August 3, 2011
Three Cars worth driving at the Dawn of the Weenie-Mobile Age.
By Dr. Bud E. Bryan
Austin. Greetings to all of you WebVillians out there and yup, just when you thought it was safe to write the Ol' Budster off, I'm baaack. Back to confound you. Back to piss you off. Back to my old tricks. Back just because. You get the picture. Mainly I'm back because I've been so lost in my particular brand of self-induced RH (Relationship Hell) that even I needed a damn break from it all. Plus, I got so sick of reading all about Peter & WordGirl driving all of those hot cars up there that I had to get caught up by driving some my own self.
First on the list? A Ford Mustang GT 5.0. Yeah, I get that the Boss is back and Ford is cranking out new versions almost by the week, that's what you do when you have an aging car in need of a makeover and the replacement is two more years away at least. I get it. But I didn't want the Boss. I wanted a representative GT just to get a feel for the current state of the Mustang art. So I got myself a drive in a lightly-equipped Mustang GT Premium Coupe, with 6-speed gearbox, in Black.
It's hard to describe just how pleasing this package is. I'm not all that enamored with the current Mustang interior - it's not that bad but it's not really great either, it just feels dated - but that's really not the point of the car at all. Clearly honed to the nth degree by the Mustang development team, the 5.0 just feels right. Enthusiasts get that statement, so I'm not going to beat it to death for the Consumer Reports crowd. People with a proper amount of driving and car ownership experience all have come across machines over the years that just feel "right." Take the Honda S2000, for instance. Superbly balanced and fun to drive, in its early iterations it was the quintessential take on a contemporary sports car. And for my money it's one of those machines that just felt "right" from the get-go. So does the Mustang GT 5.0.
The Mustang is balanced, remarkably light on its feet, the steering, gearbox and pedal controls feel all of a piece and that they were massaged by people who not only like to drive, but who know what "right" should feel like. And that 412 HP 5.0-liter V8 sounds all kinds of right too and it feels really good. There are faster cars, sure. And there are more zoot-suited cars loaded with all of the Ricky Racer flaps, blades, wings, slats and vents that one could want too. But the reality is that a Mustang GT Coupe on a hot summer night with no particular place to go but wanting to get there quickly is one of the great high-performance bargains that you can drive every day. And it's damn near perfect for the enthusiast who has $35,000 or thereabouts to spend.
What about the V6 version with 300+ horsepower? I applaud the effort and 30 mpg on the highway is nice and everything, but if I'm going to ride out this Doomsday Scenario at the Dawn of the Weenie-Mobile Age, then I'm going to ride it out in a V8. You can lecture me all you want about my green responsibility as a citizen but in the immortal words of Cee-Lo Green, fuck you, I'm gonna drive a V8.
Next? I couldn't stand reading about the Camaro SS convertible (with 6-speed) that Peter had, so I just had to get my hands on one for my own self. Straight-off the Camaro feels heavier and more cumbersome than the more nimble Mustang, because well, it is heavier and more cumbersome than Ford's pony car, to the tune of 500 lbs. more. But I gotta tell you once you put your foot in that beautiful 426 HP V8 all that stuff just doesn't matter. Yeah, the Camaro is a bit "porky" as Peter said, but the reality is that Chevy's Camaro development team is clearly made up of enthusiasts of the first degree because it all works, and exceedingly well too.
I had a rip-roarin' time rumbling through downtown Austin making the thing growl for the teeming throngs, and I had an even better time when I picked up Molly (my friend Janey's U of T coed daughter) and two of her smokin' hot girlfriends and give them a late-night open-air tour of the city. The fact that these girls had never been exposed to big horsepower before made it worth every minute. It took all of about 6 seconds for them to get it, and I soon had a car load full of young converts taken in by the siren song of that honkin' V8.
So yeah, after cruising around Austin and seeing the sights we stopped at El Arroyo for a little late-night libation. After all, Margaritas at Midnight always has a nice ring to it, and I got to see these three 20-somethings emerge from the Camaro in their band-aid length micro-mini "skirts" (one was even pleated, which was borderline illegal) and their 5-inch "CFMs." And as I walked behind them they shook their hair and with their dangly earrings providing the soundtrack, they sashayed into the bar. And let me just tell ya' the view from behind left me in a speechless daze. Simply spectacular. Dang, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. Or something like that.
I mean, how often does a man my age get to enter a bar at midnight with three smokin' hot girls who turn every head in the place? Well, let me rephrase that, because if you've read my columns before... oh, never mind. In case you must know they rendezvoused with some other gal pals and I left after my two drink maximum. But being around that incandescent youth? Ah hell, there's just nothin' like it and I'll never get tired of it, so sue me.
Anyway, back to the Camaro SS. Yeah, it's a different flavor than the Mustang but anytime you can drive a sporting convertible with first-rate dynamic qualities and one that sounds just like a Trans-Am Camaro from the Glory Days, well, sir, it's all good. And if I managed to expose some impressionable young lovelies to the V8 religion and convert them in the process, then I would call it great car, and a hugely successful evening.
And last but certainly not least, after Peter and I talked one day I went out and got in a BMW M3 Coupe. After all, if I was tasting the latest in American V8-power, why not get a sample of some German V8 fare while I'm at it? And no, I'm not comparing these cars feature for feature, or cost, or anything like that. If you want to know which of these cars turns-in better at Willow while you're farting, there are plenty of other publications that will do that for you. That ain't me. But I will tell you after driving the Mustang and the Camaro, the M3 was a revelation.
I mean this is one seriously bad-ass machine. Fire it up and while taking in the snorts and growls you know right away that the team behind this car is made up of some hard-core enthusiasts with a wicked glint in their eye. How do I like the M3? Let me count the ways...
1. Even though the M3 is a couple hundred pounds heavier than the Mustang it's seven inches shorter and two inches narrower, and it acts much smaller and tauter than the Ford as soon as you set-off down the road. (The Camaro feels almost gunship-like by comparison.) And I know the Boss 302 was designed to be an M3 killer, but really?
2. The steering wheel in the M3 is the best I have ever encountered in my car life, bar none. It's thick, absolutely perfectly shaped and it's so fitting to the car and its attitude that I wouldn't change a thing. Even if you never have the opportunity drive an M3 go find one, sit in it and grip that wheel. If a smile doesn't creep over your face you're dead.
3. It looks the part. Put a BMW M3 next to a regular 3 Series Coupe and the differences are pronounced. As a matter of fact except for the greenhouse glass everything appears to be different. It's hunkered down and purposeful, and there's a no bullshit quality to it that's just resonates loud and clear. And the carbon fiber roof? Simply delicious.
4. I know there are BMW purists out there who long for the days of yesteryear and wax-on eloquently about previous M3 iterations - any of the previous iterations - but not me. This M3's engine is one of the best-sounding V8s in the business. Period. And I gotta tell ya' when you hammer the M3 and bang-off 8,000+RPM shifts, it's like a drug they don't sell. The M3 is wonderfully raucous, it has a wildly politically incorrect attitude - as in a "you can mess with me if you want but if you do, you do so at your peril" kind of attitude - and if I weren't so sure it was conceived in Germany I'd begin to wonder about those Bavarian boys (and girls), because it's clear that even though mainstream BMW has lost its way in a lot of ways, the team behind the M3 gets it. OMG do they get it. The BMW M3 is now one of my all-time favorite cars because the moment you get in it, fire it up, and go down the road, it's as "right" as a high-performance machine could ever be. Absolutely brilliant in fact. And I don't throw that term around loosely. Ever.
And so, if we've really arrived at the Doomsday Scenario, the end game that prefaces the Dawn of the Weenie-Mobile Age, then these three machines are worthy candidates for your consideration. Of the three, I'll take the M3 Coupe. Why? Because if someone says to me, "Bud, this is it. People like you aren't really going to fit-in going forward. And high-performance will be eliminated once and for all unless it's arrived at properly. So to minimize your impact on our otherwise Green Nirvana, you only get to buy one more car. And that's it. And when you're gone, we'll crush it so nobody else can perpetuate your political incorrectness..." I'll take mine in Black, please.
And for the record and in case you're wondering, I'll never get tired of that V8 soundtrack. Or the jingle-jangle soundtrack of dangly earrings for that matter, either.
It never gets old.
Adios until the next time.