What can be done to make your car more fun to drive? Some say horsepower is the answer. There’s no arguing horsepower is fun but it sure can hurt the wallet.
Can you actually feel the claimed 10 ponies from that $300 cold air intake? The extra 15 foot pound of torque from that chip? Adding forced induction is an option but typically costs thousands of dollars and opens the door to a whole new world of reliability problems. Overheating and transmission failures, just to name a few.
So what would I do? We’ll get to that in a moment. But before I do, I know some of you are going to scream, “Improve the driver instead of throwing parts at the car”. Generally, I would agree with you but for this article I’m talking about fun on the street. More fun in your daily driver on a daily basis.
NOW, let’s make your car fun again!
If your car is a manual, check out short throw shifter options and a fresh or aftermarket shift knob. Short throw shift kits include fresh bushings that tighten up the slop from years of driving. My advice from experience is not to go with the shortest throw option but something in between. The shorter the throw, the more arm strength tends to be required to row the gears and I advise against this in your daily driver.
Be sure your suspension bushings are not showing signs of wear. The bushings keep the control arms and other components in line as they move. If the bushings are weak it could translate to inconsistent suspension movements resulting in poor and unpredictable handling. Poly bushings are popular but be careful with what you choose for your application. In many cases, factory rubber bushings or delrin may be better options.
Dampers, also called shocks and struts, are designed to absorb the spring’s compression and quickly return the car to it’s proper level. Dampers keep your car from nose diving under braking and balanced in the corners. A car that bounces like a spring or dives like a whale is a sure sign of worn dampers. If your car has over 100k miles and your dampers have not been replaced, chances are that they’ve been toast for a long time. I recommend quality replacements such as Koni, Bilstein or even OE Sachs. If you’ve got the funds, Ohlins are one of the best.
Staying on the topic of suspension, a proper wheel alignment is key to obtaining neutral and predictable handling. Just a little too much toe-in can make steering unresponsive. A little too much toe-out can make the car twitchy at higher speeds. Add a touch of camber while you’re at it via aftermarket camber plates or control arms. So do yourself a favor and get your car properly aligned. Make sure to get the print-out results and learn to read them! You’ll thank me later.
Weight kills performance. I feel the difference in my 333 horsepower M3 when my skinny girlfriend is in the car. So does 100 lbs really make a difference? You damn right it does. If your car needs it, replacing exhaust components with thinner walled pipes and lighter mufflers can easily shed 50 lbs. Don’t use that sunroof? I bet that bad boy with electric motor and all adds 35 lbs to the top of your car. Spare tire? No need if you’ve got AAA! Boom. 120 lbs that you will feel on every drive. Increased fuel economy is a bonus.
My last and most important suggestion is tires. When it comes to performance there’s not greater enhancement than to the rubber that meets the road. A good set of tires may be a little more expensive but the increased grip levels could be the difference between a fender bender and making it home safely. Do the old target=”_blank”>Abe Lincoln test. Take a penny, turn it upside down and stick in a channel groove of your tire. If you can see all of old Abe’s hair then the tires need replacing now.
This is kind of a two-part answer because buying tires isn’t like buying a loaf of bread. There are a billion choices. The tires you buy should suit your driving style. The Toyota GT86, known in the States as the Scion FR-S and the Subaru BRZ, share the same Michelin tire used on the Prius. It is a hard compound tire with poor dry and wet grip capability. This allows the low horsepower GT86 break traction with relative ease and is why the car is so fun to drive.
So wait, are you saying use crappy tires? Definitely not.
I believe that good tires are just as important as having brakes to stop. What I’m saying is that maybe your Mazda Miata would be more fun with OE tires than a set of ultra sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sports. The choice is yours.
Think I’m off base? Let it be known with a comment.
header image courtesy Edmunds