So our buddy Chris Stayman finally decided on a new car. He was looking for something around the $15k mark that could be used as a daily driver, a track day car, and be able to haul friends, kids, and family members. While originally we pushed towards a car that was only a few years old that could be easily financed at a low interest rate and might still have a warranty left, you'll see below that Chris decided to go a different route. I knew that no matter what I said, he would end up with what he picked, but that didn't stop us from giving him some different options anyways. He went and drove most of them. Here's what he has to say about his journey.
Words by Chris Stayman
Owning and driving a car or truck on a daily basis pre-defines what you will look for in a vehicle. The way driver A prefers a comfortable ride, or the way driver B tends to be drawn towards vehicles with brutal torque curves. There is much to be considered when deciding on a new vehicle, this equation becomes even more complicated when you throw the occasional HPDE, Autocross or NASA TT session into the mix.
I had been shopping for a new daily driver/weekend warrior. I covered the usual suspects, S2000, M3, Mustang, Civic, STi, BRZ/FR-S, GTI, Corvette, the list goes on and on. Due to my lack of articulation and communication skills, Austin and Derek recorded a whole 20 minute session, dedicated to me and what cars I should consider for $15,000. I took record of their suggested list and started hunting them down locally. I approached this as objectively as possible, car by car, but there is one reason I ended up with my final purchase which I will discuss later.
First up, the 2015 Ford Focus ST, it packs a punch, if you have strong arms. Seeing as I had owned an SVT Focus prior (I even crash tested one involuntarily) it felt familiar, but very different at the same time. The power delivery is smooth yet on demand, the torque steer is simply the latter. The car as a whole is a good value at $20-$22k, however, visibility is poor, the rear seat is barely functional, and that torque vectoring system is one of the most annoying electronic doo-dads I have ever encountered in a car, second only to the Volkswagen Stability Control in Austin's Jetta Sportwagen. The Focus felt like a young, energetic kid, full of grace and skill, but didn't make the basketball team because he was 25 pounds too heavy to fit in the jersey and had 2 left feet.
Next day, same dealer. I almost went and bought clown shoes before checking out the Fiesta ST, it only seemed fitting. The Fiesta has alot working for it, the interior is minimalist, yet filled with gadgets and things to distract you from the task at hand. The list of creature comforts alone was impressive for a car that can be had for under $20k. I got 30 minutes alone in the 2015 Fiesta ST, it was a fun 30 minutes, almost too much fun if I'm being honest. But it was lacking something, something about the way it did everything well, but nothing excellent. Cargo space is ok, visibility is ok, power and handling were ok. At the end of the test drive, it just felt like I was in the 2014 Mini Cooper S' nerdy little brother. It was trying so hard to be like the Mini, but fell just short in a few areas. However, Austin, Derek, Matt Farah, and everyone else is right, if you want a fantastic hot-hatch for under $20k, the Fiesta ST checks every box in that category, some of them twice. In my opinion, the Fiesta ST does just as well as a Mini or a GTI, at a fraction of the price as it relates to cost of ownership. It just left me wanting more out of it, particularly in the performance department.
3rd time is the charm, right? Wrong, I found a 2004, BMW M3 coupe with the SMG gear box for a mere $18,000, it was bone stock and had about 80,000 miles on it. It was a fun test drive, even if the sales guy was asking me to turn it down a notch, after he told me I could get a feel for the car. It was comfortable, fast, very controllable, over all it reminded me of a 2001 Audi S4 I used to have. The interior was just a nice place to be when cruising, click the left paddle twice and it turned into the perfect office to "Get shit done" in. Let's face it, BMW's are expensive to fix, M3's are even more expensive to fix, and M3's with the SMG box are ridiculously expensive to fix. I think you get my point on the M3. There is something to be said for the solid, sophisticated feel of a German sports car.
The day after I decided I didn't want to dump my 401k for BMW parts, I found a clean and stock, 2013 Ford Mustang GT, apparently "I am a Ford guy". I had driven a few of these before, so I knew what to expect. It was a fantastic car, you can feel the car's weight when you push the limit, but the car does quite a good job at keeping itself composed. The throaty 5.0 had power everywhere, yet was civilized enough to pull traffic duty, I almost bought this car. Instead, I hopped on my GSX-R 600 and went back to work. I spent the night Googling bolt-on parts, tires, brake pads and wheels. 18 and 19 inch tires are expensive! As we all know, heavy cars eat tires, adding a multiplier to the already high price of tires.
Last, but not least a 2009 Honda Civic Si sedan. When in Chicago, I had driven a 2013 Civic Si, it was a fun car, but it had the ugliest dash I had ever laid eyes on, it was orange, and the seats were lacking the leg support some of us taller folks desire. I had always liked the older 08-09 model year sedan though, so I found one. It felt identical to the 2013 model...peppy, sharp, but not the animal I was looking for. These are a great car for a daily driver/weekend warrior, but do require a decent amount of work to hang with the faster cars on track. Definitely the best economy/cost of ownership/fun bargain on my list (this is coming from someone who claims that they are "not a Honda guy").
Remember that "reason" I mentioned earlier? The one about why I made the purchase that I made? This is where we get to that point. Every car listed above, stands out for a specific reason. They all have their fantastic qualities that I admire, accompanied by certain attributes that I loathe. As Austin and Derek recommended in the SlipAngle show, any of the above cars are a great starting point for anyone that wants a $15-$20k car, capable of being a daily driver and pulling a few weekends of hard work every season. The Fiesta is described best by three words, "It's a riot!". The Focus is a Fiesta for taller people. The Germans got everything right with the M3, except the conversion rate from Euros to Dollars. The Mustang is probably the most forgiving, yet motivated version of that nameplate ever made. The Honda is a fantastic first car for anyone wanting to get into HPDE with something reliable, yet cheap to operate and forgiving to a learner.
I bet by now, you have probably guessed it, Austin was right. I flew to Chicago and purchased the 2005 Lancer Evolution that I had checked out 3 weeks before. Test driving all of these newer, or nicer cars made me realize a few very important things when it comes to picking out a car; Try all of your options: Even if you think you will hate it, try it anyway. Take in feedback from fellow drivers: If you disagree on a car, it's not the end of respect, different drivers prefer different tools to do the job. Do a full cost analysis on owning and tracking each car that is considered: Had I not done this, I would have bought a Mustang that would have elevated my blood pressure every time it needed tires. This also highlighted how tempting of an option the Civic Si was.
I chose the Evo for a few choice reasons; I hate babysitters, that being said, I hate electronic ones too. The frustration I experience when a computer says "Whoa there pal, that's too much fun" is something I wouldn't want to discuss around small children, or my grandmother. The car is rough, it is not refined, it is mechanically loud, you can feel everything, and I love it. I am very open to my senses in a car, the more I feel and hear, the more comfortable I am with pushing the limits on track. I'm at home in a noisy, brash environment, even on the street, in traffic. While maintenance is slightly more involved, tires aren't terribly expensive, nor are brakes. Daily fuel mileage has been at 20 mpg or higher. I can drive to Chicago year round without fear of the weather. I have a useable back seat and a trunk that fits golf clubs (no, I don't really golf much anymore). The driver's seat may not be as nice of a place as my 2001 S4 was, but everything is exactly where I want it. I don't hit my knee on the wheel when going for the clutch, I can shift to 5th gear without the extra reach. The wheel falls into my hands without my arms feeling stretched out or cramped up. The factory Recaros hold me in place just fine, AND have plenty of leg support for those of us that are taller than a Fiesta ST. For me, and my daily life, this car fits the bill perfectly. It also accomplishes a dream that I have held on to for the last 15 years. My only regret with the Lancer Evolution, is that I didn't buy one sooner.