I love sports cars
I first got the sports car bug while growing up near a road racing track watching Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) races. After owning my first sports car, I would occasionally sneak onto the track at night and run a few practice laps. (Sometimes they would forget to lock one of the back gates).
To me, a sports car has to meet the following qualifications: It must be a two-seater convertible with excellent brakes, quick steering, and a short-throw manual shifter. A sports car should have a solid feeling-shifter providing quick wrist-flick gear changes taking advantage of the engine’s strong torque range. There is nothing quite like the feel of driving a curvy mountain road with the top down and working in harmony with the car’s power and handling.
In most of the west, spring is right around the corner and demand for convertibles goes up. Now is a good time to look for your new or used sports car and enjoy the pleasures of summer driving when you can still find a good deal. What a great way to enjoy Sierra summer by driving a two-seater, topless car and forgetting about the long winter.
Let’s review what can be classified as “runabout” sports cars. Fortunately, compared to a decade ago, there is an assortment of fun cars to choose from. Starting with the Mazda Miata, which revitalized the runabout category and provided consumers a reasonably priced two-seater. We will leave the exotic cars for the slick car magazines.
For 2005, the MX-5 Miata now has a more powerful 178 hp engine and six-speed transmission to compliment its precise handling.
Prices range from $22,000 to $25,000 for new. Quality used Miatas are available in strong supply. There also is a SCCA Miata category if you want to try your race track skills with other amateurs. You can even rent a Miata and race for the day.
The Honda S2000 is the “sleeper.” People don’t realize what an excellent performing car this is. Honda used its Formula One experience and put together a fun car to drive. With light and quick steering, improved suspension, wider tires and an increase in engine size to 2.2 liters, the Honda is a real driver’s machine.
The car accelerates from 0-60 in just 5.4 seconds and car experts consider the transmission to be the finest available in any sports car.
Priced at $32,950, about $20,000 less than a Porsche Boxster, this is a great sports car for the enthusiast with realistic price considerations.
Of all the sports cars listed, the BMW Z4 3.0 may be the most enjoyable to drive if you are planning to be in the car all day. With a suspension set up with a softer ride than most of the other sports cars, it is a great touring soft top with 225 hp with a comfortable interior.
Priced at $40,900 for the base model, a real BMW enthusiast will probably wait for an ‘M series’ version.
The other car in the touring category is the new Mercedes-Benz SLK350. This car is a significant improvement from the previous version with more horsepower. With the SLK’s heavy weight, the car is a solid open road convertible cruiser, yet has sports car quality acceleration. Yes, the interior is Mercedes quality in comfort and luxury. Prices from $45,500 to $50,000.
The Lotus Elise is for true sports car purists who consider extra features like power windows, air conditioning and plush carpeting just added weight. I had a first hand look at an Elise and this is a raw single-minded design.
Weighing only 1,960 pounds, about 40 percent lighter than the Mercedes, this junior-sized sports car flat-out rips down the road. A 190 horsepower Toyota engine provides durability. The Lotus accelerates from 0-60 in only 4.6 seconds and will out handle many sports cars at five times the price.
The car is great for only two things: Going out for a few hours of fun driving or dancing around a race track. You would not want to take the Elise on a multi-day back-road cruise from Truckee to Seattle.
The Elise can only be purchased with advanced deposit and a long waiting list with the price in the low $40,000 range.
Porsche has revised the Boxster for ’05 with a new body style and a new 355 hp 3.2 liter engine. The Boxster S offers world-class handling and braking performance. Yet not only will the ‘S’ respond to the demands of its pilot, it’s also comfortable as a subservient touring car as well.
Unfortunately, the price is pulling the car up to the more exotic levels of automobile driving pleasure. With a base price of $53,000, once you add the desirable options like leather interior, active suspension management, sport wheels, and more, the price soars above $65,000. At those prices, you could own a Honda S2000 plus an SUV for winter driving.
Should the Corvette convertible be included in this group? Even though the price is in the same range as the other cars in the category, I consider the new Corvette to be in the exotic sports car class. Even though you can purchase a Corvette Convertible for around $50,000, this 400 hp machine is in the 911 Porsche and Ferrari category of performance. Although the Vette is not a true “runabout” sports car, this car offers the best bang for the buck of any sports car in the world.
Which car should you put in your garage? Personal taste, budget and driving style are the factors for deliberation. On a limited budget, a used Miata is the best choice. And for those without financial constraints you should consider a Boxster.
The Honda S2000 offers excellent performance and is reasonably priced. There also are numerous aftermarket upgrades if you like to tinker with the suspension or engine.
For the handful of enthusiasts ready to experience pure driving pleasure and a Spartan cockpit, check out the Lotus Elise.
Mark Lowenstern is the owner of Cross Roads Car Wash. He fell in love with cars when he first met Carrol Shelby in 1964, along with the second Shelby Cobra ever produced. Mark has lived in the Truckee-North Tahoe area since 1983. He resides in Tahoe Donner along with his wife Joan and his two children, Seth and Aimee.
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