So you're a grown up now...
We all have those moments in life where something reminds us that we're not quite as young as we think we are anymore. You don't really see it coming, it just sort of sneaks up on you.
You get out of bed in the morning and start to hear the symphony of pops and crackles in your joints, back pain is a regular occurrence, and you actually read nutrition labels on food items.
Those might not be the signs for everyone, but there is one event that makes you feel like you're a grown up; getting called "sir" or "ma'am" in public for the first time. Usually it happens in the cereal aisle of the grocery store, when you convince yourself that Fruit Loops are healthier than Cookie Crisp because you're not quite at the point where Raisin Bran seems edible. And then there's a 5-6 year old near you grabbing at the cereal near you, and their mom apologizes to you, "sorry, sir!". And it hits you, when did I become a "sir?". I mean, I'm still young, I'm still fun, right?
So, when it comes to picking out a car, how do you balance the fact that you want something sporty and fun, with something that's not embarrassing to drive to a PTA or client meeting? Or maybe you just want something that's not going to push your spine out without sacrificing all ability to have fun?
I've picked a few popular performance models, and a more mature alternative option that doesn't lose the fun factor, but also won't have you in your chiropractor's office more than you already are.
The Boy Racer: Honda Civic Type R
The Civic Type R has been a fantasy car for many millennials. As several versions have been distributed outside of North America (with us only getting 1 in the form of the Civic SiR hatch), it's represented a raw, high revving, engaging driving experience. So, when word came around that Honda was developing a new Civic Type R based on the 10th generation civic, enthusiasts were literally rabid with excitement.
Then it came out. Now, many people have called it the best handling front wheel drive car ever, and with 306hp from a turbocharged 4 cylinder engine and a six speed manual, it definitely delivers from a driver engagement standpoint. However, when you have to look at the car, the exterior looks like it fell down an ugly tree and hit every branch containing a catalogue of spoilers, wings, defusers on the way down. To say it looks juvenile is a bit of an understatement.
They say not to judge a book by its' cover, by we are a visual species. Looking at the Type R conjures images of an 18 year old, with pants sagging halfway down, wearing a flat brim cap, carrying a case of Monster energy drinks. Which is an interesting dichotomy considering in Canada, the Type R starts at $42K before taxes, which is not by any means chump change, and is not an amount you see many 18 year olds spending on a car.
So, what do you get if you want the fun of the Civic Type R, but you don't want to look like you drink Monster through an IV?
The new Accord of course. Fun little secret, the new Honda Accord actually has the same engine as the Civic Type R with a different tune on it. It's rated officially at 252hp vs the 306hp of the Type R, however testing has proved Honda is fibbing a bit on that one, at it actually produces a fair bit more. Which makes sense when you think of the fact that you can get the Accord with a 10 speed automatic, and it will actually beat the Type R in a 0-60 race! I should also mention you get the benefits of the Accord being a larger, more comfortable car, with a suspension setup that's sporty enough to be fun, but because it's not designed to punish race tracks, your spine doesn't get punished either.
It also has more tech available in it, such as active cruise control, and lane departure systems. On the Sport and Higher trims, you even get a remote starter with the Automatic. Speaking of the Automatic, you actually get the option to have one, as there's no 2 pedal setup available on the Type R. Conversely, getting the Accord doesn't force you into getting an automatic either, as it's available with a manual, and being a Honda, you know it's going to be good.
Oh, and then there's the whole aspect that the Accord doesn't look like a rolling mid life crisis. Plus, you get the privilege of saving money too, as the top trim Accord is still about $2K less than the Type R! No one needs to know that you took that money to see DMX live in concert at Spring Break in Mexico. They'll see a responsible, mature adult. The DMX can be your little secret.
The Rally Legend: The Subaru WRX STi
In what will prove to be a trend in this article, the next car we're going to take a peek at is the Subaru WRX STi, another formerly forbidden fruit that only made it to North America in 2003 as a 2004 model after enjoying much success pretty much everywhere else in the world throughout the 90s. There's no denying the WRX STi has been a massive success for Subaru. It's the halo car for the brand, and packed rally bred technology, toughness, and a trick AWD system and tweakable differentials that are renowned worldwide.
Buying a WRX STi meant anybody with the means could now pretend they were the late Colin McRae, and drift their way around gravel roads like a top tier rally driver. With it's trademark World Rally Blue paint, and a large rear wing, the STi is at best equal parts endearing and juvenile. Beyond the bright blue paint and fender flares however, the glossiness starts to dull. While interiors have never been a particular Subaru strength, the STi takes this to another level with cheap plastics, uncomfortable seats, and a bare bones infotainment system. You know what you're paying for with the STi, and it's certainly not creature comforts.
The other issue is the lack of development and updates for the STi. For some reason, Subaru has been satisfied to rest on their laurels for the last 15 years or so. And while the STi has updated in body style akin to the Impreza that it's based on, mechanical upgrades has been almost non existent. In 2003, the 300hp, 2.5 liter turbo boxer 4 cylinder was a delight and put the STi at the top of the pack and practically defined a generation of import performance. In 2019, the STi packs the exact same engine as 2003 improved to a whopping 305hp.
That's right, in 15 years, the STi has received 5hp in upgrades. In 2003 I had a Siemens flip phone that had an attachable camera that shot VGA resolution, today I have an iPhone XS that has 2 cameras in the back, uses my face to bio-metrically secure apps and passwords, and can use augmented reality to help me play games or even shop for furniture. Technology has come a long way. In car terms, a 2003 Mustang GT made 260hp and did 0-60 in 5.5-5.7 seconds. The 2019 Mustang GT makes 460hp now and does 0-60 in 3.9 seconds, formerly supercar territory. The fact is, Subaru has neglected the STi, and the people who wanted it in 2004 have grown up and need more from a vehicle.
Luckily for Subaru, fans of rally inspired, turbo, AWD performance sedans don't need to look far for a more grown up replacement. Subaru just recently announced the 2020 Legacy sedan, and with it, the return of the XT trim. What this means for fans of the 2004 STi, is that there's now going to be a more grown up performance option, and you won't even need to get a Hooniverse sticker for it! The 2020 Legacy will be a revelation to anyone that's been inside a performance Subaru in the last 15 years. It has an interior that looks, dare I say it, nice? Also, despite the fact that buying an STi means living out your rally fantasies, the reality is that we spend most of our time in the real world, which has traffic and potholes, neither of which are a particularly fun experience in an STi.
Honestly, the only downside to the new Legacy is the fact that for those that must shift their own gears, as a manual is not an option at this time. On the plus side though, when you're dropping off the kids at school you can still drive sideways through the snow if you really want to, while giggling like a school girl, as it will have a 260hp turbo boxer engine, along with Subaru's famous symmetrical AWD. All with the added bonus of when someone eventually calls the cops on you, you won't be in a bright blue car with a giant wing on the back. Sometimes anonymity has its perks.
The Hyper Hatch: The Ford Focus RS
Full disclosure here, my first car ever was a 2000 Ford Focus ZX3. I loved that car. Besides the freedom that comes with your first car, my automotive idol at the time, Colin McRae won the WRC championship in a Ford Focus RS rally car. Even if the rally cars were nothing like any street Focus, that didn't stop Ford from producing performance versions. In Canada & the US however, we never got the crown jewel, the Focus RS. Two generations of Focus RS were produced and sold around the world, even as close as Mexico. The former head of SVT, Ford's performance division even managed to sneak one into the US to use as his daily driver.
The Focus RS itself was the spiritual successor to the Escort RS Cosworth, a roadgoing version of the Escort rally car, produced in just high enough numbers to qualify the Escort for racing at the time. While the RS Cosworth was four wheel drive, the Focus RS's first two versions were front wheel drive. Both Focus RS's were solid performers, and even led Ford to develop suspension pieces dubbed "Revoknuckle" in the 2nd generation in order to put the power down, a design that spread throughout the industry later on. But even with this, the Focus wasn't the fire spitting rally legend that the Escort before it was.
Time went by, and Canada and the US got used to not having a hot Ford that didn't have a horse on it.
And then we got a gift. Ford announced for the 2016 model year, a new Focus RS. And this wasn't a watered down version. It was a 350hp, fire breathing, all wheel drive monster. Something to finally live up to the legend before it. While most Focuses' are produced in Mexico, the RS was specially built in Germany, so you know it was going to be special. And it was brilliant on a race track. Ford had built something that punched far above it's weight class on a track.
The thing about a performance hatchback is that it's supposed to be capable of holding its' weight on both the track and in traffic, while being practical, affordable and comfortable enough to drive everyday. Ford went 1 for 3 in this regard. The Focus RS is a brilliant track tool, a 4 seat hatchback capable of hunting down supercars in the right hands. As soon as you wander off the glass smooth surface of the track though, and it becomes a hunger games contest between your spine and the suspension. Your spine loses this before Katniss can even draw her bow. I've spoken to a handful of Focus RS owners, and almost all of them have either eventually traded it in because of this, or they have another vehicle to drive daily to spare themselves the punishment.
Now, that might not be horrible, if say, the Focus was a lot less expensive than it is in Canada. Including destination, but before taxes, a Focus RS is roughly $54K in Canada! For some reason, the Focus, which starts at 35K USD (Canadian equivalent of 46K CDN) is 8K CDN more here. If you're a masochist, paying over 60K with taxes to have your spinal column repeatedly violated will be right up your alley.
So, what's the alternative? Well, lucky for us Germany assembles more than one Hyper Hatch for our market. To get your performance without the punishment, we need to swivel our view over to VW, the creators of the original hot hatch, the Volkswagen GTI. However the GTI isn't the king of the VW stable, that honor goes to the Golf R. While it's a bit down on power compared to the Focus RS with "only" 292hp, it makes up for it with an available 7 speed, dual clutch transmission. If you're not familiar with a DCT, all you need to know is this: There's not a racecar driver alive that can shift faster than a DCT. So, despite it's power disadvantage, the Golf R actually has a 0-60 time of 4.6 seconds, a tick faster than the RS. If that's not enough for you, when your warranty is up, you can spend $800 or so on a tune that pumps up the power reliably and drops that 0-60 time to about 4.1 seconds.
While in the Focus, it makes no bones about its' performance intentions, with hard, highly bolstered Recaro seats and a minimal interior, the Golf R is practically an opulent place to be. With leather seats that are both beautiful and comfortable, the Golf R's interior is more reminiscent of an Audi than something based on a family hatchback.
Speaking of Audi, then there's the tech available; Audi's Virtual Cockpit display and gauges are an option along with Radar Cruise Control as part of the Technology package. Then there's the suspension. While both the Focus RS and the Golf R both have electronic adaptive dampers, in the Focus the range goes from your fillings rattling out to your spine poking out. The Golf R may not be as hardcore on the track, but VW has nailed the balance between sport and comfort in its tuning, and its' modes actually make a difference in the feel of the car. Even if you were the most hardcore track rat and were racing every weekend from April-November, you would still be spending 90+% of your time on normal roads, and sadly, that's something Ford seems to have forgotten.
The Focus looks like it's going to eat your cat with its' aggressive bodykit and bright Nitrous Blue paint, while the Golf R is somewhat more restrained in comparison. However while the Ford only has a couple of colour options, VW has actually opened up the crayon chest and has over 40 colours available on special order. They don't mention that the special order colours are actually Porsche supplied paint colours which get applied at a separate facility, in case you want to make a bit more of a statement. And even though it's a $3K option, you'll have the money for it, because in Canada, the Golf R is roughly $9K cheaper than the Focus RS! VW must like Canadians better, because despite the 31% (at the time of writing) difference in currency between the US and Canada, the Golf R is only about 2K more than it's pricing in the US! We also got the special order paint option months before the US too!
This all goes to show that just because you're not 18 anymore doesn't mean you don't get to have fun. You deserve to love what you drive, and part of that is having a car that you're not embarrassed to pick up your kids in, or sacrifice your health for. As you can see, in many cases, you can even save money too!
If you or someone you know is looking for a new car, and you want to love what you drive, we'd love to help guide you to getting your dream car! You can book your FREE consultation at www.ashhabibautoconsulting.com/contact/