Save Fuel! Four Fabulous 4's that Burn Rubber.
This would qualify as my second list of cars that must be owned or driven by an enthusiast. This is my Super 4 list. While I am giving my opinion on great four cylinder powered vehicles, please understand that I have picked the four best that I have some experience with. Since age 9, I have been hooked on the likes of Road and Track, Automobile, Auto Week, Motor Trend and that clever British gent Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear. For a short time my love of cars led me to sell them. I worked in a handful of dealerships, and spent the rest of my time visiting and driving my competition. I’ve personally owned vehicles from 10 different brands. Yes, I know, look at my profile; I had a bad addiction for a while, much more expensive than drugs…
So, let me get out of the way for those of you who are going to protest my glaring omissions; I haven’t driven the latest Audi direct injection 4 cylinder, it looks to be fantastic, but the older models I drove (looking to buy) I just didn’t find them exciting. Lancer owners, sorry, I drove one, hated it. Acura RSX’s are nice, so are the Honda Civic Si, but when you have the S2000 as an option, there is no point and there is no comparison, monetary gap aside. My lack of long term experience with Mazda Miata is the only reason why this is a list of four and not five, I really like the evolution of the Miata MX-5. Saab’s are also a tough one to leave off this list, but I am sure it’s just a matter of spending a few hours behind the right one. VW’s, while extremely popular with those who have to own something German, let me just say my experience in the car industry will bar me from every owning a VW, sorry. Lastly, a Dodge Neon is a Dodge Neon…I do not care if they put the Viper motor in it; the SRT4 is still a Dodge Neon.
Addendum: I have experience with the following makes. Brands in bold signify working knowledge with at least five models; Acura, Audi, BMW, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, Freightliner, Geo, GMC, Honda, Hyundai, International, Isuzu, Infiniti, Jaguar, Jeep, Land Rover, Lexus, Lincoln, Mini, Mazda, Mercedes, Mercury, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Porsche, Saturn, Scion, Toyota, VW.
Please Enjoy and by all means, leave me your favorite Four Banger in the comments section. Thanks.
1992 - 95 Porsche 968
Okay, so I have to disclose my weird and complete bias, maybe it’s because I am not a six figure earner yet, but I always crane my neck to identify what year 944 or 968 I pass. 944’s are the little brother to my ultimate love, 928’s. I have driven and looked to purchase a fabulous low mile 944 or 968 for some time. In used car form, with much deflated prices, this Porsche is the best entry level sports car I know of. The 968 in particular is fantastic for its naturally aspirated 3 liter 4 cylinder, making 236 hp through a 6 speed gear box. This little guy only weighs around 3,034 pounds loaded with the options, hits 0-60 in the low fives and can get up to 29 mpg on the highway. Add superlative Porsche dynamics, handling and near perfect 51/49 weight ratios, what’s not to fall in love with? There is something equally weird when settling down in a nearly 20 year old automobile that burns rubber through second gear and puts to shame so many modern computer barges. Another great attribute is the fact that the last three years of its shelf life Porsche went all out on road racing design, there are a very limited number of 968 Turbo’s making in excess of 305 hp, essentially 911 killers. No self respecting 911 owner wanted to know that a low breed 968 would smoke his austere ego machine; probably another reason I like these so much.
2006 Subaru Legacy LTD GT Wagon
Here is a car that caught me off guard in terms of drivability, fun, design, raw speed, and something totally different…the ability to fly down gravel roads nearing triple digits with relative ease. I had to own one and I did. With a couple of really simple modifications, exhaust and cold air intake, this car was unbelievably easy to push hard. Better yet, who the heck would expect to get dusted off at the light by a Subaru wagon? Apparently a lot of people! Apparently all these tree huggers have vices too! I fell in love with this Subaru, and I wouldn’t mind finding another low mileage wagon down the road to keep for rainy days. There are only some 1,700 5spd Turbo wagons in existence. 250hp, 250tq, and a perfectly weighted all wheel drive system, this pushes the needle far to the right on the fun-O-meter. Rip off some quick burst to 60 in about 5.3 seconds, and then find a country road to pretend you are in a Pikes Peak rally race. I have turned my wife a few shades of pale while drifting through dirt intersections. What’s more amazing is the reliability, gas mileage returns and absolute practicality a five seater with cargo room affordes. Give me two please! Yes the Impreza STI is a four cylinder muscle car in its own right, yet it also flaunts its credentials the way Pontiac Firehawk did, not very subtle.
*Update* As of April of 2014, I purchased my second 2006 Subaru Legacy GT, same as the silver wagon pictured above. I loved it so much the first time I decided I wanted a redo. Only difference this time is I bought the automatic so my wife could drive it, still fun, but a little more subdued. What I really like is how few of these you see on the road, for me, that is an added bonus.
Subaru Legacy Wagon: Notice how the Mustang is slowing it down in the corners!
2003 Honda S2000
Good Golly what a motor! 2.0 liters, 11 to 1 compression ratio, 240 naturally aspirated horse power and an 8,900 rpm redline. Precision 6 speed manual that could only get easier if you were shifting via a Playstation 3. Granted, unlike the Subaru, this car is all about how fast can you get down to the club house for a round of golf. The cabin is barely big enough to sneeze in, the sound system is one of the worst I’ve come across in a modern sports car, and you better like hearing engine rev because, that’s the only way this car drives. This is not a car for traffic; this is a car for Willow Springs race course or carving deep ruts on mountain drives. With the top down and helmet on, some Honda motorcycle owners might feel particularly comfortable behind the sweeping electronic tachometer. There was a great match up from Car and Driver magazine August of 2003 where it was paired up with a BMW Z4, Porsche Boxter, Nissan 350Z and Audi TT. It was this article that added below, that actually brought some BMW hard cores into Honda dealerships. I know It helped me sell a couple.
1989 Lotus Esprit Turbo
Okay, how could any self respecting car enthusiast leave out the mighty Lotus Esprit Turbo? A mid-engine, rear wheel drive Formula One type road car. This is the car that Richard Gere couldn’t drive so he let Julie Roberts (Pretty Woman) take over. This car has been in two James Bond films, Basic Instinct, Cannon Ball Run, Boiler Room, The Rookie and about a dozen more films. As a matter of fact, its probably easier to come across one on TV than rolling down the highway. If the RAF were to design a car, the Esprit already answered the call. The 1989 version is particularly good because of several up grades and redesigns. Take for example the paltry spec sheet, 228 hp, 215 pound tq and a 5 speed manual. Seems pretty lackluster and especially not super car material. Well this Lotus can fly with those digits – 5.2 seconds to 60. How about a quarter mile run in 13.6 seconds! That’s because this stealth fighter tips the scales at a feather weight 2845 lbs. Unfortunately, I’ve never been behind the wheel of a running one...yet. The closest I got was sitting in a 2000 S4 model at the Anaheim Convention center.