- Ross Ballot
One car to rule them all: A Car Debate for the EDD community
The Everyday Driver Car Debate podcast has an avid following. The community not only listens but also partakes in the fun. We submit debates and questions alike. We listen to the shows, watch the YouTube pieces, and follow the program on Motor Trend. Though we may not all have the same specific proclivities (That’s 1 point, right?) we all have something in common: We love cars. Go further: More likely than not, at some point we have all considered our vehicular options. Be it for a daily driver or a track car, we’ve had to decide what vehicle to own and operate. If there’s one thing that car enthusiasts love as much as cars themselves, it’s discussing everything related to the topic and offering advice whenever possible. So when someone is in need of a new vehicle, be it a replacement or supplement to their existing garage, we’re always eager to help.
That’s the mantra behind the Everyday Driver Car Debate. Set the parameters, consider the wants and needs, and have at it. If it can be justified, it’s not outside the scope of what’s fair game. Need a $5,000 sedan? The recommendations can go as mundanely sane as a Camry, or as wholeheartedly insane as a Phaeton. Ahem.
But what if the EDD community, as a whole, were to submit the dream car debate for themselves? You know the scenario: Free choice of a vehicle for both track and street duty. Cost effectively no option; your choice of whatever can be imagined. Something which would be signed out and returned when the driver’s fun is up. A car that has to be exclusively about driving enjoyment, on closed courses and open roads alike, and little else.
There have to be some limitations, though. No, an FXXK isn’t doable; this scenario dictates a need to be street-safe and, likewise, streetable for fun backroad and canyon driving. There’s a few other things to keep in mind: This is one vehicle for all enthusiasts. It has to serve beginners and hardcore, experienced track rats alike. And you don’t want it to be unbelievably rare or unreliable, because any time it’s down or in the garage is time it can’t be enjoyed. So: What car would it be?
Let’s first examine the necessary fundamentals: Rear-wheel-drive, manual transmission. No layout is more engaging. And what of the other requirements?
Low weight. Our pick has to be something light, or at least light relative to modern standards. Mass, as we know, is the enemy of physics. Or at least of willing directional change. Low weight allows the driver to connect with the vehicle more. It allows for more interaction, less difficulty in picking a line and dealing with weight transfer. A heavy car requires you to fight physics more, rather than focus on piloting the vehicle. There’s a reason sports and dedicated performance cars tend to put emphasis on either keeping weight down or, for heavier cars, reducing weight. And a reason that lighter cars tend to be more fun. In a light car, there’s simply less interfering with what your brain tells the car to do and what it actually does.
Next, it has to offer a good manual transmission. (Yes, a good automatic or dual-clutch would be accessible to a wider demographic, but we’re going for the full-on “What would the average, stereotypical enthusiast want to drive?” trope here.) Slick movement between gears and positive feedback as you engage each ratio. The clutch should be light but not too light, and it should tell your foot exactly where and when it grabs.
The steering needs to be communicative, with the wheel itself telling your fingers what the front tires are doing, what the road is like, and where you’re pointed. The handling needs to be fairly neutral and easily manipulated mid-corner. Ideally the chassis allows for oversteer when the throttle is prodded. It cooperates as directed.
Powerplant is a difficult choice, but the engine needs to provide a linear powerband, first and foremost. It also needs to make a good sound. The package as a whole needs to be simple, easily repaired (any downtime is time it can’t be enjoyed), and can’t require a specialized degree to operate. Anyone should be able to get in, gas it up like a normal vehicle, hoon it on the street or the track, park it, and not think about keeping it alive other than basic maintenance. It should be, above all, a car.
Now that we’ve established it needs to be a perfect sports car (surprise, surprise): What car fits the bill?
To say there are countless options is an understatement. The obvious place to start is Porsche-land. The Boxster/Cayman boast amazing chassis tuning and involvement. But there’s more to be had here. 911s are the magic Porsche numbers. It’s the gold standard for the gentleman’s comfortable-yet-sporty daily driver. And track car, too: The 997 GT3RS 4.0 is the holy grail of 911s. It combines power, sound, and precision such that it’s become one of the most desirable and sought after sports cars at any price. But it’s not perfect: The GT3RS 4.0 is more than most would know what to do with. Not in its power, but in its engine placement. Should things go wrong, they’ll go very wrong. And reaching that limit means taking a big chance.
What about something with similar engine placement (i.e., behind the driver) but lower consequences? Or, at least lower speeds at which the limits are found? Lotus is the logical answer here. The Elise has long been the answer for maximizing what a car can communicate to a driver while still being reasonably streetable. Problem is, would you trust it to be dead-reliable? Owners will say it’s fine, but most of us wouldn’t want to take that chance. Or go through hoops to have it fixed. On the other end of the spectrum for this layout is the 2004-2006 Ford GT. Huge power, huge grip, and hugely reliable (Don’t let Clarkson’s stories tell you otherwise; those headaches were related to the aftermarket alarm he had installed).
Of course, there has to be some merit in the traditional front-rear layout. Engine up front, power sent to the rear wheels. It’s a combo we all know and which is far and beyond the predominant sports car setup. C6 Corvette Z06? An easy choice. But in my experience, C6 steering is a little dead on center. And though they’re relatively light by modern car standards, they still weigh in around 3400 lbs. The last-gen Viper (and uber-extreme ACR) weighs in around the same but turns the wick up even further in every regard. More extreme aero, more hardcore in every performance aspect, a focus on driving and driving alone. And yet, it’s a car that, like its namesake, bites. Though much more docile than its predecessors, it will rear its head and catch a driver by surprise. Not for the beginners or feign of heart.
Ford’s GT350R is also on the list, but, again, too much weight can’t overcome the Voodoo engine’s greatness. 3700 lbs can be manipulated, but it’s heavier than any wannabe-true sports car, and any car dedicated solely to the enjoyment of driving and designed to be such from the ground up, can claim to be. The same goes for the 1LE cars. And the forever-favorite BMW 1 Series M Coupe? Just not enough dedication.
What about more precision, less power? An AP2 Honda S2000 is a good choice. Yet, though I haven’t driven one, many say it’s only really enjoyable when driven above 7/10ths. Simply not what can be enjoyed most on the street. Other front-engine, rear-drive offerings miss as well. A supercharged FR-S/BRZ/GT86? Sure. But it’s not “exciting” enough, lacking a bit of drama.
Where it all comes together is in something approachable but with a wild side. Something like the current 718 GTS 4.0. And so we come full circle: It’s an amazing car made even more so by an engine that should have been there all along. The steering, handling, chassis, and so on: It’s a shoe-in for what the description of “driver’s car” looks like. Maybe I crafted this scenario to be a dead fit for the 718 GTS 4.0 as it's the car I’m currently drooling over; my dream-mobile. But my own instinct is wrong. It’s not the answer.
Maybe you saw this coming: The Mazda Miata. It’s a cliche, sure, but I’m not talking about a normal Miata: The real perfect one-car-fits-all is a V8-swapped Miata. Specifically, an LS3-boasting ND from Flyin’ Miata. Why, you ask? And why not a stock Miata? Take the traditional Miata formula and light a fire under its hood, and you get to our winner. All of the ingredients that make the Miata fantastic to drive, with the power to induce laughs. Plus, everyone who drives one says it’s a match made in car heaven.
Sure, adding eight cylinders of pushrod goodness throws off the weight distribution a bit and does make it a heavier car. But it’s still a featherweight compared to most others. And the front-engine (front-mid, at that), rear-drive platform is the standard for enthusiast vehicles. It’s also that which can be enjoyed by the widest spectrum of drivers. A novice can push to their own limit without fear of dire consequences, and a seasoned pro can milk it for all its worth. You can learn on it, or hone your skills. It’s more approachable than a mid or rear engine platform in that the limits can be explored to a fuller extent on road and on track without having to push extremely hard. Any enthusiast can enjoy it.
Better yet, give it the full Flyin Miata kit for suspension and chassis tuning. Even better: Give it adjustable on-the-fly tunes for high and low power. Say, a 275-hp and 500-hp tune.
Really, the Miata provides all of the best that the aforementioned cars offer. The involvement, directness, and, with the LS-motor, the power. Finding a vehicle that entertains Corvette and Miata enthusiasts alike is extremely difficult as they usually sit at very different ends of the enthusiast spectrum. This car would, in effect, entertain all.
Obviously somebody will think I’m wrong. And I probably am. I’ll have different thoughts on this next week. But year after year, the Everyday Driver community could come back to an LS3-powered Miata and have a good time. Be they just getting into autocross and driving for fun on public roads or a dedicated, hardcore track rat, the V8-swapped Miata handily serves both needs. And wouldn’t need much attention or upkeep to live a strong, happy life. A perfect car? No. But a perfect choice to serve the EDD community? Miata is, as it always seems to be, the answer. Or at least here. Am I biased? Of course. But the Miata is a near-perfect sports car. One that we can all enjoy. This one’s just packing a little more power: The power for us to all enjoy a car together.
Hi, my name is Ross. I write primarily for Hooniverse.com and co-host the Off the Road Again Podcast. As you can guess, I’m an off-road enthusiast/self-proclaimed expert and an ever-improving amateur autocrosser. My current car is an NC3 Miata Club PRHT but the joke goes that I’m perpetually looking for the next vehicle I will regret...
All images courtesy of the respective manufacturer unless otherwise noted. Cover image courtesy of Road & Track.