This week I made a remarkable realization: I graduating college in less than two months and will become a productive member of society. And what do productive members of society do? That's right, they buy cars! With actual money! And then, 10 years later, a college freshman will buy my car and use it to transport too many passengers/kegs/corinthian columns/etc.
Anyway, I currently drive a B7 Audi A4 2.0T quattro 6MT. It's the perfect all rounder, but it's a bit serious. I love it too much to get rid of it, so I've decided to buy a second car...a sporty car.
I want the same fun factor provided by my first car, an NA Miata. I'm looking to keep the price under $30K, but otherwise am not specifically looking for RWD or 50/50 weight distribution, etc. I don't care what the car is like on paper, I just want something that will make me smile. So this week I test drove three cars: A base Mini Cooper, an Ecoboost Mustang, and a 500 Abarth.
MINI Cooper: 1.5T I3
No, I didn't drive a Cooper S. I drove a base Cooper. With the little 3-cylinder engine. MINI's are premium cars, and I already own a premium car. To make it more personalized and fun, I would want to spend as much money on accessories as possible.
But how is that 3-cylinder engine? Pretty remarkable actually. For one it sounds great. It has a V6 growl to it. It's also remarkably torquey; just roll onto the gas and it'll pull up a steep Pittsburgh hill with far more ease than such a small engine should be able to muster.
Overall, it was a very premium feeling car, but not a particularly thrilling car. Like my A4, I would describe it as "competent." The styling and interior are very fun and quirky, but its everyday driving manners are too similar to those of my A4.
Ford Mustang Ecoboost: 2.3T I4
Admittedly, this is the oddball of the bunch. 30K gets you a a fully optioned hatchback, or a stripped out Mustang. But I gave it a chance. Spoiler: it didn't deliver.
The Ecoboost engine sounds kind of generic in a world of turbocharged 4-cylinders. That said, it is powerful. Unlike the MINI and the Fiat, the 'Stang picked up speed effortlessly and subtly. On hard throttle, it is less impressive. It's not slow, but it doesn't have enough power to hide its weight.
I found it an unsuccessful marriage of hot hatch engine and sports coupe chassis.
Fiat 500 Abarth: 1.4T I4
VROOMVROOOOOMVROOOOOOOOOOM!!!!! This one wins. Hands down.
The exhaust note is beyond fantastic, the overstyled bodywork and scorpion badges look amazing, the pedals are perfectly placed for heel-toeing, and the super short wheelbase makes it so nimble!
I don't even care about the cheap interior materials, or the lack of a 6th gear, or the cramped back seats, or the trunk that is only big enough to accommodate the optional Beats speakers.
Everything about this car has the fun dial turned up to 11. The upright driving position and tall windshield gives unrivaled outward visibility and fantastic sense of the car's extremities. The dash-mounted shifter is right next to the steering wheel, the steering is satisfyingly heavy, the clutch is buttery smooth, and the engine just sounds angry.