P. H. Cordner

Landlord Car Comparo!

In Motoring on October 5, 2009 at 21:44

A certain unnamed Tippecanoe County Councilman At-Large is also one of the proprietors of the fine dwellings in which I currently reside. He’s got a bunch of sweet rides. His normal, tool-around, go-to, turn-key, jalop is a nice S-class W140 Merco-benz, painted in champagne and still looking good despite being over 15 years old. When he’s got some work to put in, he opts for a dark red, 2000-2005ish Ford Super Duty F-350 with the almighty Triton V-10. Torque baby! It’s got a full-size 8-foot bed, crew cab, and a vinyl rear window sticker of one of Snow White’s seven dwarfs emblazoned with “I’m GRUMPY” underneath it. The piece-de-resistance of the fleet, however, is a cherry red, late model C6 Corvette Convertible. There’s nothing quite like the gleam of a chrome-dome peeking out of a Corvette convertible, it’s about as American as a bald eagle chowing down on some apple pie in the upper deck of Yankee Stadium next to Ben Franklin.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with the Corvette. It’s a fine automobile for an accomplished landlord. That 6.2L V8 churning out 430 ponies sings quite the song as you rocket past a bunch of apartment buildings with your name on them along Chauncey Ave. “Winding it way up” along S. River Road in those rail viaducts must sound super cool, like you’re on Top Gear or something. But there’s something about the ‘Vette that just doesn’t jibe with our generation (the ones with the letters after them). Corvettes certainly have storied history, and as a model that strove for iconoclasm and unflinching dedication to sport, it certainly has stayed true to form, (something you can’t say about the Corvette’s Ford competitor, the original 2-seat Thunderbird, which by machinations of accountants and salesmen turned into a plush land-yacht “personal luxury” coupe, and died mostly forgotten in 1997, and again in 2005.) But it’s just not “sexy” to kids these days.

I turned to my roommate Eli, and asked him what he’d have for the same money. He quickly said “M3.” The BMW M3 is the car we’d rather have for 50 large. That’s not really a question we debate much. The M3 is mega-sweet. Although earlier incarnations were lighter and whatnot, the current E93 M3 is still the car to beat for 50 G’s. We reached the conclusion so quickly that I had to investigate this further. Also, I just downloaded Google Chrome’s Linux port, Chromium. If anything is good at crashing browsers, it’s those flash-heavy “build-your-own” sections on automaker websites. So I fired up my command line, ran Chromium, and opened up 6, count-em 6, tabs of those nefarious browser-crashers and did some research into what kind of sports cars 50 large can get you, which might appeal more to kids these days! A warning: The following will mention raw performance numbers, but my conclusions will not bear these out too much. It’s very subjective and your mileage may vary. In fact, I bet it will.

First off to Chevrolet for the reference. Chevy’s build-your-own page is all JavaScript, so it ran like a dream on Chrome’s V8 JS rendering engine. Smooth performance from the website, and a cool $56,260 for a sport-package equipped Corvette convertible. However, Maximum Bob’s provided $4,000 in instant dealer incentives for an effective MSRP of $52,260! What a deal!

BMW’s V8 powered M3 is also peddled by an all-JavaScript BYO page, perfectly suited to Chrome’s V8. Sweet performance all around for the website. It’s almost like I’m driving an M3! Spinning the M3 around on the webpage is super smooth. The M3, without a single option checked (not that you need any) comes down the pike at an eye watering $55,673 MSRP. Not exactly a stripped-down sports car, it comes with all kinds of creature comforts and 4, count-em 4, doors! Notwithstanding the excellent road manners and 414-horsepower V8, this is practically a mom’s car with all this heated seat nonsense! Let’s see what kind of real man’s car we can get for half a hundo.

On to Lotuscars.com, to build our own Lotus Elise, a no-holds-barred, lightweight, driver’s car. This is a driver’s driver’s car. Super-light curb weight, the engine is in the right place, mounted a midship ahead of the rear axle, and it rockets from 0-60 in a Lotus-claimed 4.8 seconds, despite having “only” 189 horses in the mill. The standard Elise MSRPs for around $47,000, so we get some optioning wiggle room. The on-screen image in the BYO page is in Flash, the controls are all JS. Not hinky or slow at all, very smooth. Back to the options list, I check off the Sport Pack, which adds all kinds of good stuff like grippy Yokohama Advans, a Lotus sport-tuned suspension, and also subtracts approximately 20 pounds of curb weight. Pay more to get less! I’m in love. Add a limited slip diff and a del Sol style targa roof to bring the MSRP of this driving machine to $53,117. Not a bad price, and I must admit a certain fondess for the light-weight approach, this is very high on my list.

However, that Elise is going to be way less comfortable than the M, not to mention the relative cushiness of the large, supportive Corvette seats designed to accommodate guys who own plumbing companies. Let’s get a small 2-seater with a bit more refinement, shall we? MBUSA.com, the US Mercedes-Benz portal, is a Flash-heavy site, and it’s going pretty slow. Maybe because it’s the fourth BYO open in tabs, but I suspect Adobe has a hand in this sluggish performance. The SLK 350 roadster fits nicely into our price point, so I launched the all-flash BYO to price it out. None of the options really add to the sportiness of the car, so I leave all the boxes unchecked, and the price comes to $52,775. Not bad, although this is a bit too refined, heavy, and not quite “sports” enough for our tastes. That damned retractable folding roof contributes to a rather portly weight of 3,300 lbs (compare with the 1,896 lbs of the standard Elise). All this gives you what may be the most refined 2-seater we’ve seen yet, but it lacks that sexy, sporting feeling, a sluggishness that matches the website. Can we combine the Merco’s refinement and Elise’s sheer speed?

We move on to Porsche, whose stable may just provide an answer to that question. The Porsche Cayman starts at around $50,300, and with the addition of a sport shifter (not necessary, but gives you that sporty feeling when you spend money) comes out to $51,065. The Cayman is essentially a hardtop version of the venerable Boxster roadster, with a mid-mounted 2.9 L flat 6 producing 265 horsepower. Combined with a curb weight of about 2,954 lbs, that sends it from 0-60 in 5.5 seconds. With classic Porsche looks (a bit odd, yeah, but unmistakable) and the engine mounted in the proper place for a change (Noticing a pattern?), this is one seriously cool car. This is, I believe, what I’d get for 50 K if I manned down and couldn’t get the Elise.

Hey, you’re saying! “All your stupid posh German cars and that gay British one have less horsepower than the Corvette, so who gives a goddamn shit you faggot!” Well, my generation, take heed, because I am catering to you and your tastes with my next entry, the Ford Shelby Mustang GT-500 convertible! That’s right, the live-axled, 540 hp V8 monster now comes in a drop-top like the ‘Vette, and gives you 100 more horses, all for an easy-peasy $52,175! Never mind the Brobdingnagian 4,000lb curb weight! Ford’s BYO website is undoubtedly the worst of the bunch. Tacky Web 2.0 striped buttons and a hoary mix of Javascript and Flash that happened to crash all the other Flash applets in the other tabs made the BYO site incredibly slow to delete those stupid racing stripes. If you can’t tell already, I’m not a fan of Mustangs, to put it politely. The idea of dropping this kind of cash on one isn’t something I’d ever consider. However to those of you interested, this thing is incredibly fast in a straight line, quarter mile, 0-60, all of that. It can do sweet burnouts and you can fit a muffler that makes it really loud when you floor the slushbox equipped (the Shelby only comes with a real transmission, though, +1) beast 400 feet to the next traffic light. Yes, you might have to invest in some car wash equipment to keep the exterior clear of lipstick and sweat from babes rubbing their bodies all over it when you’re stopped and that engine is growling, but it’s a great investment to show that after your successful career selling ludes you can now afford the fastest version of the car that makes a 22-year old look silly, not to mention anyone old enough to afford it.

Right, so that one’s out, and I still have alienated most of my generation. Unless…

I point Chrome to Mitsubishi, and see what I can do with an Evo. However, there’s a problem. The Lancer Evolution GSR starts at $31,710 with dealer incentives, the MR (suspension kit, heavier, more creature comforts) starts at $37,010. Any possibility of reaching $50,000 would require all kinds of superfluous options, accessories, etc. Even with everything performance oriented I could muster, I couldn’t get the GSR past $37,000, or the MR past $46,000. Front lip spoilers, front and rear tower bars, intercooler pipes, rally-style mudflaps, side skirts, spoiler extension, satnav, super-powred stereo, MP3/iPod cable and the ever-essential cigar (not cigarette, cigar) lighter brings an MR to $43,937. A GSR, my preferred trim level, with the same set, minus the satnav and mega-stereo, runs only $36,066. For this money you get a turbocharged 2.0 L 4 with 291 advertised horsepower, assisted to the pavement by one of the most sophisticated four wheel drive systems this side of the Nissan GT-R, in a well-balanced, practical 4-door that still thrashes and is bonkers enough to scratch my sporting itch.

This, I’m afraid, is my choice for the $50,000 Landlord’s Car Challenge. I say afraid, because, if you haven’t noticed, my generation loves the Evo as much as I do. I would look just as much a toolbag driving an Evo than in that horrible Shelby Mustang. Short of driving an Audi S4, there’s nothing quite as obnoxious as someone spooling up their turbo at the stoplight. And yet, in the Evo, I have a litany of horribly-rationalized excuses. My mom has a regular Lancer. The Evo started life as a rough-n-ready rally homologation special. The Evo dominated WRC in the 90’s. It’s got pedigree, it’s got styling cues ripped off of the Alfa Romeo 159, it’s Japanese! These are all horrible excuses for rapid acceleration and the idea that it’s any different than doing the same stupid stuff in a Mustang or a Corvette is a delusion. However, it’s just more suited to my tastes, minus that spoiler it insists on wearing. It’s unassuming, and up until 5 years ago, nobody really heard of it. It was only the Rally fans or players of Gran Turismo who were in the know. So it has this aura that you have to be an “insider,” to be “in the know” to get that this kinda dowdy import sedan packs one serious performance punch. But the most important thing that separates the Evo from the Mustang is that the Evo is just a fast car. Not a statement of your irrepressible youthful renegade-ness. A Mustang is aspirational. It has pretensions of being upscale. Note that the Shelby, allegedly an unadulterated performance machine, comes with leather seats as the only option. The Evo is just an econobox with a great engine and drivetrain. Reviews of the Evo always malign its “cheap feeling” interior. However, I feel it’s a virtue, not in the Puritan kind of way, but in that you’re not trying to look like you’re rich, or are going to be “upperclass.” The Lancer Evolution is just a fast car, that doesn’t say anything about you until you put rims, decals, carbon fiber, and a bigger spoiler on it. Plus,  you can take that extra 13 grand and put it in the bank or the stock market or something else that won’t lose 20% of its value immediately. However, these “virtures” don’t appeal to our imaginary future landlord, who bought his first building after selling enough ludes to buy it. He’s into class connotations. Therefore, we must declare the Porsche Cayman as the Landlord’s Sports Car of the Future.

So to you 3 and 4 year old kids, when you go to college in 20 years and get an apartment from a big-time college town landowner, the first of every month, you’ll be depositing your rent check into that drop slot, and you’ll be saying “There you go, enjoy that next Porsche Cayman oil change.”

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