17
Jan 14

Daytime Running Lights are going to kill somebody.

DRL’s are intended to make cars more visible in twilight conditions. When active, the taillights and side markers are off. This Civic uses the headlights as DRL’s, which can mislead the driver.

About once a week on my evening commute, I see a late model car hurtling down 280 with lights off. Almost always, this is a late model car with daytime running lights. This is super dangerous as these cars are much harder to see without any rear lights on, and flashing your headlights at an SUV with a tiny Miata doesn’t really get noticed all that well.

Daytime Running Lights (DRL’s) were introduced in Scandinavia where it is very dark during the winter months. Their goal is to increase visibility to other drivers, but they are not meant to used to adobe acrobat buy illuminate the road. These worked fairly well in Europe and quickly got adopted in Canada, which is similarly afflicted with darkness. European DRL’s are independent units and run at a low brightness. In contrast, Canadian DRL’s can be nothing more than headlights run at reduced intensity. Despite this, they are up to five times brighter than the European standards allow and can fool the driver into thinking their lights are on. Since they are not separate from the headlights, they do a fine job of lighting the road- and can confuse a driver into thinking they’ve turned on all their lights.

European laws mandate lower intensity DRL’s which are separate from the headlights. These are much less likely to fool a driver.

So we have the fairly bright lights on some cars that can cause glare issues, but more importantly they can introduce driver confusion on whether or not their lights are actually on. This is compounded by the prevalence of always on illumination on gauges. For instance, Acuras and Fords have bright DRL’s on their cars and gauges that are always lit up. It used to be that when your lights were off, you couldn’t see the gauges at night, a useful cue to turn on the lights. Now this cue doesn’t exist and it’s easier to drive without lights on with precious little to remind you that you are practically invisible from behind at night.

Modern instrument panels, like Ford’s SmartGauge, are always illuminated regardless of whether or not the exterior lighting is on.

I feel that the solution here is to either remove DRL’s from US market automobiles, mandate automatic lighting based on ambient light conditions, or adopt European standards for lighting. My preference is to do this right or not at all- in the meantime, please make sure your lights are on at night!


14
Apr 13

The enthusiast’s case for buying a Prius

Today, I bought a 2006 Prius with all the goodies (nav, leather, xenons) and 107,000 miles for $10K. I am also a big car enthusiast. Why would I do this?

Fuel and Safety

In about a week, I’ll have a hundred mile daily commute, and my two cars are an Evo X and a NA Miata. The Evo is safe but thirsty. The Miata is fun but not the safest car to commute in over long distances.

Looking at $5/gal gasoline as a model, in the Evo I was averaging about 20 mpg. With a 100 mile daily commute, this equates to $25/day in fuel, or $6500 a year, assuming a 260 day work year. The Prius will get about 50 mpg, which is $10/day in fuel. So I’d be spending $2600/year in fuel. In fuel costs alone, I will almost completely pay for the Prius in under four years. But that’s not the only part of the equation.

With six airbags, my Prius has high crash test ratings across the board. Since my chance of getting in an accident is related to my time in the car, it was important to me to get a modern car with excellent crash safety. With standard ABS and stability control, I also have a degree of active safety where I can avoid accidents in the first place.

Depreciation

Over each year, I will put about 26,000 miles on a car. My Lancer Evolution X MR with 40,000 miles is worth almost $30,000, according to Kelley Blue Book. Its value has remained steady year over year, so let’s see what happens when I add 26,000 miles to it.

Oof. A 66,000 mile Lancer Evolution is worth about $26,000. That 26,000 miles removed about $4K of value alone from my car. Adding another 26,000 miles for the next commuter year drops my car to $22,000. So between the fuel savings and the reduced depreciation on my Evo, the break even on the Prius is under two years.

This assumes that after 2 years my Prius is worthless, which it won’t be. In fact, adding 26,000 miles to my Prius removes only about a thousand dollars from its resale value. So depreciation is four cents a mile, as opposed to twelve on the Evo. Each mile in the Prius costs ten cents in fuel, as opposed to twenty five cents on the Evo.

So I’m paying $.37 a mile to drive the Evo, and $.14 a mile to drive in the Prius.

Reliability and Maintenance

I have nothing bad to say about the durability of my Evo. It’s the third I’ve had and the previous two were the most reliable cars I’ve ever owned. These cars are bulletproof- as long as you do the maintenance. The Evo is a complex machine. The transmission has dual wet clutches, and six speeds. The rear and center differentials contain three clutches for torque vectoring. All this stuff needs TLC, and between fluid changes, brake pads, and tires, a year of commuting can cost a couple thousand dollars.

The Prius, on the other hand, is actually much simpler mechanically than most cars. Despite the clever Hybrid Synergy Drive, the transmission is a simple planetary differential. Six gears and two brushless AC motors combine with the internal combustion engine to give you all the ratios you need. There are no clutches or torque converters to wear or break. The mechanical brakes only operate in panic stops and under 7 mph, and last hundreds of thousands of miles.

The battery, which is the source of lots of fear and unwarranted depreciation, is a Matsushita prismatic NiMH pack that has a ten year/150K mile warranty in CA. This warranty is rarely used- Consumer Reports tested two 200K mile Priuses and found virtually no difference in performance and efficiency from new. The market for replacement packs is nil- a used pack in perfect operating condition costs only $500. Even assuming the worst, a $3000 replacement pack, I’m still ahead.

Even the electronic systems are easy to source and plentiful- Toyota has sold almost over 2 million Priuses to date, and most of them are the second generation model I purchased.

They are cheap

So I’m of the belief that a Prius will last forever, yet they depreciate as much as any normal car. I’ll be the first person to say that $25K on a hybrid doesn’t make much financial sense, even at $5/gallon. $10K for a durable car that gets 50 mpg makes a lot more sense.

They are interesting

The fact that the Prius is so normal to drive while being so radically different speaks to its purity of intent. Reading “The Prius That Shook The World“, I learned of a surprisingly ambitious Toyota reinventing major technologies time and time again to build a viable parallel hybrid at a reasonable price. The Prius was not engineered to be a drivers’ car, but to be a reliable and efficient car for the 21st century. From its Kammback design to the power split device and motor generators, this is a car that was designed from the ground up as a hybrid car for the future. In ingenuity and imagination, it reminds me of the first generation Mazda Miata in how it represents a singular vision of brilliant engineering.

The Prius was Toyota’s Lexus moonshot of the late 1990’s. Just like the Lexus LS400 of 1990 was overengineered to create a luxury market for Japanese cars in the US, the second generation Prius was designed to create a market for efficient and reliable hybrids. It’s a car that was created to move a market, and it shows. In 2006, a $25K car with DVD navigation, bluetooth, keyless entry, rearview cam, and HID headlights is not a car that was earning lots of cash for its maker.

Final note

If I were to be completely rational, I would sell the Evo and Miata and just motor forever in my Prius for fourteen cents a mile. But I’m not. I’m a car nut. The Prius appeals to my rational brain, but having a tiny understanding of the witchcraft that gives me 50 mpg also makes me giggle. But I want a car for the track, and a car that I can drive down the coast with the top down. The Prius lets me have a comfortable, cheap, and reliable travel pod that also happens to ooze with brilliant engineering and technology. On the weekends, I’ll be enjoying my pristine Evo and Miata, thanks to the Prius.


27
Mar 13

JD Power is bullshit

Someone recently asked me about JD Power, the company behind the customer satisfaction surveys on just about everything you can buy our use. A part of their business is aggregating user ratings for car dealerships.

In 2003, I bought a Mitsubishi Evolution from Maxwell Mitsubishi in Austin. The transaction went fine, but towards the end my salesman told me that I’d be receiving a survey from JD Power, and if I returned it to them blank, I would get a free oil change. They were gaming the system.

When I got home, I emailed JD Power’s customer service from my personal email to let them know this was happening. A day later I get a phone call from my salesman because JD Power had forwarded my email, name and email address attached to the dealer. This resulted in a confrontation on the phone and a lifelong hatred and distrust for JD Power and Associates.

I would not trust anything they say about anything- as it’s clear from my experience that they are more interested in colluding with companies than they are with actual research.


19
Mar 13

Cool used car #4: 2001-2005 Lexus IS300

When Toyota launched Lexus in 1990, they had their flagship LS and a tarted up Camry called the ES. Nonetheless, for the low, low price of $35K ($62K in today’s dollars) you had a luxury sedan that was paradoxically both technically ambitious and conceptually conservative. It turns out there was a huge market for a luxury car that combined Japanese reliability and technology with German luxury.

By 2000, Lexus had the GS, LS, RX, ES, SC, and LX lines. It had virtually the entire luxury market mapped out, but they didn’t have a 3 series competitor, right when the Audi A4 and BMW 3-series were snapping up australianviagra.com coveted young professionals. Toyota looked at their product portfolio and decided to rebrand the Japanese market Altezza as a Lexus. But where Lexus had a reputation for restrained luxury and comfort, the Altezza was an altogether different beast.

You see, the Altezza’s chief engineer was none other than Nobuaki Katayama, who was also the mastermind behind the RWD Corolla GT-S, also known as the AE86. The AE86 became legendary for its combination of light weight and handling, and was immortalized by the Initial-D manga and anime. With a higher budget than with the Corolla, the Altezza had double wishbones all around, just like the Supra. It also was available with the legendary 2JZ-GE inline six from the Supra. With lots of room in the engine bay any powertrain from the Supra will also fit in an IS.

Unlike other Lexus models, the IS300 was not designed with North America in mind, but instead for Japanese enthusiasts. As a result, the car’s design reflects much of the home market’s tastes in the late 1990’s. The stereo is a straightforward 2DIN design, easily replaced with an aftermarket unit. The pedals are drilled aluminum. The taillights are dipped in chrome and spawned many imitations in the aftermarket. The shifter is a giant chrome ball. And most noticeably, the instrument cluster looks like a Breitling chronometer.

Unlike the E46 BMW, the Lexus IS is a Toyota, and therefore extremely reliable. The engine is overbuilt at the modest 215hp power level. Also unlike any BMW short of an M3, an LSD is available on all model years except for 2005. While the reviews of the time place the IS slightly behind its contemporary BMW, the suspension has more potential and takes well to aftermarket dampers, springs, and sway bars.

If you want an IS, the 2002-2004 models are best, since they have side curtain airbags, and an available five speed manual. 2005 models lost the optional LSD, which was a bargain at $600. Also, from 2002 there is a rare wagon variant, the Sportcross, which was only available with a 5 speed automatic. Automatics drive fine and many well kept examples are easy to find. The LSD option is rare- look in the driver’s door jamb at the sticker with the VIN and manufacturer’s date. If it says B02A, it doesn’t have an LSD. The B02B and B02C variants have LSD. Also, all models with VSC have LSD, but VSC is non defeatable and only available on automatics.

Most of the manual transmission IS300’s I’ve seen have the LSD option, but they also seem more likely to be modified and/or abused. In general I don’t put a lot of value in “never tracked” because my experience tells me that many track drivers are meticulous about maintenance, and you can wear out your car plenty by thrashing your car on public roads without proper care. Still, a 5 speed IS300 with the LSD is the one to get. Navigation is primitive and not worth paying extra for. There are also two optional interiors, a Leather/Alcantara (Ecsaine) combo and a full leather option. The former is much grippier than the latter.

As for pricing in March 2013, good cars seem to range from $10-$15K with the top end getting low mileage cars with all the options. These cars are also modern enough to get the full complement of contemporary safety features and would make for fine daily drivers, so an excellent choice for an enthusiast contemplating the purchase of a Nissan Versa.

In 2006 the IS was updated as a proper Lexus. It gained all the refinement and luxury that it predecessor lacked, but lost the edginess of the original car. It was a huge success. If you’re a fan of small sedans with sports car suspensions, the Lexus IS300 is an unusual example of a Japanese home market car coming to the US with very little lost in translation.


16
Jan 13

2014 Kia Rio SX

I took the press release for the 2014 Corvette Stingray and made some changes. Hilarity ensues.

DETROIT – Kia is redefining modern performance with today’s debut of the all-new Rio SX. And only a Rio with the perfect balance of technology, design and performance can wear the iconic SX designation.

The 2014 Rio SX is the most powerful standard model ever, with an estimated 450 horsepower (335 kW) and 450 lb.-ft. of torque (610 Nm). It is also the most capable standard model ever, able to accelerate from 0-60 in less than four seconds and achieve more than 1g in cornering grip. It is expected to be the most fuel-efficient Rio, exceeding the EPA-estimated 26 mpg of the current model.

“Like the ’63 Rio, the best Rios embodied performance leadership, delivering cutting-edge technologies, breathtaking design and awe-inspiring driving experiences,” said Kia North America President Mark Reuss. “The all-new Rio goes farther than ever, thanks to today’s advancements in design, technology and engineering.”

The all-new Rio SX shares only two parts with the previous generation Rio. It incorporates an all-new frame structure and chassis, a new powertrain and supporting technologies, as well as completely new exterior and interior designs. Highlights include:

  • An interior that includes real carbon fiber, aluminum and hand-wrapped leather materials, two new seat choices – each featuring a lightweight magnesium frame for exceptional support – and dual eight-inch configurable driver/infotainment screens
  • Advanced driver technologies, including a five-position Drive Mode Selector that tailors 12 vehicle attributes to the fit the driver’s environment and a new seven-speed manual transmission with Active Rev Matching that anticipates gear selections and matches engine speed for perfect shifts every time
  • An all-new 6.2L LT1 V-8 engine combines advanced technologies, including direct injection, Active Fuel Management, continuously variable valve timing and an advanced combustion system that delivers more power while using less fuel
  • Lightweight materials, including a carbon fiber hood and removable roof panel; composite fenders, doors and rear quarter panels; carbon-nano composite underbody panels and a new aluminum frame help shift weight rearward for an optimal 50/50 weight balance that supports a world-class power-to-weight ratio
  • A sculptured exterior features advanced high-intensity discharge and light-emitting diode lighting and racing-proven aerodynamics that balance low drag for efficiency and performance elements for improved stability and track capability
  • Track-capable Z51 Performance Package including: an electronic limited-slip differential, dry-sump oiling system, integral brake, differential and transmission cooling, as well as a unique aero package that further improves high-speed stability.

“SX is one of the hallowed names in automotive history,” said Ed Welburn, Hyundai Kia Automotive Group vice president of global design. “We knew we couldn’t use the SX name unless the new car truly lived up to the legacy. The result is a new Rio SX that breaks from tradition, while remaining instantly recognizable as a Rio the world over.”

The new Rio SX will be built at Hyundai Kia Automotive Group’s Bowling Green, Ky., assembly plant, which underwent a $131-million upgrade, including approximately $52 million for a new body shop to manufacture the aluminum frame in-house for the first time.

“We believe the Rio represents the future of modern performance cars because it delivers more power, more driving excitement and better fuel efficiency,” said Tadge Juechter, Rio chief engineer. “The result is better performance by every measure. The 2014 Rio delivers the fastest acceleration, the most cornering grip, the most track capability, the best braking performance and what we expect to be the best fuel economy ever for a standard Rio.”

The 2014 Rio SX coupe goes on sale in the third quarter of 2013.

Founded in 1911 in Seoul, Kia is now one of the world’s largest car brands, doing business in more than 140 countries and selling more than 4 million cars and trucks a year. Kia provides customers with fuel-efficient vehicles that feature spirited performance, expressive design and high quality. More information on Kia models can be found at www.kia.com.


22
Dec 12

Clarion CZ401 Review: a lot of car stereo for $90

http://www.crutchfield.com/p_020CZ401/Clarion-CZ401.html?tp=5684#details-tab

A couple weeks ago, the volume control on the factory stereo in my 1996 Miata finally gave up the ghost. I had already put a fair bit of sweat equity into fixing my stereo, even soldering in new bulbs when the display failed to illuminate.

Tired of cassette adapters and wonky volume controls, I went to Crutchfield, where I usually go to research car audio before going to eBay to get a better deal.  My needs were basic- I wanted a name brand head unit with auxiliary input for my iPhone, since I listen almost exclusively to my iPhone when driving. Bluetooth would be a cruel joke in the Miata, and satellite radio was obviated by my use of Rhapsody with an unlimited data plan. Although CD players are on their way out of cars, I did want a CD player for nostalgic reasons. I suspect they’re the 8 track players of Generation X.

On Crutchfield, I was shocked to see a Clarion head unit for $90 with free shipping.  The CZ401 looked like it hit all the marks, with nice extras like HD Radio and a USB interface for the iPhone. My experience with iPhone interfaces has been mixed, as I’ve seen them disable the UI on the phone, locking out Rhapsody, TomTom, and any number of apps that I like playing through the stereo.  Still, with an aux input, the USB interface was at worst superfluous.

I did a quick gut-check on eBay, where the same unit was $180 and pulled the trigger on Crutchfield, especially since they include an install kit and personalized instructions with every order.  I added a $10 DIN pocket to add storage under the stereo, bringing my total to $100.

The stereo arrived about a week later, and it was packed well in those dissolving foam peanuts. An install kit was included, but a nice bonus was also a wire stripper to add to my collection of low-quality wire strippers. Since this wasn’t my first install, Nora and I soldered the harness together and I installed the stereo.

It was perfect. While it didn’t have the integrated look of the OEM stereo, being about half as tall, the new pocket under the stereo added much needed storage to my car.   It worked great, and the amplifiers were certainly better than what I had before. HD Radio is just like normal radio, as it’s a digital stream embedded in the FM Radio signal. All stations broadcast analog, and the ones that support HD seamlessly switch to digital about 5 seconds after tuning. This is either barely noticeable or huge as marginal stations lose all static upon the switch. HD Radio also supports iTunes tagging, so I can press ‘tag’ while a song is playing to save it on my iPhone for later purchase.

After this, I hooked up my iPhone to the Clarion using a standard Apple USB cable. As expected, the stereo took over my Music app UI, expecting me to pick tracks from the stereo. After a glance at the manual, I was happy to see that there’s a mode called S-CTRL that restores control to the iPhone. In S-CTRL I can use my iPhone for UI and it plays through the stereo. For apps that support it (most music apps), you can still skip tracks and display track info on the stereo itself. Most importantly- S-CTRL includes a DAC bypass, so the music is streamed in digital format over USB and sent to the onboard DAC on the stereo, reducing static and noise, especially common in phones that charge through the 12v plug on the car.

The USB interface was much cleaner than the auxiliary input, and I was very pleasantly surprised with how much stuff I got for my $90. Would buy again.


02
Oct 12

Don’t get ripped off by your body shop

It seems like every couple of days I see something like this:

A prototype of an unreleased model? No, a bad repair job.

 

This is a Lexus RX 400h, a relatively recent and high end hybrid SUV, which has clearly been rear ended and repaired because the badges have been incorrectly applied by the body shop. The badge should read “RX 400h”, instead of “400h RX”. This happens more often than you’d think, and is a sign of poor attention to detail. This hapless Lexus driver paid real money to rewrite their car’s history, only to have a poor repair job signal to the world that this car has been wrecked.

This is a particularly egregious example, but I’ve seen more subtle but telltale reminders of repaired rear ends, like badges applied to the wrong side of the car, poorly aligned badges, and even the wrong model designation.  If you ever get rear ended, make sure you have pictures of the badges before the accident, or do a Google Image Search to find the official photography showing the exact badge placement. If the car comes back with the badges in the wrong place, make the body shop fix the problem- it’s a simple matter for them to move things around.

You or your insurance company paid good money to get your car repaired properly, and a poor badge job just makes baby Nick cry.


06
Jul 11

Cool Used Car #3: 1990-1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

My 1996 Mazda MX-5 Miata

In the 1980’s, a few employees of Mazda of North America convinced their Japanese overlords that there was a market for a small convertible sports car that combined British and Italian panache with Japanese reliability.  This was no small feat, especially since Mazda would have to invest nearly a decade of development into designing and building a rear wheel drive sports car when most of their models were front wheel drive econoboxes.  Making things even harder was their price target: $13,800.

It is one thing to design a sports car with a high price point, because buyers of expensive sports cars do not expect their sports cars to have any sort of practicality, economy, or reliability.  It is another thing entirely to design a desirable sports car at a price that is comparable to a family sedan.  Mazda achieved their goal with flying colors, and management in Japan was more than relieved when the car turned out to be a success.  With the exception of the heavily revised engine, virtually every other component, from the exterior door handles to the double-wishbone suspension, were unique to the MX-5 Miata.

There’s a reason that the Mazda Miata is the most raced production car in the world.   While it is straightforward to add power to any car, it is much harder to create a world class chassis with a sophisticated independent suspension at all four corners.  With the Miata, Mazda engineered a double wishbone suspension at all four corners of the car, which is the optimal layout for race cars but is expensive and complex to implement in a production car.  Combined with the bespoke powerplant frame adding rigidity to the car, the Miata’s chassis is essentially that of a small race car.  Thousands of Miatas are raced in various club races all over the world, and they make fantastic race cars with minor modifications.

Miatas are simple to maintain and parts are inexpensive.  The first generation is the most desirable, as it was a clean sheet design with many charming details that were lost in subsequent generations, like the one finger door handles and headrest mounted speakers for better top-down audio.  The 1999-2004 model is essentially the same car with minor improvements, but most purists prefer the first generation model.  I say that both are fine cars, but at the end of the day, I bought a first generation 1996 Miata.

When shopping for your Miata, try to find a 1994-1997 model.  The 1994 models are the first year for the more powerful 1.8L engine, and there are a host of improvements, including dual airbags and additional chassis stiffening.  Manual transmission is the way to go, and for better traction in all conditions, you want the optional Torsen differential.  All manual transmission Miatas in this era with power windows have the Torsen diff.  ABS is also an option, and is hard to find, so make a decision on whether you want it before you go shopping.  ABS cars can be identified by the control module on the passenger side of the firewall replacing the stock washer fluid bottle location.

All Miatas have a VIN sticker on every body panel that indicates whether or not the panel is original.  These are located on the hood and trunk lid, both front fenders in the rain channel on the top, and on the rear fenders on the door jamb.  A car with original stickers all around has never had any major bodywork done.  Hardtops are very desirable and are worth $900-$1000.  Replacement softtops can run from $500-$1000 installed.  If you want to track your car, a roll bar is required, and cost around $500.  Clean cars that require nothing start at around $4000, depending on options.

If you have any interest in learning to be a better driver, buy a Miata.  It is the quintessential “momentum car” that can go very fast as long as you don’t slow down too much.  The car has a weak engine by modern standards but despite this, they are very fast in the right hands.  Since I’ve become an amateur endurance racer, I bought myself a Miata to improve my driving.  It also turns out that it’s a sweet car to drive to work every day with the top down.  I didn’t really fully grok why Miata owners loved their cars so much, but now I do.


27
Apr 11

Cool Used Car #2: 1995-1998 Honda Odyssey

In the early 1990’s, minivans were everywhere.  However most Japanese minivans were adapted from commercial vans in Japan, which happened to be smaller than their American counterparts.  These vans were oddly configured, with the driver’s front legs hanging awkwardly and precariously in the front of the car, and the engines tended to be under the front seats.

Honda, having long marched to the beat of their own drummer, did what they did best- a front wheel drive van based on the Accord parts bin.  This van, known as the Odyssey, was originally built for the Japanese market.  As a result, it was barely longer and wider than an Accord, yet incredibly space efficient with room for up to seven passengers.  The car also had conventional rear doors with power windows at a time when a single sliding door on the right side of the car was the norm.  Second-row captains chairs were standard on the EX and the third row retracted easily into the floor, which had never been done before.  When the third row was up, a handy compartment was available for valuables under the seat.  All models sold in the US had a standard rear AC unit, so everyone traveled in comfort.  Not only was the Odyssey versatile, but it was a fun car to drive.

With its sports-car like double wishbones at all four corners, the Odyssey had great handling for a van.  Then again, it wasn’t really a van, but a tall wagon, and had the handling and fuel economy to match.  With standard ABS and dual airbags, this tall wagon had a full complement of safety features.

The one to get is any 1998 model year Odyssey.  The 1998 model got the updated engine from the 1998 Accord, and a revised instrument panel with a tach.  Get an EX if you want Captain’s Chairs and can live with room for six, the LX if you need more human carrying capacity. Prices range from $2-5K, a bargain given the reliability and versatility of these cars.

For the 1999 model year, the Odyssey was redesigned and forked for the North American market.  It was a conventional minivan, not charming in any way, and a runaway success.


22
Dec 10

Cool Used Car #1: Mark II Toyota Supra

There have been four Toyota Supras in the annals of automotive history, ending with the vaunted 4th generation (Mark IV) Supra of 1993-2002.  This car is recognized as a legend for its performance and durability and today pristine examples fetch upwards of $50K.  But that’s not the car I’m going to write about.  Instead, I’m going to write about its little known antecedent, the Mark II Supra of 1982-1986.

In the early 1980’s, there was a full-on war between Toyota and Nissan for near luxury sports cars with inline six cylinder engines and a wealth of luxury features.  Toyota brought all their guns to bear with the second generation Supra, with a fully independent suspension and a distinct body from the Celica, which continued with an anemic four cylinder engine and a solid rear axle.  If you’re a fan of the 80’s, the Supra’s crisp and creased lines are a great example of the mores of the era, with pop up headlights, fender flares, and that fastback design that we all loved back then.

Back then, Japan had a booming economy and cheap currency that resulted in an unbeatable level of engineering and craftsmanship in their cars for your USD.  The Supra is no exception with a powerful and smooth 160 hp 2.8L inline six engine in a sub 3000 pound chassis.  By today’s standards, a featherweight, but a bloated luxo cruiser in the 1980’s.  These cars had the best technology, from a digital dashboard to 14-way adjustable sport seats, and the later models had a suspension tuned by Lotus, who had started a partnership with Toyota for parts in exchange for some engineering expertise.

The Supra makes my list because it’s a rear wheel drive car with plenty of power, a sophisticated-enough chassis, and enough creature comforts to be usable as an everyday car.  This was a car designed to be the best Japan could offer, and corners that are cut in today’s cars were left on in the Supra.  Lifting the carpet in the cargo compartment reveals a full size spare on an alloy wheel, something few cars have today.  Interior plastics, while blessed with the sheen of the 1980’s, are not susceptible to the cracking of European contemporaries like the Porsche 944.

There are two models, the L-Type and the P-Type.  The L-Type has a digital dashboard, while the P-Type has fender flares and a limited slip differential.  The P-Types are more desirable, especially since the digital displays on the dashboards can fail after almost 30 years and are expensive to replace.  From 1984 onwards, the engines produced 160 hp, and the best models are the 1985-1986 P-Types.  Of course, manual transmission is the way to go; automatic transmissions still had a way to go in the early 1980’s.  Forget about airbags and ABS in cars of this era, they were simply not available.

The cars are not perfect- because these cars are light and torquey, they can have tricky handling, especially with the stock 14 inch tires.  Power-off oversteer is something to be aware of, and my Supra had an unfortunate encounter with a tree in the hands of a friend.  Be extra careful, especially in the wet.  Cars with updated wheels and tires (up to 16″) are potentially safer.

Thanks to Initial-D, the AE86 Corolla GT-S has become a cult classic for its rwd handling and drifting prowess, but I think the less loved Supra is the car to have, with more power, a similar size, and an independent rear suspension.  A good example should be between $2,000 and $3,000 with extra special examples with more powerful engines approaching $5,000, or a little bit more than half the price of a similar Corolla GT-S with less power.

Of the four generations of Supras out there, the Mark II is unloved and yet deserving of love.  Therefore, it is worthy of my Cool Used Car list, as a car that is both special and inexpensive to buy.