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The Automotive Bucket List: Five Cars You Have To Drive

Posted in BMW, Jeep, Lists, Mazda, Porsche, Volkswagen by Kurt Ernst | June 24th, 2011 | 8 Responses |

Image: IFCAR

Whether you admit to it or not, we all have some sort of a bucket list. There are things in our minds that we have to do, regardless of whether or not we’ve put them down on paper. When it comes to cars, there are certain models you have to drive at least once in your life; some are sports cars, some aren’t, but all have a certain amount of hype about them. The good news is that most can be snapped up on the used car market for blue-collar wages, as long as you’re willing to do some digging. I’ve driven all of the cars below and have even owned most of them, so I’m well versed on why they’re included.

Mazda MX-5 Miata

The car that re-introduced the motoring public to the joys of lightweight roadsters remains a modern classic. A true “Jack of all trades” sports car, the Miata is equally adept at road racing, autocross and casual top-down cruising; as long as you don’t expect to win any drag races, the car won’t disappoint. Miata’s are available in just about any price range, and the first generation cars (built from 1989 through 1997) are absolutely bulletproof and easy to maintain.

BMW 3 Series Sedan

Have you ever wondered why every sedan’s handling gets compared to BMW’s 3 Series? The car really is that good, and manages to blend ride comfort and handling better than any other vehicle on the planet. Its front engine, rear drive layout helps to optimize weight distribution, and equipped with winter tires the car is surprisingly capable when the weather turns ugly. Be warned that parts can be expensive, and BMW shops aren’t exactly known for their discount rates. Still, E36 cars (built from 1990 to 1999) are relatively easy to wrench on, and a strong enthusiast community means that help is just a message board post away.


The original “hot hatch”, VW’s GTI proved that the whole can indeed be better than the sum of the parts. There were always faster cars and better-handling cars on the market, but somehow none seemed to beat the GTI’s fun factor. Today, the car has evolved into a surprisingly practical daily driver that isn’t averse to the occasional autocross or weekend track day. Early model cars are rising in value as clean examples get harder to find, but VW built plenty. Look long enough and you’re sure to find the car you want.

Jeep Wrangler

The Jeep Wrangler is as much of an American icon as the Ford Mustang or Chevy Corvette. If you’ve never driven one, it’s easy to overlook what all the hype is about; on road, the Wrangler is a fish out of water. It’s noisy, it’s uncomfortable and the handling is best described as “dodgy.” Off-road, however, the Wrangler is entirely in its element, and aftermarket vendors can transform the Wrangler into a go-anywhere, do-anything mountain goat of an SUV. Like the GTI, Wranglers are just plain fun to drive and will get you to places that few other 4x4s can. There’s a huge Jeep community as well, with owners happy to answer any questions or lend a hand in building your rig.

Porsche 911

There seem to be two kinds of car guys in the world: those that love the Porsche 911 and those that simply don’t understand the hype. I’ll admit to falling somewhere in between those two camps myself, since early 911s can be underpowered, temperamental and ill-handling beasts unless driven with the utmost of care. I like the Porsche 911, but I just don’t like it enough to overlook the shortcomings of cars in my price range. Still, to really be a car person, you need to drive as many 911s as you can, since each generation has its own unique personality. If money were no object, I’d have a 911 Carrera GTS parked in my garage right now. Aside from that example, there really isn’t a 911 I have to own.

What cars did I miss? Should I have included the Chevy Corvette? The Ford Mustang? The Dodge Viper? Let me know the cars on your own “must drive” bucket list.

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8 Responses

  1. Taylor says:

    The one car on my list that’s not on your is the Miura, if for no other reason than it is the sexiest car to ever put four tires to the pavement.

    Also, I’ve got to say that the Wrangler has come a long way in its on road manners. Now that they are wider and optionally longer you no longer have to worry about abrupt lane changes after hitting a pebble or getting caught in a slight cross wind.

  2. Kurt Ernst says:

    Taylor, the problem is finding a Miura owner willing to toss you the keys. I’ve certainly never had any luck…

  3. Werty says:

    I have driven everything on that list. Although I was not in a position to really drive the 911 hard. Just about any V8 RWD American coupe could be a good addition. There is nothing quite like coming out of the hole with some good old V8 grunt. As for the FWD cars, I prefer the Civic SI over the GTI. The VW isn’t bad. I just like the Honda better. The Miata, 3 Series, and Wrangler are definitely unique driving experiences. I particularly love the E36 BMWs. I probably would already own a Miata if they only had more leg room. It sucks having to move my knee around the wheel to use the clutch.

  4. 68SportFury says:

    Let’s see…I’ve never driven a Viper, a G2 (426) Hemi, any car with multiple carburetion, a Mopar wing car or the car I’ve wanted since I was four: a ’67 Dodge Coronet R/T. Oh, and I’ve also never driven an SRT8 Mopar.
    The only Corvette I’ve ever driven was a ’95 base model. I’d kinda like to get my hands on a C6 and a C2.
    I did get to drive a six-speed Challenger R/T a few months ago, and I’ve driven a Neon SRT-4, which was fun.
    I’ve also never driven anything on Kurt’s list.

  5. PFULMTL says:

    From your list I drove an ’08 3Series , and an old Jeep.

    Cars I want to drive:
    – Lotus Exige
    – Lancia Stratos
    – any Caterham
    – Pro Rally prepped vehicle
    – anything above 500HP

  6. Mark Smith says:

    I’ve driven everything on that list. The only thing missing is a muscle car, and I’d probably dump the GTI to add it. Don’t get me wrong, I like the GTI. But you have bot the Miata and 911 on the list and the GTI just seems to be redundant.

    • Kurt Ernst says:

      Mark, I thought about adding a muscle car just for the visceral rush, but most weren’t particularly entertaining when the road got twisty.

      As for the 911 vs Miata vs GTI, the cars couldn’t be more different. The 911 is rear engine, rear drive, the Miata is front engine, rear drive and the GTI is front engine, front drive. Each has distinctly different handling, although I’ll agree that power output on the GTI and Miata (and early 911s) is comparable.

  7. John says:

    I own a 95 mx-5 and i can say it is a blast to drive, it is lacking out of the hole, but right rpm and proper clutch use can send the car side ways in a hurry. As far as wranglers anything pre LJ is awesome off road the new jeeps have the traction control and it feels like they limp through the mud. I have yet to get my hands on any of the others but I plan on it. great list.