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 to Look for in a New-to-You Car/Truck

Call it what you will – hoarding, junk collecting or a serious automotive addiction. I’ve got it, and I’ve got it bad. Buying a new-to-you car/truck/motorcycle/whatever motorized vehicle you buy is always exciting. The process must release some endorphin in my automotive-craving brain. The downside of this is that I usually don’t have any money to fix the damn cars, but I’m happy (albeit slightly delusional). The bonus is that I can write and take (bad) pictures, and share my experiences with you. Here’s what I’ve learned.

  • Know what you want: If you have an idea of what vehicle you want to buy, educate yourself on it. Find out what options there were, and what reliability concerns there are. For example, if you’re looking at an older 1980s Toyota 4×4 pickup or 4Runner, know the difference between the 22RE and the 3.0L V6, and which one is right for you. 
  • Walk away if there is no title: Unless you’re planning on parting out the vehicle, or turning it into a race vehicle, walk away from it. Even though the seller might have a very entertaining story to explain the lack of a title, it just means an even bigger headache for you. Just be aware that if you decide to part out the vehicle and decide to send the carcass of it to a salvage yard, many won’t accept it without a title. They just have no way of knowing if it’s stolen or not. Some states are kind to you and allow you to jump through the hoops and get the title with only the bill of sale. It takes a whole lot of patience, dealing with bureaucracy, paperwork, and sometimes it doesn’t have a happy ending. Make sure the vehicle has proper VIN plates and check with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or your insurance company to see if it was ever reported stolen. The last thing you want to do is exchange money and then the cops come and take the car and you.  Do not pass go, do not collect $200 if there is no title!
  • Ask if there are spare parts: Most of the time, the seller just wants the vehicle gone, and you can usually get spare parts for a fraction of what they worth new. You might need those parts in the future. Sometimes the seller will just throw the parts in for free. Even if they say no, it never hurts to ask! 
  • Use parts you don’t like as negotiating points: If the vehicle you want to buy has ugly aftermarket wheels, and you have stock wheels at home, ask the seller if they would consider taking some money off the asking price and keeping the wheels and tires that the vehicle has on it. Fancy wheels you don’t like are worthless until you can sell them, and that takes a lot of time. 
  • Get the nicest one possible: This will save you money, a massive headache, and it will just be a better vehicle. It’s worth the extra money. 
  • Buy vehicles as close to stock as you can: This might seem silly if you’re going to be building an off-road rig or a hot rod, but here’s the thing. A car you want might have all the parts you want on it, but how do you know if they were installed correctly?
  • Try to avoid salvage title cars: This is, for the most part, a huge no-no. Vehicles can be salvaged for a number of reasons, some of which may not be bad, but insurance companies aren’t out there to lose money. Be suspicious if they don’t think it’s worth fixing. Some parts might be missing, but it’s always the little things that kill you. A salvage title always has a stigma attached to it, no matter how much work, time and money you may have poured into it, when you go to sell it, you’re going to lose money on it. At the same time, if you’re going to be building it into a race car, a trail rig, or a beater, does it matter if it’s got a few dents, is missing some trim pieces, or won’t sell for a lot of money?

    Nope nope nope nope nope nope nope
  • Buying most old cars means parts availability: Like it or not, if you buy an old Camaro, Mustang, Chevelle, pickup, Jeep, FJ40, or Bronco, there will be an abundance of aftermarket parts. Many of the parts you will need can be bought online, or you might be able to get them from their salvage yard out back. There are specialty restorers all over the country. If they have a few restorable vehicles out back, don’t bother haggling with them. They know how much the vehicle is worth and what they have. But, you do know that they have good parts, and rest assured that they will want to keep you as a customer.
  • Hang out with pros: Make friends, or become friendly with the people who restore or work on the vehicle you just got. They know what common problems are, how to fix them, and what to look at in a new (to you) vehicle that you’re considering buying. People who have worked on those vehicles know where to look, and chances are high that they will pitch in with your project.
  • Look for late-model 4×4 package (if you’re wanting an off-road truck): There are several late-model 4x4s with special off-road packages installed in the factory. You can score big time if you find one on a dealer lot. Look for Z71, FX4, TRD and Pro-4X. These packages give you deeper gearing, a locking or limited-slip differential, bigger, meatier tires, tuned suspension, and sometimes a beefier drivetrain and skidplates. Just be forewarned that stickers can be added to base vehicles without these packages to fool you. There are also 2wd TRD “Prerunner” Tacomas, and 2wd Jeep Wranglers that lack the front drive components, a transfer case, and all the goodies that come with off-road packages. Just keep an eye out and you’ll be fine. Also, some dealers will slap a sticker onto trucks to fool you into buying it. 

With all of that being said, go out and find that one car/truck/motorcycle/whatever motorized vehicle it is that you’ve always wanted to buy. Build it into what YOU want, not what others want. When they tell you how to build it, tell them to go build their own. It’s your car, and you’ll be much unhappier with the car they wanted you to build. You don’t want that, do you?

The Best Way to Make a Mazda Miata Faster

Say you have a Mazda Miata. It doesn’t matter what generation Miata you own – there are many options to make your Miata into a track monster, a daily driver with some oomph, a canyon carver that will hang around with a Porsche 911 GT3, and anything in between. If you don’t have a Miata, I highly encourage you to get one. Hop onto Craigslist, type in “Mazda Miata” and see what comes up. You can get one for $1,000, but I wouldn’t recommend that, unless you know what you are going to do (i.e. yank out the engine, put on new bodywork, etc.). If you know what you want to do, get one for cheap. Otherwise, my rule of thumb is get the nicest one you can get. Paying a few thousand dollars more for one that’s been taken care of, has a paper trail, and no accidents will mean less of a headache for you down the road.

The Miata was designed with extreme abuse in mind, so keep in mind it’s pretty hard to break them. They are durable cars, and will hold up to more abuse than many new cars.

Here are some options:

  • Monster Miata: Ever wanted to stuff a V8 into a tiny roadster just for the hell of it? That’s exactly what Monster Miata did. The overall structure of the Miata is more than capable of holding up to the massive stress of a V8. It’s almost as if the Miata was built for it! Monster Miata certainly has the expertise – they have done over 100 conversions in the past 20 years. You can have Monster Miata do the conversion for you, or you can do it yourself through their incredibly detailed instruction manual. You can buy the kit (not including a motor) for $3,995, which includes everything you’ll need to shove a Ford 302 V8 into one. You can find a Ford 302 V8 from a 1980s-1990s Mustang for $1,000. Throw in the fact you can get well over 400 horsepower without having to put a supercharger or turbocharger onto the engine, figure about $1,000 for everything. What do I mean by everything? The car, the kit and the engine. That’s a really good deal, especially because the Monster Miata cars are designed to be daily drivers, but track cars, autocross cars, and weekend warriors all in one package. Check them out at monstermiata.webs.com Doesn’t look like it’s going to fit, does it?
  • Flyin’ Miata: Flyin’ Miata started modding Miatas when they came out in 1989. They have everything from V8 conversion kits to turbocharger kits. Flyin’ Miata stuffs GM’s wonderful LS-series engines into the tiny engine bay of the Miata. The car gains less than 200 pounds, 1/3 of which is on the rear wheels. Road & Track tested one in 2013, and it hit 60 mph in 3.8 seconds. That’s Porsche 911 territory. Automobile Magazine compared it to the Shelby Cobra. A Flyin’ Miata will be a bit more expensive, but it’s well worth it. Monster Miata only does NA generation Miatas (first generation) conversion kits. Flyin’ Miata does V8 conversion kits for all generations of Miata. I’d go for an NC generation Miata (third generation), just because I like them the most. Oh, you can also buy used ones from Flyin’ Miata. Don’t worry about repairing them – any engine, transmission, or rear end part can be bought at any GM dealer, and most other parts can be bought at your local Mazda dealer. Want to keep the little four banger but want near LS engine power? Not a problem! You can get a turbocharger from Flyin’ Miata, as well as all the necessary parts. It’s literally a bolt-on process.

    This Miata is Flyin’ Miata’s test bed. They call it “Atomic Betty.” Several magazines have likened it to the Shelby Cobra 427.

Now, some of us might not have that kind of money. Don’t worry if you don’t – there are still plenty of options to make your Miata a speed demon!

  • Tires, tires, tires: I can’t say enough about how a good, sticky set of tires will dramatically improve the handling characteristics of your Miata. Get a set of really sticky summer tires, and if you daily drive your Miata, get a set of all-season tires that will last a while. This will mean a couple of sets of wheels, which I’ll talk about in a second. Just keep this in mind: the right summer/track tires can make the difference between winning and losing a race, but they come at an expensive price. Tires aren’t exactly the cheapest things on the planet, and considering that the Miata is a small car, you probably won’t have room to put four wheels (with tires on them), plus a cooler, tools, and whatever else you bring to the local autocross or track day. Think about towing the car if you can, or get a really small trailer. Lots of grassroots racers do that. Also, ask your friend if they will loan you their truck for a day, or ask a racing buddy who has a truck and is going to the same event if they can grab your tires.
    These might be all-season tires, but they are sticky all-season tires, along with wheels designed for the Miata.
    • Wheels can also make a big difference. A carbon fiber set of wheels will shave a good 20-30 pounds off the weight of your car. It might not sound like a lot, but consider this: lighter wheels + stickier tires = more smiles per mile. There are a lot of options for wheels, and tires.

      Like these wheels? How surprised would you be if I told you they were the stock wheels plasti-dipped, and with the center cap removed? That’s probably a modification under $100 for all four wheels.
  • Cold air intake: Want a bit more power out of your Miata, but not so much? A cold-air intake is a great investment. It works as a kind of ram-air system. They draw cold air from outside the car into the engine. Because of this, combustion requires less heat and fuel, which means a more efficient burn. Acceleration will increase, not dramatically, but you certainly will notice it. Your fuel economy will also increase, no matter how hard you drive the car. The engine note will be louder and more aggressive. It won’t bring the cops to your house at 1:30 a.m. when you’re revving it (good ones won’t), but it will have more of a roar then before. Get one from a reputable brand like: K&N (who promise, and deliver an extra 15 horsepower or your money back), Injen, Volant and Airaid. This is a great modification, and it’s pretty cheap too! One from, say, K&N, will cost about $300-400.

    Here’s an example of a cold-air intake on a Miata. Saves a lot of space in the engine bay and boosts performance!
  • Bigger brakes: If you’re planning on seriously autocrossing or tracking your Miata, invest in bigger, better brakes. You don’t need to go all-out and get massive 14-inch disc brakes – when you hit the brakes, the car will literally catapult you out of it! Step up about an inch or two in rotors, and don’t go above four-piston calipers. I’d go for EBC brakes. They provide great stopping power at an affordable price.

    EBC Brakes is a British brake company. Think of them as the working man’s Brembos.
  • Upgrade the suspension: Get adjustable coilover shocks, better struts, etc. They will make the ride a bit stiffer, but if you’re serious about driving the car hard, the added stiffness will pay off.

    Here’s an example of a suspension upgrade kit. This one is from Flyin’ Miata, and has just about all you need to keep your car a daily driver and be truly flyin’ at the track.
  • Racing seats: Most tracks will not allow you to track the car without a racing seat, a HANS device (I’ll explain that in another post), a five-point harness, a track suit, gloves and a helmet. Those are all great investments, and I’ll get to them in another post. They are a bit too much to explain how to get in this post. But, a racing seat is a great investment. Look at Corbeau, Recaro, and Sparco. They are all incredibly comfortable, and you can keep the stock seatbelts in the car, so you don’t have to buckle up into a five-point harness every time you have to go to get milk.

    Here’s a good example of a Recaro in a Miata, but just be careful of hitting the convertible top with the seat. Some seats are quite tall, and then it’s a bunch of hacking the floorpan to make it fit. The stock seat is the passenger seat, which the builder left in the car for comparison.
  • Rollcage: If you are going to track the car, definitely get one of these. A rollcage will protect you when you flip over at the track. Airbags will only do so much to save you. Not to say they aren’t great, because they are, but they won’t help very much when you flip going 110 mph. That’s where a rollcage will. The car will be damaged, but you should be able to walk away with only minor injuries. Go to a trusted and highly recommended fabricator. It should be a piece of cake for them. You should also get it padded, because a rollcage will seriously injure you if you’re driving without a helmet on. Most of the time, the padding can be removed if the track safety officials won’t allow it.

    This is a padded rollcage for a Miata, but it still allows the convertible top to go up and down.
  • Less weight: Never really used the air conditioning in your car? Rip it out and there goes about 30 pounds. Keep the heater core and all of the defroster stuff. Rip out the soft top and get a hard top. There goes another 30 pounds. Remove the spare tire and jack from the trunk, and that’s probably a good 30 pounds. This will free up trunk space, and you can get a tire repair kit. That right there is 80-90 pounds.

    Ever wondered what a stripped-down Miata interior looks like? This. It’s still perfectly functional, but all the heavy carpeting is gone.

All of these options are great. You will love the added performance bonuses all of these options give you. Think about it this way: if you don’t want a massive V8 in your Miata, all of the cheaper options I listed will total about $10,000, which is about the same price as one of the V8 conversion kits (before the engine). Excuse me, I have to go onto Craigslist and find a Miata to do all of this to. As always, donations are gladly accepted. I have always wanted one, after all…Why not go all out and get one with a V8?

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 $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.

Why You Should Buy a Classic Station Wagon

Most Americans over the age of 40 grew up waging hell in the backseat of a station wagon. Most of those station wagons were Buicks, Fords, Oldsmobiles, Chevys, and Mercurys. Some might have even been Pontiacs.  Here’s why they could turn into the next collector cars.  Those Americans who grew up turning the backseat into a war zone fondly remember them.  That same generation fondly remembers the Smokey and the Bandit Pontiac Firebirds (the one with the “screaming chicken” on the hood), so they buy them.  Station wagons from the 1970s and 1980s are now being bought more.  Prices are going up for these massive beasts.

The collector car market is going crazy right now.  People have more money to spend, and they want to enjoy an older car with their family.  They tend to buy cars that they remember fondly.  That’s why Chevy Blazers, “screaming chicken” Firebirds, and station wagons are starting to creep up in price.  Now is the time to buy them.

For all those people who say that station wagons are dorky and stupid, here’s a response:  station wagons have as much, if not more utility than most modern crossovers, and some SUVs, look better, and are far more fuel efficient.

Some station wagons are already highly sought-after collector cars.  They include the Chevrolet Nomad, antique woodies, and high-performance Pontiacs from the 1960s. However, there are still plenty of station wagons that can be enjoyed.  Here are some classic, and new wagons that you should consider buying.

  • 1991 Audi 200 20V Turbo Quattro Avant:  There is no point in going into the details of the 1986 60 Minutes debacle that came close to killing Audi.  There were some good cars that came out in the company’s darkest days, and one of them is the marvelous 1991 200 20V Turbo Quattro Avant.  This one-year-only package is incredibly rare.  Only 1,000 four-door sedans and about 200 station wagons got this package, and it was standard equipment on the two-door hatchback.  It’s a close cousin to the 1986 sedans that Audi used to dominate SCCA Trans-Am racing.  The twin-cam, 20-valve engine has five cylinders and goes through a five-speed manual to all four BBS wheels.  Maintenance is going to be a wee bit tricky, but enjoying this car won’t.
  • 1950-1991 Ford Country Squire:  This behemoth of a station wagon is what many Americans grew up in.  Early Country Squires are the expensive, sought-after woodies from the early 1950s.  Avoid them unless you have serious money and plans to upgrade just about everything on them.  However, starting in 1960, the Country Squire became the familiar family hauler.  They’ve covered millions of miles, millions of Americans remember them fondly, and they have starred in multiple movies.  They came with a Ford small-block V-8 (usually the 351 Windsor V-8 found in most Fords of the 1970s through the 1990s) and a mushy automatic transmission.  If you get a pre-1976 model in California, you can upgrade it to make the ultimate family hauler.  Just put in a modern Ford Coyote motor (the same engine as the Mustang), a Ford T-5 five-speed manual transmission, and some better suspension pieces and you’ll have the ultimate road trip/family hauler.  They are fairly reliable cars to begin with, and Ford made a lot of them, so finding one isn’t the challenge of the century like the Audi mentioned above.
  • Volvo V60 Polestar:  OK, who wouldn’t want a 345-horsepower station wagon that looks really cool?  Speak now or forever hold your peace.  While a mere 120 cars scheduled to come to the US over this summer isn’t a lot, it’s enough to make it a true collector car.  It’s a fast car, and Volvo has a rich history of deceptively fast station wagons.  It looks really cool with the big wheels, low-profile tires, blue paint, and it’s somewhat-bulbous styling.  Get one while you can, and enjoy it!  This is a car that’s meant to be driven, so drive the wheels off of it.
  • Saab 9-2X:  Why buy a re-badged Subaru WRX because GM said so?  Because it’s a more comfortable, tame early Subaru WRX.  For Saab faithful, it was too Subaru, even though it wasn’t nearly as blasphemous as the 9-7X “Trollbazer” which was just a Chevrolet Trailblazer with different wheels and badges.  For the rest of us automotive folks, it’s a more refined version of the spunky Subaru WRX.  Unlike the WRX, it doesn’t turn the wheels 90 degrees when you floor it.  Unlike other Saabs, you can get same-day service on it by simply going to a Subaru dealer.  It’s a far better car than the sales charts show.  Owners love it, and others snap them up.  They aren’t very big, and are more of a hatchback than a station wagon, but they are fun, reliable little cars that can really take a beating.  That’s something that most other Saabs can’t claim.
  • Morris Minor Traveller:  This cute little station wagon is based off of the popular Morris Minor.  Sir Alec Issigonis started his automotive success career with this car. The Morris Minor coupe and convertible debuted in 1948, and the Traveller station wagon followed suit in 1953.  It came to our shores through 1967. When other station wagons were ditching real wood for fiberglass and vinyl, the Traveller had real ash wood from the tailgate all the way to the B-pillars.  Not only does it look great, but it’s also the superstructure for the back half of the car.  That means you’ll have to sand and re-varnish periodically, but that’s going to be the extent of your automotive woes with this car.  Parts are cheap and easily sourced, and it’s an incredibly reliable car.  Not something you can say about most British cars.
  • Buick Roadmaster/Chevy Caprice:  Yes, they may have been the final gasp of GM’s RWD land barges, but who doesn’t want something that seats eight people, has a (slightly detuned) Corvette engine, and is gigantic?  These behemoths were the final iterations of the big American station wagons that so many Americans grew up in. They are still available and cheap for us to thrash around and haul kids around with.  You don’t need to do much to unlock the true potential of these engines – you just get the Corvette’s ECU, as the engines in these cars were the same as the Corvette’s LT1.
  • Cadillac CTS-V:  OK, most of us would LOVE to own a 556-horsepower station wagon that comes with a six-speed manual.  Look no further than the previous-generation Cadillac CTS-V wagon.  I know that this implies that there is another one coming, which we can only hope for, but this is probably the ultimate family burnout/drift/autocross/trackday/hoonmobile.  Period.  My friend Jonny Lieberman of Motor Trend had one as a long-term car for a year, and I’m still feeling the pangs of jealousy.  It has a detuned Corvette engine, but 556 horsepower is still plenty to rage through the quarter mile.  It would make the ultimate backup car for your local autocross/track day, and it would be a fun daily driver to boot.

I’m sure that many of my readers have some fun memories of being in station wagons as kids…let’s here them!

 

 

1991 Audi 200 Avant

 

1967 Ford Country SquireVolvo V60 PolestarSaab 9-2XMorris Minor Traveller1992 Buick Roadmaster WagonChevy Caprice WagonCadillac CTS-V Wagon Drifting

What are Bore, Stroke, Porting, and Relieving?

You hear car guys throw around the terms, “bore” and “stroke” all the time.  Most of us don’t know what that means.  I do.  Here’s what they mean, and how to identify them.

Bore:  Cylinder bore is the measurement of the diameter of the cylinders in an engine.

Stroke:  Stroke is the amount of movement a piston can move up and down.

A bored engine happens when you machine out the block.  For example, taking a 400 cubic-inch Chevy V-8 and boring out the cylinder walls to make the engine displace, say 500 cubic inches.

A stroked engine is simple to build.  You just pull out the current internal moving parts, and put in bigger ones.  Because bigger is better.  An infamous example of this is Chevy’s 302 cubic-inch V-8 from 1967-1969.  Chevy took their garden-variety 283 cubic-inch V-8 engine block, and put the bigger 327 cubic-inch V-8 internals in.  Voila.

An easy way to put into perspective just how thirsty an engine can be is to remember that a 302 cubic-inch engine will theoretically inhale and exhale 302 cubic inches of air and fuel in two revolutions of the crankshaft.  If you punch that engine out (slang for stroking it) to 347 cubic inches, then you’re going to have a more powerful engine.  That 347 stroker engine is popular with drifters – it’s based off of Ford’s capable 302 cubic-inch V-8.  A 347 cubic-inch engine is 14.9% larger than a 302.  So, that 350 horse 302 will have 402 horsepower.

Just stroking an engine for more power won’t solve your problems entirely.  A cam (or more nowadays) pushes on the intake and exhaust valves.  If you’ve got a bigger crankshaft and pistons, upgrade the cam!  You’ll have a far more reliable engine.  Upgrading the cylinder heads is also smart.

The nice part about stroking an engine is that the engine remains the same size externally.

Porting:  A ported engine refers to enlarging the intake and exhaust ports of an engine.  This makes for better and more airflow.

Porting is common in drag racing, especially with the use of nitrous oxide (yes, the same stuff that is used to push out whipped cream from the can).  It just makes more room for the air to go in and out.

Relieving:  No, the engine is NOT using the bathroom!  That would be relieving itself.  A valve seat is where the valve is attached to.  It’s usually a small mound of metal, but it doesn’t need to be.  Relieving just removes the extra metal to make more room for bigger valves.

Here are some pictures of the different kinds of engine enlarging.

This is a bored Chevy big-block V-8 engine block.  It’s been bored out from 454 cubic inches to 489 cubic inches.  That’s 35 cubic inches more air and fuel this engine will hork down.

This is a stroked Chevy small-block V-8 engine.  It displaces 383 cubic inches, rather than 350.  Instead of 350 horsepower, it makes 425 horsepower.  You can buy this engine from Summit Racing.

This is a close-up of a beautifully-ported Ford 302 cubic-inch V-8 from a 1987 Mustang GT LX 5.0.  The larger port is the exhaust port.  The small hole is the valve seat.

This is a relieved Ford 221 cubic-inch flathead V-8.