2010 Mazda MX-5 MiataEnlarge Photo
Mazda MX-5 (Miata)
I drove a first generation car once and got hooked. Every time I see it, I want it. You know it'll be cheap to run, fun to drive and the Miata will teach you about the virtues of light weight, a phenomenal shifter and direct steering. The upside is that there are so many of them out there, you can buy a used one for cheap, and then you'll have automotive bliss for years to come. Practicality goes out the window, but hey, I want this as a second car. I am still trying to convince my wife it makes perfect sense.
Nissan Fairlady ZEnlarge Photo
This one is a bit of a throwback, I admit, but I think it's worth it. The one time I got a ride in this car (some 25 years ago), it was with a guy in high school we all thought would either wind up selling drugs or becoming a lawyer. He became a lawyer. Splitting hairs, I know. Anyhow, this was one of those seminal automotive experiences that taught me cars can thrill you and make life worth living. This is one of those classic shapes that will never go out of style. Long nose, short back and it said 'fast'. It also had a nice, deep interior. You felt cocooned, but not too much so. You were part of the machine. People still want this car today and for good reasons. The 2.4-liter six-cylinder engine was smooth, had a gravelly voice and revved. It had a shifter that was deliberate and needed you to work at it, but in a good way. And the handling (at least at the time) seemed sweet for a car that was a bit beat up and on balding tries. But man, was it fun. I would take that car in a heartbeat and drive it all summer long.
2010 Honda FitEnlarge Photo
Honda Fit (Jazz)
Odd choice, I know. But when I test drove this car, I had a huge grin on my face. It had all of Honda's ‘fun’ DNA traits, like a positive shifter, great seats, good visibility, and just enough fun given the limited horsepower. But it was a Honda-smooth four-pot that the company knows how to do so well. The combo of the sweet shifter and nice engine and light clutch just made me want to run up the tach over and over, and row through the gears at every opportunity. It's not a handling champ like a Miata, but it was fun for what it is. It's proof that you can have fun with not a lot of car. It's also cheap on gas, practical and easy to live with. But don't let that distract you from the fun you can have with this little thing.
2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class 4Matic DemonstrationEnlarge Photo
I have to admit, I have only been in this car in Europe, but each and every time, I loved it! They mostly had diesel engines, but of the various E-class cars I drove in, they all made you feel like a champ, like you had arrived in style--even if it was a station wagon or a 2.0L diesel. Those things are built so solid. The interiors have changed over the years, and it went from good to great to cheaper and less than great, but the current version looks and feels substantial and expensive. The one I sat in felt so solidly built that you could set off a small arms device in there and you would probably see some dust on the dash, maybe a scratch or two, and that's about it. I'd take this over an S-Class because there is a little more driving pleasure and if you ever get the chance to bomb down the Autobahn, this car is almost purpose-built for this kind of thing.
2010 Rolls-Royce GhostEnlarge Photo
Rolls-Royce Silver Spur
OK, this one counts as a passenger experience. Many, many years ago when I still had some youth to misspend, I was visiting a friend in England, and we met up in London. I knew her step-dad was wealthy, and there we stood at the train station, a couple of 19 year-olds, in shorts and t-shirts, waiting for our ride to her flat, and up pulls this Rolls-Royce, in dark blue with a leather interior made from about 1,000 pampered cows who had given their lives for the pampering of wealthy, regal bottoms. I had such a grin on my face, I can't describe it. Sure, it has an engine like every other car. Sure, it has doors and a steering wheel (and a chauffeur!) and tires too. But this was no ordinary car. It had those overlapping double R's and real wood on the inside that you know came from some place that no longer has a rainforest. And leather so soft and smooth, you'd want your whole wardrobe and house to be covered in the stuff--even the bathtub. We moved silently through traffic for about 15 minutes and heard the distant thump-thump of the road beneath the wheels as I stretched out my short legs with room a-plenty to spare. What a ride. That was a little bit of automotive heaven.