The Test Drive

The desire to go topless.
Filed under:  Test Drives
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It happens to me every summer... almost without fail to the day. The new car "itch" (although my wife has a variety of other very colorful and creative titles for it).

The background on the current infection is this. I have a Porsche 911 C2 Carrera 996 Cabriolet. Now, at this point, I see your wheels turning as you ask yourself, but my bratha.. does this not mean you ALREADY have a convertible?

Yes, I do, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. I do have a 911, but it is no longer in the same state where I live and therefore feel the need for a ragtop, so with that in mind, I established a budget of $70k and went looking for a jewel.

The list of cars in this category range quite a bit. the list includes cars that I would not realistically buy, to cars way above my budget.

They include:
Audi TT Roadster
BMW Z4 M Roadster
Cadillac XLR
Chevrolet Corvette
Dodge Viper
Honda S2000
Lotus Elise
Mazda MX5
Mecedes SLK AMG
Mercedes SL65 AMG
Nissa Z Roadster
Porsche Boxster S
Porsche 911/997 Targa C4S
Saturn Sky Redline

Some cars out there that I just did not want to waste my time with are...
Chrysler Crossfire
Chrysler PT Cruiser
Chrysler Sebring
Ford Mustang GT
Lexus SC 430
Mini Cooper S
Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder GT
Pontiac G6
Pontiac Solstice GXP
Saab 9-3 Aero Convertible
Volkswagen Eos
Volvo C70

On a variety of levels, I find this to be an extremely entertaining process. Probably due to the fact that I simply can not get enough when it comes to cars, I enjoy every aspect of it, and testing cars is a great way to really "learn" the cars. You must go thru this long extensive exercise if your goal is to make the right buy for you.

I had no intention to document this, but a strange thing happened to me. I got confused. Not that this is odd, I simply like too many cars, but I did experience feelings that I did not expect, and came upon surprises that made me feel I should share.

Keeping in mind that there is a very good reason why they make chocolate and vanilla, view this log as nothing more than a collection of interesting (I hope) observations of each test drive. I know that this is as dangerous as going into a political discussion, but here we go...

By the way, I fully admit that I am clearly all over the place here, but as mentioned above (the getting confused part) I just wanted to see as much as possible, even, in some cases, going off course from the "convertible" task.

audi tt 08

Audi TT 3.2 quattro. 250 hp. She grows up.

I have loved this car since the first generation back in September of 1998. This is a car that simply only works as a coupe, but in the interest of being open minded, I am looking at the convertible. I first saw it "live" almost a year before it came to the US while on a business trip in Germany.

The Good: It's an Audi. I love this company. I think they make the best cars on the road today. Their fit and finish is unmatched. It's a TT.

The Bad. It's a TT converticle, which in my view, ruin the lines of this car. It seemed it could use a bit more power, but I can easily step up and accept all blame for being spoiled.

The Dealers: Most were helpful, not too bad of an experience. Bob at The Audi Exchange always tries to accomodate me. I've been his customer for some time, (not to mention bringing a few friends) so it helps. It was odd to me that every car i saw was automatic, not a manual to be found, coupe or convertible.

bmw m6 07

2007 BMW M6. 500 hp. $104, 900, but the one I drove was loaded and easily reached over $112,000.

It is extremly difficult to test drive a car like this, primarily, because there are just none usuallly sitting around, especially a loaded one like this one. (not to mention the fact that dealers don't like putting miles on cars like this). I am of the opinion that if I am going to put over 100k on the table, then I am driving the car. Period.

I started with the 650i. (actually, I first drove the new 335i hard-top convertible), and I was very pleasantly surprised by both. very nice. It really helps you understand why BMW is so respected. I've a few of them and it seems that thier engeering reaches new heights every two years or so.

The I got into the M6. It is just plain crazy how nice this car drives. I loved it, even with the 7-speed Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG) with DRIVELOGIC. I am a fan of manuals and am waiting for it to come that way in 2008.

The good: M.

The Bad: Feels just a bit too big, not in love with the interior. The rear seats are completely useless.

The Dealer: Dave at Knauz has been extremely helpful. This M6 was way deep in the showroom and he must have moved 6 cars just to let me drive this thing. Very knowledgeable too. Has a photo of his English Bulldog on his desk.

bmw z4m roadster 07

2007 BMW Z4M Roadster. Most I saw were around 59k.

I own a 2001 BMW M Coupe, and had a 2001 E46 M3, (both with the same S54 engine). This car is not only very rare (only 690 made) but it is an amazingly fun car to drive. So when the Z4 came out, I liked what I saw, especially the coupe. I have tried not only the 3.0, but also the M Roadster, as well as the Coupe. All are very nice, but the M really moves.

The Good: M, The exterior (again, the Coupe is the better one), the 343 hp.

The Bad: Not in love with the interior (of all BMWs). Don't hate it, but always trips me up.

The Dealer: Good experience overall. Especially from Knauz. Perillo needs to improve and at Fields you just feel invisible. I have never had a good moment there especially in the "service" department.

cadillac xlrv 07

2007 Cadillac XLR V-Series. 443hp. Starts at $98,300.

When this car was first introduced in 2004, I just wasn't sure it would fly. In fact, rather than reaching 6,000 per year, Cadillac had sold just 4,745 in 18 months as of March 2005. According to Cadillac, 3,730 were sold in the United States in all of 2005. But when the supercharged XLR-V was first seen by the public in a 2005 SuperBowl commercial, I peaked my interest. I do like the stance it has when i see it on the street (it was introduced in the United States in early 2006). Then I learned it was over 100k.

It's very difficult to put down that kind of cash on this car when there are so many other, much better cars to choose from. Fiar or not, Cadillac just does not have the "cache" that other (German) performance cars have. On the other hand, 443hp for 100k is a small playing field.

The Good: V-Series. Hard-top. Stance.

The Bad: A bit too big for a two seater. Not in love with the interior. No manual.

The Dealer: Must I bring a bull-horn to get noticed?

chevy corvette conv 08

2007 Chevorlolet Corvette (2008 model shown).

What I really wanted here is the Z06, but this carbon fiber bodied car does not come as a targa or convertible. I did test drive it, and of course, it was very fast, but I also tried the standard 400hp convertible (the 2008 model gets an additional 30hp). It was great. Sounded great and drove well. It really was fun.

The Good: The horsepower, and if you wait for the 2008 model, it gets even better.

The Bad: The interior. This is seriously the very worst part of this car. I hate it. It's almost like GM has never seen the competition. This is such a great car, but the interior is so divorced from the exterior that it almost feels like you in a separate car.

The Dealer: They all want more money than it's worth in my view. All this does is put me in Porsche territory. The "service" at the dealerships is not that different from what I wrote below in the Saturn review, no call backs, no real knowledge of the car's features and options. Basically, they just act like you should walk in, put your cash on the table, and walk out, all without disturbing them too much. They would prefer it if you didn't wake them up in the process. Unbelieveable.

lotus elise 07

2006 Lotus Elise. $47,330.

(this is the very car I test drove) The second time I have tried this car because I continue to hear only good things about it.

If you're going to get an Elise, then this is the one to get. It had everything, perfect color, Sport Package, Touring Package, even the stiching on the seats was very nice. The problem to me is that it looks too much like a Photoshop filter. Most say, you need to get this thing on the track. I'm not going on the track. The chances of that are slim to none. In a few years, this thing is going to look like a Pontiac Fiero or a Honda Civic Del Sol. (I'll give you a sec to cool off). Even the Tesla Roadster, which I like very much (on which it is based on) had the good sence to clean it up.

Ok, so did it drive well? Yes, it was fun. Although I think a Mini Cooper S with the John Cooper Works Package is a better bet (not to mention practical and more useful, but here I go off on a tangent again). Basically, it has a Toyota 170hp engine, chipped for better performance. I did not like the process of getting in and out of the car (caused by the very high side panels, and I don't like the process of removing the ragtop, which requires you to get out of the car, roll it up, and put it in the small rear trunk. You can not leave the house with the included hardtop if you plan on taking it off, because there is no place to put it in the car. No big deal, i'm sure at the beginning of your vehicle relationship, but it will get old fast.

The good: Fun, great color. It really was better than I thought.

The Bad: Looks, ragtop hassle, the interior is very sparse with fit and finish at the very bottom. Even the "new" iPod connectivity feature is nothing more than a wire sticking out of a black sponge with a hole in it.

The Dealer: Isaac at Fox Valley Motorcars could not have been more helpful.

mercedes slk55 amg 07

2007 Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG. 355hp.

I've always been on the fence with this car. The first generation I just did not like. Most call it a "chick" car (sorry). The second generation is a vast improvement, but still has a bit of the same reputation, although not so much for the AMG. The car was fun to drive. It felt good, but almost had too much of a luxury feel to it instead of a sports car feel. The interior is quite nice, and I like that the top is a hard-top.

The Good: AMG

The Bad: No manual available. I don't underatnd why AMG does this. Mercedes' poor service reputation.

The Dealer: Not too many of these cars are sitting around, so there isn't much to discuss. At one dealer, however, I had to go thru this whole drawn out process of filling out a form with all my info and lots of questions, just to get an answer as to what was in their inventory. What a turn off. I just want to know what cars are in. That's it! (In fairness to Mercedes, it happened at a Porsche dealer too).

nissan 350z conv 07

2007 Nissan 350Z Roadster. 306 hp.

A few were around $36,550, most a bit higher with options. (2003 model shown).

This is one roadster that holds it's own in the looks department when compared to the coupe (which is still better). Everytime I see one of these on the street, i turn and look. Still. And I wonder how it would be to own one. The drive was good, and it did feel like it would be fun

The Z has the fourth-generation VQ-series V6, which has been named one of the "Ten Best Engines" by Ward's Auto World magazine for 14 consecutive years, has been significantly revised for use in the 2007 350Z, with approximately 80% of major parts (except bolts, O-rings and clips) redesigned. Having said this, I still hungered for more.

The Good: Good looks. 306 hp.

The Bad: Lots of plastic on the inside.

The Dealer: Real hungry to make a sale. Way too much pressure.

porsche boxster s outline1 07

Porsche Boxster S. 255 hp.

Most of the cars I saw were in the 58k to 63k range. One of the best roadsters of all time.

This is the car I started with. It was the one at the top of the list since I really like the new re-design, and especially the new interior (which applies to all Porsches). The 2007 has a 15hp bump, so I wanted a new one, even though I did look at a few used 2005 and 2006 (the design change year) models. During my search, I found a beautiful Boxster S with the Carrera GT Silver paint option (a $3000 hit) and it looked really nice. None had a nav. I went online to price one out the way I would "like it", but it got crazy real fast. I ended up with a 90k Boxster S. Not a good idea.

The Good: New interior (since 2005), 2007 horsepower bump, great drive, fun, easy, It's a Porsche (though some consider it to be the poor man's Porsche since it is the Boxster (not the S) is their entry level car. But to that I say, so what.

The Bad: It can get a bit pricey if you load it up with too many options, and they've got plenty. Wanted more power (which can be done with a few upgrades, but again, watch the sticker).

The Dealers: Most were helpful, good experience, although it takes a while for someone to ask if you need something. I did have a bit of a run-in with one sales guy at Loeber who asked if I he could help me. When I asked if he had a silver/black Boxster S, he firmly and rudely insisted that color does not matter, and started to show me a red/cream vehicle (a combination I HATE!). On my Boxster S dealer visit (At The Porsche Exchange) is where I got turned on to a Targa, which you can see below.

porsche 911 targa 07

Porsche 911/997 Targa C4S. 3.6 liters flat six : 355 hp.

I just went in to see a Boxster S. Honest! Here I am, minding my own business, and this thing POPS UP out of no-where! Now, what am I to do here. I can't just ignore it. It would be rude. So I look. JESUS!!, this is amazing, why in the hell did I not think of this before! I loved it, especially after test driving it. The perfect combo, hard-top and convertible.

As I mentioned at the top, I ususally think covertibles ruin the lines of a car, and, I already have a Cab 911 (because I HAD TO HAVE a convertible), but I have always loved the classic lines of a 911. This is the perfect package, even more so since the Targa had a beautiful and tasteful chrome strip running down the entire spine of the roof-line, a detail specific to the Targas only.

This one was also the perfect exterior color. While not my traditional silver, it was the charcoal silver, which truly enhanced the elegance of the car's profile, and as metionmed above, the chrome strip underscores the whole thing.

The Good: Everything.

The Bad: A bit above my budget, the interior was not black (it was a very dark navy blue) and it did not have the 19" Turbo Wheels or the performance exhaust. (no biggie).

The Dealer: Took a while to get noticed, even though I bought my previous Porsche there, but once the ball got rolling, Trevor at The Porsche Exchange was very helpful and willing to work with me, as was Thomas at Motor Werks.

porsche 911 turbo out 07

Porsche 911 Turbo. 480 hp.

Starts at $122,900, but most I saw (and there were few, easily hit the 140k area). Supercar Performance.

Insanity has clearly set in here. I have NO BUSINESS even looking at this thing. This isn't even the convertible turbo. but it was parked there (calling my name). Holy Crap!. I came to see a Targa, which, if I am completely honest, is also above my budget, but in the interest of beign "American" I was open to financing the rest.

The Good: Really, must I? OK, I will. This particular example was gorgeous. As a general rule, I prefer silver cars, but this one was black, inside and out and had red stitching. It was loaded down to the 19" Turbo wheel jewelry.

The Bad: (and no fault of the car) Too much cash. That is all. Although, it would be amazing if this was a Targa Turbo, which they do not make.

The Dealers: Most were helpful, good experience, although it takes a while for someone to ask if you need something. This particular visit was nice. The guy at Rizza Porsche was helpful and even offered to let me take it for a spin. Out of respect for his time, I turned him down).

sky redline 07

2007 Saturn Sky Redline.

The Ecotec turbocharged 2.0-liter engine produces 260hp.

For as hard as it may be for you to believe, this little car has actually beaten the Porsche Boxster (not the S) in several tests. I test drove the Sky prior to the release of the Redline edition and it wasn't bad, especially when you consider the price of $24k or so. Sure, some of the interior bits are a bit cheap, but you have to keep the price in mind and be a little forgiving. The interior looks pretty good. Much better than it's sister car, the Pontiac Solstice.

The Good: Inexpensive, fun to drive.

The Bad: No one will pass up the opportunity to make fun of you for driving a Saturn. The process of putting the top up or down requires you to get out of the car, Zero storage, no really, zero. Way too much cheap plastic.

The Dealer: I will probably repeat myself when I speak of American car dealers, but almost without exception, it was a miserable experience. I just do not understand what their business model is. As I mentioned above, I test drove the Sky (almost a year ago) and at that time I requested information on the Redline and asked them to notify me when one was in so I could come see it. While I am not in the habit of following-up with dealers to "take my money" (I think they should work for it) I did call several times in the interest of this story. I never got a call from anyone at Saturn Of Chicago. I even went back and spoke to the manager about it. At this point, he had 5 of them on the floor. Since they were all automatics, I asked him to call me when a manual one gets in. He has never called me. I have stopped in at several Saturn dealers, all with the same neglect.

cobra 1

1965 Superformance Shelby Cobra MKIII. Ford Roush 427, 480 hp. As raw as it can street legally get. While I did not completely price one out, from my discussions, I am easily in the $75k plus area. If I want all the goodies I know I'd like, I can reach 90k real fast.

There is a little of bit of Cobra inside anyone who loves cars. I suspect we have all envisioned ourselves in one of these. Since they are made to order, they can be anything you want, and the price will quickly reflect that. I test drove a red one with a Ford 427 (beacuse i was built and on the floor) but the one I'd like is the one pictured above. Absolutely gorgeous color.

Man is thing thing fast (and loud). But it sure was fun. The real question is... will it wear on you after a while. I ask myself this because the roar of the engine, while captivating, might, (not sure) but might get old. When you consider this car has no power steering, no windows, no radio, no AC and no comfort, (make real sure you don't burn off your leg on the very large side exhausts when getting in and out) the possibility of this occurring is truthfully there. Having said that, It is just amazing.

The Good: Great toy. Head turner, fast as hell, now part of the Shelby Registry.

The Bad. Expensive toy. Missing many comforts and tech. Have to get out of the car to put on the top and the windows.

The Dealer: Extremely helpful, no preasure, very knowledgable. They walked me in the back and showed me the engine builds and all. Very good. The place to get a Cobra is definately at D&M.

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