Before we start, let's recap the rules again. First, we're only looking at base MSRPs as found on Microsoft Carpoint's http://autos.msn.com historical data (the easiest site to find things on). I'm honestly not sure if this favors one side or the other - if you want to call foul, feel free to comment with some data either way. Prices for the Veteran team will be adjusted for inflation to 2003 standards (sorry, no data for 2004 yet). This doesn't account for market forces, etc., but its all we have. Second, we're going to create an average for each group of cars in the categories of price, weight, 0-60 time, power and, let's say fuel economy. There is a performance outlier in each group (from the same consortium incidentally, can you guess which cars they are), and we'll do a calculation with and without that car.
Let's start with average hp. The Veterans come in at an average of 164 hp. Not bad (and right at the Probe GT's factory rating). But with the monster SRT-4 batting for the Rookies (and we're only using its rated power, not the real power which is probably 20-30 hp more), the new kids on the block wallop the old guys with a 184 hp average. Does it get any better if we remove the Neon and the Eclipse? Not really. Both teams drop their average by about 10 hp, so no help there. Score: Rookies 1, Veterans 0
How about weight? Surely the old guys will have an advantage here since the new cars have to carry additional safety gear and have undergone the natural bloat that seems to accompany all successive generations of cars. The Vets check in with an average curb weight of 2683 lbs, just a titch over the nominal curb weight of the Integra GS-R. A little heavier than I would have imagined, but the somewhat porky Probe and Eclipse drove the average up. The Rookies, perhaps suffering from the dreaded freshman spread, come in at 2785 lbs. Heavier for sure, but not by much. Point to the Vets, but you have to think they were looking for a bigger advantage. Score: Rookies 1, Veterans 1
Now let's look at acceleration. This is a little harder to ascertain as there are many variables. I've tried to round up 0-60 times from my extensive magazine collection and come up with a decent average for each car. Once again, feel free to critique if you think the averages are way off. 1/4 mile times would be even better, but they're a little harder to come by and I'm not getting paid for this! Judging by the power and weight scores, it would seem as though the Rookies would have this category sewn up. Packing 12% more power with less than 4% more weight makes for a shellacking, right? Then again, we're living in the era of big, heavy wheels and tires. From 14", 15" and the occasional 16" rim we've gone up to 16", 17" and 18" rolling stock. Can stickier modern rubber and more power overcome moment of inertia? The Rookies step up with a team average 0-60 time of 6.92 seconds, thanks again to the mid-5's ripped off by the Neon. Even without the Neon the youngsters still maintain a 7.16 second average. In comparison, the full Veteran team squeezes out a 7.27 second average, and without the turbo Eclipse drop to 7.4 seconds. Very, very close in either case - close enough that reaction time matters A LOT! But, the Rookies still win this one. Note to car makers, lighten up those wheels! Score: Rookies 2, Veterans 1
Its not looking so good for the Vets. They're hanging in there, and could make a claim that with modern rubber (which they'd all be wearing by now) this contest would be deadlocked. But they're in their twilight years while the new team is just getting going. Can the grey hairs pull even again in the price battle? For all their shiny new paint and new car smell, the Rookies don't look to concede this battle. Even with the RSX-S hurting the average, the youngsters average $19,683. Amazing - they're still under $20k! The Vets are looking worried, inflation adjustment is a real killer. They step up to the cash register and tally.......$20,132! Oh no, that does it for the Vets, its all over now but the crying. Score: Rookies 3, Veterans 1
The last category, and probably least important for pocket rocket enthusiasts, is fuel economy. Arguably it should be more important given the budget most enthusiasts have, but hey, should've is not the same as is, is it? Can the Veterans salvage a little pride in a losing effort? With less power and weight, they should win this category on paper, but with modern engine controls and 6-speed trannies, the Rookies may have another surprise in store. The Vets average 26.75 mpg combined city/hwy. Not bad. The Rookies come in at 26.58 mpg. It is a win for the Vets, but it might as well be on a technicality. You can't get much closer than that. Final Score: Rookies 3, Veterans 2
Well, I must say that my preconceptions were proven wrong today, at least in part. Today's performance oriented econo cars offer value, fuel economy and performance that generally exceeds their predecessors. Additionally, the march of technology allows them to pack superior safety features in with the deal. On the other hand, I have to say that I think most of the manufacturers have not stepped up to the extent that I would like. Aside from Dodge's SRT4, which takes the turbo acceleration performance advantage of the old school DSM's and steps it up two notches, the other cars on the list really don't offer a big increase in capability. In comparison, we've seen other categories garner huge increases in performance with what appear to be minimal price gains (another editorial? We'll see...). The Corvette, Mustang, Accord, Maxima and many other cars have realized dramatic performance gains while holding the line on cost. Why have the pocket rockets not done the same? They are based on widely produced platforms and in several cases share commonly used engines as well (the K-series from Honda, the QR25 from Nissan, even the MSP's engine shares commonality with other Mazda units). Are the development dollars going into features and refinement?
From a Honda perspective, its a mixed bag. Even though Acura decided to take the RSX upscale after the Integra, inflation adjusted price comparisons show a small increase in acquisition cost in return for a huge increase in features and performance. Kudos to the H/A team there. However, the Civic Si falls short. While the new hatch offers performance on par with the old car (offsetting more weight with more torque, and a very balanced chassis) and inflation adjusted pricing is nearly identical (only $133 separating old and new), shouldn't we expect more 5 years on? Yes, the new Si is a more refined, more Euro to be sure. But its also a bit homely compared to the old Si, and it doesn't offer the same kind of power potential that the old B16 did. With intake only VTEC on the K20A3, Honda didn't give enthusiasts the headroom that they have enjoyed in the past. Of course, market pricing takes this into account, which is why the new Si sells at such a discount. But given that evolution in performance cars of any sort usually means more performance, the Si, as much as I like it, has to be considered a bit of a disappointment in the family tree. Cmon Honda, give us that K20A2....