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Saturday Morning Car Tune!

Here are some awesome gearhead restaurants for your next Southern California trip

Following a recent trip to view the soft launch of the new-to-us Fiat 500e, I decided to extend my stay to tour the local touges and sample SoCal’s finest eateries, soon realizing there were plenty of places that serve someone in search of both. Call these a cafe racer’s delight! Yes, I know that term is primarily for motorcycles, but bear with me here as I showcase to you a few of the best places in LA that I’ve discovered to be culinary havens for car enthusiasts in one way or another.

Some on this list may be blatantly in-your-face about their affinity for car culture, while others serve as more of a mere convenience to gearheads due to their location rather than a tribute. Either way, every place I’ve tried on this list is a worthwhile destination for your next LA excursion, and I implore you to take that damn McDonald’s pin off your CarPlay map and indulge in some real Californian eats.

The cherry on top? All these places are within a stone’s throw from some iconic driving roads. Or, well, you know. A stone’s throw by California traffic standards.

Neptune’s Net – From that one scene in that one movie

On Highway 1, next to Yerba Buena Road, minutes from Decker Canyon, Topanga, Tuna Canyon, and more

Acceleramota Eats Neptunes Net
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

What’s hot?

  • Self-service fridge full of drinks (like a convenience store)
  • Slap bang in the middle of many technical Malibu mountain roads

What’s not?

  • Pretty expensive menu items
  • Woefully crowded on any weekend

“What’s the retail on one of those?”

“More than you can afford, pal. Neptune’s Net Sampler combo.”

You already know. After beating up on Ferrari F355s on Highway 1 or coming down a downhill rager on Yerba Buena, you can treat yourself to a buffet of self-serve refreshments and some roadside food at that one set from that one movie. Established in 1956, Neptune’s Net has seen its fair share of pop culture usage, even being recreated in Grand Theft Auto V. Today, its popularity fails to waver for better or worse.

Seriously, don’t even bother on a weekend unless you’re ready to box a mom and her kids for a parking spot.

Still, the litany of convenience store refreshments, from energy drinks to booze, and the top-notch fried seafood are worth the adventure, even if the price tag can climb quite a bit. The fried shrimp and scallops are my favorite, and the coleslaw actually ain’t bad! Haters be damned. I’ll eat their slaw every time. Burgers, salads, and sandwiches are also available, although I have yet to try them in my months of visiting here.

Fujiwara Tofu Cafe – Here’s one for the racers and weeaboos alike

Off the 10 in El Monte, CA, 30 minutes from San Gabriel Canyon Road and Glendora Mountain Road

Acceleramota Eats Fujiwara Tofu Cafe
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

What’s hot?

  • A fun, unconventional menu like few milk tea shops around
  • Doubles as a lifestyle brand for Initial D and local grassroots motorsports fans

What’s not?

  • Soymilk-based everything is an acquired taste
  • Most merch is usually only sold online or at events

Order food. Order drinks. Play the arcade games, and go tear up Glendora Mountain Road afterward. Doesn’t matter to me. Just don’t spill the water.

A personal favorite of mine that I’m now shoving down all of your throats, Fujiwara Tofu Cafe is probably one of the best, most honest, and true-to-its-roots take on a themed eatery outside of an amusement park. I mean, come on. There’s Initial D playing on the tele. The order counter is adorned with various car culture, racing, and Initial D stickers with signage from Bunta’s tofu shop overhead. Over the ordering tablets is an AE86 Corolla door with the tofu shop script. And beyond that, they’re a retailer for kickass automotive lifestyle merch and Initial D memorabilia and a venue for small-scale car meets. Oh yeah. And the menu.

Iketani Senpai (green Thai tea) is my current favorite, which is ironic because I hate Iketani in the show. The fried tofu with its sweet-and-sour sauce is (insert Italian hand gesture emoji), and as a Filipino-American, their tofu puddings send me into Anton Ego mode, vividly reminding me of taho.

Doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of the franchise or not. If that doesn’t scream car enthusiast haven, I don’t know what does. Go here and give them your money. Sure, soy-based everything is an acquired taste, and I have an even split of friends who love and hate the menu, but it’s certainly a whimsical take on your typical tea shop offerings and still worth every bit of your time to stop by after a long road trip or a hard canyon drive.

Wild Oak Cafe – Brekkie under the trees near LA’s most famous driving road

On Chevy Chase Drive in Glendale, CA, minutes from Angeles Crest Highway and Angeles Forest

Acceleramota Eats Wild Oak Cafe
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

What’s hot?

  • Expansive breakfast and coffee menu for a small shop
  • Gorgeous patio area and decor

What’s not?

  • Limited parking spaces
  • In the middle of a neighborhood, so don’t be a dick if you have a loud exhaust

Perhaps the least car culture-oriented place on this list and the most quaint, serene, and lowkey. Wild Oak Cafe is saddled right in the middle of a lovably peaceful Glendale neighborhood in the hills at the base of Angeles Crest Highway, one of the most famous driving roads in the LA area. Just a few minutes from the entrance of the road is this breakfast joint seemingly built out of an old market or gas station, with trees filtering the sunlight over the hilltops and potted plants and a dilapidated old Model T setting the mood.

The entire dining area is outdoors on the patio, and you can treat yourself to an array of familiar and cozy breakfast dishes to start or end your morning drive. Breakfast sandwiches, burritos, traditional American breakfasts with eggs and bacon, and waffles are staples here. A treat for those who’ve never had it would be the Armenian coffee served in a traditionally small portion but brewed with enough of a kick to the teeth to jumpstart any coffee junkie.

No, it’s not really car enthusiast-centric, but its location makes it the perfect stop before or after the canyons. Just don’t be a dickhead and respect the neighbors who probably paid an arm and a leg for homes I can never afford in my lifetime.

Motoring Coffee – Mochas, matcha, and motor oil in the air

On Olympic Boulevard in Los Angeles, CA, 25 minutes to downtown and 30 minutes to Topanga Canyon

Acceleramota Eats Motoring Coffee
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

What’s hot?

  • Top-notch coffee shop offerings
  • Starbucks doesn’t have a Honda Acty dining table

What’s not?

  • Being a storage facility for privately-owned cars, you can’t get too close
  • Limited food menu

Not that hungry but can go for some caffeine? Meander on over to Motoring Coffee between downtown and the coast, where LA’s eclectic upper echelon of car enthusiasts have decided to turn their storage facility into a hip public business. Just don’t breathe too close to someone’s car.

The food menu is quite limited to basic coffee shop affair, like croissants and cookies, and their drinks menu is comprised of fairly standard offerings you’d find at any other cafe. Thankfully, they put forth effort to do it right and make them as good as they can be. Their mocha and matcha lattes are sweet and satisfying without being overly decadent like the liquid candy masquerading as coffee from a chain coffee shop, and the vibes of being surrounded by classic 911s, old Land Cruisers, and a few trick motorcycles make for a pleasant place to kill time for a short period.

Cons? Well. I wish I were a member. Their private rooms in the back, separate from the coffee shop front, are just the place I want to be when I say I feel like going for a drive, but the sheer weight of my laziness keeps me from actually making it to any worthwhile road. So please stop by for a drink and at least feel like a million bucks as you spill coffee all over their Honda Acty dining table.

Sigh. Man, I miss FoodTribe. Those were the days.

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The best cars we’ve reviewed (so far) ranked!

Welcome to the start of our ever-expanding home base of car reviews, where we file the best cars we’ve driven so far in order. Don’t think of this as an outright competition to see what is the definitive best vehicle out of a few classes. We’ve got more than that, anyway. Best EVs, best sports cars, best compacts, best trucks, and more! Think of this as all our existing car reviews coming together to help you decide on what are some hot ticket choices to look out for on the new or used car market. 

Check out the linked subheadings for full reviews with specs and pricing, and check back occasionally as we continue to grow our portfolio of car reviews!

(Editor’s Note: Updated 3/1/2024 with pickup trucks and EVs category!)

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Best EVS

1. Audi Q8 e-tron – A proper take on urban luxury EVs, even if it’s not a spec sheet winner

What’s hot?

  • Proper luxury car interior with all the accouterments
  • Serene ride and NVH

What’s not?

  • Some minor Audi MMI glitches
  • A tough sell with a high price and okay-ish range

Is it too late for the legacy automakers to topple the startup giants? Will no one eclipse them in terms of price, production output, or range? Ah, screw it. Let ’em have it when automakers like Audi still know how to build a damn good car and damn good features. The Q8 e-tron may not take home any victories in Top Trumps or bar stool drag racing, but that doesn’t mean it should be dismissed, because what Audi has delivered is a sublime urban EV for those who’ll heed its offerings. Ride quality is plush, even on such big wheels, and the interior is well-built and well-equipped, with enough screen to satiate the especially tech-indulgent without appearing cheap or gaudy.

The Q8 e-tron is a fine automobile. We just wish it could be an easier sell so more folks can bask in what it gets right. But we get it. What it gets wrong are things that wouldn’t be the fault of any sensible buyer should they say turn the e-tron down. With a price that starts at $74,400, it’s already an uphill battle. And with a range of only 285 miles, it’s tough to convince folks to fork over the dough for one of these instead of the comparable Tesla or a cheaper Mach-E. But give it a chance and let it thrive in the urban environments it was made for, and you may see that the numbers game isn’t the point of the e-tron. The point is to just be a great product.

2. Chevrolet Blazer EV – That one SUV from the Barbie movie is actually quite a stunner

What’s hot?

  • Sharp and sporty like its looks
  • Quiet and refined

What’s not?

  • Range lags behind key rivals, including fellow Ultium-based EVs
  • Oh boy, yet another expensive electric SUV

Hey there, Barbie! Let’s go party! And party indeed, as the Blazer EV is actually quite the charming and likable EV, with polarizing styling that contrasts with the sea of egg-shaped lunchboxes that also occupy the pantheon of electric SUVs. But for that price, you get a highly configurable package, with trim levels to match anyone’s wants, and drivetrains that offer front, all, or rear-wheel drive. Can’t think of another vehicle where you can pick either three. The Blazer also matches its sharp looks with dynamics that don’t fall on its face in the twisties and acceleration that earn the top trim its SS badge. And if you like cockpit-like interiors, the Blazer certainly fits the bill with a digital dash and infotainment setup that vaguely reminds us of a C8 Corvette and Alpha-platform Camaro blended together.

If we had to complain, there’s that sorry excuse for a frunk that’s easily trumped by rivals in its class. Range is only okay and doesn’t set any new records, with the most frugal trims seeking out 324 miles. Oh, and there are the embarrassing software issues that plagued early cars enough to cause a stop-sale. Ironically, not long after winning a round of praise and awards from all who’ve driven it. Oh, Chevy.

3. Mercedes-Benz eSprinter – Electrified mobility for businesses and tradesmen

What’s hot?

  • Fairly quick and responsive at low speeds
  • Still perfectly capable of around-town work

What’s not?

  • Uncomfortable seats
  • No dual-motor variants as of yet

Not much to say here, is there? It’s an electric cargo van with plenty of space for products or tools, enough pep for stoplight drags, and just enough range to accomplish a day of work and still have some to spare. The Mercedes eSprinter is exactly as advertised: a nicely made, well-appointed, electrified take on work vans intended for urban environments. And you know what? That’s a-okay with us. The interior is standard Sprinter, with an attractively-designed and functional infotainment system and seats that are less than optimal but get the job done. Hey, you’re getting paid to work, not lounge!

Aside from wanting more comfortable seats, a 42-minute max charge speed to 80% is only okay, there are currently no dual-motor variants available as of yet, and the payload takes a significant hit versus any gas or diesel Sprinter. Gardeners and Geek Squad folks will be fine. But no trying to smuggle kei cars in the back, you hear me?

Best plug-in hybrids

1. Mazda CX-90 PHEV – Bridging the gap between family crossovers of the past and future

What’s hot?

  • Commendable EV range for such a massive thing
  • Mazda edges closer and closer to the luxury car kingdom

What’s not?

  • Not the most cavernous three-row SUV
  • Rotary dial infotainment controls only

Mazda has been on a not-so-secret upward spiral toward faux luxury car stardom for some time now. From smooth, sporty driving dynamics to interiors with actually pleasant build quality and aesthetic design, the Zoom-Zoom brand has been making quite the name for itself. The CX-90 three-row crossover cements its status as a serious brand worth more than just one mere damn, and the plug-in hybrid variant acts as a wonderfully executed bridge between family cars of the past and present. 26 miles of EV range? Not bad! 24 mpg in the city? Heck yeah! 369 pound-feet of yoinking power? Now, you got me flustered. And these are just the specs. We haven’t even started with the gorgeous, airy, wood-lined interior that can shame the Germans or the sporty dynamics that can actually put the “sports” in sports utility vehicle.

Okay, so a big lunk like this will never score the range or MPGe of smaller plug-in crossovers. And its towing capacity and average mpg took a hit versus the Bimmer-flattering inline-six. Oh, and touchscreens be damned because the Mazda’s infotainment is controlled via a rotary dial only, which will definitely not resonate with anyone who hasn’t come from an older BMW. But if you can live with those nitpicks, you’ll still be left with one of the most compelling products to come, not just from Mazda but from any automaker in recent memory.

2. Alfa Romeo Tonale – A commuter a way only the Italians can

What’s hot?

  • A family crossover that’s actually a drop-dead stunner
  • Commendable performance and handling

What’s not?

  • Dodge Hornets are cheaper if you don’t mind the styling differences
  • Dodge Hornets have an ICE-only powertrain if you don’t care for plug-ins

Nothing says car enthusiast like anything sporty from Italy. Nothing says drab and dreary appliance like a compact crossover. Combine the two, and you might just have the recipe for a fun little urban runabout, as Stellantis has proven with the Alfa Romeo Tonale. Although ICE variants exist elsewhere, we Yanks get a bold, powerful plug-in powertrain as our sole option. It pairs a spunky little 1.3-liter turbo four boosted to high hell with an electric motor to yield over 30 miles of handy EV range and produce 285 horsepower and 347 pound-feet, which, last time I checked, is a lot more than your average compact crossover.

Sadly, it also costs a lot more than most compact crossovers and is lined up squarely against competent, similarly powerful rivals like the RAV4 Prime. Those who are a fan of spunky Italian dynamics but are willing to forgo the spunky styling can also step down to the cheaper Hornet, which produces more torque, has a similar EV range, and offers a significantly cheaper ICE powertrain. Still, flawed or not, there’s a lot to love about the Alfa Toe Nail, and there’s something to be admired when offered a fun, stylish alternative to the usual crop of cookie-cutter family cars on the market.

3. Dodge Hornet R/T – I’m like the guy right above me but with less swagger

What’s hot?

  • Fun and fast for lil’ crossover!
  • Usable EV range

What’s not?

  • Why is there no Regular-Ass Prius mode?
  • Minor electronic annoyances

“I do everything the guy above does, but better,” says the Dodge Hornet R/T, probably. Psst, it’s not better, but it is just ever so slightly different.

Not much to say here that hasn’t already been said about the Tonale. I don’t think we can say anything until we score an all-ICE Hornet GT to sample. But here it is, the Americanized take on Italy’s dandy little compact crossover, complete with the same KONI two-valve shocks, vividly red Brembos, and sticky Michelin Pilot Sport All-Season 4 tires. The car receives the same plug-in powerplant in R/T trim, albeit with an extra motor to help it yield 288 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of faux hot hatch fury. It costs a few grand less for a comparable Hornet R/T versus a Tonale, too. What’s not to love?

Well, it’s still a Tonale. This means it still suffers from the typical Italian (or perhaps just Stellantis) electronic hiccups that make it difficult to recommend, from awkward lane centering and intermittently dysfunctional safety sensors. It may also be too small for some families, and asking for the R/T skyrockets the price tag fairly quickly. But if you can live with all of it, the Hornet is still a lovable, fun-to-drive alternative in an otherwise ho-hum segment of effective yet uninteresting cars.

Best hybrids

1. Toyota Prius – shockingly fun but still lovably practical

What’s hot?

  • New powertrains are punchy
  • Easiest 50-mpg solution on the new car market

What’s not?

  • Some interior ergonomic quirks
  • Still viable in today’s world of plug-ins, EVs, and upscale economy cars?

Go ahead. Laugh. But you won’t be laughing for long when a $30 or $40 fill-up nowadays buys you well over 500 miles of range, not including the short bits of EV cruising you can manage behind the wheel of the current-gen Toyota Prius. Did I make fun of Priuses before? Of course! Do I still do? On occasion. Do I love them, though? You bet your ass.

City slickers, you can’t beat 50-plus mpg and all-electric parking lot creeping in a car with the forward and side visibility of a fishbowl (the rear is a different story) and a footprint small enough to fit in nearly any parking space. There’s an abundance of nifty safety and convenience tech to make you feel as though you’re in a more substantial vehicle, and the new chassis and powertrain result in a Prius that’s a bit of a hoot to fling around.

The question remains if the Prius is still the obvious solution when compact family sedans and crossovers are now as efficient as ever while sitting at a slightly lower price point and offering comparable, if not better, practicality and ergonomics. Not to mention the growing waves of affordable EVs and plug-ins if efficiency is really your absolute top priority. But if a middle ground between them all is what you’re eyeing, then the new Prius remains a fantastic, well-rounded entry, even if it’s not necessarily the best.

Best luxury sports sedans

1. Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance – A final bastion for V8 sports sedans

What’s hot?

  • N/A V8 rear-drive sports sedan? For real?
  • Typical Lexus premium vibes, inside and out

What’s not?

  • Not a true IS F replacement
  • Could go for more low-end torque

If you can’t find an ounce of love for something like this, you’re either not human or one of those stereotypical Tesla fans we were warned about on social media. The Lexus IS 500 was a last hurrah we didn’t expect, but we couldn’t be happier it exists, even if it’s for a moment. Lexus delivers a compact executive sedan with rear-drive, go-fast suspension and braking hardware, and a monstrous, free-breathing V8 pushing 472 ponies! What a day to be alive! And in typical Lexus fashion, it oozes style and quality inside and out, from the way it drives and handles to the materials and tech. 

Sure. It’s not a true IS F successor in the same vein as the RC F coupe. The platform is quite old, dated, and small by car industry standards. But perhaps we shouldn’t complain about its age and shortcomings. For less money than a BMW M3, here’s a final bastion for naturally-aspirated V8 sport sedans with more charm and character than a current M3 will ever have.

2. Genesis G70 – A bonafide sports sedan to challenge the Germans

What’s hot?

  • Actually fast, fun, and engaging across all trim levels
  • Oozes style and quality at a strong price point

What’s not?

  • Fuel economy pales in comparison to German I4 and I6 engines
  • No hotted-up M, AMG, or F rival (yet)

I’ve driven and ridden in a small handful of Korean cars over the years, each getting more and more alluring the newer they got. Now, the icing on the cake, the Genesis G70 cements a notion in my head that’s been parroted by auto journalists since the Sonata got good: South Korea will take over the world. Good. Let them. Because they can build a damn fine sports sedan.

The latest G70, the only Genesis product I’ve yet to sample, sports a buttery smooth 8-speed auto directing power from either a 300-horsepower, 2.5-liter turbo four, or a 365-horsepower, 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6. You can get it dipped in rear-drive or all-wheel-drive sauce, and V6 cars can be sprinkled with a serving of electronic suspension and limited-slip diff. Sounds like a good time, yeah? But thankfully, Genesis knew not to sully the car’s luxury mission with an overly “sporty” setup, so it remains posh, refined, and quiet, perfectly balanced for wannabe touring car champs and yuppies alike.

No, there’s no super-hot M3 killer yet. And no, the fuel economy is good but not great, as BMW’s crop of turbo engines beg to differ. By like, a lot. Backseat space can be a bit tight, and interior design, while impeccably well-built, may not offer enough flair and pizazz as one might like. But these minor nitpicks shouldn’t stop you from considering the G70, especially when you get the chance to experience all that it gets oh-so right.

Best luxury SUVs/crossovers

1. Acura MDX Type S – Quick and cushy

What’s hot?

  • Genuinely fun to drive
  • A cushy, coddling cruiser for the whole family

What’s not?

  • Not as sporty as it could be, especially in the face of German rivals
  • Curse these touchpad infotainment controllers

We love a good, unsensible dose of automotive debauchery. Manic vehicles with fire-breathing engines or cyberpunk-esque EVs with more gimmicks than goodwill. Are they useful? Not always. But they sure are fun. Yet, here stands the Acura MDX Type S as the near-perfect Goldilocks’ choice of crossovers. A cavernous interior invites occupants to revel in plush leather seating accented with real wood and metal accouterments, controlled via logically arranged hard buttons to show that physical switchgear ain’t going out of style just yet! And once you take control, you’re rewarded with a lovably pleasant driving experience, defined by a powerful and silky V6, well-tuned automatic transmission, and supple suspension that’s still competent in the canyons and freeway on-ramps. Sometimes, it’s good to enjoy the middle ground.

Of course, it’s not without faults. The most glaring of which is that infernal touchpad infotainment controller, which will apparently bow out in favor of a better system in future Acuras. Good riddance. And of course, people eying the Type S badge hoping for a true M or AMG fighter may be disappointed. It’s not that car. It’s fun and engaging. Really fun, actually. But it’s not that car. In a day where clout-chasing is king, the MDX Type S reigns itself in and stays true to its family crossover roots without being afraid to have just a little senseless fun every once in a while.

Best hot hatches and sports compacts

1. Acura Integra Type S – The surprise knockout

What’s hot?

  • Chassis, brakes, engine, and pretty much everything else by the gods
  • Easily daily-drivable for thousands of miles on end

What’s not?

  • Exhaust is too quiet for how raucous it can be
  • Expensive for its class

Oh, Integra Type S, my beloved. How incredible you are clubbing GR Corollas and Golf Rs over the head with the sheer force of your awesomeness. The gods bestowed upon you suspension soft enough for tattered highway commutes yet taught enough for unflappable canyon cornering prowess. You’ve been granted a rev-happy powerhouse of a turbo four-banger with a Bimmer-rivaling 320 ponies channeled through a manual whose shifts hit crisp like ice water with a mint. And you carry yourself with civility and politeness when it’s time to calm down for the long journeys home. 

Could you tell I’m obsessed? The Acura Integra Type S is an easy winner and a rockstar in its segment, delivering Civic Type R attitude in a slightly more comfortable and mature package. Perhaps the only reason we leave here at Number 1 is because we haven’t yet tested a real Type R, which sports more supportive bucket seats and a whimsically cool wing for several thousand dollars less, trumping any value proposition the Acura had. Until then, the Acura will stay our king of the sport compact hill. 

2. Hyundai Elantra N – Shattering Korean car stereotypes

What’s hot?

  • Rip-snorting lil’ WTCC car for the road, even with the dual-clutch
  • Premium interior and performance at a stellar price point

What’s not?

  • Bucket seats are a pain on road trips
  • Ugly duckling

“Am I the only one who understands the complexity of this ambitious automotive masterpiece? This car isn’t stupid! You’re stupid!” – Billy, probably.

Hyundai’s N division has proven to be a massive disruptor in the performance car world, building comparison test winners and headline stealers since the Veloster N in 2019. The Elantra N carries forward much of the same spirit and hardware, routing 276 horsepower from its 2.0-liter turbo-four through your choice of a good ol’ six-speed stick or a snappy 8-speed dual-clutch. 

Brakes rock. Adaptive suspension rocks. The selection of drive modes that all make a meaningful difference rock. Everything rocks. And, best of all, the Elantra N goes about its performance biz with genuine chassis feel and an eager, soulful playfulness seldom found in European sports sedans. Couple that with its strong value proposition, and you have an affordable halo car that poses a serious threat to our current sports compact king. 

3. Volkswagen Golf R – The mature grown-up’s hot hatch

What’s hot?

  • Sports sedan performance with all-wheel-drive versatility 
  • Mature, elegant bodywork with hatchback practicality

What’s not?

  • Controversial infotainment system is a tad bit of a learning curve
  • On the steeper side of the pricing fence

The Mk8 Volkswagen Golf R is a divisive product, as praiseworthy as it was a source of ire among auto journos for a variety of reasons. But one thing is for certain, and it’s that no one can really hate on the fiery powerhouse that is the EA888 four-cylinder, pushing 315 ponies in Golf R trim, a sliver more than its Audi S3 cousin. It also features a trick Haldex all-wheel-drive system with Drift Mode for sideways action and Volkswagen’s baby-PDK DSG dual-clutch. 

That said, the mighty Golf R has some Achilles heels. It’s not the fiercest, most playful thing in the toybox, trading the antics of something like a Focus RS or Type R for a more upscale and serious demeanor befitting its German heritage, which may or may not resonate more with certain buyers. Its heftier price tag may also push some buyers away, as well, sitting comfortably above the likes of Elantra Ns, GR Corollas, and its not-too-dissimilar, front-drive GTI sibling. Oh, and that love-it-or-hate-it infotainment. Sheesh. At least they’re bringing buttons back.

Best affordable sports cars

1. Subaru BRZ – Jack of all trades, master of many

What’s hot?

  • A palette-cleansing trendsetter of what proper driver feedback should be
  • 2.4-liter engine staves off most desires for extra power… most

What’s not?

  • GR86 is more playful for slightly less money
  • Lame engine and exhaust sounds

Here comes the little Subaru BRZ trying to prove it has everything you need and nothing you don’t. 228 horsepower and 184 pound-feet from its 2.4-liter flat-four quells most complaints about the last car being gutless, bolstered by short gears and a svelte 2,800-pound weight. There’s a supple ride, CarPlay, Bluetooth, dual-zone climate, and options for banging sound system and scalding heated seats. 

Sure, it’s not perfect. Far from it, actually. The flat-four in stock form makes some pretty gruff, uninspired engine and exhaust noises. Space and practicality will never rival that of a hot hatch. And then there are those pesky RTV shards and daunting oiling pressure woes that have forums in a frenzy for permanent fixes. Still, if you want a track-capable, confidence-inspiring, infinitely tunable plaything that’s at home on the daily drive as it is high up in the canyons, few cars come close.

Best luxury sports cars

1. Chevrolet Corvette Stingray – “Budget supercar” is no hyperbole

Black Corvette C8 at Joshua Tree National Park
Image credit: Gabe Carey (Acceleramota)

What’s hot?

  • Faux supercar performance for a fraction of the price
  • Impressively practical

What’s not?

  • The usual supercar headaches in traffic and urban settings
  • Some stylistic quirks and nitpicks

Value is important when choosing a car. And I don’t think the value gets much stronger than the C8 Corvette Stingray. You’re telling me I can snag a base one for between $60,000 to $70,000 and still have the time of my life? Hell. Yeah. And before you snark at me and say no one gets the base model, know that me and Gabe’s tester absolutely was. No Nappa leather. No Z51 pack. No aero kit. Just the C8 ‘Vette in its most pure form.

Even with none of the extra fancy thingamajigs like MagneRide, auxiliary coolers, and Pilot Sport 4S tires, which I’m sure would have been transformative in the LA canyons and on SoCal freeways where we tested, we were still blown away at the base Corvette’s unfathomably serene ride and handling balance. It can haul all our camera gear for the LA Auto Show in the frunk, stow a body, uh, extra luggage in the rear, comfortably soak up all the expansion joints and potholes California had to throw at us, and still be an engaging ripper in the canyons.

Sure, it could be a little sharper. It could be a little lighter. It could be a little more connected. My advice? Don’t drive a 718 Cayman GTS before this. But I suppose for the money, this thing is a tough act to follow. A really tough act to follow.

2. Lotus Emira – A driving enthusiast’s dream come true

What’s hot?

  • Shocking ride and handling balance, even with Sports suspension setup
  • One helluva’ V6

What’s not?

  • Somewhat baulky manual shifter when cold
  • Not long for this cruel world

I can’t say it any better than Peter, so I’ll slip in a little excerpt.

“The 2024 Lotus Emira First Edition is a very special sports car for this day and age. It one-ups everyone else by making the most of old steering technology. This blissful steering then combines with a wonderfully communicative chassis, manual gear shift, rousing supercharged engine, and overall brilliant driving dynamics to make it a true top-level driver’s car.”

The Emira looks like so many other sports cars and supercars out there, but beneath the skin, it’s a rare breed like few others, if any at all. So it’s not the most practical or efficient thing on this list, nor is it that strong of a value in the presence of Porsche. It’s not even long for this world, slated for replacement by 2027. But when it comes to a pure driving experience, you can’t argue with some good ol’ analog fun, or as Rob Crespo and I call it, “oldfashionedasfuck.” And you know what? That’s exactly how the fanboys want it. And it’s how Colin Chapman would want it.

3. Maserati GranTurismo Trofeo – A true grand tourer with sports car chops

What’s hot?

  • Near supercar fast!
  • Sports car reflexes don’t hurt its cross-country comfort

What’s not?

  • Annoyingly long in parking situations
  • Priced smack dab in the middle of some serious rivals

God, no one does a driver’s car like the Italians. And yes, this portly, (possibly) two-ton, leather-clad, land yacht is a driver’s car. From its hellaciously fun Nettuno twin-turbo V6 to the trick Skyhook adaptive suspension with air springs. I didn’t quite know what to expect with the GranTurismo Trofeo. I kind of expected it to be a bulky, lazy touring car with tons of cross-country cred, as a car of its class should have. But I’m happy to report it can also straddle the line between touring car and sports car shockingly well, with quick, intuitive steering and a well-tuned all-wheel drive system that never lets the threat of understeer rear its ugly head in the tightest of Malibu canyons.

Sadly, its occasional electronic quirks, which range from meh to motherfu-, ahem, excuse me. It’s Stellantis-ness makes itself apparent. Not that it feels cheap. It sure as hell does not! It just has hiccups. And it better not feel cheap, not at nearly $230,000 as-tested! That’s a touch cheaper than GTs from more prestigious nameplates, but it places the GranTurmismo right in the middle of key rivals like the Mercedes SL, Porsche 911 Turbo, and even Maserati’s own MC20 supercar.

Best pickup trucks

1. Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison – A serious contender in factory-fresh prerunners

What’s hot?

  • A bonafide adventurer with otherworldly suspension!
  • Plush, well-appointed interior

What’s not?

  • Steeply priced
  • Limited to crew cab with short bed only

Huzzah! Chevy’s baby Ford Raptor before Ford brought their own baby Raptor stateside. The ZR2 Bison is a phenomenally capable, lovably riotous off-roader that defies the weak and feeble stereotypes of smaller mid-size trucks. Not that today’s crop of mid-sizers are what anyone would call small, especially the Bison and its hulking 35-inch rubber. Like the new batch of Colorados, the interior is reasonably spacious, modern, and well-appointed, even including ventilated seats, which is a thoughtful addition for desert rats on Chevy’s behalf. The turbo four-banger plucked and retuned from base-model Silverados proves strong and more than up to the task of rocketing this Tonka truck cosplayer down sand dunes with ease, and the Multimatic suspension is every bit as capable and impressive as you’d expect from this company.

If you can live with the presumably abysmal fuel economy and the questionable styling, then this is a worthy rival to any fast Ford on the trail or in the open desert. Just mind the steep price tag, because ticking the Bison box on your build sheet will skyrocket the already pricey ZR2 to right around $60,000. You could buy Raptors for not that much more not long ago.

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Image credit: Rob Wilkinson / AiM / APEX Pro / Garmin
Buying GuidesDealsSaturday Morning Car Tune!

These lap timers will help you become a better track driver

Attending track days is one of the most fun and fulfilling ways to express one’s automotive enthusiasm. What’s not to love? You’re in a safe and controlled environment where you can drive at way higher speeds than pretty much any other place on paved earth. This enables ample opportunity to truly enjoy what your car was designed and/or modified for, sharpen your driving skills, and even become a safer motorist along the way.

Then, there’s the bit about track driving that’s even more fun, and incredibly addictive: Setting and gradually dropping lap times. Changing your line, turning in earlier or later, refining your acceleration and braking; the process of setting and achieving goals to go faster is a fun one, and along with it comes a hearty sense of pride and accomplishment. It may not be the most financially healthy activity for car nuts, but hey, it sure beats hard drug use!

One tool that’s of massive help along the way by giving you all the information you need to go faster is a good GPS-based digital lap timer. 

Guidance from a qualified instructor is another top method, and certainly shouldn’t be overlooked as part of the learning experience. A lap timer that records data is a strong accompaniment—analyzing and digesting this data post-track session expedites the learning process and paints a very detailed picture of what it takes to get faster. Let’s go over three popular digital lap timers and discuss their various positives and negatives. We won’t rate them, but rather to help you figure out which is best for your budget and learning style.

Skip to product:

Image credit: Peter Nelson

For the most digestible data and video on the spot: Garmin Catalyst Driving Performance Optimizer

Garmin Catalyst lap timer
Image credit: Garmin

What’s hot?

  • Includes video
  • Simple, fool-proof setup
  • Very easy to digest data post-session
  • Logical software
  • Stays plugged into a 12v outlet or USB, so won’t lose power on track

What’s not?

  • Expensive
  • Doesn’t allow as deep of a dive into data as other systems
  • Requires earbuds or another improved hearing method

Kicking off this list is a comprehensive system by Garmin. I call it a system because using it requires a bit of setup time. Inside its fairly hefty box lives a bunch of wires, connectors, plugs, and various electronic doohickies, plus the sturdy Garmin tablet itself that’s the brain of the whole operation. Read the directions and allow ample time to properly piece it all together—don’t do it 10 minutes before you head out on track—and you’re golden. In fact, it’s a good idea to turn it on the night before, connect to Wi-Fi, and ensure all software is up-to-date.

Once the Catalyst is all set up and running, it’s so incredibly pleasant to use: Select the track you’re at, and it’ll automatically start and stop recording both lap times and video. While filming laps and displaying lap times, it has a delta timer that shows how much faster or slower you are compared to your best-recorded lap. It also utilizes its various sensors and GPS to record accurate data covering acceleration/deceleration, speed, your precise location on track, and so on.  Then, the footage it puts together includes a very handy data overlay for even easier data digestion, which you can review as soon as the session is over.

Image credit: Peter Nelson. Note the camera mounted to the center of the windshield, and the tablet attached via its suction cup high off to the side.

Post-session, pulling the tablet off its mount and tapping around to look at different laps, examine speed, acceleration/deceleration, and track position, as well as learning where opportunities to improve lie, is incredibly easy. It’s as easy as surfing the world-wide-web on an iPad. Plus, the layout/interface is incredibly logical, so it takes no time at all to get used to.

The Catalyst also makes suggestions on how to cut time, but does so based on your own performance—it’s not going to compare you to Lewis Hamilton. Then, by dividing the track up into different sectors, it puts together an optimal lap of all your best ones; think of it as essentially a Best Of compilation. It’s a fun challenge to try and replicate—or better yet, improve upon—this lap in a future session.

Here’s an example of what the recorded video looks like.

One downside is that its spoken instruction (that’s right, it’s got that too) is awfully quiet. The optional earbuds are a must if you’re on track with most track day organizations, as they require you to run with the windows down for safety reasons. These simple suggestions are definitely worth listening to as well. They include stuff like “brake later next lap,” “turn in earlier next lap,” and so on.

After discussing the Garmin Catalyst at length, with almost all positive remarks, here’s the catch: It’s an expensive system. It’s knocking on the door of one thousand American dollars, which isn’t exactly pocket change for most folks. In fact, that’s more than a set of good track tires in many common sizes. Though, for its ease-of-use, video, and coaching aspects, and easy data digestion, it could prove to be a very wise investment in your lapping education.

The OG for extra-deep data potential: AiM Sportline Solo 2 DL GPS Lap Timer and Dash Logger

Image credit: AiM

What’s hot?

  • The best display
  • Easy to fire up and start recording
  • Mid-tier price
  • Excellent application integration
  • Programmable lights

What’s not?

  • Potentially too much data for some folks
  • Expensive to integrate a camera
  • Slight learning curve, though all of the units in this list have that to some degree

The AiM Solo 2 DL is the oldest of the bunch, but that’s by no means a knock against it. This capable device has a lot going for it.

First and foremost is setting it up: it’s so easy to turn the DL on and begin recording once you’re underway on your warm-up lap. Like the Catalyst and APEX Pro, it utilizes GPS to figure out where you’re at and suggest which track you’d like to select from its massive database, which saves precious seconds while prepping to head out on track.

Also like the other two, its GPS is quite accurate: In my experience, all three record lap times that are within a hundredth of a second of any track’s conventional transponder-based timing system.

But where AiM’s product beats the others is its crystal-clear backlit screen: I consider it the easiest to quickly look at and understand, especially on very sunny days and other harsh lighting conditions. Not only that, but it also has a very clear delta timer. However, like the Catalyst’s, this feature can be hazardous at times, as it often motivates folks to really push braking zones and hang out on the ragged edge of the grip.

Image credit: Peter Nelson

Like the APEX Pro below (which I’ll get to shortly), the Solo 2 DL has a system of lights, but here you can program them to mean different things. For instance, the DL part of its name means data logger, specifically its ability to pull data from the OBD2 port and log it with the data it produces itself (G readings, location on track, etc.) You can program the lights to serve as a shift light, meaning it’s pulling this data from the ECU in real time—though, this requires some work with a PC and its desktop application to set up. They can also be programmed to convey predictive lap timing, though this function I’m not as familiar with.

Mounting up the Solo 2 DL is easy with a suction cup mount or a more permanent solution, though, like the Catalyst, there are some wires to run for OBD2 data integration. You can also choose to wire its power into a 12v circuit somewhere with the right wiring option. This is so you never have to worry about recharging, which is convenient for purpose-built track steeds.

Between the Catalyst, APEX Pro, and Solo 2 DL, only the latter two are able to pull and integrate vehicle OBD2 data. This means that folks who like to dig deep into this kind of stuff are better off with one of the two. 

And speaking of digging into data, AiM’s software makes for a very, very thorough experience. You can review sessions on your phone, but its full potential is best enjoyed with the brand’s desktop application. Seriously, you can spend hours and hours examining everything it produces.

For diving a little deeper into data: APEX Pro Gen II Lap Time Optimizer

Image credit: Apex Pro

What’s hot?

  • No wires means easy portability and setup
  • Convenient app-based program makes post-session review a snap
  • Much less expensive than other systems
  • Good battery life

What’s not?

  • Has a learning curve (though it isn’t steep)
  • Additions cost extra
  • Some folks might not like the system of lights

Where the Garmin Catalyst has a bunch of wires to run and a camera to set up, the Apex Pro Gen II is as easy as magnetically attaching a little box with lights to a glued-down post or suction cup mount. It’s also a good idea to keep your phone strapped down somehow, like with a quality Ram Mount.

No, really, it’s that simple, and a big part of the APEX Pro’s appeal. All you do is turn the unit on, open up your phone’s app and connect it, calibrate the unit’s position, and then hit “Drive.” It’s just a few taps and is as quick and easy to get used to as the Catalyst.

When the session’s done, you’ve got a list of laps on the APEX Pro app and a bunch of data. These include speed, track position, acceleration/deceleration G, and more, which help you see where you could improve, where you did well, and so on. It doesn’t make suggestions like the Catalyst, but the company has a lot of useful resources to help you figure out a good plan of attack for the next session. It also utilizes its GPS sensor to record your lap on a track map, which makes zeroing in on and analyzing certain sectors a cinch. Finally, having the ability to page through various graphs containing pertinent data points is very useful; once again, it takes a little bit of education to learn how to read these. My favorite is examining the lateral vs. longitudinal G scatter plot—it’s a simple x and y axis, so it’s easy to take a quick look to see how much of the lap you were on the edge of grip, and didn’t leave any G force on the table.

See that little thing on top of the dash? That’s it!

Instead of the APEX Pro giving you real-time verbal suggestions on track, it does so with a system of lights. These can indicate many things, from leaving speed on the table to being off the right line (especially in regards to your speed) and more. For example: All green lights: You’re golden. Almost all green lights: You’re doing well, but you’re leaving speed on the table. Once again, reading over the instructions is required.

Finally, you can export your data and analyze it even further in certain desktop applications, which is great for those who’d really like to get into the weeds with numbers and pinpoint where there’s time to shave.

One downside to the Apex Pro is it takes time to figure out its way of doing things. Though, once you’re there, you’ll have no problem quickly diving deep into analysis. Another is needing to purchase accessories or subscribe through your OS’ app store for more features. If you’d like to include OBD2 data (a super helpful data addition), you’ll have to buy the company’s dongle. If you’d like expanded features like recording via your phone’s camera, that’s an added subscription. Still, it’s a great overall system that’s quite comprehensive and easy to use, and quite a bit lower in price than the Garmin Catalyst.

Check out the lights in action!

Go forth and analyze

You can’t go wrong with any of the above digital lap timing units, it just comes down to your learning preference, what you want features-wise, and what your budget looks like. They’re all sturdily constructed, so you can toss ‘em around a bit like other track equipment. Though, I wouldn’t use any of them to chock your wheels in the paddock. Video is certainly a useful accompaniment, which the Catalyst does best as its camera is a default accessory to its function. The APEX Pro requires a subscription but does it well enough, and the AiM requires its expensive SmartyCam to put two and two together here.

I should point out that the Racelogic Performance Box Touch, Racelogic VBOX Sport, and RaceBox Performance Meter Box are also well-regarded options, but I don’t have any familiarity with them personally.

GRIDLIFE Laguna 2023
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

Regardless of which option you go with, make sure you spend time reading through its instructions, do a little perusing through any applicable Facebook groups and/or forums, and ensure it’s set up properly before heading out on track. Then, head out there and enjoy setting and achieving all your lap time goals!

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Buying Guides

Here are five great used sports cars you need to welcome into your heart

Let’s be real: a soccer mom (or dad) SUV is no sports car, and a pickup truck may have the power, but it’s big, bulky, and cumbersome. A sports car needs to be lean, mean, and a genuine fighting machine. This is why these nimble and fast cars are the most fun on the road, but of course, none of us will dare to speed or break the law, right?  The only issue with getting a sports car is usually the price, especially the recent trend of dealers putting those ridiculous markup prices on our favorite new cars. So say, “screw the new car market,” and consider this crop I’ve compiled to be the best used sports cars you need to look at.

Mazda MX-5 Miata

Image credit: Carpixel.net

What’s hot?

  • With over 35 years of production, you are bound to find that perfect one
  • You can easily modify, fix, and race these cars as parts are readily available
  • The perfect “momentum car”

What’s not?

  • Piss poor boot space or interior luggage space versus rivals
  • May be underpowered to some, especially for the price of later-year cars

You do not need a tire-shredding behemoth of a sports car to have fun. Instead, a lightweight and (debatably) underpowered car can be even more fun. By getting an MX-5 Miata, you open yourself to 35 years of multiple generations offering different needs for different drivers. You can get the original NA model with pop-up headlights or the latest generation with all the fancy technology to help you drive faster. You can even get highly modified Miatas that can outperform anything on a track or for drifting. That is why a Miata is always the answer to any car question you need. 

What models to get:

I personally recommend the “NB2.5” Mazda Miata, which is the facelifted second-generation model of Miata. It comes in either a 1.6-liter engine or the 1.8-liter VVT engine. There is also the rarer Mazdaspeed spec of the car, which comes with a 1.8-liter  turbo engine, but these are quite pricey. Our editor insists on the high-revving, actually-kind-of-fast ND2 Miata, with it’s 182-horsepower screamer of an engine.

Ford Mustang

Image credit: Carpixel.net

What’s hot?

  • You get the iconic pony badge of the Mustang that comes with a lot of horsepower. 
  • It is an affordable option for a sports car. 

What’s not?

  • The automatic or dual shifting is somewhat lazy and slow compared to rivals. 
  • The Mustang is a heavy sports car and doesn’t handle hard corners like other sports cars. 

Often considered the first pony car, the Mustang is the face of American sports cars. Sorry, Corvette. The 5.0-liter or Coyote engine in most modern Mustangs offers that rich V8 sound no other engine configuration can beat, and later suspension advancements over the S197 and S550-generation cars lead to some seriously compelling track cars, i.e. Boss 302, GT350, Mach 1, etc. As Mustangs aren’t too expensive and are undoubtedly popular, it attracts a “special” crowd unfamiliar with coping with such performance. This leads to its infamous reputation, which is nothing the discerning Acceleramota reader should be concerned with… Uh, right?

What models to get:

2005 to 2014 “S197,” or the fifth generation of Mustang, is the most value-packed generation to get used to. It has a retro redesign that Ford brought out with the 5.0-liter Cotoye engine. It is also easy enough to get spares and modify to how you want the car to be, thanks to the near-infinite aftermarket support.

Toyota GR86, Toyota 86, Scion FR-S, Subaru BR-Z (they’re all the same, dang it)

Image credit: Carpixel.net

What’s hot?

  • Lightweight chassis helps with handling and keeps fuel consumption down (double win!)
  • The predictable, forgiving handling makes it a perfect beginner’s car to learn HPDE driving

What’s not?

  • May be underpowered to some, especially first-generation 2.0-liter cars
  • Interior has little storage space for your handheld items

Toyota and Subaru, from the start, wanted to make a lightweight, affordable sports car for people to enjoy, and boy, did they fulfill that goal to perfection. Well, almost perfection. The Toyota GR86, also known as the Subaru BRZ or Scion FR-S in older generations, has the perfect blend of chassis stiffness and compliant suspension to make it easy for people to drive these cars to their limit without hurting daily drivability. However, the flat-four engine is nothing too special, at least not without a bit of tinkering. With only 200 to 205 horsepower and that infamous torque dip that forced owners to somehow drive around it, the 86 sometimes feels like it’s missing something when you put your foot down. 

What models to get: 

The latest generation of 86 and BRZ that came out for 2022 is probably the best version to get, if not the cheapest. With a bump in engine displacement, you get 228 horsepower. Plus, you get the nicer interior and more aggressive styling. Just mind the oil starvation and RTV issues if you’re a track rat.

Porsche 911

Image credit: Carpixel.net

What’s hot?

  • Multiple flavors to choose from, with convertibles, full-on track cars, and cushy daily drivers
  • Flat-six engines that sound glorious 

What’s not?

  • Not cheap to maintain, meaning you will pay a lot for services and parts
  • They all look damn near the same, if that bothers you

Standing as one of the most recognized cars in the world, the Porsche 911 a real head-turner and a treat to any enthusiast. The unique flat-six howls will make anyone envious of your car, and the high performance bar is tough to unseat with any of its rivals. These German sports cars are almost too good to be true as the handling and power are perfect for the road. The competition of the 911 can not compare to them. The only major issue with the Porsche 911 range is that it can be too confusing sometimes, initimidating the unitiated with their littany of models and niches and with many generation models looking nearly identical. Plus, you also have to worry about the Porche purists who hate everything that is not factory spec. 

What models to get:

My opinion on which Porsche 911s to get is the 997 or the 996. These models are reliable enough, as the 996 was the first 911 to have a water-cooled engine, but it doesn’t look the greatest. That is why the 997 is the better option; you get a more traditional headlight arrangement with all the improvements, such as the 3.8-liter flat six producing 325 to 345 horsepower from just the base Carreras.

Dodge Challenger

Image credit: Carpixel.net

What’s hot?

  • More horsepower than you ever need to need in higher trims
  • Classic muscle car design with modern comfort

What’s not?

  • The stigma. Don’t look at me like that. You know.
  • Can be a handful for amateur (and overconfident) drivers 

This all-in-your-face American icon from Dodge is brute power, rude, and unapologetic. Why do you need to worry about fuel economy or your neighbors when you can blitz most traffic in a straight line? Pick your pison: You can fake it with the 3.6-liter V6 Pentastar Challenger or raise hell with a supercharged Hemi making 797 horsepower in the Hellcat Redeye model. Either way, this is one of America’s last hoorahs for producing pure, distilled hooliganism that its community wants instead of an electric muscle car with fake sounds, which is just cringe to think about. Fingers crossed the next one has can continue its lineage with spicy Hurricane-powered variants up its sleeve.

What models to get:

My personal pick is the 2015 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack on the basis that they’re literally everywhere, and you snag a fairly nice configuration rocking 485 horsepower for relatively not that much dough.

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2024 Lotus Emira
FeaturesNew Car Reviews

The Lotus Emira is a driving enthusiast’s dream come true

Making the most of old technology usually takes the form of automakers making big profit margins on platforms that have been around for longer than usual. It’s not a bad strategy. Look at the previous-generation Lexus LX and GX; excellent trucks that barely changed over the better part of fifteen years. Or the W-body Chevy Lumina … Okay, bad example. However, legendary British sports car maker Lotus takes a completely different approach to this strategy with its latest mid-engine sports car, the Emira.

The UK brand does it by going against what every other sports car maker has grown a little too accustomed to: Instead of the Emira having electric power-assisted steering like everyone else these days—this side of McLaren, at least—this mighty midship has hydraulic-assisted power steering. It’s very old technology, yet it possesses far better characteristics, like improved communication, excellent weight, and so on, that make the driving experience quite special.

Hydraulic steering may be a little harder to amortize over time due to its higher cost, and it’s more of a pain to service, but it’s well worth it. In fact, when combined with the 2024 Lotus Emira First Edition’s other top qualities—a stiff and lightweight chassis, as well as a potent V6, standard six-speed manual transmission, and gorgeous sports car looks—it makes for an overall excellent package that anyone who considers themself a driving enthusiast would thoroughly dig. Here’s how it all comes together to not only be one of the best Lotus sports cars ever made but also a very refreshing option in a new car market that’s awash with portly curb weights, excessively long wheelbases, as well as bland, lifeless electric power steering.

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2024 Lotus Emira
Image credit: Peter Nelson

Price and specs

To hop in the 2024 Lotus Emira First Edition with a supercharged V6 behind its two seats, turn the key, and rip off down the road in a hilariously fun manner, it’ll require $104,500 to start. That’s no small sum of money, but then, it’s no small sum of car. Well, it’s dimensionally pretty small, but you know what I mean.

Bolt up this tester’s lightweight forged 20-inch wheels, and the price comes out to … well, just $1,000 more. Its Dark Verdant Green paint, tan leather interior, sports suspension, and manual gearbox are no additional charge, so the total works out to $105,500. Suppose you’re inclined to go for an automatic gearbox, that tacks on an additional $2,150. Save the manuals, as well as some cash: Pick the stick. 

Base price:$104,500
As-tested price:$105,500
Engine:3.5-liter supercharged V6
Transmission:6-speed manual
Drivetrain:rear-wheel drive
Power:400 horsepower @ 6,800 rpm
Torque:310 pound-feet @ 3,500 rpm
Redline:6,800 rpm
Weight:3,212 pounds
Zero-to-60 mph:4.2 seconds
¼-mile:12.7 seconds @ 111 mph
MPG:17 city, 26 highway, 20 combined
Observed MPG:19.0
Fuel Capacity:14.5 gallons

Coming soon is a turbocharged four-cylinder from Mercedes-AMG bolted up in place of the supercharged V6, which’ll start a little less at $99,900; Acceleramota will report more on that at a later date. I’ve had the pleasure of revving out this mighty four in other vehicles, and it’s an absolute riot; choosing between the two powertrains will be a tough decision.

2024 Lotus Emira
Image credit: Peter Nelson

Design, interior, and infotainment

Let’s cut right to the chase: The Lotus Emira is simply beautiful. While the brand’s never been a stranger to penning striking design, this new two-seater slots nicely within its Greatest Hits alongside the Elan, Esprit, Esprit V8, and Elise.

The Emira’s short and wide stature is nicely adorned with intakes and venting cut into its bodywork, pronounced front fenders, wide hips, sharp headlights, and taut lines throughout. It’s got trim athleticism in spades and looks drop-dead gorgeous from every angle. Where the Evora looked ever-so-slightly awkward from a couple of angles, possibly due to being 2+2, the Emira simply can’t be faulted. Especially on my tester’s 20-inch silver wheels and paint that errs towards British Racing Green yet has more depth and faint metallic flake to it. It’s a beautiful take on this default-good color.

Inside is the same song, second verse. Where the Evora was a little more bare and focused (which I actually loved about it), the Emira is more geared towards luxurious everyday liveability. This is a good thing—less knocks against it parked next to a Porsche Cayman, and the world would be a better place if more people were inclined to daily drive high-end mid-engine sports cars. Giving it this plush interior extinguishes excuses not to.

Speaking of plushness, much of the interior’s square footage is covered in supple Nappa leather and Alcantara, and the overall design is quite chic. It may also be a small two-door sports car, but it’s actually plenty bright and airy, making something like a Toyota GR Supra feel like solitary confinement by comparison. With this airiness comes an appreciable increase in spaciousness over the Evora, with plenty of head, leg, and shoulder room for my slim six-foot-three stature. 

Seating-wise, I was initially a little disappointed that the Emira didn’t have the same near-race-level Sparco seats that the final iteration of the Evora GT possessed. But the 12-way power-adjustable buckets actually proved to be quite good: the driver’s seat was easy to slide in and out of, had great all-day comfort, and even held me in respectably well on fun roads. Win across the board.

2024 Lotus Emira
Image credit: Peter Nelson

Then, it possesses some select fine details that really upped the interior’s bespokeness like a good bit of the shift linkage that’s exposed behind some metallic mesh. I like to think that is Lotus’ way of paying tribute to the almighty, sacred manual gear change. It even lights up at night; how cool is that?

One aspect of the Emira’s interior that’s somewhat unchanged from the Evora is its cargo room. Like the Evora, there’s sadly no frunk to impress your friends or passers-by, but the trunk area could accommodate either a small piece of luggage or two or a small haul of weekly groceries. Just don’t travel too far if you’ve got ice cream in there—it sits next to one bank of cylinders and atop most of the exhaust system. Then, instead of the old Evora’s rear “seats” that were less roomy than an iron lung, there’s a cargo shelf that’s plenty commodious for daily haulings or some light luggage.

2024 Lotus Emira
Image credit: Peter Nelson

When it comes to infotainment, the Emira doesn’t have a whole lot going on, and that’s very much a good thing. The center 12.25-inch touchscreen has good feedback, a nice layout, and no lag, and it’s quite easy to navigate through. It’s equipped with Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto, and the stereo system has great overall audio quality.

 To split hairs, I had to re-pair my phone every morning to get Apple CarPlay working. But when the car’s own soundtrack is as wonderful as it is, I didn’t find myself as inclined to listen to music or podcasts as I’d normally be. Even while rolling along in mundane Los Angeles traffic. 

2024 Lotus Emira
Image credit: Peter Nelson
What’s hot?– Wonderful overall handling
– Surpringly great ride quality around town
– Brilliant hydraulic steering
– Rioutous supercharged V6
– ‘Dem looks

Versus the outgoing Evora GT

It’s important to point out that the Emira isn’t the full-on replacement for the Lotus Evora GT. As far as Evora vs. Emira goes, it’s the succeeding model. But as far as non-GT vs. GT goes, that’s like comparing the Porsche 718 Cayman GTS against the Cayman GT4—Both are well-regarded as massively fun mid-engine sports cars and their Lotus’ direct competitors. But they aren’t interchangeable in the Porsche trim hierarchy, nor are they meant for the exact same purpose. One’s more daily-friendly, whereas the other is more engineered for laps on track.

Though, after spending a week with the ravenous and ever-entertaining Evora GT two years back and now becoming well-acquainted with the Emira, I really hope there will be an Emira GT. Though, in light of some recent unfortunate news, the chances are slim.

2024 Lotus Emira
Image credit: Peter Nelson

Well-natured around town and on the highway

Where the Lotus Evora GT’s suspension was surgical in its precision, the Emira is a bit more toned down and everyday friendly. This isn’t intended as an apples-to-apples comparison, but it’s important to point out for anyone fiending for something built by the British firm in the past couple of years. The Emira hits it out of the park with daily-ability compared to the former GT.

My favorite place to see how any car deals with crappy city roads is Los Angeles’ neighborhood of Silver Lake. Decades of yuppification have left its tarmac thoroughly brutalized by construction vehicles, with many stretches littered with tar patches that resemble a welding student’s first couple inches of MIG work. It’s a rough place to drive.

The Lotus Emira dealt with all of it shockingly well. From sharp and bumpy stuff to flat-out violent bits that’d make a trophy truck blush, I could feel the Emira’s conventionally damped compression and rebound work overtime to filter it all out. It’s still a sports car—it didn’t waft across the road like a Rolls. But for something sporting an enthusiast-focused chassis, low weight, and just 101 inches between its wheelbase, I was impressed. Who needs adaptive dampers when you’ve got low weight and a Lotus engineer’s legendary stamp of approval?

2024 Lotus Emira
Image credit: Peter Nelson

The same goes for its highway manners. Where the Evora GT would lightly dart around and tramline, the Emira felt more solid. It still tramlined ever so slightly here and there over particularly offensive SoCal highway asphalt, but it generally tracked forth with confidence, and that same nicely tuned compression and rebound gave it a very roadtrip-ready ride quality.

Here’s the thing: Lotus offers either what it calls a Sports or Touring suspension package for the Emira. The former is more focused on performance, whereas the latter is on the softer side. I had no qualms with Sports option ride over construction-equipment-beaten tarmac in the heart of Los Angeles gentrification. But for someone who is perhaps after even more comfort that bolsters daily-ability even further, I couldn’t fault them.

Then, when it came to noise, there was more of the wind and road variety than your average car while rolling along on the highway, but not to any annoying degree. Most folks would quickly check it off as something that goes with the territory in a little high-end sports car.

2024 Lotus Emira
Image credit: Peter Nelson

The best part: a chassis Chapman would love

But where the Lotus Emira truly shined was where Lotuses have always been tuned for: twisty fun roads.

Setting out up Southern California’s Angeles Crest Highway, I took it easy at first to bring its tires up to temperature. At a mildly enthusiastic clip through its picturesque sweepers, I couldn’t help but smile in excitement—if body motion was this flat, and grip was this unbothered, I couldn’t wait to bump up the pace.

Once its 245-front and 295-rear Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s felt ready, I dipped the throttle and went to work balancing out the Emira’s inputs with bigger and bigger values. First and foremost, and perhaps what truly separates this British sports car from its competition, is its steering, which is pure bliss. Past a few degrees, the ratio felt nearly 1:1 with the angle of the nose, so much texture transmitted through the wheel, and its weight loaded up perfectly through every flavor of corner.

Why more manufacturers don’t spend a teeny bit more coin to throw a good old-fashioned hydraulic steering rack in their prized sports cars is beyond me. But I’m quite thankful that Lotus still does.

Equally brilliant was the Emira’s suspension and chassis tuning. That same feeling of unwavering, sure-footed grip at modest speeds never ceased at much higher paces. Its aluminum extruded and bonded chassis, plus double-wishbone suspension under each wheel arch and 40/60 distribution of just 3,212 pounds, meant there was very minimal sway under the hardest lateral G force. Like any good mid-engine chassis, once I got into a corner-carving rhythm, I never wanted it to end. 

2024 Lotus Emira
Image credit: Peter Nelson

It was such a wonderfully communicative experience as if I had a head-up display telling me every tenth of a percent change in weight balance across all four wheels. I felt so in tune with every little input. Traction control rarely intervened, too: This chassis is a little forgiving, but it was happy to reward well-balanced steering, acceleration, and braking inputs with shockingly high numbers on the speedometer.

The brakes were always up to the task of maintaining control and reigning you in. Behind its bright silver wheels live 14.5-inch front and 13.8-inch rear two-piece drilled rotors with four-piston AP Racing calipers, and they made for a brilliantly firm yet easy-to-modulate pedal. The pedal box itself is quite narrow, just like the Evora GT’s was, but the spacing makes for easy heel-toe downshifting. Overall, braking performance was quite good, though, after half an hour of hard use, they did start to exhibit some fade and vibration. Considering the Emira’s increased daily-friendly sports car appeal over the more focused Evora GT, this is easy to forgive.

2024 Lotus Emira
Image credit: Peter Nelson

The other best parts: an engine and transmission like no other these days

People may poke fun from time to time at the Evora’s, and now Emira’s, Toyota Camry-sourced 3.5-liter V6, but Lotus could’ve fooled me of its origins. A massive air-to-water-cooled Edelbrock supercharger sits atop its intake valves and helps boost horsepower and torque to 400 and 310, respectively, which push the little Emira to 60 mph in as little as 4.2 seconds.

Its soundtrack is a beautiful mix of baritone V6 growl and supercharger whine. The latter is the most audible with as little glass as possible interrupting the aural fun—thus, it’s definitely a windows-down-as-much-as-possible experience. This thing’s anything but Camry-like. The way the mighty 3.5 revs up and bounces off the 6,800 rpm limiter is quite intoxicating and sounds like Lotus went to town with its own bespoke drivetrain and internal components. Such as a lightweight flywheel and some lightweight valvetrain work. If not, massive props for making me think it did.

2024 Lotus Emira
Image credit: Peter Nelson

Power builds linearly, as is characteristic of any supercharged powerplant, and it just does so with all the gusto you’d expect after taking one look at that prominently placed blower. Nobody would call 400 horsepower lacking in the pursuit of shoving 3,212 pounds down the road. The mighty 3.5-liter was too fun to rev up and down, and its baritone growl turned into an all-out baritone scream above 5,000 rpm. It’s also a powerband that takes commitment, as you want to make sure there’s plenty of clear road ahead to get the full experience.

It’s an engine and transmission that’s more than happy to be driven lightly short-shifted around town, too, which really bolsters its daily-ability. There’s ample torque down low, and transmitting it via the Emira’s six-speed manual transmission is a hoot, just like listening to its delightful soundtrack during every up-and-downward sweep of the tach needle. Never gets old.

I should point out that traction control was a tad loose on cold tires around town. One time, while jabbing the throttle during a low-speed 45-degree left turn onto a 35 mph street, I had to feed the wheel some hilarious counter steer and make a bit of a scene. Upon further investigation (the kind that makes this job too fun at times), it turns out that the Emira’s ECU will allow a little slip to keep its occupants entertained but then follows up with a throttle cut. Neat.

A few months back, I did a brief drive in a very fresh, sub-thousand-mile Emira. Between it, the Evora GT, and this Emira with around 5,000 miles on the clock, the latter’s gear shift felt the best. I chalk it up to the bushings and linkage being more broken in, like a comfortable pair of leather shoes. There was very little play and a good amount of spring, and engagement felt quite positive in every gear. However, it was still a bit stiff and took a careful wrist to shift quickly. Treating it like a gated unit and shifting more methodically made for a much happier harmony between the output shaft and cog, though some folks may not dig that.

2024 Lotus Emira
Image credit: Peter Nelson
What’s not?– Shifter action not quite on par with the rest of the inputs
– Steep price may be hard to justify against stiff competition
– Uhhh, ummm… Geez, lack of cons?

People better buy a lot of these things

The 2024 Lotus Emira First Edition is a very special sports car for this day and age. It one-ups everyone else by making the most of old steering technology. This blissful steering then combines with a wonderfully communicative chassis, manual gear shift, rousing supercharged engine, and overall brilliant driving dynamics to make it a true top-level driver’s car.

I’m really glad that Lotus is still at it and still makes stuff that’s quite nice to look at, to boot. The Emira may not be as hardcore as the old Evora GT was, but that just means a potential future Emira GT is worth crossing our fingers for. It costs a bit more than the more commonplace Porsche 718 Cayman GTS—in fact, it’s a considerable ten thousand or so dollars more. The Cayman’s steering may not quite stack up (though, I really want to find out for myself and report back), and it doesn’t mini McLaren, Ferrari, or other sharp, wedge-like mid-engine exotic. Though, that might not be enough to sway folks—only time will tell.

I’m glad the Emira is here and hope that by some stroke of luck, it sticks around for longer than its current reported prognosis. If you’re in the market, please take one for a spin and consider not only helping keep hydraulic-assisted power steering around, but also vivacious supercharger noises and brilliant, conventionally damped handling. We need to protect low-production sports cars like the Emira at all costs.

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4 Series goes hybrid, M4 adds power, and Z4 M40i gets a six-speed manual in 2025 BMW lineup

In a flurry of late-afternoon press releases, BMW announced updates to its product line for 2025. The automaker introduced refreshed 4 Series and M4 Coupes, as well as a new Z4 M40i. Here’s a quick look at the new vehicles BMW announced.

BMW adopted mild-hybrid tech for the new 4 Series, updating its four- and six-cylinder engine options. The turbocharged inline-six with 48-volt mild-hybrid power delivers 386 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque, while the four-cylinder with mild-hybrid produces 255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. The car also got styling updates, a revised interior, and BMW’s latest iDrive version 8.5.

Image: BMW

The hotter M4 got more power, at least in the range-topping Competition models. The mainstream M4 delivers 473 horsepower, and the M4 Comp is up to 503 horsepower (523 with all-wheel drive). BMW offers a six-speed manual in the regular coupe, but the Comp is limited to an eight-speed automatic transmission. 

Though it’s increasingly rare to find any new cars equipped with a stick shift and a third pedal, the 2025 Z4 M40i comes as a six-speed manual for the first time. That transmission is mated to a 382-horsepower turbocharged inline-six, sending the car from 0-60 mph in a respectable 4.2 seconds. The M40i model also gets upgraded suspension, exclusive wheels, and unique interior trim. 

Image: BMW

Pricing for the 4 Series Coupe starts at $50,700 before the $995 destination charge. The top M440i xDrive Convertible starts at $74,250. The M4 starts at $79,100 for the entry-level Coupe, while stepping up to the M4 Competition xDrive Convertible pushes the price to $95,300. Adding the six-speed manual package to the Z4 M40i bumps the price by $3,500. BMW will start sending all three cars to dealers’ lots in March 2024.

In the meantime, older model year M4, Z4 M40i, and “regular” 4 Series prices will only continue to decline on the used market. As auto industry expert Ross Litman said on a recent episode of Acceleramota’s Car Meet podcast (available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify), 60% of luxury cars on the road are leased. Enthusiasts interested in modifying their BMWs might consider buying used rather than financing a vehicle almost certain to lose value at a disproportionate rate.

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Michael's Mitsubishi Pajero Evo
FeaturesSaturday Morning Car Tune!

Up close and (too) personal with my Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution

When I drove down to the Port of Los Angeles to pick up the 1997 Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution that I had won at an auction in Japan just four months prior, only a teensy little bit of drama ensued. I expected a dead battery after such a long post-auction waiting period plus weeks on a ro-ro ship, but when a jump pack couldn’t even spark the engine to life, two good samaritans with two different trucks and two sets of jumper cables needed to come to my rescue. 

Such is the power of the enthusiast automotive industry, and I chuckled to myself as I sat powerless, occasionally pumping the throttle while surrounded by an expansive parking lot chock-full of (presumably also dead) JDM icons. That rescue attempt proved short-lived, though. After the Pajero’s engine finally cranked over, all of a sudden, a searching idle and lurching acceleration cropped up as I headed for the customs shed to sign some final forms on the dotted line. The truck died twice more throughout those few hundred yards before I nearly wheeled up onto a flatbed trailer. I already felt grateful for the Dakar-developed suspension, to say the least. 

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Bringing this old dog home

A dead battery. Gnarly noises from the engine and transmission. Maybe a dry gas tank. On the long drive home, my mind raced along at breakneck paranoiac pace, wondering what I’d gotten myself into.

Back home, I poured in a few gallons of 91 octane and then checked the automatic transmission fluid dipstick—yep, those exist—only to discover the transmission pan even drier than the fuel tank. Four or five quarts of Mitsubishi Diaqueen SPIII later, I went for a test drive. The engine finally revved happily, and the gearbox shifted smoothly until I switched off the ignition again and hopped out, only to audibly hear fluid flowing out, piddling onto the concrete slab. Oh boy.

Hey, on the bright side, all the mechanical drama gave me an excuse to skip the 405 freeway as my first right-hand-drive experience in the United States. But this first day owning a homologation special went rougher than expected, nonetheless. And that’s considering how many sleepless nights I spent preparing for every last eventuality that might possibly emerge while picking up a rare car with 237,000 kilometers on the odometer and a laundry list of even rarer parts that are almost impossible to find in Japan, let alone the United States. Luckily, the Pajero Evo also shares many parts with Gen 2 and Gen 3 Mitsubishi Monteros sold here in America, and I quickly installed a Montero oil cooler line to replace the burst piece on the PajEvo.

Happily ever after, at least until I used Google Lens to translate the sticker on the timing belt cover, which seemed to suggest the last timing belt job had been completed in ‘22—next, I realized that in Japan, that “22” meant the twenty-second year of the previous emperor’s reign, or 2012 by my math. So the Evo sat for a couple more months while I sourced a timing belt, water pump, and various other “while you’re in there” parts from Japan, Dubai, and, somewhat surprisingly, Rock Auto. With the truck finally running at full gas—knock on wood, I know—seemingly everyone who knows anything about anything wants to learn more about this rare Dakar racecar for the road, especially since its recent uprising in Hagerty prestige. So buckle up, kiddos. Let’s talk about the Mitsubishi Pajero’s Evolution.

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A totally different beast

Pictures of Pajero Evos online only tell part of the story. Yes, those hilarious fender flares and Bat-manga-ear vertical stabilizers look awesome on a short-wheelbase truck, but beneath the skin lurk miracles that Mitsubishi’s engineers worked over to produce the Dakar Rally’s winningest vehicle ever (though Can-Am believes the Maverick X3 might soon be able to take the record by managing similar miracles, perhaps). 

The biggest difference between a Pajero Evolution and the utilitarian, almost Spartan run of Pajero and Montero (and Shogun) SUVs sold worldwide involves significant revisions to the suspension in order to cope with racing through the African desert. Mitsubishi raced first-gen Pajeros before developing the Evo proper, which received different unequal-length A-arms and coilovers for the independent front suspension versus a standard version while simultaneously ditching Pajero’s traditional solid rear axle in favor of independent rear suspension. Looking back, the layout blurs the lines between Gen 2 and 3 Monteros, though, unlike the Evo, the Gen 3 switched to a unibody rather than a body-on-frame chassis.

Michael's Mitsubishi Pajero Evo
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

I noticed one of the most impressive parts about that suspension system the first time I got my Evo up on a lift, as the front wheels and tires drooped down and outward rather than swinging inward. Ideal for catching air and nailing landings, obviously, just like those vertical stabilizers. Of course, in a similar fashion to the more well-known Lancer Evolution compact sports sedan, the Pajero also uses a much more powerful engine—though not by bolting on a turbocharger, something of a bummer but a detail which I hope should help to improve reliability and longevity of my high-mileage truck.

Instead, the Evo’s 3.5-liter dual-overhead-cam V6 uses some components from the second-gen SR engine, with an early application of Mitsubishi’s MIVEC valve timing system for the heads. Think VTEC, VANOS, or VarioCam, but the resulting peak of 276 horsepower during the Japanese automaker “Gentlemen’s Agreement” definitely feels underrated once the Evo comes onto that second cam at about 5,000 RPM. 

Michael's Mitsubishi Pajero Evo
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

Meanwhile, the Gen-2 Montero’s Aisin three-speed automatic with overdrive went out the window in favor of a new five-speed automatic. The factory offered a stick shift, though I believe the Dakar race trucks actually used a manual gearbox built by Holinger in Australia for V8 Supercars. That Aisin trans appeared later in the Gen-3 Montero, but desert racing in the Evo’s dictating shorter gear ratios and a reprogrammed TCM that holds gears higher into the rev range.

The four-wheel-drive transfer case also resembles a Montero’s, with a similar Super Select gear lever that allows for shifting between 2-Hi and 4-Hi on the fly to produce all-wheel drive, as well as locking the viscous center differential for more traditional four-wheel drive. Switching to 4-Lo requires coming to a stop in Neutral, though the live axle trucks’ optional rear locker gives way to Torsen automatic torque biasing front and rear differentials on the Evo.

On the interior, the racecar theme continues with unique Recaro seats—most similar to an Isuzu VehiCROSS, actually, but with adjustable bolsters and different cloth upholstery. The Evo, therefore, rides tighter and higher than a Gen 2 Montero, allowing for better visibility over the hood. Almost every Evo needs repairs to the cloth bolsters from drivers and passengers sliding up and into the seats, though, and that cloth also attracts dog hair better than velvet, even though I’ve only allowed the dog in the car twice ever. 

A nice set of original front floor mats features a rubber inset to collect dirt and pebbles while off-roading. Other fun details include carbon fiber trim to distinguish the Evo’s dash from more pedestrian and otherwise identical Pajero dashes. That carbon fiber optionally extended to the tall gearshift lever, which allows for bang-shifting using an early Tiptronic-style selection, with Up towards the front and Down towards the back (the inverse of a present-day sports car’s automatic or a racecar’s sequential). My truck came in relative poverty spec, though, and I do wish I could find a few of the dealer options like front light pods, a ski rack, and an aluminum fuel filler door.

The biggest bummer? Probably that no Evo has cruise control. Because racecar, duh.

Keeping a Mitsubishi stock? Surely not…

The obscure Dakar legend of a short-wheelbase, cartoonified racing truck helps to explain why anyone who knows about the Pajero Evo gets absolutely stoked to see one. I bought the truck to share with the Montero community—which partially explains why I chose an automatic, too—and have met many other owners both online and in person so that we can coordinate parts sourcing and modifications.

I plan to keep my PajEvo as close to stock as possible, other than swapping on a three-spoke OEM steering wheel from a Mitsubishi Eclipse to replace the delaminating rim on a surprisingly bland four-spoke that matches an otherwise standard Montero. And I just love a three-spoke steering wheel anyway.

My Evo also arrived with tired Yokohama HT street tires that aren’t even sold here in the States, so I swapped on a set of incrementally taller Geolandar A/T rubber that might better take the beatings I planned to dish out in the dirt. While chatting with some of Yokohama’s engineers at Nitro Rallycross last year, I learned that any of the historical photos I found of Dakar race trucks wearing Yokohama tires probably showed privateer teams. Mitsu’s factory trucks only used BFG and Michelin, apparently. 

Michael's Mitsubishi Pajero Evo
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

So far, those Geolandars have held up quite well, both on-road and off. About 5,000 kilometers in, the front shoulders already show a bit of wear, which I attribute to my penchant for ripping this body-on-frame truck faster than most Porsche 911 or Ferrari owners up in Malibu—but I figure that’s to be expected while driving high-sidewall LT-metric truck tires mounted on a high-powered 4,300-pound vehicle anyway. At highway speeds, the tires barely peep. (No, I haven’t found any snow yet, sorry.)

I also swapped out the flimsy steel underbody panel for true skid plates built by Adventure Driven Design. In fact, the OEM piece looked more sturdy than the typical plastic used by most manufacturers these days, but thicker aluminum should hopefully prevent any flying pebbles from damaging unobtanium parts under there. Again, the similarities to Monteros helped here since only one little tab on a Gen 2’s transmission skid needed trimming to fit the Evo’s revised control arm mounting location. After my guinea pig experimentation, I sent the correct measurements to Adventure Driven Design, so the site now sells perfect Evo skid kits online, along with a host of other Montero and Pajero parts.

Michael's Mitsubishi Pajero Evo
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

Aftermarket parts support for Monteros and Pajeros from companies like ADD, in general, makes up a tiny sliver of the off-roading industry here in the United States. However, the passionate community relies heavily on international suppliers who stockpiled OEM parts before Mitsubishi’s steady decline left everyone in the lurch. For both the Monteros and the Pajero Evo, I regularly order everything from suspension components to oil cooler lines from Partsouq in Dubai, and shipping isn’t even too terrible. 

I’ve also struggled to get mixed results with the incredibly frustrating order systems of Amayama and Nengun Performance out of Japan. I just took a quick gamble on some front upper ball joints from Megazip that actually arrived fairly promptly. But availability for the Evo specifically depends partly on the fact that Mitsu never actually built much in the way of spare parts, so a number of companies in Australia and Europe also cater to custom requirements. My replica aluminum side steps came from Paves Garage down under, while EVO Shop GmbH (in Switzerland, I believe) has sent me a few targeted ads on IG for bushings, brake lines, and other components—priced just high enough to tempt me if a fit of desperation hits.

Sorting out the little details

A little detail that I learned quickly about bringing a JDM car to the United States required much longer to solve than expected: it turns out that AM and FM radio frequencies vary across the Pacific. And my OEM radio, which previous owner(s) clearly never bothered to replace, only made bad noises through what sounded like blown-out speakers. I tried a cassette adaptor, tried swapping in my Montero’s original radio, and even tried to splice in a Bluetooth adaptor through the empty CD changer port. 

Eventually, I broke down and bought a retro-styled VDO Continental aftermarket head unit that almost, but doesn’t quite, match the rest of the Pajero’s blue-green dash lights. The head unit allows for Bluetooth, my main requirement, but not dimming of the screen or button bulbs—so I put a thin dimmer film on the screen to prevent nighttime glare. All this to avoid a double-DIN screen low down in the dash, so that I can keep the so-damn-Japanese felt-lined sunglasses drawer and pull-out cupholders. 

Another “because racecar” moment arrived when I discovered that the Pajero Evo lacks door speakers, despite the standard Pajero front door cards, which do have speaker panels built in. So I broke down again and bought Pioneer four-inch dash speakers in the hopes of gaining a bit of audio crispness with minimal effort involved (pulling the 6×9 rear speakers will eventually happen, but it requires popping off almost all of the rear interior paneling).

Michael's Mitsubishi Pajero Evo
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

A fellow PajEvo owner also came to the rescue in a big way quite recently when he sent me instructions for how to reprogram the OEM key fob that came with my car but seemed not to work despite its little red bulb flashing and a battery replacement. I won’t share the exact details of how to reprogram the fob because it was literally so easy that I’m now scared to park the Evo anywhere even remotely sketchy and plan to wire in a hidden kill switch (and almost certainly invest in The Club as an additional visual deterrent, too). But the simple act of locking and unlocking without needing to slide a key into a tumbler makes the Evo feel so much more modern.

Keeping the Dakar dream alive

Meanwhile, I installed a set of phone and camera mounts from Bulletpoint Mounting Solutions on the original dashtop gauge cluster to hold my phone in place of a double-DIN screen (don’t worry, I found a replacement gauge cover to drill into). And I slid an Element fire extinguisher into the little retaining clip that originally housed a by-now-missing flare in the passenger footwell. Similar other details point to Mitsubishi’s incredible attention to detail during the 1990s, from the rear door toolkit’s easy access and useful selection to the rear wiper’s pour funnel that prevents messes while refilling fluid.

Michael's Mitsubishi Pajero Evo
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

I want to keep the original Japanese stickers on the windows as long as possible, but I did add a few warning stickers from my time in Saudi Arabia at the 2023 Dakar Rally on the driver’s side sun visor. And even if an Optima Yellowtop stands out like a sore thumb in the engine bay, I figure a better battery makes sense given my travel schedule—no matter how much I daily drive the Evo while at home, I’m still not home nearly enough.

In terms of maintenance, after getting the engine and trans running without leaks, my main focus lately has been refreshing the front steering and suspension. Again, most steering components drop right in from a Gen-2 Montero, including the tie rod ends, idler and pitman arms, and steering box (the latter with a tighter ratio, though). Swapping in new pieces for all of the above, plus upper front ball joints, already made a huge difference in tightening up some of the vague play that I formerly attributed to the truck-ness of the Pajero Evo (and I’ve got a story on that, too).

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Just don’t ask how many pullers I needed to actually get the pitman arm off or how much the penetrating oil costs. I still need to pull the hubs to replace the front lower ball joints and maybe a CV boot that I tore in the process of struggling without having the right tools in the past. The Evo, unfortunately, also seems to suffer from the same degraded “redball” transfer case shifter as Gen-2.5 Monteros. Luckily, I have a spare “whiteball” shifter sitting around, but I need a hydraulic press to swap it into the Evo’s shift lever, which bends in the opposite direction compared to an LHD Montero. Then, with a few dash bulbs replaced for the 4WD and gear selection gauges, I should be all set with my (current) to-do list.

But other maintenance items have left me in the lurch. The entire rear suspension uses ball joints and bushings that come built into the arms—more unobtanium. I want to do a valve cover gasket job to stop some slight oil seepage, but I can’t find the wasted spark plugs’ wires with the correct size tubes to fit the taller MIVEC heads. Should I wait and hope to find either OEM or aftermarket parts, or just try to cobble a solution together? A bit of Mickey Mouse mechanical skill already fixed a clunking and squeaking rear door latch, after all, requiring more than a few hours spent fiddling with seals and striker plates and rear cargo area lighting.

So yes, owning a high-mileage Pajero Evolution ends up testing the concept of a labor of love. But I never thought I’d be able to check off owning my third-favorite car of all time by the age of 35 (behind a Lancia Stratos and Porsche 959, no less). And I truly chuckle every single time I see the PajEvo, not to mention every time I rip up a canyon in Malibu or along a dirt track out in the desert. 

Daily driving an RHD JDM legend isn’t even all too bad in traffic, and it has inspired me to keep an eye out for a few others on the off chance I can scrounge up a bit more cash. But in the meantime, I keep reminding myself how lucky I truly am to have taken a leap of faith and imported this homologation special from Japan. So to all those would-be JDM enthusiasts out there, if you happen to see a guy grinning ear to ear from the wrong side of the road in a Pajero Evolution, rest assured that with a little bit of luck (and maybe a lotta bit of) elbow grease), you too might one day soon live out the same dream.

Michael's Mitsubishi Pajero Evo
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

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2024 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance
FeaturesNew Car Reviews

The 2024 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance is the purveyor of modern luxury muscle

Twenty-five years ago, I bet if you asked the average new car buyer looking for a luxury four-seater what their top choices were, what they’d say would be quite different from today. These days, the general populace seems to lean more and more towards crossovers and full-size SUVs for one reason or another, which is a far cry from two decades back when sedans ruled this space. By that same token, for those who wanted a top-performing, naturally aspirated V8 powertrain with some sporty chassis tuning thrown in, even that wasn’t as particular of an ask as it is today. And it really is quite a particular ask now, because only one brand offers such a thing in the compact (or what we’d call a midsize back then) executive class: The 2024 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance.

The Lexus IS 500 is a rare bird in our modern era. Prevalence of crossovers aside—the Nagoya, Japan brand has plenty of those, too—there is truly nothing else on the market with this flavor of power plant. A quarter-decade back, I’m not sure people would think of Lexus as the last bastion of rear-wheel drive V8 enthusiasm with four doors, but it is. 

And It’s also quite good at it: Here’s why the IS 500 is not only a well-appointed everyday luxury sedan for the price but amply fun to drive as well.

2024 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance
Image credit: Peter Nelson

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Price and specs

Securing the highest spec costs just $65,670. Not bad for potentially the last naturally aspirated V8-powered sedan ever made, that’s also loaded to the gills with amenities. However, if you’re more keen on getting in as cheaply as possible, all it takes is $61,170, including Lexus’ $1,150 delivery fee. By comparison, the 2024 BMW M340i—a ravenously fun sedan in its own right—starts at $59,590, though doesn’t possess as entertaining of an engine.

Base price:$61,170
As-tested price:$63,600
Engine:5.0-liter naturally aspirated V8
Transmission:8-speed automatic
Drivetrain:Rear-wheel drive
Power:472 hp @ 7,100 rpm
Torque:395 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm
Redline:7,100 rpm
Weight:3,891 lbs
0-60 mph:4.4 seconds
MPG:17 city, 25 highway, 20 combined
Observed MPG:19.3 mpg
Fuel capacity:17.4 gallons
Acceleration figures published by Lexus

The base 500 isn’t a bad place to be, either: the F Sport Performance possesses 19-inch Enkei wheels, dual-stacked exhaust pipes (a nod to the IS F and RC F), unique F Sport exterior badging and accouterments, F Sport suspension tuning, and a Torsen limited-slip differential. LED headlights and exterior lighting are present, as is a push button start/stop, an extensive list of tech and safety amenities (more on that later), a comfortable NuLuxe leather interior with a 10-way power adjustable driver seat, Bluetooth, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

Moving up to the F Sport Performance Premium swaps the Enkeis for beautiful 19-inch forged BBS wheels (optional on F Sport Performance), and tacks on a handful of exterior upgrades like upgraded headlights, dark chrome window trim, and some neat/unique paint choices. Inside, it gets a Mark Levinson 17-speaker 1800-watt stereo, plus a handful of finer luxury details mixed in. If it were my money, I’d save a couple grand and do the F Sport Performance with those BBS wheels added on.

Design, interior, and infotainment

As far as modern four-door luxury goes, the Lexus IS 500 is certainly a looker. It’s got an overall muscular shape, particularly in its hips, and my tester’s bright and gorgeous Blue Vector paint is contrasted by dark F Sport exterior trim accents and satin black BBS wheels made for one sharp package. The cherry on top are LED headlights, aggressive front fascia, and staggered wheels wrapped in 235-front and 265-rear Summer rubber—these help it pass the Look Back After Parking Test for sure.

Opening the front driver door reveals a spacious environment filled with clean design and all the airiness. It’s a very pleasant place to be. The soft yet nicely bolstered NuLuxe sport seats are quite comfortable and supportive and possess both heating and cooling. The center console and dash area are nicely appointed with real, physical toggles and buttons, and in spite of some piano black plastic here and there, it all feels very solid to the touch. Dual-zone climate control is standard, as is a big sunroof for increasing airiness even further.

Space-wise, my six-foot-three stature had plenty of leg and headroom, and ingress and egress were easy with its big front doors, though I wish I could’ve telescoped the wheel a tad closer to my torso. Rear seat room was great below the waist, though a little tight for someone of my height.

2024 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance
Image credit: Peter Nelson

With plenty of physical buttons and a very nice, logical layout, Lexus’ infotainment is one of the better systems I’ve operated in recent years. While the love-it-or-hate-it touchpad is still present (personally, I don’t mind it, and it’s far easier to work than Acura’s), the standard eight-inch touchscreen responded quite well to inputs, and Lexus’ software was generally easy to navigate, save for making a few minor customization changes like touchpad sensitivity, as well as connecting Apple CarPlay. Unfortunately, the latter isn’t wireless.

When it comes to advanced driver assistance technology, a lot is standard for the price. Lexus Safety System+ 2.5’s features begin with frontal collision warning, automatic emergency braking, rear cross traffic alert, automatic high beams, as well as pedestrian and bicyclist detection. Additionally, dynamic radar cruise control is in the mix, which operates in a smooth and predictable fashion, and will even stop and crawl along in traffic. Lane tracing assist works generally well, though has some trouble maintaining the center of the lane on the highway, especially if markers are a bit worn.

What’s hot?– Excellent overall power
– Makes an excellent noise
– Great looks
– Solid ride quality
– Confident well-planted handling
– Good steering
– A comfortable and relaxing place to hang out in
2024 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance
Image credit: Peter Nelson

Japan’s manic muscle car in a tidy tuxedo

The main draw for the IS’ 500 designation is its engine: Lexus’ 5.0-liter 2UR-GSE. Producing 472 horsepower and 395 pound-feet of torque, this mighty IS will hit the 60 mph mark from zero in a reported 4.4 seconds. Not bad for a 3,891-pound sedan. Fun fact: It’s the same basic engine found in Lexus’ RC F GT3 race car, just with a few tweaks and displacement bumped up to 5.4 liters. This mighty beast helped Vasser Sullivan Racing win the driver’s, team’s, and manufacturer’s championship in IMSA’s 2023 WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTD Pro class.

Unlike other modern V8-equipped hardware, the IS 500 is a little down on low-end torque. It’ll move along just fine below 4,000 RPM, but to get the full experience of all five liters, you have to make sure it’s revved out—I doubt most folks in the market would complain about this, though, as it’s an overall smooth engine at any rpm.

2024 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance
Image credit: Peter Nelson

Then, when it comes to any situation that requires wide open throttle, the symphony of induction and exhaust is nothing short of brilliant. While this all-aluminum unit has a faintly lumpy, conventional-sounding V8 burble at idle and lower revs while cruising around town, it perks up nicely in the mid-range and doesn’t stop roaring until its 7,100-rpm redline. An actuator in the intake system opens up around 4,000 rpm to let in even more bass-filled induction roar, too, and it’s a very welcome addition to the overall experience.

It may be a little slow down low in the tachometer, but it more than makes up for it up top. In addition to its beautiful five-liter soundtrack, its linear power curve gets a tad steeper past 4,500 rpm. For reference, it’s like a cross between Ford’s 5.0-liter Coyote and BMW’s legendary 4.0-liter S65—some American flavor in the way it burbles in the low and midrange, yet it spins up quite smoothly and quickly up high like the near-race-level Bavarian creation. Additionally, the torque shove never gets old, so it’s quite difficult to drive with optimal fuel economy in mind.

Image credit: Peter Nelson

F Sport Performance = An F-Lite for the day-to-day grind

When the IS 500 first came out a few years ago, the talk of the town was whether it was the successor to Lexus’ M3 fighter from ten-or-so years ago, the beloved IS F sport sedan. Also known as the luxury sport sedan for folks who don’t want to deal with moody European reliability. Having driven both on very fun SoCal roads, I must affirm that it’s not, but it’s still quite good for what it is.

Think of it as an F-lite: The F Sport Performance’s modus operandi is solid overall handling and steering. 

Around town, Lexus’ adaptive variable dampers’ sportiest Sport S+ mode, the 500 was quite compliant and daily-able. By that same token, its steering was comfortably light and easy to spin around in easy-going day-in, day-out driving. The package dealt with Los Angeles’ roughest surfaces quite well. In fact, I didn’t notice much of a difference between Sport S+ and the supposed-to-be-softer Sport S, although there was some definite softening up in Normal. I could feel its Summer tires’ thinner/harder sidewall over particularly brutal roadway imperfections, but it was still quite solid and well-damped across all modes.

Then, the 500’s eight-speed conventional automatic transmission shifts smoothly and often enough to help offset its thirsty powerplant—no complaints there. Again, top marks for daily-bility.

Then, to bolster its one-car-to-do-it-all appeal further: This thing is so much fun on twisty roads.

2024 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance
Image credit: Peter Nelson

A fun sedan that can dance with the best of ’em

Those aforementioned adaptive dampers are wrapped in double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension that keeps the IS 500 F Sport’s body roll well contained in twisty, mountain-top sweepers. There’s still some lean to it—it’s a big, comfortable sedan, after all—but not to the point of easily upsetting the tires’ contact patch. Grip levels felt ample and hard to shake while sailing this 3,900-pound Japanese sedan through the San Gabriel Mountains’ famous sweepers at speed. The front end was vague, as was turn-in a few degrees off-center. But the steering loaded up nicely off-center in the corners, which, combined with a pretty quick steering ratio, made for an engaging experience. 

People often point to older BMWs and Mercedes as having a certain bank vault feel to them while rolling down the road—the IS 500 is the modern iteration of this, and especially when it comes to staying composed in the twisties.

2024 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance
Image credit: Peter Nelson

Then, if you’re ever in a situation where traction control happens to be off, and you need to make an especially tight U-turn, or you’re inclined to expedite warming up the rear tires with some playful opposite lock through a wide-open intersection, the 500 has you covered. Oversteer is wonderfully controllable thanks to the Torsen limited-slip differential at the rear axle, especially with a committed right foot to dispatch as much of that 395 pound-feet of torque as possible.

Finally, keeping a handle on all that power and grip are two-piece 14-inch front and 12.7-inch rear brake rotors. The initial bite was soft, and they were a bit vague to modulate, though that’s to be expected for something with daily versatility in mind. The pads held up reasonably well at a quick pace in the twisties and only started to overheat and fade after 20 or so minutes of harder driving. But I bet this could be easily resolved with some better aftermarket pads.

2024 Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance
Image credit: Peter Nelson
What’s not?– Infotainment can be a tad confusing
– Slightly lacking in low-end torque
– Little communication from the front end in corners at high speed
– Brakes are a little soft and lacking in modulation

A final bastion for V8 sport sedans

In spite of its appealing specs that make for one entertaining and versatile driving experience, it’s still a little surprising that Lexus is the last operation on the block to offer a rear-wheel drive luxury sedan with a revvy and ever-entertaining V8. It’s actually utilized this formula for decades in one way or another, but seems to always be overshadowed by the likes of BMW or Mercedes-Benz, which definitely adds to the appeal.

Good on Lexus for sticking to its guns. 

EVs, PHEVs, and standard hybrids are great, as is lively turbocharged fare, but the versatility and potency of a V8 will always be music to enthusiasts’ ears (pun intended). And with everything else around it, like nicely tuned suspension and solid luxury chops, it’s an especially compelling final iteration. It’s all but certain that another all-motor V8 four-door luxury sedan will never come along, but luckily, the IS 500 F Sport is a solid overall last chapter that’d put a smile on any enthusiasts’ face day in and day out.

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Maserati GranTurismo Trofeo
FeaturesNew Car Reviews

The Maserati GranTurismo Trofeo is a grand tourer on paper but a sports car at heart

As the sun casts its last light on this Maserati’s otherwise subdued metallic coat, I stand starstruck. Half a day spent touring SoCal’s finest roads and towns in the Maserati GranTurismo Trofeo left me imbued with a newfound respect for what a grand touring car can really be. I had always dismissed them as country club shuttles for rickety old rich men (and they still kind of are). But this voluptuous land yacht sitting pretty on the beach makes a case that its breed can be more than just hulking, overpowered pillows, both on its spec sheet and in practice. I’d like to think that’s a good thing.

Not long ago, you knew exactly what a grand tourer was and where the fine line was between it and sports cars. Aston Martin DB9 and DB11. Bentley Continental GT. The last-gen Maserati GranTurismo. The usual suspects. But now? Sports cars have been softened and pumped up with extra cabin space and niceties, while traditional GTs got a little more hardcore. 911s are now nicer than ever. There are AMR versions of Astons with blinding liveries and carbon brakes.

Now we have this: the new-generation Maserati GranTurismo, a tourer poised to be among the most lively and theatric in its class, especially in its racier Trofeo trim. Over five days, including my half-day lap of Circuit De Los Angeles, it was time to see how well its transition to modernity has sharpened this perennial favorite’s blade without dulling its table manners.

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Maserati GranTurismo Trofeo
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

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Price and specs

$229,620. Two-hundred thirty thousand. Yeah, I’ll break that down in a sec. But at least that supercar price tag affords some gnarly supercar tidbits. Most notably, the new-gen GranTurismo ditches that glorious, naturally-aspirated V8 of yesteryear for the MC20 supercar’s 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, belching out 542 horsepower to all four wheels. The 8-speed automatic is supplied by none other than ZF (and in other news, water is wet) and should help yield some wicked test numbers should a publication get their hands on one for instrumented sciencing. Still, the suspiciously conservative-sounding 3.5-second rip to 60 sounds plenty healthy to me, especially for something packing this much digital screen and dead cow skin within.

Base price:$205,000
As-tested price:$229,620
Engine:3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6
Transmission:8-speed automatic 
Drivetrain:All-wheel drive
Power:542 horsepower @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 479 pound-feet @ 3,000 rpm
Redline:6,500 rpm
Weight: approx. 3,900 to 4,200 pounds
Zero-to-60 mph: approx. 3.5 seconds
¼-mile:approx. 11.6 seconds
MPG: 18 city, 27 highway, 21 combined
Observed MPG:16.7 MPG
Fuel Capacity: 18.5 gallons

GranTurismo Trofeo exterior design

What can I say? It’s a beauty. A stunner. Dropdead gorgeous. It takes the same design language and proportions as the generation it replaces and evolves it for the present day, with a long snout, short deck, and those iconic Maserati porthole vents. Even the shape of the roofline and side windows are nearly identical, and that’s fine by me. Don’t fix what ain’t broke.

Some more prominent evolutions include headlights and taillights that look straight off the exotic MC20, reinforcing Maserati’s current theme of somewhat bulbous headlights and slender taillights. Twin hood vents peer from right behind the border between the front bumper and the hood itself, while physical door handles are replaced with buttons within a recessed hole.

Unless you look at this alongside the tamer Modena, you’d be hardfetched to realize there’s a difference. But alas, the Trofeo rocks a slightly angrier front fascia with more pronounced side intakes, teeny-tiny black sideskirt extensions, and of course, red-outlined Trofeo script over the porthole vents. As an added plus, the aerodynamic refinements drop its drag coefficient from 0.32 to 0.28, all while retaining that silhouette. Part of that is likely attributable to the adjustable air suspension, which can range from proper sports car low to wannabe-crossover high. I’m sure all that adjustability is a good thing.

Maserati GranTurismo Trofeo
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco
What’s hot?– Drives a whole lot smaller than it actually is
– Raucous powertrain delivers near-supercar speed
– Sports car agility and response in most aggressive drive modes
– Everyday livable, even in Sport or Corsa
– Surprising highway fuel economy
– Quick, intuitive touchscreen response

GranTurismo Trofeo pricing breakdown

What’s not a good thing is how its price has inflated well into supercar territory. The base price for the final iterations of the last-gen GranTurismos fell anywhere between $150,000 to over $160,000. The lower-rung, 483-horsepower Modena starts at roughly $175,000. Our higher-performance Trofeo tester started at $205,000 and climbed to $229,620 with options. Good. Freaking. Grief.

The Sport Design Package adds beautifully crafted metal pedals and an aluminum door sill plate for $1,450. The Tech Assistance Package adds a rearview mirror camera and a HUD for $2,600. Comfort Assistance adds ventilated seats and a hands-free trunk for $1,070. Okay, it’s not so egregious thus far. But Maserati’s advanced driving assist suite, with surround cameras, adaptive cruise, and lane centering, not unlike lesser Stellantis products, is a tear-jerking $8,300. Our upgraded wheel package’s 20-inch front and 21-inch rear wheels add $4,500, a “premium alarm system” adds $2,000, and the upgraded Sonus sound system adds $4,000. At least everything else, from the Skyhook adaptive and height-adjustable air suspension, dual-zone climate, powered everything, all-wheel drive, and the Trofeo-exclusive eLSD, comes standard.

To make you feel better, the Maserati still kind of stands as the same value proposition as it always has in the face of rivals. The current Aston Martin DB12 and Bentley Continental GT start somewhere just below $250,000, with both easily able to skyrocket deep into the $300,000s. But then we must acknowledge its peers on the sportier side of the fence. The 911 Turbo S starts at $230,400, while the outgoing Audi R8 V10 Performance started around $161,395. Perhaps the GranTurismo’s closest rivals come in the form of the Mercedes-AMG SL 63 Roadster, which starts at $183,000, or Maserati’s own MC20 supercar, which starts at a little over $210,000.

To be fair, if you were eyeing a new GranTurismo, cross-shopping was never that big of an issue; you were going to buy several of these cars, anyway. But for those who didn’t win the full jackpot at the casino, it’s something to consider.

Maserati GranTurismo Trofeo
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

GranTurismo Trofeo interior tech

Mirroring the Grecale luxury crossover, the GranTurismo boasts an entire cabin that’s posh, cozy, and appreciably easy to acclimate to off the bat. Anyone can get in and become familiarized with it in minutes. As mentioned, our tester featured a whole suite of surround-view cameras that came in handy in tight parking situations, including a rearview camera for the mirror, whose camera is cleverly disguised as a shark fin antenna. You can view your fine Italian surveillance equipment via the sizeable 12-inch touchscreen, which houses wired or wireless CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as the latest generation of Stellantis’ uConnect.

As one would expect, leather is abundant. The seats themselves are pretty much 132% cow and are soft to the touch but not too soft that results in the bolsters not doing their job in sporty driving. It’s a fine piece of in-car furniture that anyone can slide into for a thousand-mile jaunt across continents or a rip in the mountains, made easy by heating that cooks you alive and ventilation seats that actually cool you down instead of letting an asthmatic mouse blow on you. As for the rear seats? Shockingly roomy, with their own cupholders and USB and USB-C charging.

All creature comforts and most vehicle switchgear, including the headlights, are controlled via the 8.8-inch touchscreen saddled just beneath the infotainment system, creating one giant mass of touchscreen. While intimidating at first, you notice all the controls displayed on the screen are logically laid out and fall easily to your touch, with little to no second guesses if you’re looking in the right spot. Such a seamless blend of modernity and elegance seems like a recipe for one hell of a road tripper, as a proper GT should be.

And you’re right.

Yup, it can still be your everyday land yacht

Oh, come on now. No one should’ve ever had any second guesses as to what this car is capable of when the odometer starts climbing. It’s in the car’s name, for crying out loud. The GranTurismo swallows miles with ease, both out on the highway and in dense urban settings. A 250-mile grand tour around SoCal taught me that as I traversed the 5, conquered the 405, and embarked on risky journeys into the heart of LA County’s concrete jungles.

Maserati GranTurismo Trofeo
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

Turn the rotary drive mode dial on the steering wheel to Comfort or GT and leave the shocks in their base setting, and you’re off to a world of motoring nirvana, or as close as we can come in 2024. The Sonus sound system is a crystal-clear banger, and the ZF transmission slurs its shifts just enough to iron out the exchange in torque between gears without dampening its acceleration for on-ramps or between traffic lights. The Skyhook air suspension, coupled with the GranTurismo’s boat-like wheelbase, means expansion joints and potholes are rendered mostly negligible. The car’s sporty intentions mean it’s far from perfect, however, and the thin tire sidewalls can transmit some high-frequency impacts. But it’s never harsh, even in Sport. Dare I argue that this car is still everyday-livable in Corsa?

After half a day cannonballing from Malibu’s Marmalade Cafe to El Monte’s Fujiwara Tofu Cafe, the GranTurismo never let me down, not even in the slightest. Fuel economy was remarkable thanks to sky-high overdrive gears and cylinder deactivation. I frequently matched or beat the EPA figures, hitting anywhere between 27 to 29 mpg on the freeway. My 16.7 average came with some fairly aggressive canyon runs, but even that’s still admirable. The long wheelbase wasn’t too problematic when making U-turns and sharp right-handers once in downtown LA.

Maserati GranTurismo Trofeo
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

Perhaps my only gripes included camera resolutions that could be better, and larger cupholders would do nicely for the afternoon coffee runs rather than the ones that can barely fit water bottles. There were also some electrical gremlins with my tester, but I’ll save those for the end, as I refuse to believe the customer cars can be that frustrating. Oh, and the length can be a bit too much sometimes. And no, that is not what she said. That is what I said. Although the car drives smaller than it is, you’ll never forget it measures over 16 feet once in a garage or actually attempting to park in a space. Just ask the knick I left on one of the wheels.

Once again, I’m terribly sorry, Maserati.

If it’s any condolences, I will say that although this behemoth of a car drives quite a bit smaller out on the open highway or under the city lights, it absolutely shrinks once you let it loose for some exercise. Which you totally should in this thing.

Maserati GranTurismo Trofeo
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

Now an obese BRZ?

Yes. It’s an obese BRZ. A double-thicc FR-S, if you will. A heavy Hachi-Roku, if I must. And I don’t say that as complete hyperbole. Only a little. I knew the GranTurismo would shine cruising down the California coastline. What I didn’t expect was how it annihilates the canyons high above. From the sweepers and switchbacks cascading the hills near Malibu and later onto the Angeles Forest, this (presumably) two-ton hunk of sculpted metal and cowhide never missed a beat.

Leave the dampers in Comfort, Sport, or Corsa. Doesn’t matter. The chassis never gets upset. Leave the drive mode in Sport or turn the wick up to the Trofeo-exclusive Corsa mode if you feel like tangling with deactivated safety nannies. The car still doesn’t care. The car will ensure you’re having a blast. A flick of the drive mode dial, and the GranTurismo clears its throat for a more baritone growl out its four tailpipes, snarling and blatting on rapid-fire upshifts. They’re not PDK quick but don’t expect it from this platform. It’s quick enough. In Auto mode, this raucous ‘Rati is smart enough to choose the right gear 99% of the time. But the real treat is Manual mode, where the oh-so-satisfying metal paddles go from centerpieces on your steering column to playthings with long throws and a satisfyingly tactile click-clack.

Maserati GranTurismo Trofeo
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

The all-wheel-drive system mostly acts with a 30/70 rear bias, deceiving even me into forgetting it’s all-wheel drive at all. Even in the tightest of slow-speed bends like the hairpins of Decker Canyon and Yerba Buena en route to Point Mugu, the actions of the front wheels are mostly invisible. Get a little snarky, and you can even get the ass end to wriggle just a wee bit. The GranTurismo can and will play if prodded hard enough.

The 3.0-liter Nettuno V6, first debuting in the MC20 and making headlines with its trick, F1-derived prechamber ignition, feels every bit of its 542 horsepower. I wouldn’t be surprised if Maserati’s 3.5-second 0-to-60 claim was sandbagged harder than any German car. And despite sporting forced induction, it builds power gradually enough to fool some purists, clamoring for every opportunity to slam into its 6,500 redline. Or I think it’s 7,000. The different shades of red near the end of the tach sort of mesh together. Torque peaks at 3,000 rpm, and power peaks at 6,500 rpm, so just wring it out and let the Nettuno sing its little song to its heart’s content, even if it’s a bit muted. Nothing companies like Akrapovic or Novitec can’t fix.

Steering is sharp and well-weighted, never requiring you to cross arms in the Malibu canyons and doing a decent job at conveying road imperfections or changes in grip. I won’t call it as good as sports cars of old, but it’s as good as some of the absolute best EPAS systems today and has a clear tie to its distant Ferrari cousins. And try as those potholes may, the GranTurismo is unflappable. Left to right to left to right, the GranTurismo turns in with eagerness and spirit, takes a set, and holds its line beautifully, no matter the road, and without a hint of understeer. After rocketing down the straights and leaning onto the resilient, easy-to-modulate steel brakes, you can let the Trofeo cling onto a single pivot and whip itself around a bend.

Props to the Skyhook adaptive air suspension. Props to Goodyear Eagle F1s that measure 265-mm wide up front and 295 out back. Props to the Nettuno being pushed deep behind the front axle. And before you start hypothesizing as to what else could lend to the GranTurismo’s agility, the answer is no. This does not have rear-wheel steering. It’s just that agile. Yeah, I’m as surprised as you are.

Maserati GranTurismo Trofeo
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

Impressive for such a massive luxury coupe, isn’t it? Almost reminds me of a pair of sub-3,000-pound Japanese twins. Almost. Okay, not really. The luxury car half of Maserati might never let this be a true sports car. Too insulated. Too big. It could transmit even more feedback and sing with more confidence in its voice. Am I being harsh? Or am I simply remembering that Aston Vantages and Porsche 911s also occupy this realm? But the GranTurismo is a great everyman, even for sporty driving. It’s better than anything I could’ve ever expected merely seeing it parked at the Malibu Country Mart, where rainbow-colored Huracan Technicas and AMG G-Wagons dwarf its road presence.

What’s not?– Needs more l o u d from the exhaust
– Rivals some boats in length
– All-touchscreen center stack may not resonate with some drivers
– Can never be a true sports car when it’s still a luxury tourer
– Painful price tag encroaches on entry-level supercar territory
– Hiccups with electronics range from “whatever” to “what the hell”

Long live Italian automakers

And now here I come, back to the coastal sunset where I started this discussion. As I let the car tick cool by the water at Point Mugu, the sun beaming off the chrome Trident after driving half of my planned grand tour by this point, I had already realized what this car was all about. A night spent racing beneath downtown’s lights and over the LA River towards a certain anime-themed dessert shop, the last possible setting you’d expect to see one of these, rendered my beliefs unshakable.

I can see certain traditionalists not getting to grips with the digital dash or all-touchscreen center stack, no matter how logically arranged or responsive it is. And in traditional Italian fashion, the electronics were… temperamental. Try TPMS sensors or lane centering that intermittently stops working or a key fob that apparently dies after 3,000 miles, leaving you unable to lock the car and then stranding you atop a mountain when you manually lock it. Just Italian things. Things I can only hope are mere duds in my test car that don’t make it into the production customer vehicles.

But all can be (sort of) forgiven when a car is this damn lovable. To hell with its size and weight, for it wears it well. To hell with its rivals, for they lack this car’s charisma.

What we should think when graced with the new GranTurismo is a proper hats off to Maserati engineers for not sullying this fan favorite. It may not be the fastest, most hardcore thing in its price range, nor is it the most prestigious in its class or even just reliable as a car. But it plays the role of a Jack of All Trades performance car remarkably well, eager to put a smile on your face on your favorite asphalt ribbons or traverse a thousand miles of interstate at your command, and it does so in that undeniably lovable way only the Italians know how to pull off.

Poor man’s Ferrari, they say? Hell yeah. Long live Maserati. Long live Italian automakers. Viva L’Italia!

Maserati GranTurismo Trofeo
Image credit: Jeric Jaleco

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Pajero Evo RHD
FeaturesSaturday Morning Car Tune!

Let’s make a case for right-hand drive in American traffic

This past Wednesday, my 1998 Mitsubishi Montero with 245,000 miles on the odometer went into the shop. Not for a breakdown, rest assured, but because I want a professional to install 4.90 final drive rings and pinions—but much more on that build coming soon here at Acceleramota. 

More importantly, with the Montero getting work done, I now face the all-too-real prospect of full-time daily driving my 1997 Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution in Los Angeles traffic. Not that I avoided right-hand drive in LA previously, but until a press car arrives or the weather improves enough for me to ride my 2006 Ducati Monster S2R 1000, the PajEvo is the only running car in my garage.

And I can admit, before I bought the Pajero, the prospect of daily driving a JDM (or UK) import made me a little nervous. So I’m here now to nudge along anyone who might feel similar hesitations, which may or may not be the reason they haven’t purchased the JDM (ahem, or UK) car of their dreams: Do it. You get used to right-hand drive surprisingly quickly.

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Picking up a PajEvo at the port

My non-Lancer Evo arrived at Long Beach just over a year ago, four months after a slightly lucky situation in the Japanese auction houses left me a surprise homologation special with my name on it. I knew almost nothing about the importation process previously, but I worked with Rami Fetyani at Inbound Motorsports to handle the shipping and customs paperwork. Extensive COVID delays outside anyone’s control while booking a ro-ro spot meant that I doubted the Evo’s battery would arrive in America with enough juice in the tank to turn over the engine, so I showed up to the port with a jump pack and trailer just in case.

Good thing, too, because a bit of drama promptly ensued—the long story short, it involves two trucks with jumper cable leads revving at the same time, an empty gas tank, a bone-dry transmission pan, and full-sending the new-to-me PajEvo up onto the trailer bed. And yet, as nervy as the day went, I almost breathed a sigh of relief because my first RHD experience wouldn’t be stop-and-go commuting north on the 405 freeway during rush hour.

Pajero Evo RHD
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

I had rented RHD cars in St Lucia and Scotland previously, but in those environments, all the signs and lanes and other cars help with the adjustment to steering from (objectively, or so I formerly thought) the wrong side of a car. In the good old US of A, I imagined the experience differently because I rarely see other RHD cars. Surely, bumping off rearview mirrors and head-on collisions leap up in frequency, right? Tracking in lanes without overthinking, left-hand turns with zero visibility, and high-speed passing on two-lane roads also nagged at my subconscious. Eek.

Sure, I’d also tracked a center-seat F4 racecar for a hard day at Radford Racing School without any struggles adjusting, but that hyperactively paranoid mindset also helps explain why I decided on a Pajero Evolution with an automatic transmission rather than a manual. And not just to keep me from adjusting to RHD with a stick shift in the left hand, but also in the hopes that my friends could drive the truck without undue concern for damaging an awesome piece of Dakar history (through an accident or frying the clutch or grinding the gears). 

Michael's Mitsubishi Pajero Evo
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

Mild inconvenience or major pain in the…

I plan to share more about the long process of getting the Pajero up and running soon, too, but in the meantime, I found myself quickly adjusting to steering from the right (wrong) side of the road. The first few times out, luckily, I drove out on empty desert roads down the hill from Wrightwood, CA. Those ruler straights interrupted by occasional long sweepers helped me overcome a noticeable sense of awkwardness and at least establish a bit of confidence before I drove into town. Of course, I mixed up my turn signal and windshield wiper stalks constantly once I needed them changing lanes or while making turns, while also spending far more time correcting my positioning in lanes than I would more fluidly driving a left-hand-drive car.

Luckily, I noticed that on the Evo, that cute little Japanese parking mirror on the left of the hood just happens to give a perfect view of the lefthand lane stripes from the right-hand driver’s seat. When Doug DeMuro brought a Pajero Evo onto Jay Leno’s Garage, Leno spent the whole time raving about the mirror and glossing over the rally history—but in reality, it’s probably an even bigger help here in an LHD country than while parallel parking in Japan.

Michael's Mitsubishi Pajero Evo
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

Parallel parking an RHD car here in the USA, meanwhile, makes doing so in an LHD car seem unbelievably difficult and unnecessarily complex. Just look down. The curb is right there, no problemo (the Evo’s short wheelbase and incredibly tight turning radius also help, without a doubt). 

From a visibility standpoint, I can admit that making left turns in city traffic does kind of suck. At least the Pajero’s stance and upright Recaro seats let me look right over most cars and through any big American SUVs. But when I get stuck behind a panel van or an SUV with tinted glass, I quickly learn that patience becomes the name of the game. Not my strong suit, to be sure, but you just have to accept that the car in front of you almost needs to clear the intersection entirely before enough of the road becomes visible to make a safe decision about whether to follow. I also believe I probably check the driver’s side door mirror rather than the main rearview more often than on an LHD car.

On the other hand—another bad dad pun, get used to it—I can confirm that my other main concern, about passing on highways, definitely 100% sucks. Again, patience. Inching out around slower cars to check for oncoming traffic requires a tentative peek around the right side first, then a quick jab out for an initial glance to the left. Next, downshift (using the PajEvo’s sick tiptronic-style automatic shift lever) and rev up to the moon, ready to punch that throttle if a window opens up. But maybe also hover over the brakes with your left foot…

Pajero Evo RHD
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

Unexpected challenges that I never pre-visioned also crop up now and then. The left A column creates a weird blind spot when inching forward to make a wide right-hand turn. Shifting into Park to climb across the passenger seat while grabbing tickets at a parking garage entrance never looks smooth—the best bet is to only use parking garages with a friend in the other seat. And speaking of it, I often wonder whether cops only check the right-hand seat while scanning for offenders in the carpool lane. Probably better not to risk it, given my historical luck with Murphy’s Law, but I suspect that RHD cars might get more frequently mistaken for HOV-eligible passenger vehicles. 

Hilariously, I also now mix up the wiper and turn signal stalks repeatedly on LHD cars that aren’t mine (of which I drive an inordinate number in this game). And I’ve noticed that passengers often climb into the PajEvo’s passenger seat only to subconsciously put their right foot on a non-existent brake pedal.

Ha, gotcha suckers.

Pajero Evo RHD
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

Avoiding cyclists becomes far easier, too, and in fact, a bigger challenge for me has been constantly converting kilometers per hour on the speedo and Celsius on the climate control to Imperial units.

The absolute strangest experience since adjusting to right-hand drive here in the USA? Flying to the UK and then driving a LHD Porsche built there. Talk about a real mindfuck. I spent the whole time shifting badly and overcorrecting, entirely baffled by roundabouts and oncoming traffic throughout the solid half-hour of an embarrassing performance. Luckily, the owner of that half-million-dollar build braved the experience better than my fragile male ego.

A shopping list for the growing love of JDM classics 

Equally luckily, roundabouts are still rare here in the US. I expect they’d provide a bit of a challenge for JDM or British car owners new to RHD, but that experience of acclimating to a new car actually provides part of the appeal to me now. And there are so many awesome cars that we simply never got a chance to enjoy Stateside. Fair warning: I know my taste is odd, but a few I have my eye on now:

Nissan Pulsar GTI-R

One of the most underrepresented hot hatches ever, with an SR20DET turbo-four, the ATTESA all-wheel-drive system from a Skyline GT-R, and a five-speed manual. A curb weight of only 2,690 pounds and an easily tunable 227-horsepower four-banger allowed the Pulsar GTI-R to beat a Porsche 911 in a quarter-mile at the time. Now imagine with modern tires and a bit more boost, all in a cute little package complete with a hood scoop and a big rear wing. Heck yes.

Mitsubishi Delica

The Delica, van form of my Montero and Pajero siblings, is available with a similar Super Select four-wheel-drive system and plenty of suspension travel. The “van life” and overlanding trends make these awesomely capable vehicles somewhat more valuable now, but as an enclosed replacement for either a kei truck or an American-market Mighty Max pickup to haul motorcycles, a Delica might just do the trick perfectly.

Honda N360 (N600s pictured)

An early kei car with an air-cooled two-cylinder engine and chain drive, the transmission mounted in the motor’s oil sump, and quintessential 1960s Honda style! Think about the lil’ N360 or its Westernized twin, visually-identical N600, with a Hayabusa swap (heresy!) or, at the very least, a higher-performance Honda motorcycle engine.

Toyota Century

I probably want a second-gen Toyota Century to live out my dictatorship dreams with the Rolls Royce of Japan, complete with a V12 engine, and gotta have the lace blinds. Too bad my chauffeur would have to handle navigating this big RHD boat while shuffling me around parties in the Hollywood Hills, but the ride home afterward would be absolute bliss (because I’d be sound asleep, cradled in ultimate late-1990s luxury.

A case for right-hand drive

That Toyota Century daydream, however, loses track of one of the best aspects of dailying an RHD car in the United States: namely, that most JDM cars take up far less space on the road than typical American cars, trucks, and SUVs. Even the Pajero Evo, which shares plenty of components with the full-size Gen 2/2.5 and Gen 3 Monteros sold here in the United States, somehow still feels small and nimble thanks to that short wheelbase.

Speed helps, too, especially for highway passing. Unlike most kei trucks and vans that are blowing up in popularity these days, the PajEvo counts as legitimately quick, if not truly fast. And not just in a straight line, where the 276-horsepower rating of the Japanese “Gentleman’s Agreement” feels entirely underrated. But also while cornering. I even chased down a Ferrari 360 Modena recently in the Malibu canyons (the guy was driving hard but not well, clearly). Not that I’d ever forget this is still a body-on-frame truck wearing high-sidewall LT-metric off-road tires that also flex and lean while turning. But still, Evolution definitely means something.

Michael's Mitsubishi Pajero Evo
Image credit: Michael Van Runkle

Then there’s actual off-roading, which of all the Pajero Evos I’ve yet seen in the USA, mine undoubtedly does the most. Out on fast-graded roads and in wide-open deserts, the RHD adjustment period just flies right by. But on tighter or rockier trails, where tire placement becomes extra important, I still need a bit more practice. Tilted over to the right, either from the left tires riding up on rocks or while cornering hard in the canyons through a left-hander, still creates a bit of vertigo as I occasionally sneak a glance down. Keep those eyes where you want to go. I can hear the Radford crew shouting.

And yet, after about a year of on-and-off RHD experience and then a more solid block of time with my Montero in the shop and no press loaner in my garage due to the holidays, the confidence while driving from the right side only grew more and more quickly. So, to those on the fence about actually importing a JDM car, I say go out and get it. 

After finding the right car, importing the PajEvo wasn’t even too bad—I can highly recommend Rami at Inbound Motorsports. The only hard part about the whole process was having the patience to wait while shipping took four months. But after that waiting period, having the patience to get used to RHD will feel like an absolute cinch.

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