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 Porsche Placed a Bet on Front-Engine Sports Cars

When you hear the word “Porsche,” what car do you think of? Of course it’s the 911. However, Porsche owes much more credit than it is given for the front-engine 944 and 928. Why’s that?

In the mid-1970s, Porsche executives were imagining a vastly different future for Porsche than where it is now. The rear-engine 911, was in their eyes, a flawed and rapidly aging design. They started developing two front-engine cars to replace it. What were those cars? the 924 and the 928. My grandfather owned a 924 at one point, but that’s a story I won’t tell now. Anyways, back to the point. We all know that the future those Porsche executives had planned out didn’t happen. The 911 still remains in production, and is a true masterpiece of automotive engineering and design. However, the 924 and 928 played a vital role in Porsche’s storied history.

The front-engine cars, especially the 944 , were the knight in shining armor for Porsche in the 1980s. They certainly stumbled with the slow, VW-derived 924, but they had a truly runaway success with the 944, which was what kept the 911 in production. In my eyes, it was unfortunate that the big, V8-powered 928 never really caught on with Porsche’s intended audience, but it has gained somewhat of a cult following in the past 15 years or so.

While the 928, and 944 are dearly departed, their spirit lives on, albeit in a different form. The 718 Boxster/Cayman occupy the same space that the 944 did. One can make the case that the 928 was reborn as the Panamera.

What about the 924? While it’s popular for budget track day enthusiasts, it never became as popular as the 928 and 944. Even though it had a VW engine, Porsche was in charge of developing the head for the engine. They played around with a 16-valve head, which meant it had four valves per cylinder (two intake, two exhaust), a turbocharger (which made the 924 quite formidable on a windy road), among other things.

This is a 1976 Porsche 924. You can definitely see the VW design in it, right?
This is a 1976 Porsche 924. You can definitely see the VW design in it, right?
The Porsche 944 was just a 924 with a bigger engine and better suspension. It was aimed at cash-rich, young professionals who wanted a nice sports car. It sold in droves.
The Porsche 944 was just a 924 with a bigger engine and better suspension. It was aimed at cash-rich, young professionals who wanted a nice sports car. It sold in droves.
This is a 1991 Porsche 928 GTS. It had a V8, lots of power, and I think, might have been the ultimate iteration of the front-engine Porsche sports cars born in the mid-1970s.
This is a 1991 Porsche 928 GTS. It had a V8, lots of power, and I think, might have been the ultimate iteration of the front-engine Porsche sports cars born in the mid-1970s.

Vintage Look, Modern Rubber

Chances are, if you own a Porsche, or have owned one, it’s still being enjoyed. Porsche estimates that 70% of all of their cars are still on the road. If you have an earlier-model 911, chances are you’ve gone through more than one set of tires.

Porsche, the ultimate automotive perfectionists, believes that not just any tire will do for your 1974 911S 2.7. Porsche collaborated with Pirelli to create a whole new line of tires inspired by the original original-equipment (OE in car-people speak) offerings, but with modern technology. Porsche/Pirelli went a step further and properly tuned the tires to the specific vehicle generation they’re offered for.

What’s so cool about that? A lot, actually.

The tires are designed to look like the originals in profile design and looks, but meet the requirements for modern tire performance. Porsche and Pirelli have created 32 tires for model years 1959-2005, for models including the 356 (B and C), Boxster (986 generation), and 911 (G model, 964, 993, and 996 generations). The tires will also be available for front-engine models including the 924, 928, 944, and 968.

How did Porsche and Pirelli create the tires? The team used a rubber mixture and additives used in modern tires to offer greater grip and rolling resistance. Classic Porsches are a hoot and a half to drive, and these new tires should only make them two hoots to drive!

Former world rally champion and current Porsche test driver Walter Röhrl helped tune the tires. “The driving properties in the early years were not as full or balanced as they are today. The new generation of tires is more fitting than ever to the driving style of a challenging sports car.”

Every one of the newly developed classic tires will feature the quality seal of Porsche, along with the “N” certification designator that identifies them as special Porsche release tires. It’s a bit of a stringent process to earn that designation: the tires have to go through testing to fulfill 33 very strict criteria before release.

If you would like to purchase these tires, you can buy them from any Porsche Classic Center.

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.

 

The Next Porsche 911 GT3 Will Have a Manual Transmission

Traditionally, high-performance versions of the Porsche 911 are offered with a manual transmission. The 911 is a car built for enthusiasts, and very few cars are as amazing to drive as a Porsche 911 with a manual transmission. The yowling, burbling, screaming flat-six cylinder engine a few feet behind you, and an easy-to-shift transmission make it a wonderfully engaging car to drive.

However, the current Porsche 911 GT3 isn’t offered with a manual transmission, like it was with the previous generation. Many enthusiasts were angry at Porsche. They felt like the PDK transmission took some of the soul out of the car. Don’t get me wrong – the PDK is a great transmission. It’s a quick-shifting dual-clutch transmission that was developed from Porsche’s blindingly fast and reliable race cars. But it doesn’t have the same kind of incredible preciseness that the 991 (chassis designation GT3 has.

At the Geneva Motor Show, Porsche unveiled the 911 R, which is basically a more toned-down version of the GT3 RS. It has the same 500-horsepower flat six cylinder engine as the GT3 RS, but it has a six-speed manual, unlike the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that the GT3 RS has. What I find amazing about the 911 R is that it brings back memories of racing-spec Porsches of years past. It has a magnesium roof, the front fenders and luggage compartment lid are carbon fiber, no rear seats, less interior insulation, and air conditioning is a no-cost option. This is serious.

The 911 R is far more toned-down in terms of bodywork than the GT3 RS. It doesn’t have a massive wing, less flourishes along the sensuous body, but still looks hardcore. It has bold racing stripes, available in red or green. What provides downforce? An automatically-deploying spoiler and rear underbody diffuser do that.

One of the best options about the 911 R is that it has an optional front axle-raising system that can boost front ground clearance an extra 1.2 inches, which will certainly save expensive repairs when you try and go into a driveway. The same wheels from the 911 GT3 RS finish off the looks of the 911 R.

Take a peek inside the 911 R, and you’ll find it’s all business. It has bucket seats with carbon fiber seatbacks, a special steering wheel, and a racing-derived short-throw shift knob.

Back to the next 911 GT3. The head of Porsche GT cars promised Motor Trend that all future GT-series 911s will stay naturally aspirated, except for the GT2 (which has always been turbocharged). While the Cayman is downsizing engines from flat six-cylinder engines to turbocharged 4-cylinders, the next-generation Cayman GT4 will have six cylinders (and likely a manual transmission).

Until we get a next-generation 911 GT3, we’ll have to watch this video of the 911 R attacking what looks like an incredible twisting mountain road, with even better views. You can watch it at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=60uUFO9Wrng

What do we want? A Porsche 911 GT3 with a manual transmission, of course! Until we get one of those, I guess we’ll have to make do with a 911 R…

The Cars Best Suited for Just One Task

A lot of time, cars will try and be good at everything, and fail miserably. They end up being great at nothing. The cars I’m going to list all aimed for one specific thing, and completely dominate it.

  • Alfa Romeo 4C: Putting Italian car reliability concerns out the window, let’s talk about what a wonderful car the Alfa Romeo 4C is. It’s the perfect dance partner for winding mountain roads. The sensible money would go to the Porsche Cayman. The Cayman is a wonderful car – don’t get me wrong there. It’s got fantastic power, an interior that would make any car proud, and is relatively affordable. Look at the Alfa Romeo 4C on paper. It looks like an awful car to own. Four-cylinder engine, manual steering, few creature comforts, and some interior trim pieces wouldn’t look out of place in a Chevy Spark. Drive it in the city, and you’ll want to stop it in traffic and run after the bus. But, take it out on a winding back road and you’ll never want to stop driving it. It’s got a guttural four-cylinder with a whooshing turbocharger, a quick-shifting dual clutch transmission, and who needs navigation or a radio for back road blasting? 
  • Dodge Viper ACR: All it takes is one quick look to realize that the Dodge Viper ACR is probably one of the worst cars to drive on a daily basis. It’s got a massive rear wing, a thundering exhaust note that you can hear from a mile away, and it’s just a big car. It would be intriguing to see someone try to daily drive one, but my spine says let them do it! This car is built to keep up with racecars on the track, and set records. That’s exactly what it does. So far, it’s set lap records at 13 different tracks. Yes, 13 different tracks. Few street cars, save for hypercars (even those would have a serious run for their money), could have any chance of touching this car. The exhaust note might sound like it’s right out of a tractor, but tractors sound nice to me!
  • Dodge Challenger Hellcat: How can you not love 707 horsepower for around $60,000? If you expected Dodge to turn it’s burnout machine into some sort of corner carving demon, you should just press ALT + F4 right now. It’s got no interest in chasing Viper ACRs and McLaren P1s around tracks or canyon roads; no this car is the best for burnouts and drag racing (it ran 10.80 seconds in the 1/4 mile on street-legal drag slicks).
  • Jeep Wrangler Rubicon: The Jeep Wrangler has always been one of those vehicles that even non-car people love. It makes you feel instantly cooler, no matter what job you have, even if you never take it off-road. This is especially true in Rubicon form. Just promise me that you’ll take it off-road, because that’s where you WILL be cool. You don’t need to do anything to it to go just about anywhere in it. Just put some gas, friends, and a cooler full of cold drinks and some snacks, and you’re good to hit the trails.
  • Mitsubishi Lancer Evo: There used to be a time when the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo was one of the most desirable cars out there. It had cutting-edge technology that made it feel like you were blasting down a rally stage, even if you were just going to work. Today, unfortunately, that’s far from the case. With Mitsubishi’s announcement that they are going to be ceasing production of the Evo, and no significant updates to the car since it’s launch in 2008, it feels, like well, a car from 2008. However, that all changes when you get less traction. It doesn’t matter how old the car feels; it just feels right at home. That’s where all Evos have shined, and this one is no exception. Taking one for a spin down a dirt road will put a gigantic grin on your face.
  • Nissan Versa: Many people think that the Mitsubishi Mirage is the cheapest new car sold in the U.S., but they are wrong. The Nissan Versa starts about $1,000 lower than the Mirage. If you’re paying $60,000 for a luxury sedan, $1,000 is pretty insignificant. With a $12,000 car, that’s a lot. Then again, you don’t get much of anything for that price. You get air conditioning, ABS, and traction control, and a radio. That’s about all of the major things on the car. Still, it’s the best at being the cheapest new car sold in the U.S. Yes there are dealer wars to see who can sell the car for the least amount of money, but that’s always been the case.
  • Ram ProMaster: If all the cargo you carry home is takeout from Domino’s, then chances are likely that you don’t need a Ram ProMaster. But, if you haul a bunch of stuff around all day, every day, then the Ram ProMaster is a great choice. It’s got an incredibly low loading height, and a lot of space. With all the stuff you can carry in it, you’ll be catching a bunch of nasty looks from UPS and FedEx drivers.
  • Rolls-Royce Phantom: Set aside it’s hefty price tag for a minute. It weighs nearly 6,000 pounds. It’s far from a driver’s car. Even though it has a 6.8-liter V12, it’s far from a fast car. But, the Phantom chucks all of those notions out the window. It’s not concerned with any of those petty things. No, it’s by far the most comfortable car you could ever be in. It’s sumptuous leather seats have only the finest hides sourced from the finest tanneries in the world. It’s whisper-quiet. It’s also astronomically expensive.
  • Toyota Prius: Yes, I know what you’re thinking. I lost my mind a very long time ago! The Toyota Prius is the ultimate car for fuel economy. The new Prius is more fun to drive than the previous generation, but it’s no sports car by any stretch of the imagination. If you go with the Eco model, you’ll get an incredible 58 mpg city and 50 mpg highway. It also looks worlds better. The Prius has been a ground-pounder in terms of paving the way for every other mainstream hybrid.
  • Pagani Huayra: For outright beauty, the Huayra is untouchable. It’s also stonking fast, but there are few cars that you can just sit and stare at for days at a time. It has so many beautiful little details that you really have to look for. It’s the brainchild of the absolutely brilliant industrial designer Horacio Pagani, the man who helped revolutionize carbon fiber technology back in the late 1980s.
  • Ford F-550: This behemoth pickup truck is one of the heavyweights in the towing/hauling ring. It’s basically a step below an International TerraStar. It can tow up to 26,000 pounds, which is absolutely mind-boggling. The insane part is that it does it without really breaking a sweat. It also costs a lot of money, but if you tow and haul lots of heavy stuff around all the time, there is no better option. All you need is a Class C driver’s license, which is the same one for passenger cars.
  • Mazda Miata: For cheap thrills, nothing beats a Mazda Miata. It’s cheap, fights far out of it’s class, and wins. It’s slow in a straight line, but few cars can catch it in the curves. It’s also really nice to go for a late-night cruise with the top down in your Miata. 
  • Dodge Grand Caravan: Like hauling people around, but don’t need a 12-passenger van? The Dodge Grand Caravan is your ticket. It’s got a powerful V6, lots of space, a nice interior, and is easy on the wallet. It’s probably one of the best vehicles to pile your friends in, and go for a long road trip in. Even the third row is usable for adults! 

Tell me what your favorite cars at one specific task are!

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?