. What sweetens the UVO pot is the fact that there are no suscription fees for the first 10 years of access to the UVO system! It’s also Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible!

It’s also got a suite of safety features, some available and some standard. You can get a rearview camera, a forward collision warning system, a lane departure warning system, and one of the more appreciated features is the blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert. It’s especially helpful when you have to back out into traffic.

This is a picture of the backseat of a Soul EV, but it's the same thing for all essential purposes.
This is a picture of the backseat of a Soul EV, but it’s the same thing for all essential purposes.

Now, onto how it drives. As I said previously, it drives well for something in it’s class. It won’t keep up with a Porsche 911 by any means, but you can have some fun with it, too. You can also change drive modes on the fly with the Drive Mode Select System, which has a button conveniently located on the perfectly sized steering wheel. There’s an Eco mode, which works well in heavier traffic, and a Sport Mode, which is great for merging onto a freeway, or just having some fun. Yeah, the engine gets buzzy at higher rpms, but it’s not a high performance engine. The transmission is smooth; maybe even a bit too smooth for me. It does what you ask of it, but it won’t ever be as quick as a dual-clutch transmission. There’s even a nice EV model that is supposed to drive even better (I didn’t drive it, so I can’t say).

Kia offers industry-leading warranties. You get a 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty, a 5-year/60,000 mile basic warranty, a 5-year/100,000 mile anti-perforation warranty, and a 5-year/60,000 mile 24-hour roadside assistance warranty.

Here’s my takeaway:

Now, would I recommend it? Absolutely, no questions asked. I would even consider buying one for myself. Plus, they’re inexpensive, very reliable, safe, and pretty darn fun cars. Yeah, they would be pretty impractical for somebody who has kids in booster seats, but you could absolutely make it work. They have a lot of space, are safe, and last forever. Oh, and they look neat, especially in white. Kia has some pretty wild colors, which some people like (makes it easier for cops to spot them!).

Why Europe Should Be Worried About the Runaway Success of the Ford Mustang

The 2016 Ford Mustang is a great car, especially in the supercar-slaying GT350/GT350R form. It’s relatively fast, affordable, and can be easily modified. It turns out that the Yankee muscle car is now the most popular sports car in Germany. Why should they be worried?

In March, the Ford Mustang outsold the Porsche 911, Porsche Cayman and Boxster, and the Audi TT. It’s not that it’s inexpensive in Germany – a Mustang GT with no options costs about 50,000 Euros, while it costs $32,395 here in the U.S.

The Internet loves to trash talk the typical Mustang owner. A spike in high-profile crashes at car club meets doesn’t help with the Mustang’s PR either.

One of the problems that I have found about the Mustang is that the 1979 “Fox body” Mustang and it’s immediate successors were immensely popular and somehow durable. What does that mean? There’s a ton of them around, and used Mustangs are cheap horsepower. In 1979, there was a Dodge Challenger, which was a re-badged Mitsubishi Galant Coupe intended for the Japanese domestic market. The Challenger/Galant had a lifespan of five years at most, so it’s safe to say that your microwave has some Mitsubishi DNA in it!

Because the Mustang is so inexpensive, various misconceptions about the Mustang are out there. There’s nothing like a Porsche 911 or BMW M3 owner looking down on your ragged-looking Mustang GT with a set of Bilstein coilover shocks on it. Those owners have nothing better to do than look down at the lowly Mustang owner. Show up to a track day in a brand-new Mustang GT, and you’ll hear this kind of trash talk: the Mustang is heavy, it wallows, it doesn’t turn or stop very well, the rear end is uncontrollable, and you’re going to end up taking somebody else out when you spin. None of that is really true.

While the Mustang isn’t exactly light, the GT350R comes within 100 pounds of the BMW M4, a direct competitor to the GT350R. The steering in the GT350R is, according to pro race car drivers, worlds better than the M4. Don’t like the way it stops, even with the available massive Brembo brakes? That’s OK; the aftermarket will give you brakes that are IMSA (endurance racing) spec for less than half the cost of a single Porsche 911 GT3’s brake disc. You can walk into any Ford dealer, walk out with a Mustang in 45 minutes, and have a ton of fun. The GT350 (non-R model) is in a league of it’s own among four-seat performance cars. What about the Mustang being a tail-happy crash magnet? Well, the previous generation is notorious for that. It has a live rear axle, which wouldn’t be out of place on a Conestoga wagon, and couple that with 400+ horsepower, a driver who doesn’t know how to handle that much horsepower, and you know where I’m going. It’s mostly due to user error that there are so many Mustangs crashing. There have been a good deal of BMW M4 crashes as well. Trust me, it’s the same thing with Porsches.

If you haven’t driven a Mustang in a while, or your opinions are based on the old Mustangs with the live rear axle, I strongly encourage you to go down to the local Ford dealer and take a Mustang for a test drive. Any Mustang will do. Your expectations will be shattered.

Inside the Mustang, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The fit and finish holds up against whatever Germany and Japan have to offer. The interior is both classic and modern. The seats hold you in a bear hug, but are incredibly comfortable for any person. The infotainment systems are easy-to-use, and you’ll never really want more out of them. You’ll get plenty of feedback from the steering wheel, and all of the controls feel like Ford pulled them out of an Audi.

While the Mustang might be a large car, it feels perfectly comfortable on small back roads. You know exactly where the car is, what it’s doing, and how much gas you can give it. The overall driving experience feels like something Mercedes-Benz and Audi would co-develop. The only real differences between any current Mustang and a BMW 4-Series are the high door sills in the Mustang…and the availability of a manual transmission with every engine!

But, don’t take my word for any of this. I’m just an 18-year-old car enthusiast who does all of his automotive homework. Just ask any German car enthusiast. Clearly there’s something amazing about the Mustang, or there’d be a spike in Audi TT sales. Don’t get me wrong – all of the major automotive magazines have given rave reviews of the TT. It’s just you get a whole lot more car for the money out of the Mustang. Even in it’s home country, the Porsche 911, Cayman, Boxster, or BMW M4 is a rare sight. Why? Because they’re really expensive to buy and maintain. While it’s true that the Porsche 911 GT3RS will leave the Mustang (and most cars) far behind at any race track, the 911 GT3RS is a very rare and expensive sighting.

Of course, most German car enthusiasts will say that this article is a load of garbage. Why? Because the March sales are an “isolated incident.” It’s just inventory availability, rebates, and the same occasional fascination with American novelty that sends so many European tourists to the U.S. to ride rental Harley-Davidson motorcycles along Route 66. But, what if it’s not an isolated incident? What if it’s a perfectly reliable indicator of things to come?

After all, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi have spent the past 15 years engineering any semblance of character and authentic heritage out of their vehicles. The same industry that introduced so many to wonderful cars like the air-cooled Porsche 911, the Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, the E39 BMW M5, the Audi Quattro, the E30 BMW M3, the AMG Hammer, and the Porsche 944, has abandoned those wonderful examples for 5000-pound SUVs making gobs of horsepower from high-tech twin-turbocharged engines, put down to the ground through fragile AWD drivetrains, all controlled by hundreds of pounds of self-destructive electronics meant to save them from doing just that.

Let’s imagine that this isn’t just an isolated incident. Maybe the Germans are tired of driving expensive, self-destructive, massive transportation pods. They want something that reminds them of their dad’s AMG Hammer, their grandpa’s Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, their uncle’s Audi Quattro. They want something different. Something real. The Mustang will continue to sell in droves. Soon, the mighty roar and scream of the Dodge Challenger Hellcat will be heard across the Atlantic on the last unrestricted sections of the Autobahn. Trails once populated by Nissan Patrols and Mercedes-Benz G-Classes will be filled to capacity with Jeep Wrangler Rubicons. You’ll hear the bellowing shriek of the Corvette Z06 at the Nurburgring and the Hockenheimring. What’s that massive hulking truck taking up the tiny country road? Is it really a Ford F-250?

OK, I’m going to start to wrap this up. What does this all mean? No matter what happens, there is a very important lesson to be heard. American automakers got lazy during the late 1970s through the late 1980s. This in turn allowed German automakers to bring us incredible cars. Can you imagine picking a Lincoln Versailles over a BMW 528i, or picking a Cadillac DeVille over a Cosworth-powered Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 (2.3 is the engine size in liters, 16 is the number of valves)?

If German car enthusiasts are buying a Ford Mustang over a BMW M4 or a Porsche Cayman, that should be a message ringing loud and clear in automotive executive boardrooms all over Europe. The last time something like this happened, it was in 1989 with the Lexus LS400. That sent BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and Lincoln scrambling back to their drawing boards. In turn, that gave us such gems as the BMW 740i, a wonderful crisp, clean cruiser plagued by electronic maladies, and the Lincoln Town Car, which was a great car held back by the fact that it had a horrific drivetrain. The Lexus LS400 also inspired hideous cars like the early 1990s version of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, which had so many electrical problems it was a miracle if the door opened.

It seems like it might be America’s turn. The German Big Three put peanut butter on their homework and gave it to their dog. America did the same thing 30 years ago, but they have made massive strides with their cars.

All of this is not to say that the BMW M4, Porsche 911, Cayman, Boxster, and Audi TT are horrible cars. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. They are all incredible performance cars that many of us would love to own, or at least go for a spirited drive in. This is a golden age of automotive performance, and the performance cars put out by various manufacturers (American or otherwise) are fantastic.

 

What You Should Fill Your Two Car Garage With

If you had such strong brand loyalty that you had to fill your two-car garage, what car combinations would they be? Here are mine. Tell me what you would fill your garage with!

  • BMW i8 and X5 M: For the moment, the closest thing to a spaceship you’ll get is the BMW i8. It has liberal use of carbon fiber, and it’s fast enough for most of us mortals. The X5 M is fast, luxurious, comfortable, and can haul a lot of people or random things you get. The funny thing is that the i8 gets better fuel economy than the X5 M, and the X5 M is almost as fast as the i8. Sounds like a good combination to me!
  • Cadillac CTS-V and Escalade: Cadillac aimed for the throat when they introduced  the CTS-V in 2004. That hasn’t changed one bit, and we should be grateful. The CTS-V uses a barely-detuned version of the Corvette Z06’s LT4 motor. If you need to haul a bunch of people in the lap of luxury, go for the Escalade. The Escalade radically changed the SUV game in 1999. This might be even better than the BMW combination.
  • Chevrolet Corvette Z06 and Colorado Z71: The Corvette Z06 is the automotive equivalent of a fighter jet that an inexperienced pilot can dogfight in. The Z06 will hold it’s own against a flat-out racecar on a track, but you can daily drive it. However, you’d be better off daily driving the Colorado Z71. Get the Colorado with the Duramax diesel engine, and you’ll get great fuel economy and have more fun than with a gasoline-powered Colorado in the process.
  • Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 and F-150: You’ll get the utmost in performance with the Mustang Shelby GT350. Road & Track named it their Performance Car of the Year. I can’t say the 2017 F-150 SVT Raptor is the perfect garage-mate for it because it hasn’t come out yet. You’ll have to make do with the F-150, which is a great truck in it’s own right. Plus, good luck carrying anything bigger than a shopping bag or briefcase in your Mustang.
  • Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and Grand Cherokee SRT-8: Few unmodified cars can do as well off-road as a Jeep. However, when you build one towards the heavens to explore places few others have been, they tend to be horrific on the street. See, the solution to that is to have a Grand Cherokee SRT-8 for actual streets. If you’re only going to drive a Jeep on the streets, it might as well have 475 horsepower…
  • Mercedes-Benz AMG GT and E63 AMG wagon: Mercedes has a giant killer on their hands with the spectacular AMG GT. We shall see if it will topple the giant that is the Porsche 911. Either way, the AMG GT is a fantastic driver’s car. In fact, Motor Trend named it their Best Driver’s Car. If you need more utility than a two-seat supercar can offer you, but still want to go fast, get the E63 AMG wagon. It’s slower than the AMG GT, but you can take the whole family with you.
  • Porsche 911 GT3 RS and Macan Turbo: Unless you go out and buy a legitimate race car, the Porsche 911 GT3 RS is the closest you’ll get. It’s street legal, so you can drive it to the track. It won’t be at all fun with potholes, speedbumps, and road imperfections, so fill out your garage with a Macan Turbo. If you squint hard enough, you could convince yourself it’s just a hatchback with really big wheels.
  • Tesla Model S P90D and Model X P90D: I’m sure that most of us would love to own a Tesla. The Model S was a groundbreaking car. The Model X is pretty damn cool as well. I’m still holding out for the Model 3, and would love to see a Tesla Roadster version 2.0, but this would be the perfect electric garage.
  • Volvo S60 Polestar and XC90 T8: I’ve always been a fan of Volvos. However, very few of their cars are truly exciting. However, the S60 Polestar is by far the sportiest car that Volvo has offered in a very long time. The XC90 rivals Range Rovers in terms of luxury, but at a much lower price. Go for the T8, and you’ll have a 400 horsepower hybrid to play around with. How can you not love that?
  • Mazda Miata and Miata Cup Racer: It’s just like with Jeeps. If you buy one to build it up to win races, you should have a stock one to drive around. With the ND generation (4th generation) of the Miata, you can get a stock Miata for daily driving, and a full-out race car. The Miata Cup Racer costs a tad more than $50,000, and a loaded stock Miata goes for around $30,000. While not everybody can afford both of these Miatas, it’s likely that nobody on this list could buy the combinations of cars I’ve listed.

The Best Cars for This Holiday Season

Yes, this is a holiday tradition for me. I love picking out cars that are perfect for this holiday season. I know that none of you will run out to the dealer and order one as soon as you’ve finished reading this post, but I can keep wishing, right?

  • Ford Focus RS: If you want a hot ticket into the performance car world, this is it. It’s got AWD sending somewhere around 350 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels through a six speed manual transmission, this car is definitely going to be eating Corvettes and Honda sportbikes all day long in the canyons and some race tracks. It’s going to be one fun ride. Car & Driver was lucky enough to take a ride in one, and I’ll be a tad bit jealous at them for a while. They said it’s an experience few cars can replicate.

    It looks like a legitimate rally car without all of the stickers, doesn’t it? The fans will be right behind you, don’t worry about that!
  • Chevrolet Colorado: Any version of the 2016 Chevrolet Colorado is going to be one of the best trucks on the market. It won the 2016 Motor Trend Truck of the Year award. I should also mention it won the 2015 Truck of the Year award as well. The engine that I would recommend is the 2.8-liter four-cylinder Duramax diesel engine. It gets 26 mpg combined, according to Motor Trend’s “Real MPG” testing procedures. That’s almost as good as my Mazda 3! According to the Real MPG program, a Colorado with any of the available engines (a 2.5-liter four-cylinder and a fantastic 3.6-liter V6) will have class-leading mpg. That’s really saying something. If you go for the Duramax, it will tow 7,600 pounds, and will get better mileage than any other Colorado engine. Oh, and it will be much smoother and rewarding to drive. The Colorado, and it’s GMC twin, the Canyon, both received a “Good” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Chevrolet designed the Colorado to be a daily driver for any kind of driver, so it should come as no surprise that it drives like a fullsize sedan with a light rear end. If I was going to recommend any one truck, this would be it.

    It looks really sharp, doesn’t it? This is the Trail Boss model, which adds knobby tires, a lightbar, and skid plates.
  • Volvo XC90: Some of my older readers will remember and love the Volvos of the 1970s and 1980s. They were big tanks of cars, designed with utility rather than sexiness, yet they were so exquisitely built that people bought them over a Mercedes-Benz. Something as simple as the XC90’s key shouldn’t be worth mentioning, yet this one is wonderful. It is made of the same Nappa leather that covers it’s three comfortable rows of seats. Volvo is a really small player in the U.S. Toyota made nearly three times as many Priuses as Volvo sold cars. BMW sells seven cars for each one that Volvo sells in the U.S. You might be surprised to hear that the only engine that you can get with the 2016 XC90 is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Before you get up in arms about that, just know that it cranks out 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. How does it do that? A gigantic turbocharger and a small supercharger that steps in when the turbo is spooling up. It gets 22 mpg combined, according to the EPA. It’s far quieter than the also-new Honda Pilot, which has a screaming V6 that will scare the deer off the road. AWD is standard. Right now, the only powertrain upgrade is to the T8 model, which Volvo claims to be the first seven-seat plug-in hybrid. It makes 313 horsepower from the same engine, but has an electric motor powering the rear wheels, bringing total power output to 400 horsepower. It has some seriously long gearing (80 mph in 3rd gear). Yeah, Volvo is still going after hauling families over hauling some butt. The XC90 has a gigantic touchscreen that Motor Trend called “almost Tesla-like.” A Volvo wouldn’t be a Volvo if it didn’t have more safety features than a crash cart in a hospital. All seven seat belts have pyrotechnic pretensioners, and the front seat frames have energy absorbers to cushion vertical forces during impact. It has a bunch of really great features, but I’m going to skip over most of them. One final safety feature worth mentioning is that the XC90 will automatically activate the brakes if the driver attempts to make a left turn into oncoming traffic. You’re on your own if you somehow make a right turn into oncoming traffic, though. Just like the Tesla Model S was a pivotal car for electric cars in 2013, the Volvo XC90 is a game changer, a moonshot for SUVs.

    I don’t care what people say about it – I think it looks really nice for something it’s size.
  • Subaru WRX: This list wouldn’t be complete without a Subaru on it. Of course I chose the WRX. While Subaru doesn’t make it as a hatchback anymore, which is a true shame, it doesn’t make the WRX any less spectacular. It’s got that wonderful Subaru boxer engine growling howl, and is probably the perfect all-weather car. It can handle it’s own on just about any surface. Good luck keeping up with one with summer tires on a racetrack, or one with winter tires in inclement weather. It’s a stylish jack-of-all-trades.

    It doesn’t look like much, but I can tell you it looks mighty intimidating with that gaping hood scoop and wailing four-cylinder.
  • Audi A3: It starts off at nearly $31,000, so the opening bid itself is a good proposition to buy one. It’s a good-looking car by all means, but it doesn’t advance Audi’s design at all. The car gets more fun to drive as you add on the speed. It just gets really expensive, so keep that in mind when you pile on the options.

    See what I mean? It looks nice, but it’s no huge design advancement for Audi.

That’s it for this list. I know it’s shorter than ones in years past, but I think these are all solid choices. You can’t go wrong with any of them. I wish you all a wonderful, safe and happy holiday season. As always, I will be taking a week off about next week, but I’ll update you on Friday about that, don’t worry!

The Best Sleepers Sold in America in the Past 25 Years

Many people like to own cars that are beautiful and naturally garner attention. They drive cars like Aston Martins and Jaguars. There are also a lot of people who can’t afford cars like those, but still want their cars to grab attention, so they drive cars like Subaru WRX STI’s and Ford Mustangs. Those cars are loud and proud of it. They grab attention through their noise. It just comes down to a matter of personal choice, and that’s fine.

Many people really like having a car that has great performance, but doesn’t attract throngs of people and law enforcement. Their cars of choice are seemingly Plain Jane cars on the outside, but that doesn’t mean that their performance capabilities are any less than something like an STI.

Here, in no particular order, are the absolute best sleepers that have been sold here in the past 25 years.

  • GMC Syclone/Typhoon: Some of my readers grew up in the 1990s. It was a technological revolution, and also a time of rebellion and shattering societal norms. GMC’s decision to build the Typhoon and Syclone was probably one of their best. 280 horsepower isn’t very much horsepower for a truck, but all the way back in 1991, it meant 60 mph in five seconds. That’s right on pace with a modern Chevy Camaro and Ford Mustang. Thank the 350 lb-ft of torque and the AWD system for that. Most people won’t know what they are looking at. They will see an old truck or SUV that is pretty darn small. That punk in the Honda Civic next to them will have no idea that it will blow his doors off at the stoplight. Trust me, you’ll have to have a bona-fide performance car to beat a Syclone or Typhoon in a drag race. Plus, they are very reliable – Jay Leno daily drove one for years without any problems.

    One of the most legendary trucks, let alone sleepers, of all time. It looks so innocent!
  • Mercedes-Benz S600: Even people who know nothing about cars know about the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. They know it’s expensive and luxurious, but nothing past that, really. Most people probably wouldn’t even notice the W220 (chassis generation, just like people know generations of the Ford Mustang as the Foxbody, the SN 95, the S197 and S550) anymore. It still looks dapper, but at this point, it’s generic enough that it flies under the radar with ease. Only us car people will know what they are looking at. Any S600 is going to be quick, but the 2003 update made it something fearsome. The 5.5-liter twin-turbo V12 snarled out 493 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque. It’s the banker’s hot rod, just like the Hudson Hornet was in the 1950s. Oh, and if you put a straight piped exhaust on the S600, it sounds like a Formula 1 car.

    While it still looks nice, the average person would brush it off as just another Mercedes-Benz. However, any Mercedes with these wheels will blow the doors off of just about anything.
  • Mercury Marauder: Ford’s Panther platform always had potential for performance, but Ford was always interested in selling Crown Victorias, Grand Marquis and Town Cars to retirees, limo companies, law enforcement agencies and taxi companies that they left most of the performance potential untapped to enterprising tuners. That all changed in 2003. The Mercury Marauder was a souped-up Grand Marquis that had a lot of parts borrowed from the Crown Victoria P71 (Police Interceptor Package). It also borrowed some go-fast goodies from the Mustang. Very few people could tell the difference between a Grand Marquis and a Marauder, but under the generic sheetmetal, the Marauder was something to be feared. It had a 302 horsepower V8 and a heavily improved suspension. It didn’t drive like a Grand Marquis or a Crown Victoria. The entire point of the car was to show the world “Why not?”

    Doesn’t look like much, does it?
  • Volvo V70 R: Station wagons haven’t been the preferred method of kid schlepping in many years, which is a true shame. Even when they were popular, they weren’t cool. Any station wagon that has a Volvo badge on it is going to be recognized as safe, but nobody ever drives a Volvo aggressively. Now, chuck all of what I have just said out of the window. Never think or speak of it again. The Volvo V70 R had an inline five cylinder engine that cranked out 296 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque that went to the wheels via a Haldex AWD system. It hit 60 mph in under six seconds, which made it ideal for the dad who wanted a Mazda Miata with room for his wife and their kids and dog.
  • Saab 9-2X Aero: While the Subaru WRX is a great car in it’s own right, it’s the exact opposite of a sleeper. It’s loud and it attracts more attention than the cute girl in high school. If you liked how the WRX drove, but wanted something more toned down, look no further than the Saab 9-2X Aero. It used to be that there was no option like the Saab 9-2X Aero. Then some brilliant mind at GM decided that they needed to dive into the compact luxury car market. The result was the Saab 9-2X Aero. It was based off of the WRX, but the interior was much more premium, the car wasn’t nearly as loud, the looks were toned down, but at heart, it’s still a Subaru WRX.

    It’s just a luxurious Subaru WRX. It’s really compact, which is great if you live in a city.
  • Mazdaspeed 6: In the midsize sedan segment, many cars will put you straight to sleep. The Mazda 6 has never been one of those cars, and as such, is always my first suggestion for a family sedan. Even though it’s fun to drive, it’s still nothing special at the end of the day. However, Mazda decided to throw practicality and sensibility out the window. They handed a Mazda 6 over to the brilliant minds over at Mazdaspeed, and let them work their magic. The result was a 270 horsepower, turbocharged, AWD sedan with a six speed manual. Pure brilliance. It could hit 60 mph in under 5.5 seconds, yet looked like an average Mazda 6 to the untrained eye. And yes mom, it still has all the practicality of a family sedan. It just happens to be far faster than any other family sedan.

    It looks like just another family sedan. However, anybody who has read this post knows what’s up with this car.
  • Chevrolet Cobalt SS: The Chevrolet Cavalier was a truly terrible car. While it’s replacement, the Cobalt, was a vast improvement, it wasn’t a good car by any stretch of the imagination. It was an inexpensive car that catered to those who needed a brand-new economy car despite the fact that a three-year-old Toyota Corolla was a much better car. It sold well. Chevrolet somehow managed to redeem the Cobalt. The Cobalt SS was probably one of the greatest pocket rockets to ever race around. It was unexpectedly fast, and incredibly adept on any race course or autocross course. A 205 horsepower version came out first, but the real gem was the 260 horsepower turbocharged version. Even with a gigantic rear wing, nobody expects a Chevrolet Cobalt to be that fast. One way to make it even more of a sleeper is to remove the wing and put on non-SS Cobalt wheels. Talk about a sleeper of epic proportions!

    It looks like just another Chevrolet Cobalt, but with big wheels. Acceleration is best achieved by flat-footing it (where you keep the gas pedal planted, and shift without lifting).
  • Ford Taurus SHO: While the original Ford Taurus was a great car, the original Taurus SHO (Super High ) is a legend in the performance sedan world. The current generation does not look at all like a performance car. It’s a comfortable cruiser and a good police car, but it looks like nothing special. Part of what makes the current SHO such a sleeper is that the automotive press basically wrote it off when it was introduced. Even in the SHO trim, it’s meant for being an effortless cruiser, not a canyon carver. This doesn’t mean that you should try and do a stoplight drag race with one. An SHO can hit 60 mph in just over five seconds to 60 mph.

    If you’re a fan of fullsize sedans and the word stonking fast, look into getting a Ford Taurus SHO.
  • Chevrolet SS: Even though this is a list of sleepers sold in America over the past 25 years, the Chevrolet SS truly deserves to be on the list of all-time sleepers. How many cars can claim the accomplishment of having basically nobody know they exist? While some reviewers would consider it a flaw that the SS blends in with all of the boring cars, it’s actually a good thing. 99% of the people you pass in the SS will think it’s a Malibu, if they even notice it at all. They are wrong because it has a 415-horsepower Corvette engine, a six-speed manual and a magnetic suspension sourced from the Corvette. It’s the car that’s so anonymous that no cop will pull you over.

    Really looks like nothing, doesn’t it? Here’s to hoping that the FBI has good taste in cars and starts using these!

The Best $40,000 SUVs You Can Buy

Until about 2012, one could easily delineate between a luxury SUV and a mainstream SUV. It’s different now. Big players in the luxury SUV market (BMW and Mercedes-Benz) have started to move some vehicles down market in the hopes of snagging sales that would typically go to a mainstream manufacturer. Mainstream heavy hitters like Kia, Hyundai, Honda and Mazda are moving up market in the hopes of wooing buyers from the luxury brands. Let’s say you want an SUV but have a budget of $40,000. This can get you a lot of car. It doesn’t matter if you are looking for a luxury SUV or a mainstream SUV. There are many good SUVs to choose from. Here are my picks.

  • Mercedes-Benz GLA250/GLA250 4Matic: While it might look like a hatchback with a body lift, it’s really more than that. Some of us might remember the Mercedes C230 crapback of the early 2000s that was about the same price. Man, was that thing awful! The GLA250 starts at $32,225, and the GLA250 4Matic (AWD) starts at $34,225. That’s a lot of wiggle room for options. You can get the Multimedia and/or Premium packages, both of which give you such goodies as navigation, a Harman Kardon audio system, a rearview camera and heated front seats. That’s a pretty good deal. Throw in the fact that it’s a sporty little crossover, and you’ve got a good deal. You’ve got a mini crossover that is posh and carries the Mercedes-Benz cache. 
  • Audi Q3: The Q3 is another mini crossover, but it’s a very good one. It starts at $34,625 with FWD, and starts at $36,725 with AWD. A good deal for a Q3 would be a FWD Q3 Premium Plus, which starts at $34,625. You get such goodies as HID headlights with LED accents, a panoramic glass roof, leather seats and upholstery, heated front seats and keyless entry/start, all of which are standard. At this point, you can still easily add the Technology and Sport packages without cracking the $40,000 mark. If you need AWD, add on $2,500.
  • BMW X1 sDrive 28i/X1 xDrive28i: The BMW X1 is the cheapest BMW sold in America. It starts off at $32,195 for the sDrive28i and $33,995 for the xDrive28i. It’s a bargain BMW. The result is that you can get a lot of options for less than $40,000, especially with the RWD sDrive28i. You can even get the Sport Line, Technology, Lighting and Driver Assistance packages without cracking $40,000.
  • Land Rover Discovery Sport: Even though the Land Rover Discovery Sport SE starts off at a hefty $38,065, it comes with a lot of bang for the buck. Maybe it won’t break down a ton. It comes standard with a nifty AWD system, an 8-inch infotainment screen, a 5-inch TFT screen for the driver, Bluetooth connectivity, a rearview camera with backup sensors, four (yes, four) USB ports, 18-inch alloy wheels and dual-zone climate control. Throw in navigation ($800) and Jaguar Land Rover’s InControl smartphone apps ($430), you’ll have a sticker price of $39,745.
  • Lexus NX 200t: The NX 200t starts off at $35,405 with FWD, and $36,805 with AWD. It’s a really well-priced crossover for the money. However, you can’t get very many options, because just about everything is bundled into some sort of package. The best deal for the NX 200t would be an AWD NX 200t with the Navigation Package, which includes Lexus’s Enform apps, and it will even stay below $40,000.
  • Lincoln MKC: This is Lincoln’s newest entry into the luxury world. For the past five years or so, they’ve been blundering around the woods with a bag over their heads. None of their cars have been successful lately, and that’s a problem for them. They hope to change that with the MKC. It starts off at $33,995 for FWD models and $36,490 with AWD. It has a lot of standard features including an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, two USB ports, rear parking sensors, a rearview camera and Bluetooth connectivity. There’s even more wiggle room with FWD MKCs, and for a touch under $39,000, you get navigation, a panoramic sunroof, leather and a hands-free liftgate.
  • Lincoln MKX: Yeah, I know. Two Lincolns in a row. Yowza. The MKX is larger than the MKC, but it’s still a good buy, even if it costs $39,025. You won’t have any wiggle room with this one, but that’s OK. You get the Ford/Lincoln SYNC infotainment system, a rearview camera, a 10-speaker high-quality audio system and keyless entry/start. Just because you go for the base model doesn’t mean that you will be sorely lacking in power. The standard engine in the MKX is a 3.7-liter V6 that is expected to crank out 300 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. It’s the same engine that’s in the base-model Ford Mustang.
  • Acura RDX: Acura has long been a heavy hitter in the bargain-basement fun-to-drive luxury segment. Even though the RDX has gone up in price, it’s still an incredibly good buy. It comes standard with LED headlights, a premium ELS sound system, a power liftgate, a rearview camera and Bluetooth connectivity, all for just $36,190 with FWD models. AWD models are a tad more at $37,690. Even getting the Technology Package will keep the price below $40,000 in FWD models. If you buy an AWD model, you can get the AcuraWatch safety features. The problem is that you can only get one or the other, as getting both packages will crack the $40,000 mark regardless of whether you have FWD or AWD.
  • Volvo XC60 T5 E-Drive/XC60 T5 AWD: Volvo has long been known for their bang for the buck. Their best-selling crossover comes standard with many great features such as City Safety automatic emergency braking, a 7-inch infotainment screen, Bluetooth connectivity and 18-inch alloy wheels. The FWD T5 E-Drive starts off at $37,395, while the AWD T5 AWD starts off at $38,895. The XC60 is right at the same price as many other comparable luxury crossovers. You won’t be able to get many options in the XC60, unfortunately, as many options are bundled into expensive packages that will send the sticker price well over $50,000.
  • Volvo XC70 T5 E-Drive/XC70 T5 AWD: The Volvo XC70 was one of the first crossover wagons to go on sale. Since then, it’s been a staple in the Volvo lineup. It starts off at $38,095 for the T5 E-Drive and $39,595 for the T5 AWD. It doesn’t come with a ton of standard or optional features. It’s also not the best-seller in Volvo’s lineup, as it’s showing it’s age. Volvo has tried to spice it up with a recent refresh and new powertrain options, but buyers would rather buy an SUV than an aging wagon.
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee: The Jeep Grand Cherokee is a great value. It starts off at a cheap $30,990 for RWD models and $32,990 for 4WD models. It offers a great combination of luxury and proven off-road capability. It comes standard with Fiat Chrysler’s amazing UConnect infotainment system, keyless entry/start and a 7-inch TFT display. Because it starts at such a low price, you can buy gadgets and goodies, or step up to higher trim levels. If you want navigation or the optional turbodiesel engine, be prepared to fork out more than $40,000. The navigation system doesn’t come with a package. You have to step up a couple of trim levels. Oh, and it’s built like a gigantic LEGO set. You can easily swap in better suspension, wheels, and just about anything you could think of.
  • Jeep Renegade: The Jeep Renegade is the replacement for the awful Compass and Patriot. It starts off at $18,990 and goes all the way up to $26,990. While it might be the cheapest new Jeep, it’s also in Wards Auto’s 10 Best Interiors for 2015. A fully loaded Renegade won’t even come close to $40,000, which is a good incentive for value-oriented buyers. It offers class-above equipment, a very nice interior and the Trailhawk models have decent offroad capability.
  • Buick Enclave: It’s certainly not the newest three-row crossover on the market, but it’s a very good one, despite having been introduced all the way back in 2008. You can get it in base model form for $39,975. Standard features include 18-inch alloy wheels, Buick’s IntelliLink infotainment system, a rearview camera, remote start and a power liftgate. I’m speaking from experience when I say you should seriously consider it. It’s quick, quiet, and incredibly comfortable for every passenger. It has a lot of space, and gets decent fuel economy for something so large.
  • Buick Encore: Despite being tiny in size, the Encore is a pioneer in the subcompact luxury crossover market. It was also the first of its kind in the segment. It starts off at an incredibly affordable $24,990, and even fully loaded falls far short of the $40,000 mark. It’s got a quiet interior for the segment. It’s a good choice for large city dwellers who need a car, but need it to have space but be small.
  • Ford Edge: Even though it doesn’t have that luxury cache to it, the Ford Edge offers plenty of luxurious amenities. Even if you don’t want to spend more than $40,000, you can get an Edge Titanium with AWD and gadgets such as SYNC with MyFord Touch, navigation and a Sony audio system. You could also get a sparsely-optioned Edge Sport with it’s twin turbo V6 and navigation if you want more power.
  • Ford Explorer: You don’t need to get the Ford Explorer Limited to be well-equipped in one. While the Explorer starts off at $31,645 for FWD models and $33,645 for AWD XL models, your best bet is the $34,345 XLT, which has many more standard features than the XL. Getting the XLT nets you rear parking sensors, keyless entry/start and a 10-way power driver’s seat. You can also get navigation, SYNC with MyFord Touch, remote start, a nine-speaker audio system and heated front seats without coming close to $40,000.
  • Nissan Murano: The 2016 Nissan Murano has a design that certainly isn’t for everybody. It’s aggressive and daring. You can make it even more daring with vibrant paint colors. Even though it looks upscale, you don’t need to go for the range-topping Platinum model to have a well-equipped Murano. The base model Murano starts off at $30,445 with FWD and $32,045 with AWD. Both the SV and SL models offer plenty of conveniences and gadgets including navigation, NissanConnect apps, remote start and two USB ports. While an AWD Murano SV will set you back $39,435, you get a lot of good stuff with it. You get all of the standard SV features, plus Nissan’s Around View camera feature, a premium Bose audio system, leather upholstery and seats and adjustable ambient lighting. That sounds like a good buy to the adventurous, but value-oriented buyer.
  • Nissan Pathfinder: It’s no longer the rugged offroader that it used to be. It’s now more of a mall-roader. It starts off at $30,515 for FWD models and $32,205 for AWD models. The SL trim is the best out of the vast range of models, due to its standard remote start, a power liftgate and leather seats and upholstery. However, other tech goodies will be out of reach, due to the fact that they are stuck in expensive packages.
  • Hyundai Tuscon: The 2016 Tuscon is completely redesigned. In every trim, especially the Limited model, the Tuscon offers value, class-above features and a dizzying array of electronic wizardry in one incredibly stylish package. Regardless of drivetrain choice, the Tuscon Limited doesn’t even come close to $40,000. If you check each and every option box, you will have everything from a 4.2-inch TFT display to navigation to such safety features as automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection.
  • Hyundai Santa Fe Sport: Hyundai has long been known to pack immense value into their SUVs. The Santa Fe Sport is no exception. It starts off at $25,845. Regardless of whether you get it with FWD or AWD, or different engines, it’s still a very good buy. You can check just about every option box and still not be close to $40,000. For anywhere from $30,000-38,000, the Santa Fe Sport will give you an Infinity Logic 7 audio system, navigation, a panoramic sunroof and a hands-free power liftgate. That sounds like a lot of value for not very much money to me.
  • Hyundai Santa Fe: The Santa Fe is just the three-row version of the Santa Fe Sport. It remains a very compelling buy in its segment. It starts off at $31,295. It comes with a host of standard features including blind spot warning, keyless entry/start and a hands-free power liftgate. Those come with the $36,545 GLS model. However, you can’t get navigation with the GLS, as that comes with the expensive Ultimate Package, which crakcs $40,000.
  • Toyota Highlander: The wildly popular Toyota Highlander is a good buy. It starts off at $30,650. The $37,870 FWD XLE and $38,935 AWD XLE models are the best buys. The XLEs come with the Entune infotainment system, which includes navigation, an 8-inch touchscreen, keyless entry/start and heated front seats thrown in for good measure. Throw in the legendary Toyota reliability and you’ve got yourself one helluva good deal.
  • Kia Sorento: Kia and Hyundai both are well-known for their value injections in every vehicle. The Sorento is the sister to the Santa Fe. The Sorento starts off at a reasonable $25,795. You can get a nicely optioned Sorento EX with either FWD or AWD, or a V6 or turbocharged four cylinder. The standard features on the EX are many, so I’ll just list a few. You get a nifty 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, navigation, a panoramic sunroof, a 7-inch TFT screen, an Infinity Logic 7 high-quality audio system, keyless entry/start and leather seats and upholstery.
  • Honda Pilot: The newly-released 2016 Honda Pilot looks promising to me. It’s got more space than before, better looks than before, and has more features than any other Honda SUV. It starts off at an affordable $30,875 to boot. For the best bang for the buck, go with the EX-L trim with navigation, as you will get the LaneWatch system, Honda Link with an 8-inch main screen and a power liftgate for just a tad under $40,000, even with AWD. That sounds like a good deal to me. 
  • Mazda CX-3: Talk about something that really punches far above it’s weight! It starts off at an incredibly affordable $20,840, but even fully loaded, won’t go past $30,000. The best one to get is the range-topping Grand Touring model. It has a beautiful interior filled with white/black leather/suede upholstery, an amazing infotainment system and a delightful Bose audio system. Throw in some fun driving dynamics for good measure, and you have a winner.
  • Mazda CX-5: The Mazda CX-5 is basically the sports car of the compact SUV segment. It brings goodies that were previously unobtainable to the average person into reach. These goodies include a neat infotainment system and LED headlights. A base model CX-5 starts off at $22,675. While a fully-loaded one won’t come close to $40,000, a $33,655 compact crossover is a bit pricey. But, you will get such safety aids as automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control. Many of the CX-5’s competitors don’t even offer these gadgets. Don’t get the smaller 155 horsepower 2.0-liter four cylinder (it’s a great engine), rather, go for the more powerful 184-horsepower 2.5-liter four cylinder. The smaller engine doesn’t have much of a noticeable fuel economy advantage over the bigger engine.

Those are the best SUVs and crossovers you can buy for under $40,000. They are all great choices, depending on what you are looking for. Of course, I highly recommend you test drive at least some of them before you settle on one!

I apologize for the extreme delay in posting. I’m just crawling out of the pit that is midterms.

The Best Supercars of the 1990s!

The 1990s was the time when performance cars really started to get that oomph back. The supercars of that era still have jaw-dropping performance, and their designs are some of the most beautiful to ever howl and thunder their way down our roads.

They had no environmental restrictions, and they were the pure intent of the designer and engineers. These are the ones I view as the best.

  • 1993 Bugatti EB110 Super Sport: The predecessor to the legendary Bugatti Veyron, the EB110 Super Sport was capable of 216 mph, which is still a blistering speed. Yet, it had a comfortable and luxurious interior. Oh, and it had a quad-turbo V12.
  • 1998 Dodge Viper: Dodge’s Viper was a formidable car to begin with. However, it didn’t really compete with any of the European supercars. That changed pretty quickly when Dodge shoehorned a massive 8.0-liter V10 under the hood. It made 450 horsepower and topped out at 180 mph. It wasn’t as fast as the EB110 Super Sport, but it was much faster on a race track or winding road.
  • 1995 Ferrari F50: The F50 was slower than the legendary F40. It was the successor to the F40 and the predecessor to the Enzo. However, it was still incredibly fast and rare, with only 349 built.
  • 1990 Jaguar XJR-15: This was the world’s first completely carbon-fiber car. Jaguar only built 53 examples of this car. It had a 450 horsepower V12.
  • 1992 Jaguar XJ220: This Jaguar was one wild child. It had a 540 horsepower twin-turbo V6. It was the fastest car in the world in 1992, topping out at 212 mph. The McLaren F1 beat it in 1993.
  • 1993 Lamborghini Diablo VT: The Diablo VT could reach speeds over 200 mph. It was the first AWD halo Lamborghini. It’s also a car that many people have as their screen savers!
  • 1996 Lotus Esprit V8: The Esprit V8 was in that weird space between high-end sports car and supercar. It had a twin-turbo V8 that made 350 horsepower. It put the power to the ground via a five-speed manual. It was also the first all-aluminum Lotus design. Oh, and you can look like James Bond (providing the car runs)!
  • 1999 Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR: This was more race car than street car. It made 604 horsepower out of a V12. Does it look expensive to you? It should. The Guinness Book of World Records pegged it as the most expensive car in the world in 1999, at a cool $1,547,620.
  • 1993 McLaren F1: The world’s only three seat supercar, the McLaren F1. It made 627 horsepower out of a BMW V12. It was the fastest car in the world from 1993-2005. It’s top speed is a crazy 240.1 mph. The car that beat it was the Bugatti Veyron, which just so happened to beat it’s own record a few years ago.
  • 1997 Porsche 911 GT1 Strassenversion: “Strassenversion” means “street version” in German. This Porsche made 537 horsepower from a 3.2-liter twin turbo flat six cylinder engine. There are about 25 that exist worldwide. Do the math. You’ll likely never see one. You’ve also probably never heard of it.

Well, those are what I think are the best supercars of the 1990s. Tell me what you think!

I’m having technical difficulties with WordPress and photos. I will resolve the problem as soon as I can, but you are going to be without pictures until then.