FEATURES: 12 Used All-Stars

May 1, 2009
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0905 15 Z+12 Best Used Cars+contact Sheet
The economy may be in shambles, but there's never been a better time to buy a car. Your neighborhood dealer is probably offering thousands of dollars off a shiny new car, but what he doesn't want you to know is that used-car prices have plummeted, too. The average car on the road is now nearly ten years old - a testament to modern vehicles' reliability and longevity - and some of them are as good as today's best new cars. Here are twelve All-Star winners from the past decade that have aged particularly gracefully. The fact that they're now affordable makes them all the more desirable.
1   2002 - 2004 Ford SVT Focus | The Forgotten Hot Hatch
By Joe Lorio
0905 01 Z+2002 2004 Ford SVT Focus+front Three Quarters View
The rap on Ford nowadays is that it has neglected cars - particularly small cars - and instead has lavished all its time and attention on trucks and SUVs. The saga of the SVT Focus gives credence to that tale. The Focus itself was introduced to general acclaim for the 2000 model year, and Ford's Special Vehicles Team (SVT) worked up an impressive hot-hatch version two years later. Unfortunately, it was snuffed out after only three years, the excuse being that Focus assembly was moving to a different plant and it was too difficult to do the SVT version there. But the whole thing reeked of political gamesmanship, or at the very least a can't-do attitude, both of which have bedeviled the company for decades. Thus, starting with the '05 model year, the hottest Focus became the milquetoast ST (available only as a four-door sedan), and when the car was redesigned, the funky and practical hatchback body styles went away entirely.
The shame of it was that, with the SVT Focus, Ford had a fun, affordable, high-performance car that could stand with the best competitors from Europe and Japan. SVT had treated the 2.0-liter four to a comprehensive makeover, with a new head, forged steel connecting rods, and variable intake cam timing (the last item a first for North American Fords). With a higher compression ratio and a 7200-rpm redline (up from 6750), output swelled to 170 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque - enough for a 7.7-second 0-to-60-mph time in our tests. In characteristic SVT fashion, the upgrades went far beyond the engine room, with a six-speed manual gearbox; seventeen-inch wheels; retuned springs, dampers, and antiroll bars; heftier steering; and larger, four-wheel disc brakes. Exterior modifications were kept to a tasteful minimum, but the interior was treated to leather-trimmed sport buckets and metal-accented pedals, repositioned for easier heel-and-toe work.
In a 2002 comparison against its rivals from Honda, Volkswagen, Mazda, and Nissan, we found the Ford "by far the most engaging driver in the group." The next year, Ford upped the ante by adding a second body style, a four-door hatch. Options are few, the most worthwhile being the cold-weather group, which bundles heated seats and an engine-block heater with traction control. The SVT Focus has been embraced by the tuner crowd, and many have seen track time. So, look for one that's had adult ownership and a minimal racing history.
Price Then $17,995 (2002)
Price Now $5250
> Awards
All-Star ('02, '03)
> Watch Out For
The clutch seems to be a weak point (although all the hard driving this car invites surely doesn't help). A new one runs about $1200, and many owners upgrade to an aftermarket disc and pressure plate.
> Fun Fact
The two-door outsold the four-door (available only in '03 and '04) by better than three to one. The rarest SVT Focus of all is the competition orange four-door ('04 only, 51 built).
> Certified Pre-Owned
3-month/3000-mile warranty from purchase date
> Web Sites
focusfanatics.com, svtperformance.com, myfordfocus.com, svtoa.com
> Specs
- 2.0L I-4, 170 hp, 145 lb-ft
- 6-speed manual
- Front-wheel drive
2    2003 - 2006/2007 Infiniti G35 | Japan's First Real Bimmer-Fighter
By Jason Cammisa
0905 02 Z+2003 2007 Infiniti G35+rear Three Quarters View
In a list of used cars we'd love to see in our own personal garages, there's no way we could leave out Japan's first real Bimmer-fighter. The G35 - coupe and sedan - hit the market for the 2003 model year with its rear wheels spinning. This was a first for Infiniti's G, and sending its power rearward catapulted the G35 right to the front of the dynamic pack. The cute but wrong-wheel-drive G20 had grown up - and in the place of its little four-cylinder was a big, 3.5-liter V-6 with serious muscle. Sedans were rated at 260 hp, coupes at 280, and 0 to 60 mph was dispensed within the six-second range.
The first Infiniti to use the FM (front-midship) platform, the G35 had its wheels pushed out to the corners and its powerplant mounted behind the front wheels' centerline. The resulting long-hood, long-wheelbase proportions gave the G35 not only an aggressive look but fantastic handling as well. The words "incredible grip and body control" were used in this very magazine to describe the G35 coupe - which was then honored with an All-Star award for 2003.
Aimed squarely at the BMW 3-series, the G was bigger on the outside and roomier on the inside, particularly in four-door form. A 2005 face-lift included upgrades to a few interior bits and gave both models a power boost. Sedans and coupes equipped with the five-speed automatic (including the all-wheel-drive G35x, new for 2004) received the 280-hp engine. Buyers who opted for the slick-shifting six-speed manual got 298 horses to play with.
When new, the G35 was between $3000 and $5000 less expensive than a comparably equipped 3-series, but that gap lessens as the vehicles age, since the G35 (the coupe in particular) holds its value better. Why? Well, for one, the Infiniti offers one thing that the BMW doesn't: knock-down, absolutely-refuses-to-break, bulletproof reliability. We're hard-pressed to find a single area where the Infiniti experienced problems - and this is also typical of other Infiniti products. The G35 sedan was replaced by a second-generation car in 2007, but the coupe continued on for one more year. For nine-tenths the performance and refinement of a BMW with eleven-tenths the reliability, the G35 should easily earn a spot on your shopping list. Especially at these fantastic prices.
Price Then $29,645 (2003 coupe)
Price Now $13,000
> Award
All-Star ('03)
> Watch Out For
2003 and '04 models had brake equipment that wore quickly, an issue addressed with more durable components.
> Fun Fact
The G35 shared its chassis and soul with the Nissan 350Z, giving it sports-car moves with a sexy, practical, and luxurious body.
> Certified Pre-Owned
6-yr/100,000-total-mile warranty
> Web sites
g35club.org, infinitiforum.net, g35driver.com
> Specs
- 3.5L V-6, 260-298 hp, 260-270 lb-ft
- 6-speed manual, 5-speed automatic
- Rear- or 4-wheel drive
3   1999 - 2002 BMW M coupe | A Rare and Uncompromised Beast
By Jason Cammisa
0905 03 Z+1999 2002 BMW M Coupe+side View
In February 1999, automotive design editor Robert Cumberford called the BMW M coupe ugly, and then he selected it as the Design of the Year. "It is not beautiful (at all); brutal is a much better word to describe its appearance," he wrote. "It is the toughest-looking sports car on the world market; not even a Ferrari F50 states an uncompromising visual case as strongly."
And its aggressive looks weren't just skin-deep. Although the M roadster didn't quite live up to the dynamic expectations promised by its styling, the addition of a roof more than doubled torsional stiffness. With uprated springs, dampers, and antiroll bars to match the increased chassis rigidity, the car's handling was transformed - and the M coupe felt like an altogether different car than the roadster. The burly M coupe was a bit of a handful and didn't exhibit the fine balance of, say, a Porsche Boxster. But it was so much fun that it had us asking if the BMW was, perhaps, more true to the Porsche 911 ethos than even the new-for-1999 911 was.
All M coupes had 3.2-liter in-line sixes under the hood - initially the 240-hp engine from the E36-generation M3. But that smooth, torquey engine wasn't designed by the M division, it was merely a bored and stroked regular BMW six with hot cams. The real M engine came in 2001, when the E46 M3's screaming, six-throttle 3.2-liter was slotted under the M coupe's bulging hood. It belted out 315 hp on its way to a lofty 7600-rpm redline, screaming like a chain saw and heaving the little bread box to 60 mph in five seconds flat, according to BMW.
Whether you prefer the quiet stormer or the frenetic buzz saw, good taste demands that you avoid the horrible two-tone Smurf-blue or Coca-Cola-red interiors. And be sure to check the differential mounts before you buy an M coupe; over years of abuse, the spot welds can separate from the floor, resulting in a very expensive - or even hopeless - repair. Cooling systems and rear shock mounts require more frequent attention than usual, but that's a small price to pay for a stunning performer that looks like nothing else and remains one of the most entertaining sports cars of all time.
Price Then $42,370 (1999)
Price Now $10,500
> Awards
Design of the Year ('99),
All-Star ('99)
> Watch Out For
Ruptured rear differential mounts, rear shock mounts, cooling system trouble.
> Fun Fact
The 2001 and 2002 M coupes have a "real" M engine and a firmer suspension.
> Certified Pre-Owned
N/A
> Web site
bimmerforums.com
> Specs
- 3.2L I-6, 240/315 hp, 236/251 lb-ft
- 5-speed manual
- Rear-wheel drive
4   2002 - 2006/2008 Mini Cooper | Big Fun in a Tiny, Low-Cost Package
By Preston Lerner
0905 12 Z+2002 2008 Mini Cooper+front Three Quarters View
The current version of the new Mini is bigger, faster, more refined, and better engineered than its predecessor. But it was the original car, introduced in the States in 2002, that inspired a grassroots eruption of Mini mania, and its smiley-face charisma and go-kart performance promise to make it an enduring cult hero. "It will be a classic," says Gabriel Bridger, founder of MotoringFile.com, one of the country's most authoritative Mini Web sites. "It brought sportiness and efficiency to the masses, and it's authentic in a way that modern cars aren't. It will be one of the last mass-produced cars to have a vintage-car feel."
Much of the Mini's charm derives from its unique gestation, as a team of ex-Rover Brits collaborated with engineers at their new corporate parent, BMW. But the car was a marketing phenomenon as much as it was a creative triumph, and part of its genius was that it lent itself so well to customer personalization. Of course, this is a double-edged sword in the used-car market. Buyers should also beware of the fact that Mini, notwithstanding its historic name, was a brand-new marque, and some teething pains were inevitable.
First-generation Minis, spanning the 2002 to 2006 model years, come in three flavors. The normally aspirated Mini Cooper is the base model. The Mini Cooper S - the default enthusiast choice - offers a supercharged drivetrain and a sportier suspension. In 2005, a convertible was introduced, and it carried on even after the second-gen Mini debuted in 2007. The most noteworthy performance option package, found overwhelmingly on S models, was the John Cooper Works kit. And in 2006, confirmed Miniacs could opt for the ultra-limited-edition JCW GP, which is the most collectible Mini on the market.
Minis have held their value remarkably well. If you're looking to maximize bang for the buck, Danny Darwichian, who runs the Minicorsa tuner shop in North Hollywood, California, recommends the 2005 and 2006 Cooper S. Besides benefiting from a stem-to-stern, mid-cycle refresh, these cars also feature an improved supercharger that boosted power to 168 hp as well as a closer-ratio gearbox. Throw in some aftermarket goodies, like a smaller supercharger drive pulley, and you've got a giant-killer for far less than $20,000.
Only time will tell if the Mini becomes a classic. But right here, right now, it's one screaming used-car value.
Price Then $20,449 (2005 Cooper S)
Price Now $14,000
> Awards
All-Star ('04, '06)
> Watch out for
CVT transmissions are suspect. So are the five-speed manuals in early non-S Coopers. The 2002 model, in particular, is best avoided. Strut towers tend to mushroom and coolant tanks can leak, but both are easily fixed.
> Fun fact
The GP model comes with a carbon-fiber rear wing but no back seats.
> Web sites
motoringfile.com, northamericanmotoring.com
> Certified Pre-Owned
2-yr/50,000-mile warranty added to what's left of the original 4-yr/50,000-mile warranty, if anything
> Specs
- 1.6L I-4, 115 hp, 111 lb-ft; 1.6L supercharged I-4, 163/168 hp, 155/162 lb-ft
- 5- or 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic, CVT
- Front-wheel drive
5   1999 - 2005/2006 BMW 3-series | The Benchmark for Awesomeness
By David Zenlea
0905 04 Z+1999 2006 BMW 3 Series+side View
In case you've spent the last few decades in a cave or some other awful place where you can't read Automobile Magazine, know this: we love the BMW 3-series. In fact, love isn't quite a strong enough word for a car that's been a fourteen-time All-Star, has received five stars after a Four Seasons test - three times! - and generally serves as our benchmark for awesomeness. In a way, our inclusion of the 3-series in a used-car roundup is about as surprising as if NBA commissioner David Stern decided to launch an old-timers league and said, "Hey, why don't we see if that Michael Jordan guy wants to play?"
Every generation of the 3-series has proven extraordinarily fun to drive and worthy of used-car consideration, but the model under discussion here is the fourth generation (E46), which, thanks to its incredible success, is about as plentiful as corn in the U.S. market. The E46 debuted as a sedan in 1999, and coupe, convertible, and wagon variants soon followed. Compared with the preceding E36 3-series - also much loved and very popular - the E46 brought a bigger footprint, new levels of luxury and feature content that we associate with modern BMWs, and, of course, ever greater capabilities. Things started out calmly enough, with a pair of small in-line sixes that produced 170 hp and 193 hp, respectively. We spent a year with the former, and we found it mechanically and dynamically unimpeachable, although some, predictably, thought it had "lost its edge" compared with the previous generation. Power increased to 225 hp from a new 3.0-liter in 2001 and topped out at 235 hp in 2003 with the very desirable ZHP sport package, which also included a sportier suspension and appearance upgrades. All-wheel drive eventually was added to the options list as well. Coupe and convertible E46s hung around until the 2006 season.
But the real revelation was the new M3, which debuted for 2001 with more aggressive, flared bodywork; a fortified suspension; and a 333-hp in-line six that was shockingly high-tech then, is still impressive today, and will likely be considered a classic powerplant years from now. We lived with the 2001 M3 for a year and essentially concluded it was perfect in every way. We haven't changed our minds - we'd happily live with it or any gently used E46 3-series.
Price Then $26,970 (1999 323i)
Price Now $6500
> Awards
All-Star ('99, '00, '01, '02, '03, '04, '05)
> Watch out for
The E46 3-series is quite reliable, particularly for a performance-oriented European car. The glaring exception is the all-wheel-drive model - avoid it. Engine cooling in general can also be an issue.
> Fun fact
Since the inception of All-Stars, there has been only one 3-series not to receive the award: the 1984-1991 E30. Even the legendary E30 M3 garnered only an honorable mention. Oops.
> Web site
e46fanatics.com
> Certified Pre-Owned
6-yr/100,000-total-mile limited warranty
> Specs
- 2.5L I-6, 170/184 hp, 175/181 lb-ft; 2.8L I-6, 193 hp, 206 lb-ft; 3.0L I-6, 225/235 hp, 214 lb-ft; 3.2L I-6, 333 hp, 262 lb-ft
- Five- or six-speed manual, five-speed automatic, six-speed sequential manual
- Rear- or 4-wheel drive
6    1999 - 2005 Mazda Miata | The Perfect Roadster
By Jean Jennings
0905 05 Z+1999 2005 Mazda Miata+side View
The magical Miata roadster arrived in the States in 1989 as a 1990 model. There was nothing like it on the road. It was, for all intents, a Lotus Elan that didn't break or hemorrhage bodily fluids in your driveway - modern, sophisticated, simple, and pure joy to drive. We were so crazy about the Miata that we created the very first Automobile of the Year award in its honor.
Since then, the Miata has won more than 150 awards, has been an Automobile Magazine All-Star a whopping twelve times in the ensuing twenty years, and shows up on virtually every list of cars we think you should love as much as we do. More than 800,000 have been sold, making it the best-selling two-seat roadster in the world.
The second-generation Miata - with more horsepower (up to 140 hp from the original car's 116), a stiffer unibody, fixed headlamps, and a glass rear window - is the one to own. We borrowed a 1999 model for a one-year Four Seasons test, and it finished with a very rare rating of four and a half (out of five) stars, with scheduled services during 30,254 miles totaling only $319.39. Dead-nuts reliability and low repair costs are hallmarks of the Miata.
Every year in this seven-year run saw special editions and/or custom paint jobs. A limited edition of 7500 sapphire blue mica 10th Anniversary Miatas were made in 1999, with (among other goodies) a six-speed manual transmission, a sport suspension, a Nardi steering wheel and shift knob, and leather and Alcantara seats. The popular British Racing Green Special Edition arrived in 2001, along with an across-the-board bump in horsepower to 142 and an extra 6 lb-ft of torque. There are beaucoup aftermarket parts and tuners ready to twist up the Miata's juice, plus a number of Miata clubs like the Houston Miata Club that enjoy tweaking and twanging the whee out of their cars.
But the hottest Miata from the factory is the 2004-05 Mazdaspeed Miata. Ask the woman who owns one. Mine is titanium gray over a beautiful saddle brown leather interior and Nardi steering wheel, both lifted from a 2001 special edition. Turbocharging boosts the 1.8-liter engine's output 25 percent, to 178 hp; the suspension is tuned accordingly; and steering response is much quicker. One complaint is the lack of cruise control, and forums suggest an aftermarket fix. But if you're driving the Miata for maximum pleasure, no cruise control is necessary.
Price Then $22,388 (2004)
Price Now $12,000
> Awards
All-Star ('99, '00, '01, '02)
> Watch Out For
Potential rough engine idle ('99, '00) from plugged EGR valve passages, an inexpensive fix. Otherwise, five-star reliability.
> Fun Fact
Largest single-model car club in the world.
> Certified Pre-Owned
7-yr/100,000-total-mile powertrain warranty; 3-month/3000-mile-from-purchase supplemental warranty
> Web Sites
mazdas247.com, mazda-speed.com,specmiata.com, miata.net
> Specs
- 1.8L I-4, 140/142 hp, 119/125 lb-ft; 1.8L turbocharged I-4, 178 hp, 166 lb-ft
- 5- or 6-speed manual, 4-speed automatic
- Rear-wheel drive
7   1997 - 2001 Honda Prelude | Never Followed By a Fugue
By Don Sherman
0905 06 Z+1997 2001 Honda Prelude+front Three Quarters View
Cinching up to brave the recession doesn't necessarily mean eschewing your highly cultured automotive tastes. Buying used opens the field to golden oldies that have left the production rolls, sometimes prematurely. A prime case in point is the fifth and final generation of the Honda Prelude, sold from the 1997 through 2001 model years.
The curtain-closing Prelude is a smart blend of shrewd technology, meticulous tuning, and well-rounded practicality. It follows the trail blazed years before by the Ford Mustang but ditches the V-8 and the live rear axle without forfeiting a sweet exterior and beguiling driving dynamics.
The 2.2-liter engine powering these Preludes brings Acura NSX verve down to the four-banger class. Variable valve timing and lift (VTEC) technology combines a placid low end with hair-on-fire hustle to the 7500-rpm redline. The mood change at 5000 rpm is a joy during every run through the gears. Honda's overachieving powertrain delivers mid-seven-second 0-to-60-mph acceleration with 20-plus mpg, although premium fuel is required.
The fifth-generation Prelude has a fortified body structure to take advantage of the sophisticated control-arm and multilink suspension systems Honda engineers had previously implemented. The optional four-speed automatic, called Sequential SportShift, featured one of the first gear-holding systems. A technological stride forward exclusive to the stick-shift-only Type SH is one of the first active differentials, a device that's only now becoming commonplace. Called an Active Torque Transfer System (ATTS), this gizmo shifts the outboard front wheel into overdrive on cue. When understeer rears its hideous head, ATTS kicks in a yaw torque - twisting force about a vertical axis - to tighten your line. In reality, ATTS is gratuitous on the street, where the Prelude's crisp, light steering provides dancing-queen agility. Track tests have, however, revealed a modest benefit in lap times.
Although the Prelude's interior decor is anything but luxurious, it at least greets you with cheery ambience, a tidy instrument cluster, and rear seats that two lean adults can endure for a few miles. A fold-down backrest doubles the utility of the nine-cubic-foot trunk.
Honda engineers tacked on 5 hp to manual-transmission cars for the last three model years, so the smart buy is a 1999 or later SH edition. Staying with the final models will also improve your chances of avoiding early teething troubles: buzzy heat shields, defective transmission shift forks, frail ball joints, and electrical gremlins related to the ATTS system. Since the Prelude SH has long been a favorite of tuners, exercise extreme caution when shopping for a survivor.
Price Then $26,365 (1999 SH)
Price Now $6000
> Awards
All-Star ('98, '99)
> Watch Out For
Turbos, body kits, and suspension mods installed by amateurs.
> Fun Fact
Reaching the 7500-rpm redline really tickles your gizzard.
> Certified Pre-Owned
N/A
> Web Sites
vtec.net, absoluteprelude.com
> Specs
- 2.2L I-4, 195-200 hp, 156 lb-ft
- 5-speed manual, 4-speed automatic
- Front-wheel drive
8    2001 - 2006 Lexus LS430 | Pretty Much a Used-Car Sure Thing
By Robert Cumberford
0905 07 Z+2001 2006 Lexus LS430+front Three Quarters View
When the Lexus LS400 was launched in 1989, it was as close to a perfect new product as the automotive world had ever seen, and it scared the hell out of some haughty European firms. When the 2001 LS430 model came along, it was even better. And after the first owner or lessee decides after perhaps three years and 45,000 miles that it's time to move on, these superb sedans become bargain-priced treasures for second owners, like aerospace wizard Burt Rutan, subject of a profile in our May 2006 issue. Rutan understands good machinery of all kinds, including his own-design spaceships, but cars are not a focus for him, so he wants satisfactory performance and utter, absolute reliability. He had both an LS430 and a 1998 SC400 and said "they never give trouble."
In a moderately broad circle of friends, acquaintances, and nonautomotive professional practitioners in Arizona, California, and Texas, we counted about a dozen used-Lexus owners and could not turn up a single complaint. One medical specialist did get rid of his first used LS after fifteen years when he had trouble with a window switch, so he bought another one, with lower mileage and a bigger engine. For the keen driver, the LS430 is not a particularly rewarding vehicle, but it is absolutely wonderful for fuss-free in-town driving and for long runs on the interstate, and we have enjoyed pushing one a little on a California canyon road. But only a little.
These are owner-driven limousines, not sublimated track cars, and they do their intended job about as well as it can be done. Vintage racer and California Mille impresario Martin Swig likes to quote the saying, "the worst new car is better than the best old car," and he is basically right when viewing a twenty-year horizon. But you must search really hard to find any new car that is discernibly better as a luxurious, trouble-free daily driver than an undamaged LS430 with fewer than 100,000 miles on the clock. And remember that when you go to a Lexus dealer for routine service, even with a used car, you get good coffee, comfortable chairs, and clean restrooms while you wait.
Price Then $57,175 (2006)
Price Now $28,000
> Awards
All-Star ('01, '02)
> watch out for
Not much, really. The air suspension found in Ultra-Luxury models hasn't proved as durable as the standard setup.
> fun fact
The car is so ethereally quiet, and the standard sound system is so good, that listening to music in an LS430 is actually a better aural experience than going to a concert.
> Certified Pre-Owned
3-yr-from-purchase/ 100,000-total-mile warranty
> web sites
lexusownersclub.com, clublexus.com, planetlexus.com
> the specs
- 4.3L V-8, 290 hp, 320 lb-ft
- 5- or 6-speed automatic
- Rear-wheel drive
9    1997 - 2004 Porsche Boxster | Porsche Purity For The Penurious
By Joe Lorio
0905 08 Z+1997 2004 Porsche Boxster+rear Three Quarters View
When the miracle of depreciation puts one of the world's most perfect sports cars, from the world's most esteemed sports-car maker, within the grasp of the average new-car buyer, that's an opportunity not to be missed. With the Porsche Boxster, that opportunity is here.
Upon its debut, the Boxster was a sensation, instantly redeeming the notion of a sub-911 Porsche with its shades-of-550-Spyder styling, mid-engine layout, and proper flat-six engine. Near-perfect steering feel and an amazingly responsive chassis supply the fun factor; a comfortable (if plasticky) cabin and surprising luggage space (in two trunks) make this roadster practical as well. We're currently well into the second generation of the Boxster (the 987, to the cognoscenti), which means that the first-generation cars (the 986, or '97-'04 model years) are selling for bargain prices. But the current model's layout, function, and appearance follow so closely in the tire tracks of the original that the earlier cars do not seem at all dated.
During the 986 era, there were several changes. In 2000, the Boxster's engine grew from 2.5 to 2.7 liters, with an attendant bump in power, from 201 hp to 217 hp. More significant, 2000 saw the arrival of the Boxster S, with a 250-hp, 3.2-liter version of the mellifluous flat six as well as a sport suspension, standard seventeen-inch wheels, and a six-speed manual gearbox. (A five-speed Tiptronic automatic was optional for both cars.) Whether the base Boxster has enough gusto for you or whether you require the added punch of the S is a highly personal question, so try both before deciding. Consider, however, that the premium for an S declines significantly with age.
The '03 model year brought a mid-cycle update, with added power for both models: 228 hp for the base car, 258 hp for the S. A more rounded nose; restyled, body-color side air intakes; and a reshaped top with a glass - instead of plastic - rear window are additional marks of these later cars. For 2004, Porsche released a special Boxster S to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the 550 Spyder, with 264 hp, a silver exterior, and a cocoa (or gray) full-leather interior and matching top.
As you might expect, service is expensive; tires are, too (figure $1000 for a set of seventeen-inch rubber), and they last only about 15,000 miles and wear out first on the inner ribs (due to negative camber). Naturally, you'll want a full service record and a prepurchase inspection by a Porsche specialist.
Price Then $51,600 (2002 s)
Price Now $16,000
> Awards
Automobile of the Year ('98), All-Star ('00, '02, '03, '04)
> Watch Out For
Boxsters are generally robust, but scary tales do exist of engine failure due to a weak intermediate shaft and/or cracked cylinder liners. Thus, buying a certified pre-owned car or at least an aftermarket warranty is wise. 2003 models appear to have more issues than other years.
> Fun Fact
A 2.0-liter four-cylinder variant was proposed but never produced.
> Certified Pre-Owned
6-yr/100,000-total-mile warranty
> Web sites
pca.org, 986forum.com, boxsterforums.com
> Specs
- 2.5L flat-6, 201 hp, 181 lb-ft; 2.7L flat-6, 217/228 hp, 192 lb-ft; 3.2L flat-6, 250/258/264 hp, 225/229 lb-ft
- 5- or 6-speed manual, 5-speed automatic
- Rear-wheel drive
10    2002 - 2007 Subaru Impreza WRX | The Reliable Rally Star
By Marc Noordeloos
0905 13 Z+2002 2007 Subaru Impreza WRX+front Three Quarters View
Americans had to wait nearly ten years, but in the spring of 2001, Subaru finally brought us the Impreza WRX. Before that, we had to make do with a wholly unsatisfying WRX-wannabe, the 1998-2001 2.5 RS, a true sheep in wolf's clothing. The closest we could get to the fabled rally car for the streets was watching the late, great Richard Burns dance a Subaru in the World Rally Championship on Speedvision or playing Gran Turismo on Sony's PlayStation.
The U.S.-spec WRX arrived with a 2.0-liter turbocharged flat four engine that developed 227 hp and 217 lb-ft of torque. Power was fed through a five-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed automatic. Buyers could choose between a $24,520 sedan or a $500-less-expensive wagon. Customers flocked to the dealers - Subaru surpassed all projections by reaching its planned annual sales target of 10,000 in only six months.
That bug-eyed WRX carried on virtually unchanged until McLaren F1 designer Peter Stevens penned a light face-lift for 2004. The 300-hp WRX STi, a horse of an entirely different color, also made its debut in 2004. The 2005 model year brought little change, except that you could buy a version of the WRX wagon at your local Saab dealer, where it was called the 9-2X Aero.
The last hurrah for the first U.S. generation of the Impreza WRX was another face-lift for 2006 that also brought a more powerful 2.5-liter engine, aluminum front control arms, standard seventeen-inch wheels, and four-piston front brakes. Subaru then tried to save some coin for 2007 and switched back to steel control arms before the model drifted off into the sunset. It was replaced for 2008 by a larger, less focused version that has yet to click with hard-core car enthusiasts.
For those searching for a used WRX, the good news is that the cars are very reliable. That said, make sure any car you consider hasn't been beaten within an inch of its life, as the WRX tends to bring out the animal in most drivers. Gearboxes can suffer if abused, and you should also listen carefully for suspension noises. There are a lot of cars out there, so take your time during the hunt. Find a good car, and you'll end up with an excellent-handling sedan or wagon with tremendous traction and a ton of character for not a lot of cash.
Price Then $24,520 (2002)
Price Now $7000
> Awards
Automobile of the Year ('02), All-Star ('03)
> Watch Out For
Modified, abused, or poorly maintained cars. The WRX can make even a grandpa drive like a felon.
> Fun Fact
This WRX featured a rear limited-slip differential for added traction. That's something that can't be said for any of the current-generation WRX models except for the STI.
> Certified Pre-Owned
6-yr/100,000-total-mile powertrain warranty
> Web sites
cars101.com, nasioc.com
> Specs
- 2.0L turbocharged flat-4, 227 hp, 217 lb-ft; 2.5L turbocharged flat-4, 230 hp, 235 lb-ft
- 5-speed manual, 4-speed automatic
- 4-wheel drive
11    2005 - 2008 Chrysler 300C | Assertively American
By Robert Cumberford
0905 09 Z+2005 2008 Chrysler 300C+side View
In Europe, this big boy is perceived as the quintessential American sedan, its bold, bricklike, chopped-top shape seen - or at least noticed - on the road more often than anything else from Detroit, even if most European 300Cs are powered by diesels from Mercedes-Benz. The original chassis design is also from a two-generations-back E-class, giving it respectable road manners and a comfortable ride. The 300 is heavy as well as voluminous, so the base V-6 is a little anemic, but the two V-8 engines, despite having only two valves per cylinder, each do an impressively adequate job of moving the mass, with the hot SRT8 being particularly tempting.
In-your-face style and plentiful interior room make this an especially desirable vehicle when someone else has kindly absorbed the initial depreciation for you. Chrysler has a spotty history for assembly quality, but there are rarely questions about engineering integrity or in-service longevity of the oily parts, so this very satisfying ride can be counted on to sustain pleasure of ownership for years with minimal risk or cost. Much of the body hardware - hinges, latches, etc. - are somewhat low-rent, but the overall effect is impressive and the car is really quite agreeable to drive, both slowly and very, very quickly. An all-wheel-drive option derived from the Mercedes 4Matic system is worth seeking if you live in snow country, although you would be better off not hauling the extra weight in the Sun Belt.
The V-8 engines are hitched to a nice, if trouble-prone, five-speed automatic. Under light throttle at legal speeds, the 5.7-liter V-8 effectively becomes a 2.8-liter V-4, with concomitant relief from emptying the nineteen-gallon tank too quickly. The cylinder-shutoff system is a nice piece of technology that seems to work exactly as advertised, with no downside. How often can you count on finding that?
When the interstate highway network was planned in the 1940s and '50s, the promise was that cars could cruise at high speeds between all U.S. cities of 50,000 people or more. Punch the cruise control at 80 mph in a 300C, and it will do that job day in, day out, uphill and down. The great thing about the 300C is that as you become accustomed to it, the exterior seems to shrink, yet you always have that oh, so American cabin spaciousness.
Price Then $35,060 (2007 300C)
Price Now $18,000
> Awards
Automobile of the Year ('05), All-Star ('07)
> Watch Out For
Avoid first-year cars, which suffered from a variety of maladies that were largely fixed in 2006 and 2007. Look for transmission issues and electronics problems. It's definitely worth picking up a certified pre-owned example.
> Fun Fact
Some people think the 300C looks like a Bentley. We don't agree; the British car is stuffy, and the chopped-top Chrysler is way cool. But you can buy a billet "Bentley" grille for the 300C that almost convinces credulous bystanders.
> Certified Pre-Owned
8-yr/80,000-total-mile powertrain warranty; 3-month/3000-mile extension to original 3-yr/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty or, if expired, from purchase
> Web sites
300cforums.com, allpar.com
> Specs
- 5.7L V-8, 340 hp, 390 lb-ft; 6.1L V-8, 425 hp, 420 lb-ft
- 5-speed automatic
- Rear- or 4-wheel drive
12    2005 - 2008 Chevrolet Corvette | The Bargain Sports Car
By David Zenlea
0905 11 Z+2005 2008 Chevrolet Corvette+front Three Quarters View
You've probably heard the stereotype about Chevrolet Corvette drivers. They don't race. They don't modify. They go on leisurely long-distance drives and have a special "Corvette wave." Although General Motors marketers vociferously deny that the demographics for their iconic sports car are skewed toward graying Sunday drivers, they readily admit that their target buyer is a married male between forty and sixty years old. Compare that to Nissan's ideal 370Z customer: thirty to thirty-five and single.
What does all this have to do with hot used cars, you ask? Well, it means that if you're looking for a used car that can do 0 to 60 mph in less than five seconds and hasn't been raced, slammed, or tortured by a pimply teenager who can't drive a stick, the Corvette can be a very safe bet.
The sixth-generation (C6) Corvette debuted in 2005 with 400 hp and promptly bested the redesigned Porsche 911 Carrera S in our head-to-head comparison. "The Corvette returned every volley the 911S fired its way," technical editor Don Sherman wrote at the time. Chevrolet followed up with the supercar-slaying Z06 and, most recently, the over-the-top, retina-rupturing, 638-hp ZR1. We've named each iteration an All-Star, so your choice depends largely on your budget. A low-mileage 2005 base model can be had for less than $30,000, but we recommend spending a bit more for a 2008. Not only will it likely have a nice chunk remaining on its 5-year/ 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, but it also will have more power - up to 436 hp from its 6.2-liter LS3 V-8 - and markedly better shifting and steering feel. A paddleshifted six-speed automatic replaced a dated four-speed in 2006 and, teamed with the LS3, was capable of helping the Vette to a 4.3-second sprint to 60 mph.
So, yes, the car we perennially pick as the best budget sports car also proves to be a smart, fun, used-car proposition. Did we mention that it typically goes for about $20,000 less than a Porsche 911 of the same vintage?
Price Then $46,950 (2008, base)
Price Now $36,000
> Awards
All-Star ('05, '06, '07, '08)
> Watch Out For
The C6's small-block V-8s are practically bulletproof, but the components charged with handling all their power - especially the early four-speed automatic - haven't fared so well. Also beware of electronics hassles on 2005 models related to the then-new keyless ignition. And of course, check for signs that the car has been raced or modified.
> Fun Fact
The Corvette wave is an age-old tradition that's taken very seriously by many enthusiasts. Not returning a wave - even from those in older cars - is considered an egregious breach of etiquette.
> Certified Pre-Owned
1-yr/12,000-mile warranty, if original 3-yr/36,000-mile warranty has expired
> Web sites
corvetteforum.com, digitalcorvettes.com
> Specs
- 6.0L V-8, 400 hp, 400 lb-ft; 6.2L V-8, 430/436 hp, 424/428 lb-ft; 7.0L V-8, 505 hp, 470 lb-ft;
- Rear-wheel drive

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