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Car Corner
Mustang vs. The Rest

August 1, 2003
By Scott Lewis

As regulars to this column know, I am interested in the new Mustang, possibly due out in mid 2004 as a 2005. But I must keep my mind open. So I will periodically revisit this topic over the next year or so until I have made up my mind. I plan to do something about my current automobile situation after the summer of 2004.

The Goal

If this were a perfect world I would want a great 4 passenger convertible with a sporty character, plenty of power, quiet highway driving and decent gas mileage. Wow, that's a tough order. Ultimately, I would like a BMW 330Ci Convertible. This is the dream machine. But being of the McDonald's income level, BMW's don't fit in. I don't want to spend more than $30K for a car. However, the number of cars I really want under this price point are few and far between.

Two Seaters

Since I have my 93 Camaro I don't have to get a four passenger car. I could get a sports car with seating for two. But there is a problem with this. I drive the kids to school in the morning. There in lies the rub. If I have to take the kids to school in my Camaro, when do I get to drive the new two seater? When my wife is on vacation. My wife is a teacher, so she gets plenty of vacations. However, I can't justify spending $30K to have as an occasional driver. A classic 60's car would suit that better, and that is what I am getting away from (when you are reading this I will either be in the process of selling my 67 Camaro Convertible or it will be sold).

We saw a 350Z in a lot "high dollar" used car lot for $399 for 60 months with $1200 down. Now that is amazing. That means that car will cost the buy $25,140... total, including interest. Since the base price of a 350Z (it was a 2003 model) is $27,000 this car is a real bargain, unless something is wrong with it. My wife told me I could go ahead and get it. She even told me I could just stuff both kids in the front seat for taking them to school. I don't know that we would really do that, we were both caught up in the moment of seeing the car, and doing the math in my head.

Unless my kids start riding the bus to school (again, something I don't know if I want to do) I will most likely get a four passenger car. So future installments of this quest will probably stick to cars with a back seat. 

The Mustang

Since this exercise of looking for a new car was inspired by reading about the new Mustang, we will start with that.

I really like the look of the silver fastback concept Mustang. I like it a lot more than the red convertible concept car. This is a dilemma. I sold my 67 Camaro Convertible, and really would like a modern convertible that is a practical daily driver. For the sake of this article, and the ones that will follow, I will look at the Mustang fastback and convertible each. I will also compare them to other coupes and convertibles. I just hope that when the new Mustang convertible makes it to production it looks as good as the fastback.

My estimates for the Mustang are as follows: I would estimate that the horsepower for a GT model will come from the existing 260 hp V-8, or possibly the new 280 hp V-8 from the Lincoln LS. The LS weighs over 3800 lbs and does 0-60 in 6.7 seconds. The Mustang with this same engine, a manual transmission and about 500 lbs less weight should be good for 0-60 time of about 6 second flat. I would expect 1/4 miles time to be about 14-1/2 seconds. Not the fastest car out there, but fast enough to satisfy the speed appetite for the majority of the public. Don't forget the Mach 1 and SVT Cobra editions can carry the banner for the truly power hungry. I will be happy with a GT with 250+ horsepower.

Wrap this up in convertible form for under $30,000 and I will be waiting with baited breath for the release of the new Mustang.

Two Seaters

As stated, it is unlikely that I will get a two seater. However, I want to briefly go down the short list of cars I really like, one of which actually has a real possibility.

Nissan 350Z

My wife and I love this car's looks. All the magazines rave about it. I have read one review that says it is very firm riding, even on smooth surfaces. I will test drive one in the near future and find out for myself. I priced the Touring version on Nissan's web site. The Touring version is the lowest trim level that includes leather interior. It stickered at over $33K. Ouch! Nissan is supposed to come out with a convertible 350Z for the 2004 model year. However, I heard that it will probably start at $35K and go up from there. That is no longer affordable in my book and would have me looking might hard at...

BMW Z4 2.5i

This car is a dream car. I can't afford it. With power top and heated seats it would go for around $36K. My wife would want an automatic, so I would opt for the SMG transmission that is basically a manual with the computer doing the clutch work. This transmission allows for full automatic driving, but let's me manually go through all the gears with paddle levers on the steering wheel. You must get the sport package to get the SMG tranny, so that will put a 2.5i equipped Z4 at a little over $38K. I can dream, can't I. At this price I might as well consider...

Chevrolet Corvette

I know Vettes are in the upper $40K range. However, my brother-in-law works for EDS and gets a GM employee discount good for extended family members. With his discount I might be able to whittle the price of a Vette down to the high $30s. Since the Z4 above went up to $38K, why not dream a little further and consider America's best known sports car... the Corvette. O.K. Back to reality with...

Mazda Miata

I don't know why I keep coming back to this car. I am not supposed to like it. I remember when I first got my 1989 Honda CRX, I was mildly jealous of the Miata when it came out in 1990.

I had a friend that bought one of those very early 90s models. He left it with me for a six week stretch. I thoroughly enjoyed driving it, but found it too cheap feeling, noisy and slow. More recently, my brother-in-law bought a 1999 model (the first with the new styling that eliminated the pop-up headlights). I really like the new look. The car looks much more sporty in appearance. Previously it just looked like a little car. The 1999 redesign gave it some real character. I drove my brother-in-law's car from Port Aransas, TX to Rockport, TX and liked it. His was much more solid feeling than the early 90s cars, and it was a lot more quiet. It also didn't feel cheap. However, it was still too slow. I just don't think the Miata has enough power with 142 hp. Sports cars should be quicker.

So why do I keep coming back to the Miata. Well, I can't recall EVER reading a bad review of one. Except for complaints about the various special edition models they come out with being overpriced, nobody seems to have anything bad to say. The big magazines still love the car, claiming it gets better and better every year. Even Consumer Reports likes it.

Looking at the Mazda web site makes me want the overprices SE model. It comes standard with everything I want or need except ABS brakes. I love the Strato Blue Mica color on the SE. With ABS it comes in around $27K. And that's why the Miata is still showing up on my list. At a good deal less than my realistic price limit of $30,000, the Miata is affordable. Yes, it has only two seats, but at this price I won't feel as bad as I would with a more expensive "toy."

All I have to do is fix that 142 horsepower. I wonder if my wife would mind me spending the extra $3,000 for a supercharger to give the Miata the power it so rightly deserves.

One final note, I believe the Miata is in for a major redesign. I will have to look into that. Maybe they will give it more power.

Convertibles

Now we get into the meat of my quest... 4 passenger convertibles. There are not a lot of good convertibles in my price range, but here is what I have come up with.

Chrysler Sebring Convertible GTC

I can't believe I have this car on the list. This car is incredibly mediocre. However, it is the best selling American convertible, and it does do a good job at being a convertible. It is underpowered, and I don't think anyone is offering performance parts for it either. At least the GTC version is available with a 5 speed manual transmission. This mass rental convertible is here because I can't think of any other 4 passenger convertibles to put up against the Mustang. I priced one out on Chrysler's web site at about $27K. I doubt this car will make it to the final cut.

Saab 9-3

As I said earlier, my brother-in-law works for EDS and gets a GM employee discount. He bought two Saabs himself (GM owns Saab). The 9-3 convertible is being redesigned for 2004 and is supposed to be much stiffer in structural rigidity. With my brother-in-law's discount I could pick one up in the low 30s. Quite a bargain. However, it is a bit of a stodgy car for my tastes, and I would never consider this car if it weren't for my brother-in-law's discount.

BMW 325Ci/330Ci Convertible

This car is WAY too much. The 325Ci convertible starts new at about $37K or so. The 330Ci is over $40K and gets close to $45,000. So why is it on the list. Two reasons, 1) It is the dream car, the ultimate four passenger convertible. It matches all my criteria. 2) I saw a used 2001 330Ci Convertible on Autotrader.com with 24,000 miles for $29,600. The factory warrantee goes to 50,000 miles. This is affordable. Since it is a four passenger car I could easily consider selling my 93 Camaro and make this my one and only car. I will seriously consider buying a lightly used BMW 325Ci or 330Ci convertible when the time comes to decide where to put my money.

Coupes

If you'll notice, I don't have too many convertibles on the list. That means I might as well consider some coupes. After all, with a convertible you pay more and get less. You get less performance, less structural rigidity, less comfort, but more noise, etc. when you get a convertible.

Ininiti G35 Coupe

This is looking like the favorite to unseat the Mustang. I have heard wonderful things about the G35 Coupe. It is basically a four passenger version of the 350Z. Reviews have been very favorable, claiming it has plenty of comfort with performance. Cool! I like the styling, though my wife is much less impressed. I would push for the 6 speed manual, and I have to have leather. These are going for about $32K with those two options. Maybe by the time I am ready to buy the demand will be low enough to allow some wheeling and dealing.

Mercury Cougar

I know! There is no such thing as a Cougar. They stopped making the ridiculous front wheel drive car with that name in 2002. However, there is NO REASON Ford shouldn't be making a Cougar off the new Mustang platform. Stretch the wheel base, add a formal roof line, leather interior, high-a-way headlights and sequential taillights and... Poof! The Cougar is reborn as a personal luxury car like it was in the 60s. Just start it under $30K.

BMW 330Ci

Again, this car is here because it is the ultimate luxury/sporty car. I have not looked at the price, but I can imagine they will cost too much. I would of course be looking at a low mileage used car if I went looking at this car. One thing about the BMW Coupe, since I would give up on the convertible I will NOT give up on performance, so the 325Ci is out of the running.

Summary

That's it for now. Have I missed anything? Each category seems light on cars. I am especially disappointed with the lack of good 4 passenger convertibles in the low $30K range or less. Please let me know if I need to consider something I have not mentioned.

At the moment I am leaning toward the Mustang because of price. I know it is not even out, so how do I know how much it will cost. I can guess that they are not going to totally break with tradition. The Mustang has always been an affordable car. I would expect Mustang GTs to start at around $25K, and a well optioned one should come in under $30K. Next would be the used 330Ci Convertible I found on Autotrader. If I was ready to buy when I came across the ad, I would have called. My wife wanted me to check the rates for loans at our credit union, but I am just not quite ready. I want to wait another year. If I use patience I will hopefully get a good deal that I can enjoy for many years to come. Keep in mind that the car I am driving now I have owned for over 10 years already, so I expect this next car to last a very long time.

I can't just like it... I have to love it.

Drive On!

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