Category Archives: Manual Transmission Cars

2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS Review

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When foreigners judge Americans in terms of cars, the first thing that pops to mind are pickup trucks. Which makes sense considering that a Ford F-Series truck has been our best selling automobile for the past 32 years (according to Wikipedia). However, there is one other thing we are also known for: our muscle cars. America has a long history of shoving big horsepower engines into sporty cars, a craze that started back in the Roaring Sixties. When the economy was booming, American manufacturers wanted to add fun to their lineups. Ford was the first to jump start this idea with the 1964 Mustang. Then Chevrolet, a division of General Motors, created the Camaro three years later. So did Dodge two years later with the Challenger. The three of these muscle cars coined the term “pony muscle car.” The Camaro also spawned a twin, the Pontiac Firebird. The Chevrolet Camaro lasted for four generations until Chevrolet discontinued it in 2002. By the time the fourth generation arrived, the Camaro and its twin, the Pontiac Firebird became more like big sporty coupes rather than sports cars. Due to lackluster sales and the market’s decreasing appetite for sporty coupes, General Motors discontinued the Camaro and the Firebird. However, in 2006, Chevrolet showcased the Camaro Concept at the 2006 Detroit Auto Show to unexpected levels of acclaim and praise from spectators worldwide. The Camaro became more prominent, especially in its role as Bumblebee in the Transformers series. The overwhelming demand for the Camaro was too much for Chevrolet to ignore, so they made the decision to produce the Camaro as a 2009 model. The release date got pushed to spring 2009 to produce the Camaro as a 2010 model. The Camaro was designed and engineered by GM’s Australian division, Holden, and it was built off the “Zeta” architecture that underpinned many Holden vehicles. After reviewing a Mustang, and a Challenger, I was anxious to review a Camaro. However, you may remember that I will refuse to review a car unless it is in the proper specification. That’s right, I told myself I would review Camaros only with a manual transmission. Problem is that this is America. Luckily, the opportunity presented itself soon enough, and it was not just any version of the Camaro, it was the top of the line version, the SS!  Continue reading

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2000 Saturn SL Review

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My friend was puzzled when I asked him if I could review his beat up Saturn five speed. Many of you readers are probably wondering why I am reviewing this car, especially when the cars I have reviewed in the past include a Nissan GT-R, several Mercedes-Benzs, and BMWs. My reason being is that it is a manual, and also because it is a Saturn SL. Before we bought our 2002 Toyota Camry, we had a 1993 Saturn SL (see picture below). Saturn was a division of General Motors, and the idea of Saturn was conceived around 1982-1983. At this time period, American compact cars were considered obsolete in the face of Japanese competition. Honda and Toyota provided superior reliability, quality, and fuel efficiency that American cars failed to match. My dad bought his 1988 Honda Civic in 1988 because it provided the best reliability and value for the money compared to domestic rivals. The idea behind Saturn was that it would provide American vehicles that could provide Japanese quality and reliability but at cheaper prices. Saturn also implemented no-haggle pricing to aid customers in the buying process. Another Saturn feature was that Saturn cars came with dent resistant plastic body panels. The first Saturn vehicle were the 1991-2002 S-Series which consisted of a coupe (SC), sedan (SL), and a wagon (SW). The first SL sold well, and was met with praise by reviewers. My dad, a loyal Honda buyer, ditched his Honda Civic, and bought a SL, and we loved that car for nine years. In nine years, it racked up 130,000 miles without any reliability issues. The S-Series was redesigned in 1996, and then again in 2000, although it was more of a face-lift than redesign.  Continue reading

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1997 Volkswagen Jetta GLX VR6 Review

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Even though the Volkswagen Jetta is popular as a “chick car”, I never got around to reviewing one because as you might have guessed, I refused to review an automatic Jetta. When I was growing up, I always had a fondness for the third generation Jetta. I loved the boxy looks of it, and how with a spoiler and the blacked taillights, it resembled a sports sedan. My friend’s mom let me come to her office to review her coworkers’ cars, and she knew I only wanted to do manual cars, so she let me look around the parking lot. I came to this beautiful green Jetta, and I looked inside, and sure enough, it was a manual. Not only that, this is the top dog GLX VR6. I got so excited that I started sputtering facts about the VR6 engine and random details of the Jetta that she could not help but get annoyed. Moving back to the Jetta, the original Jetta debuted in 1979 as a sedan version of the Golf hatchback. It was literally a Golf with a trunk crafted on. Back then, European cars were typically hatchbacks, and sedan versions of the hatchbacks were basically a hatchback with a trunk instead of a hatch. The Mk1 Jetta (generations of the Jetta are classified by MK’s) was designed by Giorgetto Guigiaro, a famous car designer known for designing Ferraris and Lamborghinis. Given that European cars sold in North America at the time were expensive luxury cars, the affordable Jetta became the best selling European model in the continent. The MK1 Jetta was praised for its handling and performance, but less so for reliability. The second generation Jetta arrived in 1984, and it retained its title as the best selling European car in North America, and another redesign followed in 1993, boasting a more aerodynamic look as well as an increase in refinement and quality. The VR6 version here is the high performance version of the Jetta, and it comes with a 172 horsepower narrow angled six cylinder engine.  Continue reading

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2006 Scion TC Review

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In the mid-2000s, Toyota created Scion, a division catering to a youthful audience. Scion’s first three models were the xA and xB compact hatchbacks as well as the TC coupe. Based off the European Toyota Avensis (Think European Toyota Camry), the 2005 TC sought to combine affordability and reliability in a fun package. The first generation was a success, selling over 70k units in its first model year. Another reason it sold well when it launched was because of its low price and its long list of standard equipment. For 16 grand, you got dual sunroofs, keyless ignition, cruise control, Pioneer sound system, and alloy wheels. I remembered wanting one of these when it came out. I liked the styling, and that you could get one for so cheap, and I liked that it could be customized in many ways. One of the reasons Scion appealed to young people was because of the huge tuning support and the customization options that came with the cars.  I first became a fan of this car through the Midnight Club 3 video game. You started out with a couple of entry level cars such as the Dodge Neon SRT4, Volkswagen Jetta, Volkswagen Golf, Mitsubishi Eclipse, or the Scion TC. I chose the Scion TC every time I started the game. I am not a fan of the second generation TC, but I have always favored this first generation which is why I was excited when I got the opportunity to review this TC.  Continue reading

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2003 Toyota MR2 Spyder Review

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Despite all the attention on Toyota’s plain Jane but reliable Corolla and Camry sedans, Toyota did actually have a reputation for making affordable sports cars. Reputable examples of this are the Supra, Celica, and the MR2. In 1976, Toyota came up with a proposal for a vehicle that placed an emphasis on driving dynamics while providing typical Toyota virtues such as reliability, affordability, and fuel efficiency. Akio Yashida, the man behind the original MR2 decided on a mid-engine configuration for optimal handling balance. A company known for its practical and ordinary cars, the  1984 MR2 proved that Toyota could make fun and affordable sports cars. Even though it was powered by small engines, the MR2’s sub 2,500 pounds curb weight gave it unbeatable balance and go kart reflexes. Combine the legendary handling with typically Toyota quality and reliability as well as affordability, and the first generation MR2 would become one of Toyota’s greatest cars ever made. My friend’s mom who currently drives a Mercedes C250 Coupe told me her first car was a supercharged 1988 MR2 five speed. Even though she has had some sweet cars over the years as well as four Mercedes-Benzes, she still claims the MR2 was the best car she ever had, and would buy another one if Toyota still produced them. The MR2 was redesigned in 1989 (North America got the second MR2 in late 1990 as a 1991 model year car). In contrast to the first generation’s angular styling, the second featured curvier and shapely styling. The second MR2 also gained weight significantly and horsepower was increased. While it was commercially successful, MR2 purists did not like it as much as the first due to the loss of delicate handling as an effect of the increased curb weight. In 1999, Toyota redesigned the MR2, bringing it closer to the weight of the first generation, and coined its moniker, MR2 Spyder. Sadly, Toyota discontinued the MR2 Spyder in 2007 (2005 in North America).  Continue reading

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2008 MazdaSpeed3 Review

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As a successor to the Protege, the Mazda3 launched in 2004 showcasing Mazda’s new design language and nomenclature. Before 2003, Mazda’s lineup was filled with pleasant but humdrum cars such as the Protege, MPV, Millenia, 626, Tribute, and so on. Starting in the late 1990s, Ford had a controlling stake in Mazda, and the two cooperated on future vehicles’ developments. With Ford’s resources and funding, Mazda had the opportunities to completely revamp its lineup. Numerical names would be used for its models (at least in Europe and North America), and Mazda set about reinventing itself. The Mazda3 and Mazda6 were the results. The Mazda3 (Called the Axela in Asia), developed with Ford alongside the Ford Focus and Volvo S40, embodied European styling and handling in a fuel efficient and affordable package. As a result, it was a success and garnered rave reviews worldwide. The Mazda3 chassis had the capability for more power, so Mazda saw fit to produce a Mazdaspeed variant of the 3. Mazda’s niche division, Mazdaspeed, produced a version of the Protege, which gained mechanical and visual tweaks enough to transform it into a sporty small sedan. This time, instead of a sedan body style, the Mazdaspeed3 would be a hatchback in order to please European buyers. In Europe, hot hatches, vehicles with fast power and sporty handling combined with the practicality and comfort of a hatchback, were popular. I have reviewed both the first and second generation Mazda3s (both sedans), so I was keen to try out these Mazdaspeed version. This is not your ordinary Mazda3.Whereas the top of the line version of the Mazda3 had up to 160 horsepower with a five speed manual transmission, the Mazdaspeed3 had racier exterior tweaks, and a turbocharged 263 horsepower four cylinder with a six speed manual transmission. Sounds like a hoot to me. Continue reading

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2012 Volkswagen Golf R Review

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Even though this looks like an ordinary Golf, I can assure you it is not. It is not the TDI diesel, nor the sporty GTI. Rather, this is the high performance R model. The Golf itself is one of the world’s best selling cars, and it all started with the 1974 first generation (sold as the Rabbit in the U.S). Dubbed the MK1 (generations of the Golf are codenamed MK), the front engined and front wheel drive replaced the rear wheel drive and rear wheel engined Beetle. With this generation came the GTI version, one of the first “hot hatches.” In Europe mainly where hatchbacks are the norm, Europeans crave the hot hatchbacks for their blend of high performance and ultimate practicality. As the Golf grew in age and size, so did the GTI. It was not until MK4 generation (1997-2004) that Volkswagen upped the GTI with the R32. In contrast to the GTI’s four cylinder turbo engine (a GTI hallmark) and front wheel drive underpinnings, the R32 employed a 3.2 liter VR6 six cylinder engine and all wheel drive. With 237 horsepower, the R32 was faster than the GTI and considerably more expensive. When the next Golf debuted in 2005, GTI and R32 variants followed. Unlike the first R32, this generation R32 was not popular. It still came with a V6 and all wheel drive, but whereas the previous R32 was exclusively six speed manual only, this R32’s only transmission was a paddle shifter dual clutch automatic transmission. A car like the R32 is supported by a specific community, and the community values European driving dynamics which includes the need for a manual transmission. Volkswagen redesigned the Golf in 2008, and instead of a R32, the high performance variant of the Golf was named “R” which I think is due to the fact it uses a more powerful version of the GTI’s four cylinder turbo instead of its own V6. Having had the chance to drive a MK6 GTI, I was interested in how this MK6 R compares in terms of handling and performance.  Continue reading

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1994 Acura Legend LS Coupe and GS Sedan Review

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Rewind to the 1980s when Honda was making inroads in the mainstream car market with its Accord and Civic models. Honda sought to provide a reliable and affordable alternative to the German luxury marques. In 1986, Honda launched its luxury division, Acura in North America. The first generation Legend was actually a joint effort of Honda and Austin Rover (a British car company). Rover had a reputation for making luxury cars in the UK, but wanted to sell luxury cars in North America whereas Honda sought to produce a luxury car that catered to the tastes of North American, European, and Japanese buyers. The partnership produced the Legend and the Sterling 800 Series (sold as a Rover in the UK). Even though the Acura Legend looked similar to a 1986 Honda Accord, it appealed to Honda buyers with its luxury features and prestige and reliability while it also appealed to buyers who wouldn’t consider a Honda as a luxury car. The combination of affordability, luxury, and reliability was a winner as the Acura Legend became the best selling luxury import in the U.S by 1988. The Legend’s success proved to Toyota and Nissan that there was a market for Japanese luxury brands in the U.S, which resulted in the creation of Lexus and Infiniti. The second generation Legend debuted in late 1990 as a 1991 model. With the arrival of the smaller Vigor sedan, the Legend increased in size and power as to position it in line with competing large luxury sedans. For 1994, Acura refreshed the Legend, and for the sedan, a top of the line GS version was added. The coupe was sold in L and LS trims, while the sedan was sold in Base (dropped in 1994), L, LS, SE (added in 1995), and the GS (added in 1994). Do you rememeber the Acura ILX and the NSX that I reviewed? These two Legends belong to the same person as the ILX and NSX. How often do I get to review two cars that are the same year, both top of the line versions, same color, and same engine and transmission? The only differences are in the number of doors and mileage. The Legend sedan has around 147,000 miles which isn’t too bad, but here’s the kicker. The Legend coupe has…over 530,000 miles, and on the original engine, transmission, and clutch. Unfortunately because the coupe is on its original clutch i.e. barely hanging on for life, I drove the sedan. Fortunately, the owner, Tyson tells me there is no difference in the sedan and coupe’s driving dynamics. So how does a 20 year old Acura measure up?

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1986 Toyota 4Runner SR5 Review

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In the eighties, Toyota wanted to replicate the success of its Land Cruiser SUV but in a smaller and more affordable package. Cue the 4Runner which debuted in mid-1984 as a 1985 model. Instead of developing an entirely new model like the Land Cruiser, Toyota used the Hilux chassis to create the 4Runner (sold as the Hilux Surf in other countries).  The first generation was nothing more than a pickup truck with a roof over the bed. The purpose of the 4Runner was to provide the versatility and the go anywhere ability of the Hilux truck while giving the comfort and utility expected of an SUV. I reviewed a third generation, a 1997 4Runner which was the first generation to be built as a separate model, not sharing any body parts or frames with the Hilux. I liked it very much, but I never really thought of reviewing the original 4Runner at all. I asked my friend if I could review his old Volvo 242 or something like that. It was a really cool old Volvo in burgundy and with a manual transmission. However, when I contacted him, he sold it and got this 4Runner. How could I say no to reviewing the original 4Runner with only two doors and a manual transmission?

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2007 Jeep Wrangler Sahara Review

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There are many things that I do not understand about the world: the existence of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, the difference between turtles and turquoises, and why everybody is obsessed with the Jeep Wrangler. Don’t get me wrong; the Wrangler’s cool factor is sky high, and there’s no manlier car than a Wrangler. But what perplexes me is why everybody has to have one. The Wrangler has a long history that dates back to the 1940s, but it wasn’t till the later generations that the Wrangler became popular. The 1997-2006 TJ generation (Wranglers’ generations are classified by code names) that I reviewed back in December was a fun and supremely capable off roading machine, but as a SUV overall, it was way too compromised to make me want one. The TJ was loved by only the diehard off roading enthusiasts and some individuals of the general population. But when the redesigned Wrangler debuted in 2007 (code named JK), all of a sudden everybody wanted one. The JK generation featured many new firsts that were not previously available with the previous generations. This generation offered a four door body style dubbed “Unlimited”,  its first ever navigation option, power windows, and remote locks. Despite its popularity in my hometown, I never got the chance to review this generation. The reason being is that if I am going to review a Wrangler, it better be a two door and a manual. Sadly, the increase in the Wrangler’s popularity also correlates to more consumers buying the Unlimited with an automatic transmission. But this summer, I finally got the chance to review a proper Wrangler in two door configuration with a stick.

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