My Four Favorite Cars

Jay Shoemaker
by Jay Shoemaker

As a pistonhead of independent means, I’ve been lucky enough to own and sample a vast array of automotive hardware. If I had a car for every time a friend, associate, colleague or innocent bystander asked me to name my favorite car, I’d see Jay Leno’s aircraft hangar and raise him a Space Shuttle shelter. Of course, drilling down to one top whip would be like asking Angelina Jolie to name her least favorite husband—in reverse. Still, in the interests of stimulating debate, here are my four faves. I make no apologies for the fact that they’re all German; in the grand TTAC style, I call it like I see it and let the lederhosen fall where they may.

#4 Volkswagen GTI

At best, the new GTI is cute; at worst, it’s pug ugly. Like it or loathe it, you gotta love it: the GTI is the hardest working car in show business. How many vehicles offer this much performance and practicality for $24k? During my first week behind the wheel, I was convinced the speedometer was busted. Everywhere I drove, it read 90 mph. (The California Highway Patrol eventually verified the speedo’s accuracy.) When VW sent me one of those little plastic “Fast” thingies to thank me for my purchase, I mounted it in on the dash. Whenever my wife asks me to slow down, I just point and tell her to “Talk to the Fast.”

For a tallish front driver, the handling is supernaturally stable and sticky. The DSG transmission is almost as much fun as masturbation, except that I can’t match downshifts as smoothly. When I’m not paddling to paradise, I get 29 miles per gallon and satellite radio (a $1,000 option in my Civic, even though the radio proclaimed “XM Ready”). Sure, there’s a lot of plastic and the plaid (plaid?) seats are almost as hard to adjust as an iDrive radio, but otherwise, the GTI is a knockout for the money.

#3 BMW 330i

I’ve owned six of these ultimate driving machines in various guises, and they’ve all been a delight. The 3-Series [still] boasts a superbly communicative helm; powerful, feelsome brakes and the world’s smoothest six-banger. Generally speaking, you also get the best ride-handling trade off in the business: a car that cruises and thrashes with equal aplomb. Even though the Bavarians have done their level best to screw-up the basics with ill-considered over-engineering— numb active steering, stiff and loud run flat tires, badly Bangled sheetmetal, cost-cutting plastics— the 3-Series remains the sine qua non of sports sedans.

#2 Porsche 911 Carrera

No car handles, brakes and accelerates with more effortless élan than a 911 Carrera. Once a Spartan sports car for the chronically over-moneyed, the latest iteration offers enough electronic aids and creature comforts to soothe an S-Classicist. Just be sure to pack platinum plastic; breathe on the options list and you can kiss $10k goodbye. Pant on it and it’s entirely possible to drop $100k on the world’s fastest daily driver. Not that it’ll look it. Although the highly evolved Carerra shape is wandering into self-parody and ennui, there’s something legally attractive about a bling-less car that pumps out this much performance. A little more torque on the down-low and a little less impact from potholes would be nice (the tire and wheel choice have severe repercussions on ride quality), but otherwise the 911 is still high performance perfection.

#1 Mercedes E320 CDI / E55 AMG Wagon

One million German taxi drivers can’t be wrong: the E-Class is a hit. The E320 CDI version is my favorite iteration of this best selling mid-sized sedan. The oil burner’s 21 gallon fuel tank has carried me all the way from Phoenix to San Francisco; that’s 775 miles without stopping to fill the tank (just to empty my own). At the same time, the CDI stumps-up more torque than the current V8 (this will change shortly). Despite a little lag off the line, it’s faster than most petrol-powered sixes. Although the cabin lacks spizzarkle, the big E-z carries four adults and their stuff in bovine-skinned luxury and wood-grained comfort. She’ll dance (waltz, not salsa) when the rhythm of the road requires, even if the numb helm makes the car Vicodin-on-wheels. Mercedes promises that the new, monster E63 AMG will have more responsive steering and corner more eagerly (you’d certainly hope so). The improved dynamics wouldn’t go amiss further down the food chain.

Meanwhile, the E55 AMG (soon to be E63) Wagon is da bomb. Turn off the big rig’s traction control and you can leave Hemis behind in a cloud of tire smoke. Contrary to popular belief, this is not the perfect car for guys who like to drive fast and own big dogs; they’d have to constantly clean doggy slobber off the rear window. It’s the ultimate Q ship.

Jay Shoemaker
Jay Shoemaker

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  • Claude Dickson Claude Dickson on Jul 21, 2006

    List like these are always subject, particularly when there are no restrictions, but here goes: 1) Golf GTI 4 door: This car just hits all the right points: affordable, fun, practical, good gas mileage, DSG. Few cars make this much sense. 2) Chrysler 300C: it may not be a great car, but Detroit deserves recognition for finally producing a good looking car that actually is a good car. 3) Lotus Elise: Probably the best "pure" sports car available and a reminder of so many things a sports car should be. A reminder that most of the cars we love need to go on a diet and all the fancy gadgetry doesn't necessarily make for a better car. 4) New Audi TT/S3: Pricing isn't public for the TT and the S3 may never make it to US shores, but at least one variation of the TT will likely be under $40k and most will be under $50k; the S3 will almost certainly be under $50k as well if it makes it here. Porsche makes some great cars, but true motoring pleasure shouldn't have to begin at $50-60k plus.

  • Grinchsmate Grinchsmate on Dec 13, 2007

    right, this sounds fun 1. toyota landcruiser 70 series. with the diesel. i know its not that fast but you can thrash it to hell and it will keep up. also the low end torque makes for some exiting driving. or mabe a hsv marloo, arguably the best drift/burnout vehicle in the world. all that power and no weight on the back end. 2. M3. never been one but i like the sound of it. 3. perhaps a comodore ss. im not so sure. i could cheat and say i want the 70 series wagon 4. rolls drophead. i now its no sedan but its big and luxury, plus if you live where i do you have to take advantage.

  • Akear I just wish GM could produce a vehicle 80% as good as the crown.I sat in a Trax at a Chevrolet dealership this weekend and was shocked how cheap it felt. GM does not care.GM - what a disgrace!
  • Akear I like the grill treatment of all Mitsubishi products. It is an interesting and original design.
  • El scotto Some rambling thoughts; Elon is pulling billions in cash out of Tesla. Tesla will be around, Elon won't let them fail. Mitsubishi is an odd place, you can't sell vehicles if you don't have dealers. Out of all the "Automalls" near you, how many have a Mitsubishi dealership? The Agnellis owned Fiat, Fiat got sold to Stellantis. The Agnellis control Exor. How much of Stellantis does Exor own? I really should be drinking beer with Billy Ford and talking Big-10 trash with him. Ford and Lucid should work out a partnership. You want an electric Lincoln? Have Lucid build it and slap a Lincoln name plate on it. BTW, kick Farley's butt to the curb.
  • Akear US contentChevrolet Trax - 5%Honda Pilot - 52%What a disgrace!I glad Consumer Reports panned the Trax, and put it on its avoid list.
  • Akear This is similar to what lazy GM and Ford used to do.