Mar 052012
 

The ’90s were an interesting time for me as an automotive enthusiast. It was in 1996 that I first developed a more-than-passing interest in cars. It was in 1998 that I got my license, and it was in 1999 that I first drove a car that I could call mine.

But the ’90s were also a formative decade for the auto industry. Gone were the old ways of the ’80s – slow, heavy, dubiously-styled cars encumbered by emissions controls that no one really understood. Yet to come were the huge technological leaps that would make cars more than just transportation, but mobile computers nearly capable of driving themselves. Continue reading »

Mar 052012
 

Fast sedans are a staple of American car culture. Indeed, there is an undeniable appeal in a car that is versatile, fast and stylish, all in the same package.

Americans aren’t the only ones that think so, though. I read this short feature from the Top Gear people this morning and it got me thinking. Most of the cars they mention are European-market models, not available in the U.S. Given America’s obsession with all things fast and big, it stood to reason that we must have some pretty decent examples of hot sedans as well.

In true Top Gear spirit, I decided to find out what options are out there for those of us looking to go fast and look good – on a budget.

The criteria for my search were simple: The car must have four doors, a manual transmission and be between $4999 and $9999 in asking price. Autotrader dutifully returned about 200 options fitting this description within 25 miles of my house. In sorting through all obligatory Hyundais, Civics, Corollas and Jettas, I found five gems. Each of them will get you where you’re going in a hurry, keep a smile on your face on twisting backroads and assure that whenever you arrive, you do so in style. Continue reading »

Mar 052012
 

Note: This review was originally published on February 24, 2011 on my original WordPress blog.

I spent nearly 4 years working for Volvo in the latter part of this past decade, including a stint in Parts and Logistics at the corporate headquarters in Rockleigh, NJ. One of the biggest perks of being there, especially for a guy like me, was Volvo would bring in preproduction models of cars yet to be introduced and give us a chance to drive them before anyone else. In 2007, for instance, Volvo was preparing to introduce two new models for 2008: a completely redesigned XC70 all-wheel drive crossover wagon, and the all-new C30 hatchback. Both were made available to us.

I was doubly interested in driving the C30 because, not only was it a genuinely intriguing car, but at the time I was looking to replace my aging ‘97 Lexus ES300. The C30 seemed like it would be a great car for me. When the sign-up sheet came around I eagerly signed my name and requested one with a manual transmission, then set about waiting impatiently for that day to arrive.

I don’t remember all of my first impressions of the car. I do remember that, by and large, I was very impressed. It was quick, great on the highway, fun to drive, and had an undeniably slick feel. I concluded that I was driving something of an oxymoron: a sporty Volvo. Continue reading »