These are the halcyon days, my friends. We find ourselves in the middle of an incredible automotive renaissance.
It may be argued that the golden era of cars ended as the clock struck midnight on December 31, 1969 in a decade that would see the introduction of the likes of the Ford Mustang, Porsche 911 and the vaunted BMW Neue Klasse. I would argue, though, that these the early teens of the 21st century are a high water mark for the automobile.
Look around you and the motoring landscape has never looked more promising. On all fronts it feels as though nearly every manufacturer is teeming with potential and progress. First and foremost, I will place my bias with BMW noting the fact that in every sector, you can find a great Bavarian, no matter your driving tastes. Want something small, sporty and cheap-ish? Great, they’ll hand you the keys to the petite 2 Series. Need something faster and more agile? Step right over to this twin scroll M4. Want to save the environment in style? Excellent, we have a Protonic Blue i8 hybrid sports car for you to canyon-carve with on your way to the next Green Peace meeting.
Arguably, aside from the 5 GT and 3 GT, BMW doesn’t make a bad car right now. The cheap and cheerful 320i Sedan is the most entry level of entry level sport sedans and yet delivers on the pedigree of its bloodline. The smallest BMWs available in North America, the 2 Series, is already head-and-shoulders above the outgoing 1 Series coupe and you cannot begin to comprehend how right the latest F80/82 M3/M4s feel on a circuit. BMW is firing on all inline-six cylinders( or is it 3 cylinders + a battery?) right now across the line-up.
Don’t event get me started on cars like the Audi S3 sedan or the Mercedes-Benz S Class coupe coming from the Germans.
To go further, where in the automotive world are other manufacturers missing the mark, either?
In the U.S., without a doubt, the latest Mustang will be a defining moment in the history of both the Mustang and Ford. With its modern-retro appeal, an independent rear suspension and a litany of engines available means the Mustang is on the up-and-up, moving from a low brow bruiser to an internationally appealing GT car.
Chevrolet, of all companies, is killing it with the new-ish C7 Corvette. Styled not unlike an Italian GT car from certain angles, it may be one of the best bargain sports cars available on sale with a sub-5 second 0-60 time and at a price point less than a base M4! Even the Italian-American love child of Chrysler and Fiat, the SRT Viper, can challenge the likes of the Porsche 911 GT3s for less money and equivalent performance.
The Viper’s brother-from-another-mother, the lithe Alfa Romeo 4C is poised to make a big splash in the American car market as means of ushering Alfa back into the forefront of U.S. buyers’ minds with both sex appeal and performance.
From Asia, it’s a whole new ballgame since the late 60’s. Toyota, via Lexus, has launched the legitimate M4 rival in the 2015 RC F and is undertaking concerted effort to redefine itself not as a stuffy luxury manufacturer but as a purveyor of premium, sporting vehicles. You’ll even see an RC F coupe dicing it up in the United States via a GT3 racing equivalent in the next year or so.
Speaking of Toyota, we shall not let the simple but effective FRS/BRZ go unmentioned as a plausible jump start to Toyota righting the ship to cruise out of murky, beige waters. In Korea, things have never been better. Hyundai seem to be competing on every front with the Genesis sedans and coupes while Kia has jumped headlong into nearly ever segment from entry level to premium and found great success in redefining what a affordable car can be. Supposedly, Honda has an NSX that has been on the boiler plate for what feels like over a decade, poised to reinvigorate the sagging brand with sporting intentions even without the breath of life from racing demigod Ayrton Senna.
Have we mentioned that today’s sports cars even give you highly respectable fuel economy? The M5, for example, has kept fuel economy relatively flat over the last decade but in the process have managed to increase horsepower nearly 46% and torque 36%. An M235i can make a plausible argument against buying a clean E46 or E92 M3 Competition Package while still returning significant gains on fuel economy over either of its bigger M car cousins.
Reaching beyond traditional manufacturers, small manufacturers like Tesla and Pagani are making big waves, albeit at very different ends of the scale of what defines an automobile. Tesla seems to be pushing the boundaries of what could be possible with an electric car that actually appeals to the masses with it relative affordability and sexy-yet-practical packaging. Pagani has managed to buck the trend of fabulous yet borderline destitute Italian manufacturers with its follow up to the the Zonda, the Huayra, a bespoke hyper car mercifully federalized to be imported into the United States, a first for Pagani.
Stepping away from the segments we can actually afford(excluding the Pagani!), the hyper car segment is chock full of options if you’re desperately in need of $1 million+ motor that will give you instant credibility at your local cars ‘n coffee. McLaren, Porsche, Ferrari – all have brought their A-game with their own variant of how to get into pockets of the likes of Ralph Lauren or Jay Leno. 20 years ago, if you wanted to crest the 200 MPH mark, you had really only one suitable choice in the McLaren F1.
Today, you have at least 3 options in the P1, 918, and awkwardly named yet elegant Ferrari LaFerrari. If you’re feeling especially flashy and impotent, go pick up the Whatever-It-Is-This-Week special edition Bugatti Veyron. All of these options come equipped with the latest in hybrid power plants and active aerodynamics. Best of all, they’ll all do it in relative comfort and with the utmost control given over to the driver with a plethora of systems onboard to keep you out of the trees and between the white lines. Hell, even your run-of-the-mill Porsche 911 Turbo comes with active aerodynamics to help keep that wide, teutonic ass planted to the tarmac.
My point is this: Enjoy today, guys. We have a lot around us for which we should be thankful.
So many times, it is easy to get lost in the idea that cars of yesterday were better and you hear the same old rhetoric “the last generation had more steering feel, it felt more connected to the road, it had a manual and no turbos…” Blah, blah, blah. My only response is to look around you. It feels like, in my 31 years of life on this planet, that perhaps things for the car enthusiast have never been better. At our finger tips (and checkbooks), car enthusiasts have so many options across so many fronts that the decision becomes less of “how can I satisfy my needs?” and more of “which option will best satisfy my needs?” What else could we ask for as enthusiasts? Variety is the spice of life, after all.