Alex says he “makes poor decisions with cars.” It all started with a Land Rover that was eventually confiscated because it turned out to be a stolen car. A Ducati gave way to a C63 AMG, which was replaced by a Toyota 4Runner. Alex is bored with the Toyota and “bad decisions” are calling. What car should he buy?
(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )
Here is the scenario -
I make poor decisions with cars. Besides my 2011 Buick Regal, every car has been an adventure. The latest series of vehicles started in 2018 with a 2012 LR4 bought sight unseen (but inspected) from a dealer in LA, followed by the addition of a 2017 C63 S sedan bought sight unseen (but inspected!) from a dealer in NJ where English was a second language to various eastern European dialects. Obviously at least one of these is going to have problems. The LR4 being the result of a combination of finding out you can drive from Alaska to Argentina and doing overseas contracting where you have nothing but money and time. The C63 was bought two months after getting taken off my Ducati M900 by a driver who came wide around a blind corner. 0/10 for enjoyment, 7/10 for pieces of metal now permanently embedded in my spleen. Anyways, the meat of the story is that LR4 got seized by the police after it came to light that the dealer had sold me a stolen vehicle. The AMG couldn’t cut it as a daily driver in the wake of the incident, and has been now been replaced by a 2021 4runner. But the 4runner is slow, there’s light at the end of the tunnel in the LR4 lawsuit, and I can hear the siren song of bad automotive decisions again.
Here is what I want - a power to weight ratio that makes my life insurance provider concerned. Engaging, and providing at least some of the feel of a motorcycle. Preferably somewhat unique, or at least not something I’ll see 20 of a day in Dallas.
Here is what I don’t want - Polaris Slingshots, soft top convertibles, anything that was previously stolen stolen cars....
I can spend up to $80,000 and it can be a coupe or sedan.
Budget: Up to $80,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Wants: Good power to weight ratio, unique
Doesn’t want: A soft top, something boring
I have never ridden a motorcycle so my perception of what it’s like to pilot one is limited. From what I know about performance-oriented bikes is that they are fast and they are loud. I’ve heard folks describe various cars as “motorcycles with doors.” The two that immediately come to mind are the Honda S2000 and the Mazda RX-7. Each is lightweight and high-revving, and either one could be a nice addition to your driveway. But something tells me that is not what you have in mind.
My friend, you need a Dodge Viper. My first experience with a Viper was when I was a teenager and a family friend came by with a 1994 R/T. It looked mean, it sounded mean, and it went fast. I didn’t drive it because no one in their right mind would let a 17-year-old with a newly minted driver’s license behind the wheel of that thing, but the ride in the passenger seat was a thrill. For me, that car was a motorcycle with doors.
With an $80,000 budget, you can have any number of Vipers to choose from. I’m partial to the GTS coupes from the early 2000s, but if you really want to go full “bad decision” here is a 2009 ACR from a private seller in Tenessee. I guarantee you will be the only guy in town with this V10 monster.
I know WCSYB tends to produce suggestions of older used cars — the simple, fun kind those darn bean-counting automakers just don’t make anymore. But as I mulled over the ideal car — robust power for its size that also offers engaging handling — I realized you don’t have to dig that deep to find something that checks all the boxes. I wouldn’t have to, anyway: BMW happens to make it right now.
The M2 is the spiritual successor to what many consider the best M car, the E46 M3. Given the company’s scatterbrained, indignant philosophy of late toward making cars people would actually like to drive, the M2 might be one of the last pure driver’s cars the company ever makes — particularly one with a manual transmission. I’ve never been lucky enough to get behind the wheel of one, but those who have say it’s brilliant. Plus, no chipmunk grille.
It’s also very much within budget. The M2 Competition Coupe starts at $58,900 before you start adding options. For $20,000 under your limit, you’re getting a compact sport coupe with a twin-turbocharged, 3-liter inline-six that offers 405 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque, all wrapped up in a package that weighs 3,600 pounds. You have the choice of a stick or DCT, up to you. Being a new car, you’d be getting a warranty and all that good stuff, too. I know the M2 isn’t the lightest or the most powerful option out there, but overall, I find it hard to argue against.
Poor Decisions, you say? Well, my friend, you’ve come to the right expert, because I have got the poor decision for you. Indulge me as I recommend the BMW 318ti (but you can’t have my M-Sport.) You want good power-to-weight? Got it. Unique? Yup. Uncommon? Sure thing. And because these cars are not sought after, you can find one cheap and still have plenty of money left to capitalize on the strengths of the ’ti. That is, you can truly build this car into the ultimate driving machine.
Here are two decent platforms from which to start: I found this in Phoenix, Arizona, though it’s a little expensive for my taste. This is farther away in Kansas City, Missouri, but the price is better. Here’s a pro tip: look around on these forums for good deals. Conventional wisdom would say that you should get one of the rarer Club Sport models, but since your budget is generous, you don’t have to wait to find one.
Aficionados love the Club Sports because they have the “better” of the two engines that the 318ti was outfitted with during its brief run in the U.S. The M43 motor in the Club Sports is said to be more durable and respond better to modification than the later M44. But your budget can buy you the best motor swap for the ’ti. It’s not the S52, nor the M52, nor even the Chevy LS.
You want a motor from Metric Mechanic. The engine builders there will wring out as much as 205 horsepower using BMW’s own naturally aspirated engines, which can easily fit into the 318ti. Throw some individual throttle bodies on that MM engine and get a good exhaust system. Add a lightweight flywheel and a limited slip differential — if the hatch you find doesn’t already have one. Put some Momo wheels on a set of Michelin Pilot Sports and you’re finished.
When you’ve done all that, you’ll have built my dream car. A light, tail-happy, high-revving Bimmer with a knockout exhaust note and the best handling this side of an E30 M3. If you do build this machine, please, oh please, drive the hell out of it.
As a fellow motorcyclist I also appreciate cars that can replicate the two-wheel experience. This suggestion should be as engaging as a motorcycle, even if it doesn’t quite have the speed to match.
What you’re looking at here is a Suzuki Cappuccino. But it’s not just any Suzuki Cappuccino. The engine in this particular example is the Monster Sport FX66 F6A. That engine produces 127 horsepower, double what the original made. A stock Cappuccino is no slouch, so this must be mental!
This car was also featured on Regular Car Reviews. Another selling point is that this is a Cappuccino Limited, a trim level that includes a limited-slip differential, metallic blue paint, power mirrors and other features. The owner says the car is one of two Limiteds in the country — the other appears to be owned by Duncan Imports — and it’s a hardtop, too!
It’s $15,000 in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Facebook Marketplace, so it’s well within budget. Buy it, put a giant turbo in it and watch your insurance agent have a panic attack.
Alex, first, let me apologize for my co-Jalops here: None of these are really poor decisions. They all seem like pretty rational cars, at least to me. And that’s not what you need! You want the feel of a motorcycle but still want a car? In that case, what you have to do is split the difference, wheel-wise. Yes, you need a Morgan three-wheeler.
A Morgan three-wheeler has all of the things you love about motorcycles — the throb of a V-twin, only one wheel to deal with at the rear, all the outdoors in your face, but in a marginally safer and more stable package!
Look at this fantastic 2012 British Racing Green example selling for only $46,000! Great power-to-weight, all that incredible motorcyclic feel, absolutely unique. No soft top bullshit because there’s no top at all!
And these are actually pretty comfortable to sit in and drive. It’s kinda like driving a leather-upholstered motorized bathtub, in the best possible sense.
Keep your poor decision streak going, and, even better, kick it up a nice big notch! Get yourself a Morgan.