By on January 6, 2011

Charlie writes:

Dear Steve & Sajeev, I am hoping you can give me some advice & feedback on a replacement for my currently daily driver that I will be purchasing some time next year. I am currently driving a 1995 Ford Taurus SHO with an automatic transmission (the transmission was not by choice, I would have preferred the manual…just couldn’t find one at the time I was looking) This is the fourth Taurus SHO I have owned (I have previously owned a 1989, 1994, & a 1997 also) My budget is somewhere between $10,000 – $15,000 (though I may be willing to push toward $18,000 for the right car.

My primary concerns, in order of importance, are:

  • Performance – I refuse to buy anything slower than my current car. I realize it is not as competitive as it used to be but it will still run down any of the supercharged 3800 GM cars. I don’t do any “professional” racing, but I refuse to get spanked by a Toyota Camry or a Denali pickup at a light or merging into traffic.
  • “Fun to Drive” Factor – I realize this is a very personal feeling aspect that is in the eye of the beholder, but at least have some level of fun attributed to it. For example: Driving a Toyota Camry is no fun even if it is fast (V6 models), but it’s just so boring to drive.
  • Looks – There, I said it. I am very superficial when it comes to my cars. I don’t necessarily want a “flashy” car such as an M3, WRX/STi, Evo, etc…. I kind of like the flash to be a bit more subtle. I like sleeper cars (like my SHO).
  • Cost to Own/Maintain – Costs to keep up on maintenance & repairs. I don’t want to get into the more unique import brands that parts are not readily available for in my area because we don’t have a dealership to have parts available or service it if my local repair shop can’t do it (That excludes any luxury car brand & some imports such as BMW, M-B, Volvo) I also don’t want anything older than about 10 years old. I’m tired of finding out parts are discontinued & no longer available for my car. I like to keep my car in 100% PERFECT operating condition with no noises, leaks, etc.
  • Driver Comfort – Ergonomics, Features/Amenities

Here is the list (in no particular order) with some of my own thoughts so far on it:

  • Mazdaspeed 6 – Great power & sweet 6-speed MT only. Not crazy about AWD. I drove an ’06 model and it is at the top of my list. Very fun, exciting, fast…. yet still can be driven tame and rides nice. Love the power & the turbo lag. The manual was a bit more finicky than the TL (below) and took some getting used to but I eventually got the hang of it. I really fell in love with this car.
  • Mazdaspeed 3 – All the benefits of the 6 but without the AWD. Like the look of the hatch too, even though I’ve always owned 4-door sedans
  • Acura TL Type S – Preferably the ’08-’09 model but I realize that will probably be pushing above the $20k range. I think the styling is great (FU Acura for ruining the new ones), great power & smooth 6-speed MTX available. However, I would be happy with the older generation too like from ’03-’04  or whenever it was. Not a very “exciting” car to drive, but a very nice car nonetheless. Still high up on my list
  • Nissan Altima SE-R – Don’t really know much about Nissans as far as driving them, and I didn’t care for the styling of these in the ’05-’06 years in the base models, but the SE-R trim added a nice touch along with those wheels. The Nissan VQ engine is always a smart bet and could also get a 6-spd MT available
  • Subaru Legacy 2.5GT – the last generation, not the new ones. I’ve never owned a Subaru but after about 3 minutes of driving it, I turned right around and took it back to the dealer. Nice car, rides nice and quiet… but BORING!! And doesn’t feel very fast at all. I’m not sure if the manual is that much more exciting but I’ve taken that off my list permanently.
  • Chevy Cobalt SS (Turbo , not S/C) – Ok, it’s a little boy racer and a bit smaller than I would care for, but oodles of power & probably can be found for cheap as long as they all aren’t completely trashed by the I know the insurance is INSANE on these though.
  • I was also thinking this morning on my way to work and drove by a newer Nissan 350Z. I was thinking what about something like that? I am a single man with no kids, why couldn’t I have something more along the lines of a sports car? I don’t need anything crazy because I want to keep regular maintenance & upkeep down to a minimum and don’t want to pay through the nose on insurance for a daily driver… but maybe something like that would be ok too?

Your thoughts, comments, suggestions, additions?

Steve Answers:

This part of your question struck me as funny: “I don’t need anything crazy because I want to keep regular maintenance & upkeep down to a minimum and don’t want to pay through the nose on insurance.”

May I suggest a ten-year-old Buick?

That’s pretty much the only thing that’s missing in your cornucopia of cars. I honestly believe you will be perfectly happy with any of the vehicles you already mentioned. Then again I don’t know you. The Internet offers amazing variations of Yuppiedom and I don’t see anything on your list that wouldn’t allow the quintessential Yuppie 10+ years of happy driving.

Except perhaps that 350Z. I won’t call it an outright POS. But buying one of those used represents the ultimate of crapshoots. They are expensive to keep up. Expensive to maintain. Expensive to insure. If it were me, I would start with finding a good owner for the vehicle du jour. Get it independently inspected, and then make a reasonable offer. Either that or really go crazy and invest in a few Vanguard index funds.

Sajeev Answers:

You like SHOs.  Matter of fact, you like them enough to mention the 2010 SHO’s comeback in your email signature. So I’m gonna go with my gut, and assume you need an “Executive Express” much like the GEN II SHO’s marketing materials suggested.  But this time with a little more Executive (nicer interior) and less Express (mid-pack performance) than whatever a modern day V6 SHO might be.  Because, let’s face it, torque steer blows and AWD isn’t necessary here.

And the only Executive Express worthy of my gut’s consideration is the Acura TL, with a stick and an understated color like silver, gray or black.  Its got enough power, but it isn’t the rocket ship that the SHO was back in its heyday.  Since it’s Accord based, it’s more than a little “bullish” on cheap parts and easy servicing in any part of the country.  The interior is worthy of any mid-level luxury car, which will be a big improvement in your life. You aren’t sold yet, and you shouldn’t be.

Most importantly, just like any good hot-rod Taurus, the aftermarket erases the dull feelings you have towards the TL.  While this video may not be the correct vintage TL, it gives away the big secret: the aftermarket offers you the option of a mild dusting of suspension bits to make the Acura the best thing since the Yamaha V6 SHO died in 1995. And someone looking for the best Executive Express for the dollar really has no other choice.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to [email protected], and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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58 Comments on “New or Used: SHO, Don’t Tell...”

  • avatar

    As a current SHO owner and fanatic who is perpetually looking for a daily driver in the same price range as you, may I suggest my two current top contenders. The first is the Lincoln LS. Stick with the V8 obviously and my sources tell me to go with a 2005 or 2006 for better reliability. The LS was underappreciated both by Lincoln and the public. It’s a great luxury car and good performer with the Jaguar-sourced V8. You can easily get completely loaded, low mileage LS V8s for around $12k or $13k.
    Second option is a 2004 or 2005 BMW 330i ZHP. You can get these for around $15-18k in some cases and they’re incredible performers for the money. Think of them as a slightly underpowered M3 sedan of the era. Hope that helps.

    • 0 avatar

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but was the stick on the LS only offered with the 3.0L V6? Either way, an LS should be worthy of consideration. The TL Type S also seems to be a good bet to me. What about a post-2006 Impala SS, with the V8? Finally, and this might be out of the indicated price range, but what about the unusual (if insane and completely wrong) Buick LaCrosse Super? Bring on the torque steer.

    • 0 avatar

      LS had an optional V8, as per the esteemed Mr. Neff.  More to the point, the LS V8 Sport was the only model I ever saw towards the end of 2006. It had everything from a performance and cosmetic standpoint, standard.

    • 0 avatar

      A 10 year old Saab 9-5 would have over 200 hp and go for under $10K.

    • 0 avatar

      Agree that it’s a nice car, but the depreciation kept me away from the LS.  Get on Craigslist and look at the drop in price from 2006 back to 2002 or so.  Scary.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Buying used, depreciation is your friend.  I never give rats rear end about depreciation cause I’m gonna drive it till it’s dead.  The only thing I care about is how long it will go with only preventive maintenance.

    • 0 avatar

      Sajeev, I’m with amripley here, I’m pretty sure from when I’ve researched the LS myself (it’s just so nicely understated) that you could have the V-8 -OR- the stick, but not both.  I was pretty disappointed, so it stuck with me.

    • 0 avatar

      Ya, the V6 had sport suspension and a great manual shifter – i drove one at the dealer – fast, cool.  I didnt buy it, I wanted a smaller car. I am looking for one now – the manual transmissions have fallen off the earth!

  • avatar

    The only thing you will want to watch on the TLs (say, pre 2005ish) are the well known Honda automatic transmission issues.  I would stick to the manual.
    Also, what about a 300C (particularly an SRT8). Maybe a little bigger and pricier than your range. Or maybe more of a Gentlemens’ Hotrod vibe than you are going for.

  • avatar
    Facebook User

    Why not a well cared for (not teenage owned!) Legacy GT? They’re fairly easy to find in manuals, are nice and quick, and not that expensive to maintain. I’m partial to them because they’re the larger, more civilized and very understated WRX.

  • avatar

    I would search mid-2000 oil consumption issues on Hondas. Known fact on Bob the Oil guy website.

    If going automatic might as well consider late 90’s Regal GS as the 3800 Series ll V6 is bullet proof. You can add a smaller SC pulley and run high 13’s @ 100 mph hich tops most 2010 sedans.

    Buy for less than $20K I’d look at 04-07 CTS-V which only has 6-speed. Just about the fastest sedan on the road and will still yield close to 30 mpg straight highway cruise with minor mods. A friend traded in his Cobalt SC for a 05 CTS-V and his insurance went down, but doubled power.

  • avatar

    When I think of a sleeper for some reason I immediately think of the 2003-2004 Mercury Marauder.  A used one would easily fit your budget and would be cheap to maintain.  Panther Love. 

    Also, since we’re talking about sleepers, what about an Impala SS?

    • 0 avatar
      Ian Anderson

      I know I say it almost every other N or U post but Marauder immediately came to mind for me too.
      FWD Impala SS w/ the S/C 3800 would be a good choice if you can find one, they’re scarce around here.

  • avatar

    I’ve owned a 2003 350Z and currently own a 09 MazdaSpeed3. Here is what I can tell you.
    You can get a hell of a deal on a used 350Z and they are a reliable and good looking sports car. It’s a sports car so it’s not going to ride soft and it would be a little tough as a daily driver especially if you have to deal with snow. The only big issues are with tire feathering but I believe Nissan had a recall on this issue.
    The ride is similar to the 350Z (pretty rough) but it handles great for a FF car. The power is amazing and seat of the pants feel is even better than the 350Z. I like the looks but I will tell you that the 350Z got a lot more attention (both good and bad). It has a lot of room inside, build quality is ok. A few downsides are the tires which are “summer only” and they mean it. On 3 inches of snow it will be stuck for good. It’s actually worse than the 350z in the winter. I got  stuck 3 times within 1 block of my house with 3 inches of snow. I slapped on winter tires/rims and it now handles the snow excellent. It gets about 25mpg but you must use premium fuel.
    Both are good/fun cars that would tear apart an old SHO but if you want something liek the SHO than I would look elsewhere because these are more hardcore.
    What about a Pontiac G8 GT? Probably a little out of your price range but a good choice. I’m not usually a domestic guy but I drove the G8 and it was a winner.

    • 0 avatar

      I would also agree with the G8 GT being the spiritual successor to the SHO.  It’s definitely out of his price range, though.
      I had a 1992 SHO that I drove for three years before dumping it for an SVT Contour.  The SHO was crude and not very reliable.  Great exhaust note, though.  I particularly hated the heavy clutch action and the propensity for little things to break with regularity every three months.  That said, I had a buddy who drove his SHO for 15 years before replacing it with a manual transmission Acura TL that he absolutely adores.  Finding one of those might be difficult, because Real Estate agents generally buy their Acuras with automatics, but the 2003-2005 models are quite nice, powerful (yeah, there’s torque steer) and reliable.

    • 0 avatar

      You won’t find even a wrecked G8 GT in $10K to $15K (well really wrecked salvage titles are going for $15K).  You won’t find a running G8 GT for $18K either.  They’ll have to push to $23K to $26K to find one – and pay the higher premium price for one that hasn’t been modded and drag raced to death.
      The 2004 Pontiac GTO with the 5.7 is the bargain of the GTO’s, no one wants the LS1 because it “just” has 350 HP ;-) – nice interior and the creature comforts, lots of ways to update and modify, but looks like a plain Jane coupe on the outside.  Debadge it and no one will know what the heck it is and you can humiliate people all day long.

  • avatar
    Sammy B

    Honda Accord V6 6MT Sedan.  (I believe 2005-2007, but not 100% on that).  It’ll be loaded up (that’s the only way it came), a sedan, anonymous, and reliable.  You can easily find one for less than $18K.  Not to over-simplify it, but it’s a lower cost TL.
    It might be lacking some of the suspension goodies of the other choices, but there’s trade-offs in everything :)

  • avatar

    Pontiac GTO or G8 – the G8 is a little out of your price range but a relatively high millage example might be available – especially if fuel prices start increase towards $4 a gallon.

    • 0 avatar

      Nope – not for $18K.

      Common misconception that the price of the G8 plunged 50% because Pontiac died.  They are in very high demand GT/GXP, not a whole lot built (about 13K GTs and about 1.8K GXPs), even dogged out high mileage models are going for $21K, and I wouldn’t buy one (given that they have likely been abused).  That is the issue of buying a 364 car that had an original sticker price in 2008 of $29,995 – youngin’s can buy ’em and beat ’em.

  • avatar

    Since the Acura TL is thrown in there and a BMW (3-series?) would be an option if it weren’t for the lack of a nearby dealer, what about the Acura TSX? Especially the previous model was quite competitive on all accounts from what I’ve heard/read.

  • avatar

    Saab 9-3SS (the newer model). Or 9-5 if you like to beat yourself up.
    Cheap, turbo, and easy to find in a MT.  Great seats on top of it.
    I’ve seen Turbo-X (2008) go for 16K.  Find a Aero V6 turbo if you want more power.

    • 0 avatar

      A Saab?  I think that’d definitely be out, on this one:
      Cost to Own/Maintain – Costs to keep up on maintenance & repairs. I don’t want to get into the more unique import brands that parts are not readily available for in my area because we don’t have a dealership to have parts available or service it if my local repair shop can’t do it (That excludes any luxury car brand & some imports such as BMW, M-B, Volvo) I also don’t want anything older than about 10 years old. I’m tired of finding out parts are discontinued & no longer available for my car. I like to keep my car in 100% PERFECT operating condition with no noises, leaks, etc.

  • avatar

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest something you probably didn’t consider.

    I’s suggest one of the last Cadillac Edlorados. Look for an ETC with low mileage and you will struggle to be much over $8000 for it. With it you get automatic ride control which can handle decently. It rides awesome on the highway but can still corner decent. The best part is the 300 HP, 295 Ft lb 4.6L DOHC northstar under the hood.

    If you want 4-doors, look for the last of the FWD STS’s, same benefits, updated styling and more doors.

    No one expects it to be fast because, well, old people drive them. But trust me, they are stupid fast in the right hands.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Did the Northstar become “acceptably reliable” at some point I’m not aware of?  I would consider a Northstar in a heartbeat because of the low resale values and bang for the buck but aren’t they a POS that starts spouting fluids at approx 150,000 miles?  Or is there a magic year I’m not aware of like say from the year 2000 forward they’re alright?

    • 0 avatar
      Ian Anderson

      ^ If you look around the limo/taxi drivers usually have good luck with the Northstars. The starters are under the intake manifold but hey it’s the same way on a Lexus LS400.
      One of the local limo companies has Town Cars and Northstar Cadillacs dating to 1996. The only real problems they have with both is the suspensions giving out from traveling in Philly and NYC, and that’s after about 100K. Get a Northstar and drive at 70MPH in second gear every so often, one for the sound and two since it supposedly keeps the oil consumption down. (I think Sajeev can comment on cylinder wall patterns.)

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Thanks for trying to answer, the question of Northstar reliability crosses my mind every time I see a Lucerne with dual exhausts and 4 portholes per side.  I know the “old school” four speed auto their hooked too is dead reliable and the Buick is another “steep depreciation special” that’s much faster than the ricers think.

  • avatar

    I’d consider most of the V8 and V6 luxury cars of today to be executive expresses. Woe to the 90’s SHO driver who decides he can take on a modern ES350 or Genesis V6 in a drag race.
    My real question is that if you’re serially promiscuous with your current SHO’s, what are you doing to them? If you own the right car, you’d be keeping it 10-15+ years.
    I’d consider living with your current car for another 3-5 years and start finding out what you really want (which is the hardest task in the world). Your question maybe should be “what one car would you buy yourself if money was not an object, but you had to keep it for 10-15 years?”

    I used to seethe in envy and jealousy when I saw another Chinese Canadian drive a higher status car than mine, so for me a flagship full size luxury sedan was the eventual answer. Shallow and narcissistic, yes, but if I wasn’t honest with what I really wanted, I’d have gotten myself the wrong car, the wrong career, and maybe the wrong wife.

  • avatar

    The SHO and SE-R came along when I was in high school and college and couldn’t afford a new car.  In 2000 I was a young consultant flush with money to spend on a new car and was very excited about the LS.  After hearing my Father talk about the Escort and Sierra I should have known better, but it was my first personal Ford letdown when the manual transmission car turned out to be a dog and the entire platform was hidden away my Lincoln as if they didn’t want to admit it existed.  I can only imagine what would have happened if they’d put an ounce of effort into the car a year after the initial launch.
    It’s why I have my doubts about the fate of the Focus ST in the US/Canada.  After years of Focus STs and RSs for the rest of the world it’s hard to get excited again.  But then it’s not like I’m going to do what I did then and buy a Subaru, either…

    I’m guessing most people with original SHOs these days are like my Father with his original SE-R. It’s no longer the daily driver and is becoming the fair weather garage queen.

  • avatar
    John R
    Low mileage first gen G35’s are out there in decent numbers at decent prices if you don’t mind them being a little long in years. Sufficiently rapid, good corning ability, smart looks and a bit more practical than a Z. A rational person couldn’t fault you for getting one of these.

  • avatar

    The only car on your list I can recommend is the TL.  Everyone I know who has one loves it, just a great car.  If you can find a Type S in your price range, I think you will forget all about your SHO.  The hard part is finding a manual trans version…. most people who buy those cars want the auto, so dealers didnt stock many sticks.  To me the downside is fwd, but if you dont mind it, then thats fine.

    Everything else on the list is more of a tuner car, I doubt you would be happy.  The MS6 is interesting, but I have heard of way too many issues with it, and parts are going to be expensive.  The SE-R is just not all that nice, its more like a Sentra than a Maxima.  Now that I mention it, a Maxima would also be a nice choice if you can find a stick.  You will not find a Subaru 2.5 GT stick for sale, they are impossible to find.  And a Cobalt?  You will hate it, ditto the 350Z.

    But my personal recommendation:  Infiniti G35 sedan.

  • avatar

    I’m going to suggest one that you partially dismissed.

    Pontiac Grand Prix GXP from 2006 or 2007 with the LS4 V8 under the hood.  The engine is lighter than the ye’ ol’ L67 supercharged 3800 under the hood of the GTP (called GT in ’06 and ’07).  Interior quality is still mixed, but there were improvements in the stitching and the seat leather is actually nice in the GXP.  You get all the goodies, including a HUD, 0 to 60 in 5.4 seconds, 18″ rims standard, big Bremos on all four corners, and since you have an affinity for gobs of horsepower and torque through the front wheels; you get that too.  You can buy these all day long with some of the 5/100 warranty still remaining for $12K to $16K, and no such thing as stripped.  It is certainly a “sleeper” wrapped in look at me I’m a rental car with a mild spoiler sheetmetal.  If you want a REAL sleeper with a nice interior find a ’08 Buick LaCrosse Super, based on the same W-Body with the same LS4 under the hood (alas without the suspension tweaks and rim size/rubber size of the Grand Prix to better deal with the torque steer that happens with 303 HP through the front wheels).  Cushy look I’m in a salesman car SHO type interior with more comforts, better interior bits, but still the aslphalt shredding V8 under the hood.  You’ll leave plenty of ricer kids weeping at the traffic lights after being smoked by a Buick.  Drive around in a fishing hat and they’ll think you’re an old man in a Buick.

    You MIGHT, just MIGHT be able to find an early production V6 2008 Pontiac G8 with the 5-speed auto; 0 to 60 speed is around 7.2 to 7.5 seconds; darn close to the SHO you’re driving.  This is going to be pushing the limits of the $18,000 price point though.  You should like all the other aspects of the G8; but I don’t think it will have enough go-go for you.

    If you spend just a little bit more you can get a first-gen Cadillac CTS-V (’04) but be warned the differentials are crap.

    You have some really good cars on your list otherwise.  The 08’/’09 TL I don’t think can be bought for under $18K.  The earlier models are a torque steering mess, be forewarned.

    The Cobalt is at least the same size as the 3 on the interior; any different is going to be very incremental (but you can deny the 3 is more practical with the hatch).  I looked at a Mazda3 but decided not too when I concluded it had seating for three, no one would be able to sit behind me when I settled in to a comfortable driving position.

    • 0 avatar

      In my experience, and despite Pontiac’s best efforts, all the LS4 cars torque steer about the same.  It seems that the discrepancy among reviews is just because different people have different definitions of “excessive torque steer”
      I also would say that the LS4’s sweet engine note slightly removes these cars from a perfect “sleeper” designation.  Any ricer worth his sideways visor should know what an approaching V8 sounds like.
      That said, these cars are a lot of fun.  It’s just that they are fun in the “playing with fireworks” kind of way and not in the “I like to pretend I’m a WRC driver” kind of way.

  • avatar

    Also, why not just keep the SHO?  If you keep all your cars in top notch 100% condition as you say, thats a very rare beast.  Use the money to buy a fun toy as a second car… Miata, Jeep, Mustang, sportbike, whatever you are in the mood for.

  • avatar

    Another vote for Lincoln LS or even a Jag-U-Are S-Type.   
    Spend the extra coin on a low mileage example.   

    The Pontiac GTO would be my #1 choice, but a low mileage example might bust the budget. 

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Did Jag get to normal reliability too at some point?  I ask seriously because I love the S-type and love big RWD luxurious cars, and of course almost all Jags have been beaten with the depreciation stick.  So is there a point (like say 2004 model year up) that Jags become at least as reliable as their Ford cousins?

    • 0 avatar

      I really wonder how one of those Jag-war S-types will look 5 years from now. I don’t mean wear and tear, but with the new models being such a departure from that old design language, I wonder how we will look at those last S-types in the future. Of course the last (facelifted) versions never looked right in the first place.

      *actually thinks the ‘u’ in Jaguar should not be silent*

  • avatar

    I think a six speed Maxima might be a pretty lateral move from a SHO. Sure the Altima with the same 3.5 VQ is lighter and therefore faster, but the Maxima is more attractive and more comfortable.

  • avatar

    Ive owned a speed6 so I can comment on that as well as the Legacy GT.   Did I read that correctly that you ‘love the turbo lag’?    For me, that was what killed the speed6 as a daily driver.   The motor, in its sweet spot, was incredible.    Nice car that CAN get 29mpg all day long if you drive it right.

    I would urge you give the subaru another shot and to drive a Legacy in both manual GT turbo form as well as a 3.0R auto form.    The Gt you drove in Turbo auto is definitely the grey duck of this series.   My favorite is the 3.0R as it is almost invisible / under the radar and cruises freeways and two laners like a cruise missle.  Lastly, the SUBARU awd is rear biased but still awd with the lower center of gravity due to the boxer design.    Drive the legacy immediately after the Speed6 and you will know what I am saying here.

    The SHO was good, but instead of adding new to your sedate exec express equation, why not add RWD or AWD WITH a RWD feel?

  • avatar

    To the OP. If you want a Speed6 that has been owned and properly cared for by an adult driver, drop me a line jason (at) anagramdesignwerks dot com. I’ll happy sell you one that will fit your budget. We’re having another kid and need a wagon.

  • avatar

    The original post mentions the MAZDASPEED6. I was looking into these a couple years ago as a possible replacement for my at the time Dakota Quad Cab. I heard too many stories (including one first hand) about the MS6 being a delicate car, as in comprehensive engine failures (as in rods exiting the block) and AWD issues. They are relatively rare so parts may be an issue in the long run. Love the car, but I can see why they only lasted a year or two.

  • avatar

    6 speed Maxima, G sedan or Z.

  • avatar

    A true odd duck – 2005 or 2006 Saab 9-2x.  WRX mechanicals with an understated Saab front end and interior, improved NVH and the steering rack from the STI, plus wagon versatility.  And due to obscurity they are even less expensive than the comparatively poorly equipped WRX.

  • avatar

    GTO was the first thing that came to mind. Fast, sleeper, upkeep should be reasonable. Have you driven an RSX? I loved my old Integra and for a sporty car they are relatively reliable, cheap and easy to maintain.

    As a 300zx owner, Z car fanatics mostly agree that the 350z wasn’t that great. A z32 twin turbo might be a better choice if you want something sporty. They are reliable when set up right, but repairs are mighty expensive and you need to find a specialist, many mechanics won’t even work on them due to the stuffed engine bay. The community is huge and helpful if you like to work on your own cars.

    There are so many interesting options if you go the sports car route. But with most sports cars maintenance is expensive.

  • avatar

    Thanks for everyone’s replies & input. I will try and cover most responses in this one message that should help clarify most of your suggestions
    1) I have no interest in the Lincoln LS. I work in a auto repair shop & can personally verify the LS is a big POS as far as the V8 powertrain goes. The V6 powertrain would not give me any performance advantage over the SHO.
    2) As I said before, I am automatically excluding all high-end imports such as BMW, VW/Audi, Volvo, Saab, MB because of lack of access to local dealers for parts & some service (if needed) and cost to maintain most of them
    3) I do not want to keep the SHO because parts are impossible to find for it (most new parts) anyway. So I am either having to wait a couple days to find parts (new or used) if anything goes wrong. I need something that is more reliable to be able to repair & maintain on the go, because this is my one and only primary mode of transportation
    4) I have no interest in the late-model Impala SS/Grand Prix GXP/Lacrosse Super because of stylilng.  The Impala SS is so bland & boring on the inside & out. The GXP is nice on the outside, but the interior is horrendous. The Lacrosse is actually probably the most appealing to me but they are very hard to find.
    5) Same issues with the Charger/300. The interiors are horrendous & out of the question
    6) None of the GM 3800 supercharged cars because as I said before, the SHO is faster than all of them anyway (in stock forms)
    7) The G8 GT would be great, but they simply aren’t within the budget at this point.
    8) The new GTO is fugly
    9) The Subaru Legacy 2.5GT – As I said in my original email I had removed it from the list after I initially drove an automatic (with paddle shifters) because it was terribly boring & felt slow. However since I wrote that, I drove a 2005 w/ the manual and it felt MUCH faster. So the Subaru is back in the running again..
    10) ANYTHING with a Northstar engine – BIG N.O.!!!
    11) Mercury Marauder – Very cool, but not fast enough. It’s only about equal to the SHO so count it out.
    Thanks for your input everyone!

  • avatar

    1. 2004-2006 Acura TL with 6 Speed Manual
    –> for less than $2,000 if you shop right, you will run mid 13 second 1/4 miles at or above 100mph
    –> There is no other car on your list that will match this machine for the combo of luxury, glorious high rpm engine vocals, styling, and reliability. It truly is one of those perfect automobiles especially in 6 speed manual. The aftermarket it very strong for this car on every front.
    ***The 2001-2003 did not come in manual transmission. Go to number #3 below for something close to this in manual.

    2. 2004-2006 Cadillac CTS-V (6 speed manual)
    –> I havent looked lately, but I suspect you can find one with some good searching.

    3. 2003 Acura CL Type S, 6 Speed manual (2 Door)
    –> I am on my 2nd one and just cant find a compelling reason to move on (G8 GXP and Lexus ISF have me seriously considering it though).
    –> Car runs 13.1-13.7 in the 1/4
    –> You could probably find one for $10,000 and have more then enough money to spare on other things in life or for mods

    4. 2007 Honda Accord 4 door 6 speed
    –> True Q ship
    –> Very hard to find but good modification potential

    5. 2004-2006 Acura TSX
    –> Good modificaiton potential
    –> Low on torque, high on smiles

    6. 2000-2003 Corvette C5 Z06
    –> Not anything like what you mentioned, but given your marital status, this might just give you the most bang for the buck

    • 0 avatar

      I also own a CL 6 Speed, for 5 years now.  Not many people have them at all.  Very competent in many ways, good power, balanced right, just enough luxury, and some aftermarket support.  The torque steer is not so bad with the HLSD either.  Very rare, could definitely qualify as a sleeper, and has been reliable for the 100k miles ive owned it.

    • 0 avatar

      CTS-V can be had for under 20K but that’d be the V6 model. V8 2004-07 are running 22-27K here. I’m intrigued with this 2006 V8/6m:
      Wonder what the reliability of these things is like…

  • avatar

    A little puzzling to see two VQ engined Nissans mentioned but not the car that engine really belongs in – i.e. the Maxima. And surely that car fits the listed criteria better than the other two. You do have to go a few years back to hit the price range – but hey, that’s also about how far back you have to go to get one with a stick.

  • avatar

    “Except perhaps that 350Z. I won’t call it an outright POS. But buying one of those used represents the ultimate of crapshoots. They are expensive to keep up. Expensive to maintain. Expensive to insure.”
    I call bullsh*t on that. I own a 2007, bought it new, and it’s been no more expensive to maintain or insure than any of my other cars. Cheap shot against an entertaining car.

  • avatar

    Jaguar xj8 2000 up   Stone reliable, actually easy to service, and depreciation makes them super cheap.  Mine has needed nothing, other than a bad passenger seat heater, in over 200K
    Mark VIII, last year  LSC
    And the LS/Jag twin is great, BUT the x-type wagon is fast, rare, and blows through snow drifts better than a subaru or volvo

  • avatar

    I’m also a former SHO owner (’97 model). So I’m going to suggest to you my current car; the Dodge Charger RT.  Some people hate the car, hate the interior, hate Chrysler in general. But the engine is awesome, the ride is just right for a proper ‘yank tank’. The Charger is the car I wanted my SHO to be.
    There is also the 300 and Magnum to choose from, as wall as AWD options. Lucky for you (but not me cause I bought mine new) the resale on LX cars is crap. So you’ll have no problem getting into one for 15 grand, even with  very low miles. There’s simply nothing else out there with that much power and comfort for so cheap. As far as reliability goes, the Chagnum/300 is extremely good, especially for a Chrysler product. Check out TrueDelta, but I’ve had no problems with mine through 50k. Good Shopping!

  • avatar

    Just wanted to throw in my two cents regarding the Cobalt SS, especially the ’09 only four door model.  I created a very similar short list two years ago (MS6, GTO, G35) and ended up going with the Cobalt in part because it was the only one I could buy new with a warranty.  I love it to death and am very happy with my decision.  I think looking for a used four door Cobalt SS may help mitigate the boy racer owner history to some extent and as a bonus it is a sleeper extraordinaire.  Though the interior looks about as sophisticated as something with a power wheels sticker on it, something so simple and at the end of the model run should be quite reliable.  When/if things do break, the multitudes of other (lesser) Cobalts on the road should keep costs in check.  Other perks include a USB port in the radio, decent seats, bluetooth, a bigger interior and trunk than you’d probably expect, and terrific gas mileage.  Keep an eye out for tire wear or replacement though, the factory Continentals are awesome but are very expensive to replace.

  • avatar

    Thanks, Dan… been lurking and enjoying the posts and comments (what a wonderful site!), but just couldn’t take another cheap shot taken at one of the best sports car values on the road today… the 350Z.

    • 0 avatar

      There’s nothing wrong with a new 350Z, but a used one is going to be dependent on whether the previous owner thrashed it to within an inch of its life or treated it responsibly. I’ll grant that that’s true of any car, but when you’re talking about sports cars like the 350Z, there’s a far greater chance of previous owner hoonage than you’d get with just about any 4 door sedan.

  • avatar

    I faced the same problem when replacing my 1st Gen SHO. I eventually settled on an Accord V6. It was fast, nimble, had an excellent ride, and the steering was a dream. If you shopped a Legacy GT with an automatic but found it slow, consider an Accord V6.
    However, you could also consider a used Saab 9-2x Aero. Same mechanicals as the WRX, but more subtle looks, and it comes with goodies like the steering rack out of the STI. Plus, for two grand it can easily be upgraded to over 400 hp.

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