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Car Corner
New Car Crystal Ball

February 1, 2003
By Scott Lewis

It's that time again. Every once in a while I look into the crystal ball to see what cars I would like to buy if I were going to buy a new car. This time I am taking a slightly different approach. In the past I was serious about getting a new car, but that was extinguished when I bought a 1967 Camaro RS Convertible.

Because I own two cars (93 Camaro Z-28 & 67 Camaro Convertible) and one of them is still new to me, I am not serious about getting a new car. However, I have come to the conclusion recently that cars are not as irreplaceable as I used to think. I was under the impression when I bought my 67 Camaro that I would keep these long lost brothers together forever. That is, until I started driving the 67 on a regular basis and started to do some work to it. I will be adding power steering, power disc brakes, more horsepower, rebuilding the suspension, etc. All this and the car will still be a far cry from performing like a new car. My 93 Camaro was one of the fastest cars you could buy when it was new. It smoked the Mustang, and only the Corvette and Viper were faster American cars. But today a lot of cars can beat it.

So why worry. I can always build another classic Camaro... and maybe I can start with power steering and brakes and air conditioning. 93+ Camaros are cheap project cars now. The 67 has a manual convertible top. I would much prefer a power top... especially in a car that I want to use as a daily driver. The 67 is also about the easiest car I can think of to steal. A wire from the positive battery post to the coil and a screw driver to the starter and you are on your way.

Ideally I would rather have a modern convertible that was less of a target to steal than an old car. An old coupe could be made more secure than an old convertible. Plus I would have more fun building a killer Muscle Car out of a coupe instead of a convertible.

This means I want to keep my options open to the possibility I might sell BOTH Camaros and buy a new car. Then I would buy another old car... but the old car would NOT be a convertible. I want a daily driver convertible. I would never take my 67 Camaro to the mall, or the movies. I couldn't trust that it would be there when I got back. I do drive it to work though, because we have a gated campus and our own security team that keeps an eye on it during the day.

With all that there are a few new cars I like, and some really nice ones on the way. Some of them I may actually be able to afford.

Convertibles

Let's start with the convertibles. The idea here is to have a reliable convertible with a power top. That means I will NOT consider a new convertible unless it has a power top. I will be more apt to put the top down if it is power... even going to the mall since I can raise it easily and make the car reasonably secure. Another option I would really like is heated seats. In South Central Texas is does get a little cold. With the heat on and heated seats a modern aerodynamic convertible could be enjoyed almost all year long.

Price will be the killer here. Also seating capacity. I have two kids I need to haul around, so I need a back seat. This means it will be hard to buy a two seater. But some of them on the market are just so nice.

z4.jpg (56615 bytes)BMW Z4 2.5Ci/3.0Ci

I love the look of this car. I know it will seam old in about two years, but I can't help myself. This is a true wish list car. The 2.5Ci model starts at about $33K and change. I priced one with the necessary power top and heated seats on BMW's web site. It "stickered" for a little over $36,000. Ouch. It is a two seater, so I would have to keep by 93 Camaro to haul kids around. Keeping my 93 Camaro lowers my budget by about $5,000, what I should be able to get for it. The 3.0Ci with power top (it includes the heated seats) went for more than $42,000, so I would have to sell both of my cars and one of my kids to be able to afford it. But then I would only have to worry about one passenger. He He.

solstice.jpg (39792 bytes)Pontiac Solstice

I know, this car is not available... yet. This is Bob Lutz' come back car for Pontiac. A low priced sports car. I have heard they plan to offer it with a 240 hp supercharged four cylinder engine. I know this is supposed to be a bare bones kind of sports car... but please offer a power top and heated seats... I need those in a convertible. I am hoping this will be more than just a Miata copy. I like the Miata, but not enough to buy one. The Miata seems to be lacking in a few areas for me. Let's see... 240 hp, power top and windows, heated seats... in this car for under $30K. This car is actually a reasonable option, even though it doesn't have a back seat. See, my brother-in-law gets a GM employee discount. That is good for extended family members. With the discount he could get me I could afford to keep my 93 Camaro for its back seat until I am ready to get a 69 Camaro with a back seat.

saab.jpg (11005 bytes)Saab 9-3 Convertible

I would never consider this car if it weren't for one bonus it has over all the other convertibles here... My brother-in-law can get me a GM employee discount on this car. He bought one for about $31K. That is a huge discount off of the sticker price in the low $40K range. His has a 205 hp turbocharged engine, manual transmission, power top, and heated seats. All the right goodies at a nice price. His discount is on top of any discounts GM/Saab is offering the public. Wow, what a bargain. I just don't know if I am quirky enough for s Saab.

bettle.jpg (19541 bytes)New Beetle Convertible

It took them 4 long years to finally come out with a convertible version of the New Beetle. The first road test I read was an automatic equipped model in Car and Driver. It did 0-60 in 12.4 seconds. Wow... that's slow. No wonder they call them slug bugs. I would want to get the manual transmission. Supposedly they are going to put the 150 hp turbo motor in sometime in the Spring of 03. That should help. Currently the New Beetle Convertible goes for about $23-25K. Add the necessary turbocharged engine and you would be looking at a sticker price of about $27K or so. Ouch! That's seems like a lot for a Beetle. This would be the perfect convertible to enjoy as I build a fast 69 Camaro Muscle Car.

ptcruiser.jpg (21106 bytes)PT Cruiser Convertible

This one still isn't quit here yet, and I don't know if they will offer it with the new turbocharged 215 hp engine from the PT Cruiser GT. The PT Turbo goes 0-60 in the low 7 second range. That's fast enough to keep me happy for a while. But this is still just a Neon wrapped in cool bodywork. I think build quality will keep me away, but it should be worth a test drive.

new_mustang.jpg (19345 bytes)2005 Mustang Convertible

The next generation Mustang (which I believe will be out some time in 04 as an 05 model) looks pretty cool. This is the first time a Mustang will NOT be based on an economy car. The new mustang will ride on the same chassis as the Lincoln LS and the Jaguar S-Type. This includes independent rear suspension... something that should have been put on Mustangs & Camaros in the early 90s. I would expect to be able to still get into a well optioned Mustang for under $30,000. That price and the time left until it comes out makes this a very real possibility.

That's it. There just aren't enough convertibles under $30,000 that I want. Once you go over $30,000 prices start getting very high. Let's move on to the "non" convertibles.

Coupes

If I go this route I am basically giving up on having a convertible for a while. To be able to afford a new car I would have to sell my 67 Camaro Convertible. I would not be able to buy another convertible for quite a while. But some of these cars are nice enough I could think about it, or they are low enough in price that I might consider looking for a way to buy it without giving up the 67 Convertible.

crossfire.jpg (12953 bytes)Chrysler Crossfire

Now that Chrysler is showing this car in commercials saying it is due in Spring 2003 I think it is safe to think about it. This is an unusual looking car. It is very "boat tail" like in its styling. I like it, and it is growing on me. I especially like it because it is different. It is supposed to go head to head with the Audi TT (a car I have written in the past about wanting). The TT has a back seat, but I think the Crossfire is a two-seater.

This car is expected to sell for about $30K. I hope that is well optioned. If it has a back seat there would be no trouble. I will stuff my kids in there even if I have to use a giant shoe horn to do it. Hey they're kids... they're flexible. This car is going to have a 215 hp V-6 engine. That's not a lot of horsepower. It is also expected to come in around 3,000 lbs. That's light enough so that 215 hp should provide spirited driving if a bit slow for a sports car. If Acura can get 29 mpg with 260 hp in a 4 door sedan (3.2 TL Type-S), I would expect this car to be able to get over 30 mpg. If not then it should have more power. Too bad they don't drop the new Hemi engine in it. Someone will!

minicooper.jpg (14357 bytes)Mini Cooper (S)

This is a cute car. It is also the shortest car you can buy. I think over a foot shorter than the New Beetle. That's small. I really like the retro look on this car. I have one problem with this car, deciding between the standard Mini and the supercharged S model. I want the 165 hp supercharged engine over the base 115 hp engine. However, I have read that the ride on the Mini Cooper S is very firm, almost harsh. For an economy car with luxury aspirations I think I want a more comfortable ride. Even in S trim this car can be had for under $25K. That's a big plus.

mach1.jpg (11403 bytes)Mustang Mach 1

This is available now. The Mach 1 version of the Mustang has the semi-functional shaker hood and 305 hp. But it is still an old design that dates back to the earliest Fox based Ford production of 1978. That's old! But it is cool looking and will probably be an instant collectors item... if mileage is kept low. I believe they can be had for under $30,000.

gto.jpg (11834 bytes)Pontiac GTO

Here is another car that is a couple of years away... along with the new Mustang. It will have a LS1 V-8 engine in a two door coupe configuration. I have seen some pictures of the GTO, and it doesn't even try to imitate any of the styling of past GTOs... except for the dual nostril grill. Also, I am getting older, and with my long drives to work I would be worried this car might be too much like my Camaro. I think I want more refinement and comfort, even in a performance car.

g35coupe.jpg (9381 bytes)Infinity G35 Coupe

This is an easy one. The G35 has enough power and handling prowess to give my favorite coupe, the BMW 330Ci, a run for its money... for a lot less money. The G35 starts at around $30, and can be had for not much more than that. I really like this coupe. It is a longer wheelbase version of the Nissan 350Z and includes the all important back seat. It comes with a really nice 6 speed transmission and a 280-hp V-6 engine.

accord.jpg (40107 bytes)Honda Accord Coupe V-6/Acura 3.2 CL Type-S

Now we are into regular cars. At this point I would be just looking for a great coupe, but not a true performance car. The Accord and CL are basically the same car. The Acura is the upscale model. However, the new Accord can be had with leather trim and the V-6 engine matted to a manual transmission. I think the Accord gets a 5 speed manual vs. the Acura's 6 speed. Either way it would be a nice ride. I already test drove the Acura and found it to be plenty powerfully with 260 hp. The Accord comes with 240 hp. Then again the Accord is about $5,000 or so cheaper than the Acura. I could probably get a nicely equipped Accord for around $25K. Since a car of this type is just a great, but typical sedan, I would think of it as a car I would trade in after a few years and save the bucks and get the Accord.

Sedans

Lately I have been noticing the overall improvement in sedans of late. So here are a few sedans that peak my interest.

g35sedan.jpg (7996 bytes)Infinity G35 Sedan

Like the g35 Coupe, the G35 Sedan can give a run to the BMW 330i sedan. Priced in the low $30s this is a much more affordable way to get into a great performing entry luxury/sport sedan. It can also be had with the 6 speed manual transmission. I like that.. even in a sedan. The G35 is about the lowest priced sedan in its class. Clearly Nissan is pricing them to try and gain some market share.

wrx.jpg (25313 bytes)Subaru WRX

This is the wide card. This is a quirky little sedan. It has a 227 hp turbo charged engine and all-wheel-drive. Every article I have read says it is a hoot to drive. However, small turbocharged engines need to rev to make their power. I have also read that this car needs to be revved a lot to make the most of its power. I used to own a CRX Si, and it needed to be revved a lot to get the most out of it. I didn't appreciate that as much as some people. I prefer torque in the low RPM range of regular driving. Hey... I'm a V-8 man. But with all the raves this car gets, plus a price around $25K it should be worth a test drive. After all it does 0-60 in about the same time as my Z-28 did when it was new. Maybe the car can be comfortably relaxed when not wringing the beejeebies out of it. Car and Driver rated this car very well up against the pinnacle of sedans... the BMW 330i. That has to count for something.

6s.jpg (25033 bytes)Mazda 6s

Again we have a great sedan at a good price. The 6s is Mazda's answer to the Accord/Camry sedans with one notable distinction... zoom, zoom. The Accord is probably the better car, but the Mazda does provide a more sporting character to its new mid-sized sedan. I would definitely test drive it if I started getting serious about affordable sedans.

cts.jpg (18358 bytes)Cadillac CTS

Here is another car that gets on the list because my brother-in-law can get me a discount. This is Cadillac's version of an entry level luxury car. It claims 0-60 in under 7 seconds and it is available with a 5 speed manual. Cool! I am starting to like the style, and it is growing one me. They go for about $34-35K. That means with my brother-in-law's help I should be able to get it for less than $30K. This car and the 300N, the G35, the IS300 and the 330i all would require some serious test drives to choose. But the fun is that there are so many good cars to choose from today. I couldn't pick that many sedans I could care about 3 years ago.

Chrysler 300N

No that is NOT a typo. The 300M will be replaced in a couple of years (or so, I don't know the exact timeline) with the next in Chrysler's 300 letter cars... the 300N. This is supposed to be built on a new rear wheel drive platform and will receive the new 345 hp, 5.7 liter V-8 Hemi engine. If it turns out good and is priced in the 30s then it might be a nice sedan for this old muscle car freak.

is300.jpg (13683 bytes)Lexus IS300

I really like this car. It looks too small from the outside, but since I prefer coupes the small size doesn't bother me. I actually like the funky Timex gauges that get flak from the press. My problem with this car is a lack of horsepower and the price. A nicely equipped IS300 will cost around $35,000, maybe more. That's well into the BMW 325i price, and even stepping into the 330i price range. The G35 offers more power in a slightly larger package for about $3-4K less.

330i.jpg (77111 bytes)BMW 330i

You had to know this was coming since I mention it with so many other cars. I would be willing to give up some horsepower in the BMW Z4 and get the 184 hp, 2.5l engine because that car is soooooo cool looking. But I couldn't give up the power in the coupe or sedan. This is probably the most expensive car here (except the Z4). That makes it unreachable. I leave it here because it is the car the others must live up to. The Honda Accord V-6 Coupe and G35 Coupe must be inexpensive version of the 330Ci Coupe, while the Cadillac CTS, G35 Sedan, IS300, 300N and the Subaru WRX must be less pricey sporting/luxury sedans to get me to stop lusting after the "Ultimate Driving Machine."

Conclusion

That's a lot of cars compared to a few years ago. The car business is doing remarkably well in the down economy. With the upcoming cars (300N, Crossfire, GTO, SSR, Mustang, Solstice) being American tells me the American car makers are starting to get on the ball. In fact, I am pleased that there are so many American cars to choose from. I prefer American cars because I am an American. And after a few years of drought it seems we are finally going to be able to get excited about cars from both sides of the Atlantic and Pacific.

Will I be buying a new car. Probably not. I am enjoying my 67 Camaro, and have a number of plans for it. But if I do get bored with working on it, I may consider trading out cars. Time will tell, but I enjoyed researching these new cars... and that was the real point here.

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