Driver’s Cars for the Real World

The 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1: one step closer to owning your own C7.R racecar.
On November 12th, General Motors broke the Internet with the official world premiere of the 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 at the Dubai Auto Show. This fourth iteration of the iconic ZR1 nameplate (since 1970 with the C3 3rd generation Corvette) builds upon the monstrous Z06 supercharged C7 Corvette; a track-focused driver’s car that features the latest and greatest sport performance technology General Motors has to offer. In their relentless efforts to compete against—and overtake—the world’s top elite high-performance Sports Cars, General Motors’ Corvette Racing Team has engineered this new ZR1 to not only unseat the previous ZR1 (last seen in 2013) as the fastest production Corvette in history, but to also become the world’s greatest Sports Car ever made. At the time of this writing, not much is known about the exact solid number performance specs of the 2019 ZR1, but it brandishes an all-new supercharged 6.2L Generation 5 small block V8 capable of churning out a hellacious 745 horsepower and 715 lb. ft. of torque VIA a new Eaton supercharger that is 52% larger than the one currently utilized by the Corvette Z06, Cadillac CTS-V, and Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. The 2019 Corvette ZR1 will also employ enhanced aero, cooling, handling and suspension modifications based on the Camaro ZL1 as well as a revised Z07 track option and a brand new ZTK performance pack that adds even greater handling capabilities on top of the already-impressive base setup.

The ultimate midlife crisis-mobile. More practical than plastic surgery, hairplugs, and ED treatment.
Pricing for the 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 is expected to start at $120,000. That’s quite a bit of coin, especially when the base Corvette Stingray—a powerful and capable performance car in its own right—begins at $55,000. That’s far less than what people spend for the typical full-size SUV. Of course, not everybody has an extra $120,000 in their back pockets or stuck underneath the couch cushions among the lost pens and long-forgotten, now-petrified Cheetos. However, when you consider the next comparable selections with this amount of power and these levels of performance capabilities, you’ve got to move all the way up to the Pagani Huayra, the Lamborghini Aventador SV, or the Ferrari F12berlinetta. If you have to ask how much these things cost, you definitely can’t afford them. That $120,000 price tag doesn’t sound so steep anymore, now does it?

But for the rest of us driving enthusiasts who don’t live in fantasy land and actually have to wake up and go to work every day, there do exist cars in the automotive landscape that serve up genuine excitement without requiring a second (or third, or fourth) mortgage. In our previous entry, we covered the highly-anticipated North American release of the FK8 Honda Civic Type R; an entertaining and relatively-inexpensive piece of driving enjoyment. Let’s now take a deeper look at some of the auto industry’s biggest performance car bargains with these budget-friendly driver’s cars.

 

Your friends will laugh at you for buying it, but they all secretly want to drive it.
MAZDA MX-5 MIATA

From $24,915

Depending on who you ask, the Mazda MX-5 Miata is famous for two very distinct, albeit, very contrasting reasons. One, is that it’s always been regarded as a “girl’s car”. It’s a stigma that’s been passed down through generation-after-generation ever since the NA Miata’s introduction in 1989. The second, is that in spite of its modest power output and petite proportions, the MX-5 Miata is one of, if not, the finest fun-per-dollar driver’s cars ever made. The original NA MX-5 Miata took inspiration from classic English sports roadsters like the 1953 Austin-Healy 100, 1961 AC Ace, and the original 1962 Lotus Elan. Now in its 4th generation, the ND MX-5 Miata continues the tradition of pure motoring enjoyment without any unnecessary gimmickry to detract from the driving experience. The MX-5 Miata is purpose-built to tackle hairpin turns, tricky bends, and sweeping curves. It excels at handling and maneuverability versus full-blown speed; a lightweight chassis—one of the lightest in the industry—now boasting an even greater application of aluminum in its fully-adjustable double-wishbone suspension rewards good driving skills with remarkable handling prowess comparable to European GT cars costing several times more. Not bad for a little “girl’s car”.

 

Looks fast. Isn't.
TOYOTA GT86/SUBARU BRZ

From $26,255 ($25,495 for the Subaru)

A collaborative joint-effort by Toyota and Subaru, the Toyota GT86 (formerly known as the Scion FR-S) and Subaru BRZ are small 2+2 Sports Cars that recall the classic 1967 Toyota 2000GT made famous in the James Bond movie, ‘You Only Live Twice’ and the compact rear-wheel drive Toyota AE86 platform of the early 1980s. Outside of a few cosmetic differences and varying levels of comfort amenities, the Toyobaru twins are virtually identical in almost every aspect. Both feature a Subaru “boxer” engine, but with a lukewarm 200 horsepower and 151 lb. ft. of torque, don’t expect to be exorcising any Dodge Challenger SRT Demons at the dragstrip. But unlike the Dodge, the GT86/BRZ can actually make practical use of all of its available engine output in real world driving environments. Plus, it can stop and take a turn, two important facets of driving that Chrysler can’t ever seem to get right. Both the Toyota and the Subaru come equipped with a Torsen limited-slip rear differential, both are available in your choice of a 6-speed manual or 6-speed torque-converted automatic that can mimic the characteristics of a dual-clutch paddle-shift gearbox, and both deliver the same amount of corner-carving, tail-happy SLIDEways fun. It’s up to you to decide which Japanese marque you like better: the one that’s known for dull, lifeless economy cars or the one that’s known for dull, lifeless economy cars for dog owners.

 

Backwards hat and vape pen not included.
NISSAN 370Z

From $29,990

The original 1969 Nissan Z-car (known in its homeland as the Fairlady Z and as the Datsun 240Z in international markets) was Nissan’s first attempt to help distance themselves from the public’s perception as a maker of stodgy econoboxes. Serving as a halo car for the brand, the Nissan Z-car was created in the vein of European 2-seater sporty coupes from Jaguar, BMW, Porsche, and Alfa Romeo. The Z-car’s success forced other Japanese manufacturers to respond by building sports coupes of their own in the late 70s and early 80s such as the Mitsubishi Starion, the Mazda RX-7, and the Toyota Supra. Today, only the Z-car remains while its contemporaries and former rivals languish in purgatory between the junkyard and those sketchy “cash only” ads on Craigslist. The 6th generation of the Nissan Z-car, the Nissan 370Z, features extensive aluminum bodywork, chassis, and suspension components including forged aluminum double-wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear suspension with forged aluminum control arms, radius rods, and wheel carrier assemblies. Under the hood of the 370Z sits Nissan’s VQ37VHR engine which produces a surprising 332 horsepower (in base form) WITHOUT the use of forced-induction. With a base price that’s just under $30,000, the standard 370Z is an excellent value for bargain discount performance. Conversely, for the additional $16,000 premium that Nissan wants you to shell out for the NISMO Tech, you can do better. A WHOLE. LOT. BETTER.

 

KIA aims to build a better BMW than BMW can.
KIA STINGER/GENESIS G70

Estimated $31,000 to $33,000

No other automaker has done more to reinvent themselves and totally revamp their entire product lineup than Hyundai has in the years following the 2008 auto industry crisis. Much of this success comes from the recent additions of former BMW M-Sport division president Albert Biermann, former Bentley design director Luc Donckerwolke and chief exterior designer Sang Yup Lee, former Lamborghini brand director Manfred Fitzgerald, and former Audi chief designer Peter Schreyer. Hyundai literally took the best of the very best in the automotive world and allowed them to work their collective magic. The result is a complete 180 of corporate identity and public perception; previously considered as the reason why lemon laws exist to now being regarded as one of the most reliable and trusted brands in the market today, joining Buick and Lexus. Spring 2018 will see the arrival of two new compact sport entries from the Kia and Genesis sub-brands, the Stinger sportback and G70 compact Executive Luxury Car, respectively. Both cars will incorporate chassis and suspension schematics that were born from years of testing on the notorious Nürburgring Nordschleife. There will be a choice of either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive layouts coupled to one of two optional turbocharged powerplants, and both cars will apply their own interpretations of modern performance and luxury accoutrements to rival the best offerings from Ingolstadt, Munich, and Stuttgart. Pricing for the Kia Stinger and Genesis G70 is expected to start around the $31,000 to $33,000 range. That’s within striking distance of the base level Audi A3 and BMW 3 Series and also pits the Kia/Genesis duo as serious competition against the significantly pricier Mercedes Benz C-Class.

 

Unlike the X-Type, this cat does not have feline leukemia.
JAGUAR XE

From $34,900

While under majority ownership of the Ford Motor Company during the early 2000s, storied English luxury automaker Jaguar joined the entry-level compact Luxury Car market with the much maligned X-Type. This transverse engine insult to the legendary Jaguar name was, for all intents and purposes, a tarted-up inbred relative of the proletarian Ford Mondeo MKIII. The X-Type showcased such bespoke luxury features as random short circuits, unsolvable electrical gremlins, spontaneous premature transmission death, undersized brakes that would often result in surprise rollaways as if it were playing a cruel joke on the owner, and a multitude of mysterious fluid leaks emanating from any number of unidentified source locations. After a 6-year hiatus and a change of corporate ownership from Ford to India’s Tata Motors, the global auto megaconglomerate that’s 40 years behind in technological advancement, Jaguar returned to the compact Executive Luxury Car market in 2015 with the XE sport saloon. Featuring the most use of aluminium in its class, the Jaguar XE bridges the gap between opulence and sporting dynamics in a focused, lightweight driver-friendly package that’s designed to coddle the occupants as it cleaves its way through corners and straightaways. Go from mild to wild with your choice of turbocharged diesel or petrol inline 4-cylinder engines or a 250 kilowatt (do the math) 3.0 litre supercharged V6 sourced from the Jaguar F-Type. Even the volatile 5.0 litre supercharged AJ series V8 derived from the previous Jaguar XKR-S will be present, but only for an extremely-limited 300 units for the upcoming 2018 XE SV Project 8. As with any premium European import, performance varies greatly with price but the base XE makes a strong case for itself with its competent lightweight aluminium chassis and an optimised sport-tuned suspension setup for sure-footed handling and control.

 

Nothing says 'America' like a Muscle Car made in Australia.
CHEVROLET SS

From $46,625 (minus HUGE closeout discounts)

With an MSRP just shy of $47,000, the most expensive entry in this lineup can be had with steep manufacturer discounts and incentives for up to 25% off. That is, if you can still find one. 2017 marks the final year of production for the Holden VF Commodore, the Australian-made full-size sport sedan sold here in the United States as the Chevrolet SS. It’s okay if you haven’t seen one before. General Motors, in their infinite wisdom, did very little to advertise, market, or even acknowledge the existence of the Chevrolet SS, like when you try to ignore a fart in a crowded elevator even though you’re the one who committed the act. Plus, coupled with an extremely-limited, select regional dealership allocation of 12,953 total units spread across 4 model years (from 2014 to 2017), it’s not as though these cars were a dime a dozen. It’s completely understandable if you haven’t seen one before, let alone, even know what it is. Long story short, it’s the second coming of the late, great Pontiac G8 (itself, badge-engineered from the VF’s predecessor, the VE). The SS picks up where the G8 left off by taking advantage of design and structural upgrades to the rear-wheel drive Zeta platform. The front MacPherson strut/rear multi-link suspension setup has been likened to that of the beloved E39 BMW M5 and its driving dynamics and characteristics also evoke a familiar feel; something BMW themselves haven’t been able to replicate in over a decade. Year-to-year revisions that helped the SS recreate the magic of the E39 M5 include the additions of 4-piston Brembo brake calipers at the rear (the 2014 only had Brembo 4-pots up front), Magnetic Ride Control real-time adaptive suspension control with selectable presets, active performance exhaust, and the option of an available Tremec 6060 6-speed manual transmission lifted from the Dodge Viper. And let’s not forget to check under the hood: a 6.2L LS3 small block V8 that’s good for an even rating of 415 for both horsepower and torque motivates the near 2-ton Grand Tourer to 60 MPH in 4.7 seconds. This is the ultimate performance car bargain. If you’re in the market for a full-size, rear-wheel drive, V8 sedan with over 400 horsepower and a manual gearbox, the closest competitor would be the G30 BMW M5. Yes, the BMW is faster and more powerful—but it’s also twice as expensive and some will even contend that it doesn’t drive nearly as well as SS. If the topic of discussion is value, there might not be a better value for performance than the Chevrolet SS.