Off topic: For the joy of driving…

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Not so long ago, we’d all have laughed if you’d said hybrid and electric vehicles were the way of the future. I know I did; infrastructure being the main stumbling block, the other one simple physical resource requirements and handling (think of all those batteries and limited lifespans). Technological development is much less of a headache whenever there’s large-scale consumer spending involved; look at how fast we’ve gone from phones with buttons to touch everything – though I can’t help but wonder why small scale batteries are still so rubbish given that market must still surely be much larger than electric vehicles. Long story short, given the current state of legislation, misunderstandings of technology* and social media hysteria – internal combustion’s days are numbered. Even the EU has legislated a halt in combustion engines from 2030. I make no secret of the fact that I like cars. And honestly…the vast majority of these modern-produced things are not cars. Where does this leave us enthusiasts?

*Remember diesel? It was cleaner/more efficient then it wasn’t and now it’s non-existent. All in the space of five years. I know I miss 1200+km/tank range and filling up my car once a month…

Hybrid’s biggest party trick was tax incentives and efficiency. Due to the former in my country, when Audi launched the A6 hybrid in 2012, it landed up being half the price of the petrol equivalent despite having the same engine, the electric motor, battery, and much higher spec – waiting lists were long, premiums were high, and thanks to all those first generation electrical innards – you can’t give them away now because servicing requires another mortgage. The same goes for pretty much every hybrid car launched here subsequently – tax incentives spur consumer demand, but in the long term, you land up losing more because of the hidden costs of maintenance. Usually around batteries. And if you’ve tried to dispose of a dead laptop in a conscionable way, imagine doing the same with 300-400kg of batteries.

I’ve driven most of the recent hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles. Assuming they work as promised for the lifespan promised – two very big ‘ifs’ – then the pure electric stuff makes the most sense. Hybrids have all of the complexity of internal combustion and all of the environmental issues on the production/infrastructure side of electric (all we’re doing is shoving the pollution further up the operating cycle, back to the manufacturer) – and none of the dynamic advantages of either. They represent a transitional phase where we carry the energy generation source with us, at least until chargers are to be widely found and fast enough that you don’t need to look for one next to a cinema to kill time before resuming your journey.

Pure electric’s biggest party trick is acceleration – the rest, well, needs work. Range remains worse than even the thirstiest internal combustion engine; charging is improving but still requires at least a newspaper and a coffee worth of waiting time to get moderate range; and there remain physical handling limitations again thanks to the weight of all of those batteries. But the vehicles are much simpler with far fewer moving parts, lower maintenance, and theoretically – lower production costs.

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But as a driver, even in a country plagued with terrible roads and even worse traffic – there is something missing emotionally. We don’t need cars; we have ride sharing and even my city is getting public transport (finally). All the more reason there needs to be a very good reason to have something that’s more than a disposable commuting appliance**, especially if you’re going to cough up those import taxes.

**Like a washing machine, or microwave, but with four wheels, perhaps some interior upholstery, and a wider choice of colors.

Economics has meant that of the choices available today, most of them are actually fairly identical under the skin. They share platforms, engines, and if you’re reasonably well-versed, even cosmetic and interior pieces. There is a very strong sense of same-ness amongst every vehicle. Ironically, the EVs feel more different as those platforms tend to be produced from scratch as the companies making them don’t have the legacy or groups to drag along – a Tesla might not be very interesting to drive, but it does feel very different inside and out to say a 3-series or C-class, which feels like pretty much every other BMW or Mercedes. And let’s not even start with the generic forced-strange design of Toyotas.

When reviewers and manufacturers talk of ‘personality’, they either tend to focus too much on insignificant details (“interior mood lighting in 64 colors!” “But we have interior lights in 8-bit color!”) or nebulously small changes between generations. The truth is there’s much less difference between the vast majority of new cars available today and any car from say 10-15 years ago; feel-wise, performance-wise, design-wise. They’re all more competent and capable of performing far beyond what most ordinary people can use or traffic conditions and local laws allow for. There isn’t anything truly bad being made today – and when your basic entry level cars are loaded to the gills with what used to be premium technology, the justifications for paying significantly more for your commuting appliance need to be pretty solid.

If you think this sounds similar to the present state some other industry, you aren’t alone. This doesn’t mean I’m about to buy a Proton anytime soon, though. Personally, having been at the pointy, fickle end of the camera industry (sometimes I think of my previous job with Hasselblad as being equivalent to being a Bugatti or Koenigsegg factory test driver) – I appreciate the refreshment of mass simplicity. I haven’t experienced that in a car yet – and am unlikely to ever do so, given both the stratospheric prices of anything exotic and the impending demise of internal combustion. And even if I could eventually afford something like this, by that point – it’ll probably feel like a VW Golf.

What bothers me about this whole situation is that the personality quirks and differences in feel one used to get from switching cars is almost gone from anything new. Electric power steering means universal numbness and lack of feedback. Adaptive dampers mean that every car corners flat, and manufacturer obsession with the Nurburgring means you’re almost guaranteed a sore back. Consumer tastes have dictated large wheels that inevitably ride poorly and cost a bomb to replace; I never thought 18” would be a) small and b) such a nice balance between compliance and grip. I am on the fence about turbocharging since that low-end torque makes for good tractability in town, but the high end mostly doesn’t exist when you have the road – it’s almost like driving diesel in many ways. And don’t get me started about the demise of the manual gearbox – CVTs are a disaster, the best of the current automatics is very good but utterly without personality, and double clutches tend to still be jerky and roll backwards on hills.

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I think then the ultimate (and realistically attainable) enthusiast garage has two vehicles in it. First, the necessary commuting appliance with your preference of creature comforts, color and size; new, warrantied and driven without much concern (or emotion). Second, the car that you need to be in the right mood to drive, but when you are, it puts a smile on your face and makes you want to miss a turn and keep driving – the kind of car that tells you what’s going on with the road, engine, tires, environment; the kind of car you sit in rather than sit on. A car you can operate intuitively and is keen to play if you want to.

It needs to be cheap enough that not having time to drive it doesn’t bring guilt, common enough that routine maintenance and replacement parts are easily obtainable and not bankruptingly expensive; and both visual and tactile enough that you aren’t going to mistake it for your appliance. It needs to be more engaging, which means more feedback; hydraulic steering, smaller tires, decent brakes, passive but well-sorted suspension, and personally – with a really good manual gearbox and natural aspiration. Turbocharging is better for ultimate power, but mostly exhaust noise; you miss the induction acoustics and linearity of power delivery. All in all, this formula should deliver one very important thing: the kind of satisfaction that comes from driving well, and improving one’s own skill to do so. The car’s electronics aren’t going to save you; that’s going to come from feeling your grip levels through the chassis. Launch control isn’t going to make you faster; that’s from not fluffing gear changes. And if you lurch on braking, learn to heel and toe.

Such cars used to be easily found and relatively affordable; I drove my humble BMW E90 320D (since sold to a friend) again recently, and was surprised by just how tactile the car was; honestly, there’s more steering feel in that than my M2. They are almost entirely gone from the new car market, and those that remain are definitely not affordable. Moreover, the used ones are starting to rise in value since the supply has now become finite over the last few years; they’re only going to rise further and become even more inaccessible given no new ones are being produced, and what remains in the market is ageing, wearing out, perishing in accidents, and the internet has killed arbitrage of information. We see this even in volume/mature markets – the success of enthusiast platforms like Bring A Trailer; Toyota Supras going for six figures; BMW E30 M3s at high fives; let’s not talk about modern Porsche GT cars. I remember not so long ago when a nice E39 M5 used to be £5,000 or so – try at least 5x that now, and probably in worse condition.

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Even worse supply constraints exist in countries with import restrictions – e.g. Malaysia does not allow import of cars between 35 and 5 years old, which basically excludes anything modern and interesting. On top of that, very few interesting cars were brought in during the eligible period due to new cost at the time and market demographics; there are really very, very few options – and I admit I’m jealous as hell of people living in larger markets. To put things in context: a new A-segment econobox hatch is $15,000; a base spec Camry is $50,000; a 2.3L Mustang, $100,000; an M3/M4 is about $150,000; 911s start at about $250,000. Second hand values track this somewhat, too. What we’re seeing locally is the prices for even moderately interesting vehicles have bottomed out and started to rise sharply again – 10-15 year old manual Porsches, for example, are climbing; the delta between a manual Ferrari 360 and an automatic one is 50% or more. And the base price is up from just a few years ago. There are almost no BMW E30s for sale, and the ones that are available are either on their last legs or disappear within hours of listing, at ever-increasing prices.

The window to acquire something enjoyable at an attainable cost is closing, and closing fast. It is a limited car population bounded by being modern enough to be reliable, well-sorted and easily serviceable, but not so modern as to be overly dependent on electronics; with sufficient choice to find something you don’t mind keeping for a longer period, and yet not so rare as to be unaffordable.

I actually feel a bit sad that the current generation of new drivers will likely not get to experience this. In fact, it’s entirely possible even we driving enthusiasts will eventually give up and resign ourselves to an appliance. If they get to the point they know what they’re missing and have the disposable income, I wouldn’t be surprised if that same E30 325i is now pushing six figures itself. It may actually be better not to know and miss that feeling of freedom and control over your vehicle – the kind of exhilaration you get from soloing just after being granted your license. I wouldn’t be surprised if my daughter’s generation won’t be able to drive at all – they’ll just either ride share or have an automated vehicle that doesn’t require a license to operate because it can’t be operated by a human in the first place. But I do still think somebody needs to continue making a basic but enthusiast-fundamental car. There is clearly demand given the continually rising prices of the remaining supply.

In the meantime, as somebody who’s been fortunate enough to drive some pretty special cars, fully appreciating the impression they left on me and now feeling the urgency to stake a claim to a small slice of the pie – I’ll open suggestions to the enthusiasts in the audience: what reasonably-priced, reasonably-modern, fun, tactile car would you buy for the second slot in your garage? The kind of thing you drive for the pleasure of driving, but can also be used as a commuter for the days you want something special; that won’t break the bank for acquisition or maintenance, but most importantly – make you look back and smile after you parked and walked away. I have some ideas, but I’d be curious to see what comes back in the comments…MT

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Comments

  1. Leonard Schild says:

    Hi Ming, thanks for the super interesting post. Some very good comments, too. However, I have to disagree with some 😉 I don’t think that modern cars are the problem. I have not had much access to older cars as I have only had my license for 10 years, now. If old cars compare to new ones in the same way my Olympus OM1 compares to my OMD EM1, they are more like two different recipes using the same ingredients. Think of grilled and cooked fish. It all comes down to taste and to practical needs. Therefore, my main point is, not the choice of cars is the problem but the lack of open roads. I have access to unrestricted motorways and the Nürburgring. Both have in common that there is far too much traffic for any kind of car to be enjoyed properly. Driven on back roads in the alps or on the smaller country lanes around the Nürburgring, the same car that used to be numb and soulless seems fun. Adding to this, some cars are just plain boring. I test drove an BMW M240ix and a Peugeot 308 GTi recently. The M240ix feels heavy and the suspension tuning doesn’t allow for any kind of rotation around the vertical axis. The Peugeot on the other feels nimble and alive, even with electrical steering. And, I love the fact that it does both nicely, the first car and second car thing. This means, you’re never in the wrong car at the right time. This leads me to my main point: If I had the possibility, I would spend more time looking for nice roads without worrying about the car I was driving.

    P.S.: First comment after just reading silently for a few years 🙂

    • Point taken about nice roads – but my observations are in light of having driven the same machinery around both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ roads, traffic and not, and also taking into account that realistically – most driving takes place in a functional rather than fun environment. Yes, the modern stuff is fun but just not fully involving or sensory in the same way as some of the older cars are – and we’re not even talking that much older. The M240ix you mention gives a clue as to its main problem in the last letter: four wheel drive. I’ve yet to drive anything with 4WD on road that rotates the way you’d want it to – there’s just too much traction available, which gives great grip – but a poor sense of rotation as the sensation of slight slippage is never going to be there (and this is what telegraphs rotation).

      Ideally, it’d be nice to have something that’s fun or has other characteristics at lower speeds that make it enjoyable but comes alive when the opportunity allows – I think of the modern cars, the M2 does a pretty good job at that (e.g. in traffic, I have an upgraded B&W speaker setup that shifts entertainment to the aural) – but driving it back to back recently with a 2012 Cayman R, it feels as direct as a mattress 😦

      • Leonard Schild says:

        Don’t get me wrong. I am totally on your side. I do prefer a car that gives feedback to one that does not. Maybe there were more cars that were good at giving feedback 10-20 years ago than there are now. Honestly, I have never driven a Porsche or BMW M, yet, but I do know, that I prefer that new 308 GTi to my old ’08 Mazda Miata. The 308’s suspension keeps body movement in control while still giving you adjustability by applying throttle or braking. Sure, the Mazda gave more road feel in town or at low speed but it just simply fell apart when driven fast.

        This is where my “road argument” comes back to play. A lot of roads in Germany are so well constructed, i.e. wide and no tight bends, and traffic is so thick, that I do not care much about low speed feedback. It is always frustrating and boring to drive on those roads. A good stereo system certainly adds more to the driving experience than hydraulic steering. However, there are really nice roads if you are prepared to drive one or two hours to get there. Having arrived there, I believe nowadays best won’t be worse than yesterdays. Comparing a M2 to a Cayman R is not fair, though. Probably, the new Cayman GT4 should compare ok to that R. If those journalists are to be trusted, an Alpine A110 must be fantastic on nice back roads. Sure, it won’t have that pure mechanical feeling you used to have. Really good composure on bumps and supercar pace of old at a lower price point are fine for me.

        As I started, don’t get me wrong. I love using my OM1, for example, because I have to concentrate using it. But I enjoy my OMD1 more for most of the time. After configuring it once, it gets out of the way more often and lets me concentrate on taking photos instead of operating the camera. Returning to cars, I appreciate new cars for things like low fuel consumption (range!) or a good navigation system to get to those nice roads more easily. My main point is, that even new cars are good enough to have great fun on the right roads, I guess. Thus, my suggestion to worry more about roads and less about cars. Nevertheless, if someone put hydraulic power steering on modern cars, that would be highly appreciated 🙂

        • The new 308 is pretty highly rated though, and Peugeot is known for its smooth suspensions – so I’m not surprised. The miatas are raw and basic and constructed to a different objective.

          We have a massive range of road conditions here – everything from autobahn-style stretches to potholed single lanes. But there’s still usually enough feedback and curve to at least enjoy the feel of changing direction…

          I don’t know if the comparison is unfair to the M2 or the R – the M2 is faster in a straight line, doesn’t give up that much in the corners and is easier to drive fast because what feedback there is lands up being carefully filtered. The R is very raw; not as bad as a Lotus but probably about as close as you get from a car that still has carpets, infotainment and leather trim. The GT4 is supposedly more detached than the R. I do find the R much more enjoyable to drive at lowish speeds than the M2, but at low speeds the carbon clutch is heavy and binary making the M2’s paddle shifters much easier.

          Both cars of course benefit from interesting roads, though!

  2. My little collection fits into this topic quite well – ’06 Audi A8, ’14 RAM Quad cab Hemi Sport, and an ’04 Porsche Boxter. Each has a distinct personality and purpose, and each feels quite different to drive then the other, but all have an abundance of creature comfort. One thing they all have in common is hellacious amounts of power and handling, and each in their own way is exciting to drive. But it’s the Porsche that makes me smile. It’s a luxury go-cart, and who doesn’t smile when driving a go-kart?

    And all that aside, I find the single biggest inhibitor of my continued love affair with cars to be the lack of great exterior stying (my first consideration), and secondly the utterly poor comfort of the seats. I won’t even look at a car if those two items aren’t satisfactory. The same could be said of watches… it had to feel good on the wrist, and look good. My Apple watch (given to me by my wife) doesn’t check either of those boxes. I might as well have a shoe box strapped to my wrist with twine. It’s most redeeming feature is the ability to track steps. But phone calls on it are horrific. Holding a phone to your ear is a truly mind numbingly horrible experience, but holding a watch somewhere near your mouth and ears for any length of time is even worse.

    All that said, the newest iPad pro 12.9 is pretty slick, with one exception – it is uncomfortable as hell to use for a long duration – over 30minutes. So while it handles Lightroom Mobile quite well, and will probably do well with PS for iPad, human anatomy isn’t suited well to a device that size that you hold in your hands, not to mention the distance it takes to physically navigate the screen size. It frankly needs a track pad and keyboard to be useful for long periods of work. I’m hoping Wacom develops a tablet for iPad. I brought that up because I think cars have some similarities in terms of technological capabilities off the hook, while the users suffer from a variety of unforeseen consequences.

    So, I think despite the pathway we are on to digital cars, manufacturers will still have to produce something that at the very least virtually excites the driver. Will there be LED skins, so you could at the touch of a screen, change the look of your car from a Buick to a Ferrari? Perhaps the dampers will have setting to allow some roll, and….

    …one thing I’ve been imaging… is a 9.2 Dolby digital exhaust with a subwoofer. Tethered wirelessly to my throttle, I could go from Yugo to Aston Martin a the flick of a wrist, or for that matter, choose 1968 Huey mode, and virtually experience my first flying car. 🙂

    • Modern styling seems overly fussy of late – I can understand the aerodynamic considerations, but a lot of it looks really superfluous. A good example is the number of fake vents on the recent A90 Supra…

      I had the 12.9″ iPad Pro and now have the 11″ – I find the smaller one is much better ergonomically, not to mention easier to pack. The only advantage of the big one is the on-screen keyboard in portrait mode takes up little space and is large enough to type on properly, which can’t be said of the 11″.

      • I find the gt front end styling on the Toyota A90 to be ostentatious, considering the lines of the rest of car. It seems incongruous. The basic shape of the car reminds me of the BMW Z4, but the BMW’s front styling looks far more in keeping with those body lines, while still being gt. As I understand it, those vents dont do much until you exceed 120mph, which then allows air through, instead of under the car, keeping it from becoming a flying saucer. But most of us never go 120. I did it once in a Jaguar XJ6 sedan, but that car weighs 4500lbs, so taking flight would happen much, much later. I put a Chevy 350 into that Jag, fun at first, but it never really ran right, and defeated the purpose of a luxury sedan. But it was the first car I ever owned where I loved the look of it’s hips & rear end. 🙂 Most American cars dont have great butts. The latest corvette, maybe.

  3. Michael says:

    I see “The Stunning Ming Collection” of seven Ferraris will be at auction during Sotheby’s Monterey event. Perhaps you doth protest a bit too much?

    After four years with 2012 Miata…best driving time of my life…I’m now dreaming of a 1931 Model A Ford. Sits like a modern SUV (good for a bad back) and great fun to drive.

    • Well, we had to fund R&D for the new watches somehow…I wish! 😦

      Plus, having driven a few Ferraris, I have to honestly say they’re not really for me. Too much attention, too conspicuous, and too many maintenance histrionics.

      Is a Model A actually fun to drive?

  4. Tuco Ramirez says:

    Imagine selling this business plan today: Thousands of giant drills will bore thousands of meters into reservoirs of sludge worldwide on land and sea, pump it out, transport it thousands of miles by ship and pipeline, refine it in vast complexes, transport it again by ship, pipeline and, finally, truck to 19,000 liter underground tanks at every paved street intersection in the world, twice a week.

    Interesting press release yesterday said that all-electric car sales in Norway have hit 48% of new car sales…

    Re weekend cars: This is just transition and we older car folk will have our little weekend roadsters. The outrageous acceleration of electric should pretty much kill the gassers, quickly. “Model radio-controlled car” performance, scaled up. Done right, which would you want for weekend thrills?

    A high school buddy’s father had a 1958 250 GT California Spyder that we snuck out on warm, quiet summer evenings. I can’t think of a more engaging car. (Can’t believe the price of them now.)

    • Norway: the tax incentives help massively, too. I’ll take the 250 GT spyder, thanks – even if I have to put distilled dinosaur juice into it every weekend…something electricity can’t replace amongst those noisy rotating mechanical oily bits…:)

  5. Actually Ming, I’ve been thinking about the subject of car design for some time now. As a photographer who loves pure designs, without going pre WWII, I would vote for the 1963 Jaguar XKE ( E-type to the British and even Enzo Ferrari commented that it was the most beautifully designed passenger car of his era ), which I was lucky enough to own! The Lamborghini Muira and finally, the lovely, masculine, Ferrari’s 288 GTO. It was a 308 gone to the gym!

    But, beauty is in the eye of the beholder! Even the ugliest people manage get married!

    • How was the XKE to drive? And yes, the 288 GTO 😍

      • The XKE was like a freight train on the highway with that very long hood in front of you.. It went straight and nothing moved it until you hit about 130 mph. (The suspension was very compliant and even plush compared to my father’s Austin Healey 106).Then the front end would get light and actually scary at 150 mph! I tried it once just to see if it actually would do the advertised 150 mph. The Massachusetts Turnpike opened up around the 1960s and at 10 PM there was nobody on the road. My personal salt flats!
        It handled relatively well for skinny tires ( 165 that I later managed to get 175s ) and a narrow track. On a race track it was fairly neutral with oversteer when throttle was applied. OK Dunlop brakes that needed careful attention to get maximum stopping. It also burned quite a lot of oil….a quart every 200 miles. I’d have to clean the plugs often. 28 grease fittings under the car and inboard rear brakes that were very hard to change.
        They sell modern day versions ( $$$ ) that are completely sorted out and would be a blast to drive and own!
        Still, for driving a prefer my 308 Ferrari. Bought new in 1983 and have had very little maintenance. When you find the right car, keep it as a member of the family!

        • Wow – 165s! We are so used to the grip from soft-compound fat tires these days (my M2 runs 265s at the rear) that I can’t imagine what the limits might be on those. But wow – 150mph in that car must have felt like warp speed…

          Fully agreed on the finding and keeping the right car part. The tough part is finding it in the first place 😛

  6. The whole world is going to the SUVs! Refrigerators on wheels. That’s what 98% of the world wants to be driving. And the worst are pickup trucks! City folks buy them because once a year they will need to buy a new mattress. And maybe ( less than 1% of the time ) they will go off-road or pull something. They clog our roads and can’t park ( spaces too narrow ) and you can’t see over them. And they flip over in many accidents.
    Luckily, I’m now old enough to have enjoyed driving during the good old days. Those would be between 1957-1986 ( in America & Europe ) I still own 2 sports cars( Ferrari 308 QV & Porsche Boxster- I had a BMW 2002 Tii in 1972 ) that I get to enjoy when I drive up north to Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire. Still not much traffic on the back roads. No automatics and no power steering on the Ferrari. Sort of like the joy I get in still using my 1967 Nikon F and 1957 Leica M3, along with my Gossen Lunasix!

    Anyways, the world is too crowded and I’ll turn out the lights in 2025!

  7. L. Ron Hubbard says:

    Great post. Love your car articles. Since your last car article, I went ahead and bought the Lotus Elise that I was shopping for (I declined to by the BMW M2). What. An. Amazing. Car! I am absolutely in love with the Lotus. Tactile doesnt even begin to describe what it is like being behind the wheel of a 1950 pound car, with *nothing* extra in it except a radio (useless with that high reving engine) and a/c. The handling of a Lotus simple is amazing. The car truly personifies Colin Chapman’s philosophy of “simplify and then add lightness”.

    • Congratulations! AC is mostly non-negotiable in the tropics, especially with a mid-engined configuration 🙂

      Fully agree on the handling, it’s intuitive in a way that few cars are. The earlier mid-engine Porsches come closest though…

  8. Steering feel – my 1988 W126 S class is a reflection on how far backwards we’ve gone.

    • I recall one of my uncles having one of those in the mid 90s or so; I imagine if the steering was anything like the rest of the ride, surely it must have been quite damped/smooth compared to the other cars of the day…which I agree then again says a lot about how ‘far’ we’ve come. I’ve driven my dad’s current-generation E class and you could run over a horse with it and not notice…

  9. I don’t see any other option but for you to start an official car company Ming. Make economical Luddite analog sports cars for bored middle aged men, the market is huge.

    • Oddly, I think it’s called ‘Lotus’ and they aren’t doing so well financially the last time I checked…it was even Malaysian owned (and as is typical, crony-mismanaged) at one point, too.

      • L. Ron Hubbard says:

        Lotus is doing very well now, owned by the Chinese company Geely.

        • Not sure about this. They have more money from HQ, but sales are flat, and they’ve pulled out of some countries. A shame, since whilst being owned by Proton we had a shot at buying one at a somewhat ($70k for a the most bare-bones Elise) attainable price relative to other exotica, but tax structures have since kicked back in and we’re looking at double that. Used S1s used to be had for $20-35k; used S2s $30-50k. It’s now double that across the board, which makes it a much more difficult price-value equation to stomach.

  10. Martin Jones says:

    In Sept 2009 bought a new Lotus Elise S. Still have it in the garage & it averages just less than 1,000 miles each year. Puts a big smile on my face when I drive it. Thought many times about the waste of money insuring it & driving it so rarely. Thought about selling it many times (it is appreciating in value), then I drive it again & remember why my garage is useless for anything other than this mistress. My other car is an Audi.

    • L. Ron Hubbard says:

      1,000 miles a year? Damn. I have owned a Lotus Elise for all of 2 months or so and have put 2,500 miles on it. I simply cannot stay out of the car. It is a pure joy to drive.

      • Not a Lotus owner myself, but I agree in principle that if you love driving it, it’s very hard to stay out of…up til last year I averaged about 8,000km a year (lots of travel); I’ve done 15,000km in the first year with my M2. You just want to drive the damn thing and take the longest traffic-free way home…

  11. If you want to feel the texture of city roads then my recommendation would be a half beat-up commuter bicycle. Nothing like a spot of bone rattling to help you wake up in the morning and appreciate any investment in public infrastructure.

    Comes with a free fitness package (somewhat dependent on topography).

  12. One word: TESLA

    Worst kept open secret, no wonder, all of the dinosaurs profiteers have and continue to do a great job snuffing out any positive news about Tesla. Not a problem really, they can’t produce enough to meet demand. Still, the head of BMW is going to get sacked for his poor performance. VW/ Audi are far more clever, they are the only ones taking the threat to their business seriously (because they are the only ones who have figured they would need a giga factory for battery production).

    • I’ve driven several. Sorry, acceleration only is a one trick pony and of limited use…plus they’re stupidly expensive (Model S = 911 turbo) and we have no charging or maintenance infrastructure here.

  13. Singer Design (Porsche 964 base), sadly not affordable. In my garage, a Ducati 1200S Multistrada – manual, affordable, fast, noisy and tremendously rewarding when you get a fast corner right; not so much when you don’t. But, you feel like Peter Fonda …

    • Oh yes…I read something about the Singer DLS yesterday, did a bit more digging and now I really want one…

      • John Walton says:

        You and me both, but ever so slightly outside my price range. I think I will run my oil burning Audi into the ground.

    • Zerberous says:

      I am looking to replace my 14 year old Mercedes, and it seems — to me at least — that in new cars, similar level, the interior materials and mechanic feel of quality has deteriorated. Instead, it seems — after also improving margins — the budget is spent on infotainment systems and fancy interior LED lighting. Not so surprising in BMW‘s case as the parole is to focus on Chinese customers.

  14. My daily drivers are a 911 Carrera S convertible rear wheel drive (type 911,2 with the 3.0 bi turbo engine) and the “crazy SUV” AMG GLC 63S with currently the best V8 (imho) money can buy. Both have plenty of “personality” and put a smile on my face when driving. As long as legislation and budget allow, I will continue driving cars with powerful combustion engines and loads of “character”.

  15. Kristian Wannebo says:

    Maybe this is the car for you, Ming?

    Drawing by O.A., or Oskar Andersson, in his series “Mannen som gör vad som faller honom in” or: “The man who does what occurs to him” (1905).

  16. John Brewton says:

    Mazda Miata or whatever it’s called now.

  17. George Drazek says:

    Very interesting and thoughtful article. Jay Leno (American comedian and avid car collector) has said that he thinks children born today will likely never drive a gasoline powered auto. Pity. Although probably not available in Malaysia, I recently picked up a new Shelby GT350. Classic but refined Detroit muscle with a nod to Ferrari running a naturally aspirated flat plane crank V8. Sports car handling and the best six speed manual I’ve ever driven.

    • He’s probably right. I’ve seen a couple of Shelby GT350s running around, but the prices are insane – a base spec Mustang with the 2.3L engine is something like $100,000 here.

  18. I feel your pain. I’ve had sports cars (two seaters) my entire driving life. We grew up “car crazy”. Fortunately, I’m still able to express that desire but, like my penchant for analogue photography, there are fewer and fewer who feel that way. My grand-kids (your children?) will most likely never even own a car. Cars will be rented as needed and will not require human intervention beyond stating a destination. No doubt local “drive experience parks” will pop up, like riding stables today, for the adventurous.

  19. The devil of your situation is that the car you may like will be in an age range where failing electronics and unavailable parts could be a problem. The Miata or some of the Porsches sounds good, and service should be available. That age import restriction is a pain. Of course, so are the many other government restrictions, rotten roads, torrential rain and lousy drivers you mentioned. Have you considered emigrating?
    I’ve sort of solved the problem, in an odd way. My wife and I are Canadians living in south-east France and we have three cars.
    A 1996 Ford Fiesta, (very little electronics and a five speed manual) for her to run around in.
    A 2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser, (a bit more electronics and a five speed manual), for when we need to carry more stuff.
    A 1975 Triumph Spitfire, (no electronics and a four speed manual), for when we want a little more challenge, like wondering if it’s going to break down or not. If you want tactility, this is your car. If you run over a coin on the road, you can tell if it’s heads or tails. There’s enough feedback to make you feel part of the car, but considering what the car is like, you feel kind of injured. It really doesn’t do anything particularly well, but it looks nice, is certainly different, and definitely has character.
    I used to be a mechanic, way back in my youth, and kept all my tools so now it’s a hobby. I’m stockpiling parts for maintenance and repairs for all three of these things, and plan on never buying another car. Nothing new is interesting, and it’s mostly overpriced.
    Good luck in your search, it will be interesting to hear what you decide on.

    • “Have you considered emigrating?”
      All the time, and it’d probably be better for business, too. But there’s the pesky family thing…

      “A 1975 Triumph Spitfire, (no electronics and a four speed manual), for when we want a little more challenge, like wondering if it’s going to break down or not. If you want tactility, this is your car. If you run over a coin on the road, you can tell if it’s heads or tails. “
      That sounds a bit like the Lotuses, right down to the feeling injured if you run over a cat’s eye part! 🙂

      I’m mechanically inclined enough to do most of the wrenching myself, but I don’t have the space – condo carparks don’t allow you to put in tool chests, a hoist and proper lighting. Else I’d probably be at risk of starting a tuning business or something!

  20. Dan Boney says:

    No doubt that cars as we know them will undergo more changes in the next five years than the previous 50, from migration of the internal combustion engine towards electrification and then autonomous operation, even the concept of owning a car could dramatically change – many people may not have the “need” to own one if you can summon what you need/when you need it from a smartphone app which is almost certainly the future of Uber, Lyft, etc… Could turn the entire industry upside down – parking requirements, insurance, etc. Fundamentally, owning a car has always been a bit of a financial disaster given that it sits idle in a driveway 90% of the time… Car enthusiasts may still have a “hobby” of driving at a track, etc. for entertainment but general transportation, may not be so necessary… Will be interesting to watch…

    In the meantime, I flirted with the idea of a BMW i3 electric but it’s about $20K more than it should be so no sale. Our Audi Q5 is otherwise our main utility vehicle and a Fiat 500C the “fun” car (alas, the retractable roof has malfunctioned twice and Chrysler dealers have no idea of how to repair it other than replace the entire thing which is $4K in parts and $1,000+ labor – totally silly given that the option on the car wasn’t even that expensive in the first place…). Should have seen that coming – Fiat’s “return to America” only results in ~12K annual sales/year and I predict if it goes under 10K that their exit may be forthcoming…

    Cars are simply getting too expensive to purchase and maintain for individual ownership (and often only one-person-per-vehicle impractical) to make sense anymore… And the styling, geez – The current Lexus stuff is a crazy mis-mash of random lines, makes you wonder what a “classic” car will be 30 years from now…

    • Don’t get me started on Lexus – just look at the previous generation models today and they look incredibly dated after just a few years. This is always going to be a risk when you are trying so hard to be different that fundamentals of good design go out of the window. My guess is they’ll look ridiculous for a while and then come back again as ’10’s retro’…

      I doubt very much we’re going to see too many mainstream cars from today’s era be classics in 30 years – they simply won’t be running, and repair isn’t going to be an option when some obscure circuit board decides to break down (and there are no replacements remaining, and no easy way to fabricate one).

  21. Larry Cloetta says:

    Oh boy, Ming, I hear you. The lure of the open road, behind the wheel of a car with vehicle dynamics, control feel (steering wheel actually mechanically connected to the wheels, clutch take up and bite), road feedback, and throttle responsiveness (i.e. actual throttle cable, not “by wire, mediated by electronics and oxygen sensors) which reward driving skill and punish the unskilled…….well, they don’t make those cars any more, because those cars are illegal, legislated out of existence. What’s an enthusiast to buy. A “performance” car or “sports car” made before 1965-1967, one that has been fully restored. Up until then, cars were designed by engineers to do the things that engineers, some of whom were real “car guys”, thought cars were supposed to do, things which related to driveability, and, yes, fun. Cars which rewarded excellent, skilled driving by putting a smile on your lips. Cars you could master. Cars you could love. If somebody wanted the automotive equivalent of Brigitte Bardot, it was available. Not any more.

    I am going to sound like what I am, at age 69, an old car guy, but I make no apologies for that. I have lived through all the changes, and been a car guy all my life, so I have seen what has happened, and not much of it has been good for the kind of enthusiast I think you are addressing. Up until the mid Sixties, there were no real constraints on car design, engineers could design cars that they themselves would enjoy driving, finding elegant solutions to the engineering problems involved in making different kinds of cars to suit the desires of different kinds of buyers, i.e. Harley Earl’s Coupe de Villes or Ferdinand Porsche’s 356’s and Colin Chapman’s Elans.
    Then came the government, and the politicians who decided they should control car design, which they proceeded to do. First with “crash safety”, then with CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) rules. Those two things dictate ALL automotive design today, even as those two goals are in many ways internally contradictory. The government sets down the overriding rules of car design and automotive engineers do the best they can inside the small boxes they are allowed to operate in, but the result is a numbing sameness….appliances. They may be zippy appliances which corner flat, but the fun has been legislated out of the car world for the most part. Why are we stuck with electric steering? It weighs less than conventional arrangements, so the conventional steering arrangements had to go in order to reach CAFE standards, by saving weight here to offset the additional weight which was added to meet crash safety standards. Engineering goals which were aimed at making cars better at crash avoidance, like lighter overall weight, and better outward visibility, were sacrificed in order to satisfy government mandated crash survivability standards, mandates written by politicians, most of whom don’t drive, and don’t care about “enthusiasts”. You are more likely to survive a crash at 50mph in a new car than in a ‘63 Stingray. You are also more likely to be in said crash due to modern design restraints. Cars are made to survive crashes not to avoid them, which is an inversion of the way they used to be designed. Every new car sold in the U.S. going forward must have rear view cameras and screens, as a new mandate. Why? Because A, B, C pillars have been made so huge to protect from rollovers that you can no longer see out of your car in any direction except straight ahead. That’s dangerous, and stupid, but that’s where we are.

    In some ways today is a golden age for performance cars if one looks only at numbers, 0-60 times, stopping distances, top speed, skidpad numbers, etc. and, in some ways, cars truly are more “competent” than ever, in performance terms, but the real fun is gone. The numbers game is very similar to cameras chasing resolution numbers in order to boost sales. The numbers might be “better” but do they result in better photographs/provide more driving fun? Not really. I know it sounds like I am probably unfamiliar with how competent more modern cars are, but that isn’t the case. I have a friend who always has one of the newest Ferraris and Porsches in his stable, and I have driven most of the other usual suspects as well, but something is missing in terms of being connected to the road and the actual experience of really driving a car, as opposed to just mashing a pedal down and letting the car cover for your ineptitude.

    My personal drug of choice now is a 1965 Porsche 356, one I have had for 25 years now, and I have owned a lot of interesting cars over the last 55 years, old and new. At one point I was forced for economic reasons to choose between keeping 356s and 911s that I had, and sold off the 911s. The 911s were “faster” and more competent in every way, but day to day, in the normal world, 356’s are just more fun to drive. (And the steering, designed 70 years ago, is so much better than the best electric steering implementation available today that it’s a sad joke). It’s not a car you drive, in a utilitarian, competent way, it’s a car you dance with, and that’s the difference. (And, if you get it wrong, it will bite you.) It’s a car with a soul, the embodiment of a singular, well executed vision from an extraordinary engineering mind, not compromises from a committee.
    There are better ways to get from A to B in less time with less drama, but they lack the fun. And if you are really an enthusiast, “less drama” is pretty much the opposite of why you turn the key in the ignition.

    • Thanks for the detailed thoughts – lots of gold in there.

      There is a dichotomy you highlight well: you can still buy one of those old, fully restored, fully analogue cars. Just not new. Yet we can still keep driving them. Surely if it was such a big deal…this would not be the case? One has to wonder.

      I’m not complaining about fuel efficiency, but I do fully agree that the new stuff is really quite numb. Even the best of it is still not that different to the worst. An econobox is faster than an 80s Ferrari, but about as exciting as a washing machine demonstration.

      “You are more likely to survive a crash at 50mph in a new car than in a ‘63 Stingray. You are also more likely to be in said crash due to modern design restraints”
      Good point: also, because you are more likely to a) be going faster because you can whilst not being aware of it, and b) not have enough feedback from the car or driver training or experience to know what to do in situations where physics trumps computer power. I am very very aware that my car is far more capable than I am, and I’m not fully aware of what it’s doing all the time: this worries me, so more driver training, more karting, race school etc. is in the works as soon as my back recovers.

      “The numbers game is very similar to cameras chasing resolution numbers in order to boost sales.”
      I fully agree with this. More is NOT better. And the more high end modern cars I drive, the more I’m convinced this isn’t going to deliver anything other than an empty bank account.

      Interesting (and oddly logical when you think about it) choice of drug – I think that might be a bit too raw for me, but I get the feeling we go back to the age of cars we learned to drive in – after all, that’s where our reference point for the sensations come from. For me that’s the late 90s/early 00s, I guess – perhaps the last of the cars that had enough electronics to be self-diagnosing and self-aware, but before the electronics turned into nannies. From the other comments, I think I really need to keep trying to hunt down a Miata here…

  22. Derek Kreindler says:

    Ming,

    You and I have somewhat parallel career paths, just replace photography for working in the auto industry (I did PE and banking as well, went back and forth etc.)

    We are unfortunately in an era where regulations and economies of scale have driven (no pun intended) the fleet towards homogeneity. Safety and emissions regulations govern everything from design to powertrains and all points in between. I don’t see a way out of it, even if EVs end up being a non-starter (which is starting to become the view in certain industry circles. See the latest comments from BMW’s chief engineer).

    On the other hand, I am happy to drive my brand new Jetta to work and back every day. At least it’s a manual. For everything else, I have a 2003 MX-5 with 40,000 km. Before the Jetta, I had an Audi S4, but the decline in earnings after PE necessitated some downsizing of my daily driver.

    • You can probably do a lot more as a solo photographer than a solo car designer though, but not as big projects – so I admit, I’m envious 🙂

      Can’t help but wonder with today’s powertrain efficiencies, materials and production tolerances – surely we could make something slower, still enjoyable, more resource-efficient to produce…? All of that snowballs: less speed means less impact protection which means less need for advance tech to counteract weight in handling etc. Or maybe I’m talking out of my behind…

      • Gordon Murray is trying to do exactly that, though his latest announcement is a halo car that’s unaffordable to mere mortals. I can’t believe Miatas are so hard to get in Malaysia! Its shifter (at least in the original NA) is considered by many to be the benchmark for shifter feel.

        • I saw that – the T50 looks incredible, but if I had that kind of money, I’d probably just close shop and retire somewhere I could actually buy a Miata 😛

          You can get them; they’re just not very common even in automatic form, and like gold dust in manual. Somewhat understandably as people here want a) bulk transportation first; b) spend a lot of time in traffic; c) can generally only afford one car, and then on a 10 year mortgage thanks to import taxes and earning power; and d) view manuals as poverty spec rather than enthusiast spec. Then you factor in cost being about the same as a mid spec 3 series, and you can see why our status-conscious public simply doesn’t buy them…

  23. LanceWex says:

    I feel ya. I have long been very concerned with the environment, and have told myself that each successive car I buy has to be more efficient than the previous. So I have held on to my 2010 hybrid because it was one of the few made with a manual transmission. But I have a fully electric as a daily driver, and the manual for when I need to really drive (or just drive far). Neither of these cars would impress you, and that’s why I have left the make/model a secret. I’ve always preferred fun-to-drive over pure power, and think cars that can do 200 mph are a symptom of humankind’s deteriorating mental state. But I do enjoy driving. Even in stop-and-go traffic I don’t even notice I am using a stick shift.

  24. Holden/Chevy SS:
    -RWD
    -Stick shift
    LS3 – 6.5 ltr, 465 hp, very modifiable (basically 1960 technology)
    – Reasonable price and easily serviced
    – Rare/collectable but easy-entry so far as factory closed only last year

    -tons of fun on a track and a great daily-driver
    – 4 door and great interior and trunk space
    – “the ultimate sleeper”

    • Oh yes… – I lusted after the HSV GTS growing up down under… 🙂

      Only one problem: there aren’t any in Malaysia, and we can’t import them thanks to that 5/35 rule. If you could, we have road tax exponential by capacity: about $4,500 or so for a 6.5… 😦

  25. Kristian Wannebo says:

    Cars … – and dreams…
    I once (in the 1980s) almost bought a Porsche 356, in really good shape and at a good price. It took me a week to convince myself that a practical car was what I needed! If I had known that spare parts were still made – well…!

    And with speed limits at 90km/h on main roads and 70km/h on the fun country roads.., sigh! Not to forget winter driving, with most weight over that slightly problematic rear suspension it would have taken quite some (fun) training. (In the 1960s some winter rally drivers were very successful with 356s, which really shows snow driving skills.)

    Why a 356? Well, one of the really few really good looking fun cars within reach.

    (I had earlier had a Citroën Dyane (a 2cv variant), with its special suspension it handled exceptionally well at speed in narrow curves or in snow – within its limited power. And it was a great transporter or camper with chairs and roof easily unscrewed.)

    But I have also dreamt.
    A little of a Porsche Boxster. More of a Lotus, or rather a Miata. And also of a three seated Matra with middle engine! Or a motorcycle!

    In the 1990s (free of family ties that might have had to take care of me) I finally bought a bike, a 250cm3 4 stroke Honda which I drove instead of a car for some years. I had great fun learning to drive it, especially in free courses on race tracks by the Swedish motorcycle club! (In the curvy parts the little Honda kept well up with all those fast bikes once I’d got some practice.)
    But for regular driving the bike was underpowered, I couldn’t pull ahead out of a tight situation. And a faster bike would have been to heavy to handle if getting stuck in the mud on a narrow dirt road.
    So I gave it up after the bike was stolen. (I got it back broken and gave it away to a friend who wanted something for small forest roads.)

    [ The danger with bike driving is not the bike – so long as you know the limits of your driving skill and widen them slowly enough. The danger is cars not enough aware of motorcycles, e.g. mistaking an advancing bike for a slow moped…]

    What I dream of now is a set of two wheels with built-in electric motors, switchable to generators, to be mounted as rear wheels on a front drive combustion car. Plus a set of fast-charge batteries to stow e.g. under the seats and a little more powerful generator. This would eliminate exhausts in cities, give occasional extra 4 wheel power, and make older cars viable within new regulations.

    • Had you bought the 356, I hope you’d keep driving it, too. Far too many now change hands as commodities rather than tools of enjoyment.

      A little of a Porsche Boxster. More of a Lotus, or rather a Miata.
      It seems somehow we enthusiasts always land up in the same territory somehow…

      Bikes are a bad idea here. Drivers are more oblivious than most, roads worse, and you have the fun of sudden (and I mean flick a switch sudden) torrential downpours. Despite this, I still can’t talk my wife out of it.

      I am still honestly not convinced with electric. Sure, it’s cleaner in the immediate vicinity of the vehicle, but the lithium for the batteries has to be mined; the power has to be generated; the batteries have a fixed lifespan; and at the end of all of that, the cars themselves are not designed to last or even be serviceable. You do have an interesting idea though with the retrofitted modularity, though I have no idea how suspension would handle the extra weight of the motors…

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        Yes, springs and shock absorbers might have to be changed.
        But modern roads and “modern” slower speeds lessen the need for perfect suspension. I’ve read somewhere that viable in-wheel motors exist, but have no idea o:f weight or other possible issues.

        ( And it’s a scandal that electric bikes still don’t charge their batteries when braking or going downhill.)
        – – –

        I agree with you on the environmental problems with batteries, although research on better recycling of complex mixed materials is advancing. I think batteries are a temporal solution waiting for solar power generated fuels for fuel cells (and combustion engines).
        – – –

        On the main problem with motorcycles:

        In case of even a slight accident the consequences are severe compared to after even a severe car accident!
        And the reason is usually an unobservant car driver!
        That’s why I never seriously considered driving a bike so long as my parents lived – I didn’t want to risk making then have to take care of a cripple.

  26. I love cars too, especially Porsches. My 2 emotional, tactile drives are a GT3 Touring and a nuts & bolts restored 1973 911S. I drive 100 miles to/from work a day and the GT3 is one of my daily drivers. I live in cold weather climate and have snow tires to drive her throughout winter – definitely not a garage queen. The GT3 Touring is naturally aspirated with a manual gearbox and gives me great driving pleasure. The 1973 is as analogue as you can get. My practical car (currently a Panamera) will turnover, over the course of time, but these 2 are forever cars.

    • Wow – a GT3 Touring! I’m glad you actually drive it (and a lot, it seems) rather than garage queening it like most seem to do 🙂

    • thethirdcoast says:

      Hien, I too admire your daily driving of the GT3. May I ask how you keep it in top shape? I have an orange BMW that I drive daily. It seems to collect random little dinks and doinks like candy and it drives me crazy. What should I do better to avoid this?

  27. Wolfgang says:

    Ming, look for a Subaru Impreza WRX STi (Version V or VI, MY 1998-2000). These ones are old school turbo charged, with nice sound, compact and straightforward. Less electronics means more fun, they are thirsty but rock-solid, reliable (even beyond 200.000 km) and do not break the bank. You’ll find good cars below the 10.000 USD line in Europe. Don’t know about availability in Malaysia…

  28. Daihatsu Copen. Very direct driving. Up to 80km/h very agile. A hell of a lot of fun. Cannot cut corners as fast as with this car (often leaving BMWs behind on sharp turns: the very low possition on the road makes driving feel like a gocart). Hardtop that can be opened to let the breeze in. Cheap. What do you want more?

    • Ah, one of the kei cars – I tried the newer Honda S660 recently; that was a lot of fun. The money they wanted was crazy though; few imported by independent dealers and a two year old one is more expensive than an equal age 3 series. And they’re all automatic because most people here can’t drive three pedals 😦

      • You want what I drive, guess what it is:-
        2 seater

        Mid engine

        RWD

        1300cc 16v

        …..Suzuki Carry van :-). Fantastic fun, light, direct steering, wonderful snickety-snick gearbox, more power than the chassis can handle, loads of loadspace for your camera kit. Downside – falls over easily :-(.
        On a serious note, if you can’t import vehicles can you build them? Get a Westfield or Dax Rush kit. Any engine you like from big bike engies to V8s. Need a roof over your head? Z-Cars mini. Mid-engine RWD superbike power in something that weighs as much as a pair of pants and turns heads.

        • That’s hilarious…and true 😛

          Nope, can’t build them – or you can, but you can’t register them for the road. Only ‘officially recognised’ manufacturers, and the VINs and engine numbers all have to match the factory certification.

  29. Miguel A. Webber says:

    I came to a similar conclusion just a few months ago— an electric car is a wonderful commuter, and leaves a perfect slot in the garage for something thoroughly tactile. I ended up with a Fiat 500e as a daily and a 1990 (NA) Mazda Miata for weekend duty. While the goal at the outset was to enjoy recreational driving more than I would in a compromised all-rounder daily, I was surprised to find I began enjoying my daily commute more, as well. The increase in comfort and decrease in running cost of an electric reduces the stress of getting from point A to point B, and eliminates the bulk of the guilt I felt flooring a petrol engine all the way to redline over and over again.

    On the subject of an affordable, tactile car— the NA Miata is a huge treat. I have driven (few) cars that are more fun, as well as cars that are more reliable, but the Miata’s party trick is its uncanny ability to possess both traits at once. It’s lightweight (~2100 lbs, or ~950 kgs), the five-speed manual is solid and precise, and the steering is communicative and responsive without being heavy. The 1.6 liter engine is not fast by any metric, but I will happily trade absolute speed for tactility when I’m driving on public roads.

    • Miatas here are thin on the ground for a few reasons – people don’t like manuals; cabrios aren’t practical in torrential rain, and they’re relatively expensive/ special import etc. I’ve not driven one of any generation, but would love to…even the dealers don’t have test drive cars – you must pay upfront, wait for them to import, and hope like hell you didn’t make a mistake!

      • Miguel A. Webber says:

        That’s very unfortunate! If you ever find yourself in Austin, let me know and you can have the keys to mine for as long as you’d like. I have to admit I test drove the new one (ND) and did not fit well enough to enjoy it, but the first one (NA) is relatively comfortable at my height (185 cm).

        • Thank you for the kind offer!

          I thought the ND was supposed to have more internal space – perhaps differences between the RF/softtop versions?

          • derekkreindler says:

            I have an NB and I have driven an ND. The soft top version feels a bit more cramped. The RF, doubly so.

          • I shouldn’t be surprised that as I came here to praise the Miata I found others doing the same. It’s exactly what is spelled out, a fun car to drive, affordable, reliable, efficient. The Miata is small yes, but it offers usable well designed spaces (finally an advantage to being <6' tall). 2 wheelie bags fit precisely in the trunk of my old NB and believe the ND is similar. I've felt more cramped in larger cars honestly whereas the Miata layout is trim, without fat, but not constricting.
            The only faults (NB) I had were:
            –For a commuter, I wanted a bit more give in the tires and eventually swapped in higher profile tires (at a little sacrifice to absolute handling, as you mention the current trend of rubber bands on steel is a bit ridiculous)
            –The 6-speed is geared for spirited driving, and it delivers, but I wish the top gear was a little higher to drop the revs at high way cruise speeds.
            Funnily enough since I lost my (NB) Miata a few years ago, I've been in a similar quandary. go with the fun drivers car (ND) or the vanilla autopilot non-driver car (Tesla) This is the future of cars, either intentional driving or giving it up completely, with not much in between.

  30. “Remember diesel? It was cleaner/more efficient then it wasn’t”

    It was terrible marketing of diesel to the wrong customers and little doubt lobbying of the car industry to governments / EU and so on to fix emissions test rules to favour diesel. The end result was young mummies choosing diesel super mini type cars for the school run. The car spent 99% of its time doing the school run, never getting up to an efficient operating temperature. Result: high emissions, poor fuel efficiency and in many cases broken engines / defective catalytic converters and particulate filters.

    “all we’re doing is shoving the pollution further up the operating cycle, back to the manufacturer”

    Yeah, I’ve been thinking this for many years. Again there are frantic lobbying efforts going on – just look at the subsidies that are granted to Tesla. We are getting relatively poor people that can’t afford a Tesla and maybe can just afford a 15 year old people wagon who are subsidising tech valley millionaires who want to drive a year 0 Telsa. And are politicians literally so blind that they can’t understand the life cycle costs of hybrid / electric cars?

    As regards the experience and enjoyment of driving. I think that overall we are in a minority. Many people living in big cities with public transport don’t even drive. And more generally people that have to drive don’t derive any particular pleasure from it. To them a car really is an appliance, much like a washing machine or a fridge. While I was at school I would devour issues of Autocar, Car and Evo. But nowadays most young boys, that would have been just like me growing up, care more about their mobile phone than the idea of owning an interesting – let alone fast – car. They just don’t care.

    As to what you should buy? I am sure you know already. And it is clear that any advice I give as someone living in Europe might not be relevant to you living in Malaysia given local conditions. The one piece of advice I would share is: if you (as I suspect you are) in the fortunate position of affording something special, then do it. And do it now, or at least relatively soon. The window in which we are able to enjoy great cars is closing. And I also find buying what I want much cheaper than buying a compromise that I am not totally comfortable with. I end up changing the compromise so early and often that I would have been happier buying my dream car and keeping it for my lifetime. I keep getting invited to launch events and given test drives by my local car dealer. Each time I tell them, yeah very nice but I’d rather keep what I already have. I am totally over “new car” syndrome.

    • I thought diesel worked better in the real world than petrol – I definitely got better mileage, as much as 50-80% in some cases. Emissions, no idea.

      Electric and hybrid cars don’t actually make much sense. The upfront production cost, overhead and impact is much higher than internal combustion; it’s just kicking the problem up the food chain. What surprises me is the oil companies aren’t making it even harder for this to succeed since it’s hardly in their interests long term.

      The hunt continues here, at any rate.

      • You diesel would have been way better than a petrol car on CO2, but probably way worse on particulates and NOx. So, it depends on your feelings on air quality versus global warming as to whether you should go for diesel or not.
        In terms of EVs / hybrids ‘simply pushing the pollution elsewhere’ it depends a lot on how the power is generated. For a start power stations are massively more efficient than internal combustion engined (ICE) vehicles, and of course nuclear, wind, hydro & solar power sources are massively less CO2-producing than fossil-fuel powerstations. Thus you have a reduction in fuel required to do the same miles. Batteries – when they get too knackered for car use (loss of range) they’re still suitable for static power storage – think of the Tesla gigbattery in Oz, or their powerwall product. This then makes wind and solar even more viable as a generation source, thus reducing CO2 emissions even more. Once they’re completely dead they are 100% recyclable – Belgian metal recycler Umicore is building a 7,000tonne per year Li-Ion recycling plant. At present however, not all are recycled as the cost of the raw materials is so low, but that will change in time. It’s also possible to get ethically-sourced raw materials e.g. cobalt if you’re concerned about child labour in the Congo. People go on about the weight of the batteries and the power used to lug them around, but they’re forgetting about the power used to transport oil and liquid fuels all over the world. Manufacturing CO2 emissions of EVs are higher than those for ICE vehicles, but the lifetime emissions (manufacture + use) are still lots lower than ICE emissions.
        Hybrids work when you can charge them at home to fuel most of their range. All the taxi drivers here are moving to them for this reason, they can spend most of their day using e-mode. Even with the servicing costs (and of course a taxi driver will hit these before a normal user) they’re quids in.
        I think the oil companies simply cannot counter the arguments for EVs anymore. Like solar and wind power, the cost has plummetted as economies of scale in production have kicked in. Just as the Stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stones, the fossil fuel age won’t end because we run out of fossil fuels, it’ll end because something better has come along. UK grid power generation is the prime example – 10 years ago coal provided 1/3 of the power, now it’s 6%, renewables have jumped from 2% up to 1/5th.The coal-free days so far this year have effectively prevented 5m tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere, or the equivalent of over 12bn miles driven in a car! A home PV solar array costing £20k ten years ago now costs £5k.

        • ” Batteries – when they get too knackered for car use (loss of range) they’re still suitable for static power storage – think of the Tesla gigbattery in Oz, or their powerwall product. “
          This assumes recycling actually happens; it doesn’t here. We get forced to segregate our garbage but then they just toss it all into the same compartment of the same truck, and the whole lot into a landfill!

          Material sourcing is the bit we don’t have a handle on – there’s ethical labor and there’s the environmental effects of both mining and production/refining of the material itself, which I think have to be worse than an IC car since the rest of the materials for the body etc. are the same (and there’s obviously no battery there).

          So long as the volume is there, anything can be made economically – or vice versa. We see it everywhere; digital photography is a good example. As are the complex technologies used in say consumer smartphones. Getting over that initial hump is tougher, especially when there’s a huge amount of infrastructure support required.

      • Well: there is nothing wrong with diesel for the right application: I used to drive a BMW 530d about one a week from Amsterdam to Hampshire, UK and back again. Quite a long drive. For that application, diesel worked fantastically well and was very efficient and relatively low pollutant. (Regardless I did not enjoy driving that car). The problem was that the European motorcar manufacturers produced a large range of tiny hatchback cars marketed towards granny, grandad and young housewives. Most of these consumers tended to drive very short distances and diesels are particularly bad in this application: very inefficient at low working temperatures, higher pollution and engines with particulate filters that relied on high temperatures to cremate some of the particulates trapped. If they were not run at sufficiently high temperature for a long enough duration the filters would block and the customers ended up back in a garage trying to get their cars fixed wondering why it was so unreliable.

        Toerag: I’ve previously read a lot of the arguments you make. Sounds pretty well reasoned to me. Also, I think the energy efficiency from battery to electric motor output is c.90%, so it is actually quite efficient. I think a reasoned analysis would rely on an understanding of the scrap cost / recycling costs of the electric car.

        (It is analogous to nuclear power stations… to understand the true cost you need to understand the decommissioning costs).

        • Fully agreed on diesel – I had a 320d and 520d myself; thought they were actually pretty decent drives, actually. Especially for something on 17″ economy rubber and that only had to be refuelled every 1200km or so…

          “(It is analogous to nuclear power stations… to understand the true cost you need to understand the decommissioning costs).”
          True!

  31. Enjoyed reading this, Ming!

    Last picture…(drooling)! Lancia Delta HF Integrale is STILL my all time favorite car!!! My daily is an Audi TDI diesel and I love it! No top-end but as a daily, it’s sufficient enough. My play toy or weekend car is a ’95 Supra that makes 1,300+ wheel horsepower. My stress reliever! It wakes up all the laminin inside me! Haha!

    • I can’t imagine the Lancia (or anything Italian) being a reliable daily…my partners used to have Alfas and Maseratis and had their tow guy on speed dial. But at least you look cool while waiting I guess…

      1300whp sounds insane. Pump gas, or requires methanol and NOS injection? The most powerful thing I’ve driven had about 850bhp and it already felt like too much. Your skill level goes way beyond mine, I think!

  32. JOSEPH ATKINSON says:

    I’m with you, Ming (despite my now owning a Tesla). My choice for a “second slot” car? Mazda MX-5

    • Weirdly, they’re very difficult to get in Malaysia, much less test drive. And none of them have three pedals, which rather defeats the point! So…embarrassingly, I admit I’ve never tried one. 😦

      • JOSEPH ATKINSON says:

        Really enjoyable to drive! Three pedals in the states, however. I’ll get one when my kid is old enough to drive in six years.

      • Wow, that’s unfortunate, as they really are the obvious choice

        Toyota GT86 / Subaru BRZ
        Alpine A110, unfortunately only flappy paddle gearbox and not cheap, but apparently brilliant to drive nonetheless
        Any recent lotus that you can live wirh (Evora in particular), provided it’s well cared for
        The sportier Renault Clio’s, especially up to a generation or 2 ago
        Any used Porsche sportscar in good condition

        Or as a completely different form of automotive enjoyment: find sone rough twisty steep unpaved dirt roads, get a Suzuki Jimny, and enjoy the challenge of man and machine working together to conquer a road in a different manner

        • Thanks for the suggestions.

          GT86s/BRZs are available. New ones run about $60,000 (taxes, duties, government protectionism for the embarrassingly bad rebranded rubbish that is our domestic car industry etc.), with three or four year olds being about half that.
          A110 – nope (and importing one offs is massively difficult and requires special permits) – but along with the 4C, is a car I really want to try.
          Lotuses – I keep coming back to these, but stopped after the back accident – can’t do more than 15min before things start hurting. Else I’d probably have a base Elise or Exige 260. Those things are telepathic!
          Porsche – yet to find a 911 whose handling characteristics I like, but maybe they’re all that way. Caymans/Boxsters, on the other hand…

          Can’t say I’ve ever been too interested in offroading… 🙂

          • L. Ron Hubbard says:

            Does Lotus sell the Evora in Malaysia? It’s MUCH easier to get into an Evora as compared to an Elise; it’s a larger car. Pricier, but still much cheaper than a 911. Evora’s have the same reputation for excellent handling that any other Lotus has. It’s built on a Toyota drivetrain so has excellent reliability.

            • They did, as Lotus was owned by local carmaker Proton up til recently. I can’t explain why, but the Evoras were always claustrophobic to me compared to the Elises and Exiges – plus for Evora money, you could have an Elise and a more comfortable daily driver (or a fully loaded Exige 350 Cup). Whilst I agree that handling remained best-in-class, I don’t agree on the drivetrain. Common, reliable – probably; but totally lacking in special-ness compared to the rest of the car. Let’s not even talk about the automatics. Until the new open gate shifter, the feel was extremely vague and taxi-like; the engine a little coarse sounding and honestly – 350bhp from a forced induction 3.5L is not exactly high output. BMWs have been doing 400+bhp from 3L, and Mercedes gets nearly that out of a 2L. What would probably suit it best is something NA and high-revving rather than torquey – it’s not a heavy car, after all. I’m thinking an S2000-type power plant…

        • My tip is a Nissan 100NX (as the model is named in The Netherlands). It’s a fun to drive 2+2 seater with a T-roof you can open by removing two glass panels. It was the very first car I actually bought and I still have it. My car is from 1992, has done more than 200.000 km, and is still going strong. It’s needed some restauration work done, but for me it was worth it. Maintenance is easy and affordable, and parts are still obtainable, although it’s getting harder. The model is also getting harder to find.

          I don’t drive my 100NX much these days, as I now commute on a motorbike, a BMW 1200 RT, which is also very much fun to do, but when I do, it always puts a smile on my face. 🙂

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