In Search of a New Project Car 2


Last year (2014) was a tough one for me, automotively speaking. I won’t go in to details, but bad weather claimed the Integra GS-R project I had been planning since late 2013. Then I made a bad call on a used Mini that never ran right and ended up back at the Honda dealer I purchased it from. As a result, I was in a tough spot.

Frustrated, I made the decision to give up on project cars for a while and buy a new car with the hope that it would be a good family transport that would last for 10 years. I settled on a 2014 Civic LX with a 5-speed manual. I figured it was still a relatively light-weight, manual transmission car that I could have a little fun with (auto-x, road rally, whatever), but also reliable, feature-rich, and economical.

Some of that was true, but ultimately, the Civic helped me to realize a few things about myself and my cars:

  1. I am not a 10-year car kind of person – at least, not my daily driver. The longest I have ever owned a car is 6 years, and most last me 4 or 5, max. I need change to keep things interesting, and the thought of keeping this car for a decade makes me shudder.
  2. Electric steering is an irritating, disgusting invention that belongs on the scrap heap along with those talking “please fasten seatbelt” and “the door is ajar” warnings. I’ve heard there are some good examples out there, but the Civic is not one. There is no other word for it; I hate the steering in that car.
  3. The Civic now is not like the Civics I had when I was first driving. It’s smooth, quiet, and… boring. It’s heavy, numb, and not at all interesting to drive, even with a stick. They’ve made a great car, but it’s for a consumer that wants bluetooth and backup cameras, not driving feel or cheap fun.
  4. I would really like AWD. My wife has a Subaru, and going from my Civic to that in bad weather is a bit like going from a shoe made of marbles to one hewn from the more traditional rubber for a run through the park. Some of that is down to the Civic’s poor steering feel not telling me what the car is doing, but most of it is in the Subaru’s superior control. I know not every AWD car has the same level of control, but I’m getting damn tired of front-wheel-driven cars that struggle for traction.

Clearly I have made the decision to sell the Civic in favor of something more interesting. I will probably take a small hit in its value, moving it this soon after purchase, but the two of us are just not right for each other. I’m going to make like a hollywood husband and beat a hasty retreat after just a year.

So, how to replace it? Well, my Volvo is still around, so I can afford to have patience while I search for that elusive perfect car. Ideally, what I would like to do is this:

I have a nice chunk of vacation time coming in the spring/summer and my wife and I have dreamed of driving a nice car across the country (ok, that’s mostly me, but she’s totally on board). My goal is to find that elusive unicorn car somewhere on the west coast, fly out, do the deal, and spend the ensuing week driving it back to NJ.

That just leaves one question: what car?

Well, the criteria are as follows:

  • Manual transmission
  • AWD preferred
  • Wagon (I am a big fan of a fast wagon)
  • Sport-oriented (Subaru Outback models, for instance, need not apply)
  • Capable of handling track days and occasional auto-x
  • Reasonable miles
  • Reliable

That is still pretty vague, but the list of cars that fits all of those should be on the small side. Plus, I have plenty of time to figure it out.

I already have a few cars in mind, but what I really want is your suggestions. Please share!


About Chris Nelson

Chris is a writer and communicator with backgrounds in public relations, communication, political science and automotive technology. He holds an M.A. from Rowan University and a B.A. from Susquehanna University in addition to a certificate in Auto Tech from Lincoln Technical Institute.


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