There’s been some changes in my garage lately, thanks in part to the economy but thanks also to changing vehicle needs. I sold the bike a few months back, and just last week I got rid of my 2006 Acura TSX and my 2006 Mazda MX-5. Of the two, it was much harder to see the MX-5 go. The car was, hands down, the best handling ride I’ve ever owned. As a weekend toy, it was second to none, and it never failed to put a smile on my face each and every time I got behind the wheel. It had its limitations, too, like doing track days without adding an expensive, heavy and less-than-elegant supplemental roll bar. If money were no object, I’d still have the MX-5 in my garage. Sadly, money is very much an object these days, and downsizing from three cars to two was as much about economic survival as it was about anything else.
I considered a fairly wide array of suitable replacements, with the following criteria in mind:
– The car had to be fun to drive, available with a manual transmission and suitable for track days.
– The car had to be practical regardless of where we live: in other words, it has to be a decent winter driver with a set of snow tires mounted.
– It has to be suitable for next year’s One Lap of America, where long-distance comfort is nearly as important as performance and handling.
– It had to fit within a purchase budget of $26,000.
The Mazdaspeed3 was the obvious choice, but there were a few things that I simply couldn’t get past. I’m not a fan of the grinning guppy front fascia, and I just couldn’t put up with the psychedelic interior fabric and trim on a daily basis. Torque steer, with the wheel pointed any direction other than straight, was a definite issue, but that’s what you get with a high horsepower FWD car. The Mazdaspeed3’s performance and handling was almost enough for me to overlook its shortcomings, but in the end it didn’t make the final cut.
Next up was the Mini Cooper S. I never have warmed up to the car’s funky interior styling, and the giant center-mounted speedometer just leaves me scratching my head. Throw in spotty reliability reports for the brand and lack of a strong dealer network (in northern Florida, anyway), and the Cooper S was the next to be crossed off the list.
After originally overlooking VW’s GTI as “too underpowered,” I took one for a test drive anyway. It only took a short drive for me to realize that the GTI met all the criteria I was looking for, plus it has the benefit of massive aftermarket vendor support. More horsepower and improved handling is a phone call away, limited only by your budget and imagination. I stopped by my local dealer, made the deal, and drove off a happy man (and incidentally, I need to give mad props to Ed Sheets and the rest of the crew at O’Steen Volkswagen in Jacksonville: you guys are, hands down, the best dealership I’ve ever worked with).
So that’s what’s in my garage now. It’s bone stock for the moment (except for the Mr. Angry stickers, which add ten horsepower), but that probably won’t last long. Let’s just say that modification plans are in the works, and I promise to keep you updated as the car gets built. Stay tuned.