Top 10 new cars for driving enthusiasts
While fuel economy and practicality have a place in new car showrooms, there are still a small number of cars that cater to those new car buyers who love to drive. And when I say “love,” I mean driving enthusiasts who may actually take their road car to a race track for an occasional day of driving fun.
To do so, enthusiasts want a car with rear-wheel-drive, a manual transmission, descent power-to-weight ratio, and the proper suspension, brake, and tire hardware to get you going fast without falling apart. And all for under $100,000 please.
BMW M3 Coupe
I’m expecting a new-generation M3 sedan to pop up at next month’s Paris auto show. Speculation says to expect a turbocharged-six-cylinder engine and an automatic gearbox only. So I nixed that car. And BMW’s so-called “sports car,” its Z4, comes only with a slushbox in its sportiest sDrive35is form.
Which leaves the soon-to-depart M3 Coupe as one of the last Bimmers for enthusiasts. Not that the M division two-door is a compromise. With a proper suspension and interior accoutrements, the $71,700 M3 coupe is sweetness on wheels both on-road and on-track. And with 414 horsepower and 295 lbs.-ft. of torque from its naturally aspirated 4.0-litre V8, the six-speed manual gearbox BMW can scoot from 0-100 in 4.8 seconds.
Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE
Just as the original Camaro followed the Ford Mustang, the track-worthy SS 1LE is a response to the new Boss 302 (see below). Whilst using the SS’ naturally aspirated 426 hp and 420 lb-ft 6.2 L V8, the 1LE can only be had with a manual gearbox, resulting in an under-five-second 0-100 km/h run.
The rest of the estimated $45,000-plus 1LE’s best bits come straight from the top-line $58,000 Camaro ZL1, including heavier duty roll bars, rear shock mounts, fuel pump, half-shafts and wheel bearings and bigger-yet-lighter (20-inch) tires and wheels. The SS 1LE is still one of the largest and heaviest cars here (almost 1,800 kilograms), but it’s the Camaro for those who love to drive.
Chevrolet Corvette Z06
With General Motors Chevrolet brand pushing hybrids (Volt and Malibu Eco) and more small cars than a toy shop (Spark, Sonic, Cruze, Orlando, Trax, etc.), it’s easy to forget about enthusiasts’ cars like the Camaro and the even older Corvette—America’s sports car. But those who love to drive shouldn’t.
For drivers, the mid-range $88,220 Z06 hardtop is the ‘Vette to get. It comes with a naturally aspirated 7.0 L V8 (with 505 hp and 470 lbs.-ft.) mated to a six-speed manual ‘box. While at 1,451 kg, the Z06 isn’t the lightest car here. But a 0-100 km/h acceleration time of 4.5 seconds and a seriously competent suspension setup means this Chevy is track-ready.
Ford Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca
Despite the lack of an independent rear suspension, the $48,799 Boss 302 is the best-handling Mustang ever. Its naturally aspirated 5.0 L V8, with 444 hp and 380 lbs.-ft. and six-speed manual, rocket the Ford to 100 km/h as quick as the above-mentioned ‘Vette. Now add the $8,500 Laguna Seca (named after the California track) package and your Ford is ready for the track and road.
An adjustable front air splitter, even stiffer springs, revised bushings, street-legal R-compound Pirelli Corsas (with wider rear wheels), ducts to cool the brakes, an underbody duct to cool the transmissions, the thickest rear anti-sway bar ever found on a Mustang and a tubular-steel X brace that replaces the pair of rear seats, makes the Laguna Seca a “must-drive” for serious enthusiasts.