Reader help: I want a family sportscar!
Torn between family duties and a desire for a sportscar, our reader speaks for many of us.
Firstly – love the site guys. Keep up the great work.
Just thought I’d put out a potential review/comparison request I would love to see and that I think is currently a largely missed demographic and that is a sports/driver’s car for the family person.
I consider myself a car nut and a family man (3 kids under 7 i.e. with car seats, dog, etc). I go to the track days and spirited drives whenever I can (which means only occasionally and isn’t nearly regularly enough) but also have to balance any car choice with ability to perform family duties in my case being able to fit in 3 kids, their paraphernalia +/- dog and keeping the wife (not as keen a driver as me so needing reasonable comfort, etc) happy. I would LOVE LOVE LOVE a car like an 86/BRZ, STI, EVO or similar but they are just too focused and not practical for my needs. And obviously family men like myself don’t really have a budget to stretch to the Germans that can do large, powerful drivers cars.
I’m looking to upgrade soon and would be very interested in any opinions/reviews on the subject. I am quite excited about the upcoming Levorg but CVT only is a bit of a downer for me – manual shifter and I’d likely be sold. The new Skoda Superb 206TSI has thrown something interesting into the ring, although I’m concerned the sheer bulk will adversely affect handing. I saw there was a Golf R wagon around but that seems to have disappeared.
Anyway just thought I’d put it out there because I’m sure we must be a large demographic but there’s not much help for us out there.
Any assistance you can provide would be greatly appreciated.
We feel your pain. Families…wouldn’t be without them, but compromises have to be made. That means you need a car that is big enough to handle three small kids, dog, wife and the like…then go and cut laps on a circuit.
There are cars that can do the job. A good example is the Audi RS 6, which I’ve just tested…but you point out that’s out of your budget, as would perhaps be the smaller RS 3 Sportback wagon/hatch. BMW and others have fast wagons, and I’ve spent some time sliding them on snow, but again they’re expensive. But there are other cars which can do the job.
Subaru make a strong car and are a firm favourite in the grassroots motorsports scene so there’s plenty of support. Of course there is the WRX wagon, but the Liberty is larger and more family-friendly. Any Liberty can be modified for trackwork, even non-GT models. In fact, I wrote that I’d rather have a Liberty 3.6R than an automatic WRX. A Forester XT is an option too.
You mention the new Levorg but that concerns me as it is CVT and those transmissions have been known to overheat in the WRX when run on tracks. I’d want to see a Levorg complete a day’s trackwork without incident before I committed.
I’ve also driven a Golf R and they are fantastic, definitely a sportscar with a big boot and a wonderful sound to make the experience a bit more special. Doesn’t need to be a new model either. Isaac has good things to say about the Skoda Octavia RS wagon too.
All of the above are either new or secondhand Australian delivered cars, but if we look at grey imports there is a wonderland of unusual and amazing machinery. I consulted our resident Japanese performance car expert, and she came up with three immediate options.
How about a wagon with all-wheel-drive, sports suspension and a powerful engine? From Nissan we have the Stagea RS260 which essentially has the running gear from a GT-R so it’s easily modified thanks to great aftermarket support. The equivalent from Mitsubishi is the Legnum VR4 (hot Galant wagon), and from Toyota there is the Caldina (second generation) which shares much of its drivetrain with the all-wheel-drive Celica. While these cars may not have been available new in Australia, there’s plenty of them around and parts are very often the same as local cars. We’ve got more on the pros and cons of grey imports here, but in short Japan in particular is an incredible source of niche cars that simply wouldn’t sell in great volume in Australia.
However, I think that your approach needs a rethink. The problem is that you need a large wagon-like car for the family work, but large cars don’t do well on tracks and are expensive to maintain. They are heavy, which means they aren’t nimble, they eat brakes, and gulp fuel. Also, extensive experience from my friends proves that if Dad bangs up the car while having stupid fun driving in stupid circles with his stupid friends (direct quote), then Mum and the kids are not very forgiving, plus cars aren’t insured on tracks. So I have an alternative plan for you.
Buy a basic wagon for general duties, and a proper sportscar as a second vehicle and playcar. Then you have the flexibility of two cars, each good at what it does. And you may have three kids, but there will be many times when just one or two need to be transported so you don’t need the wagon. As a parent, you’re going to do a lot of errand and taxi driving so you may as well enjoy those drives. You also stated a preference for manuals (good choice) and you’re far more likely to find manuals in these cars than the fast wagons which typically use automatics.
Now if you’re going to choose a car for this sort of work I’d pick something Japanese, secondhand and with a good reputation for motorsports work. The MX-5 fits the bill, but you really need more than two seats. The 86/BRZ works, and I can vouch for this myself as I own one and use it on the track as well as for kid-transportation. You can pick one up for around $20k now. But given you have three kids a five-seater is a good idea, so sedan-based sportscars like Evos and WRXes would be my pick.
You might also consider hot hatches such as the Golf GTi, Renault Megane, Peugeot 208 GTi and Ford Focus or Fiesta ST. I recall last year seeing two mates in old Peugeots chasing each other around Calder having a great time! The Mustang is an option, but for the money you can find a better track weapon, specifically a lighter one. The last track event I attended used a Clio RS as a course car, kindly provided by Renault Australia. Renault definitely know how to build a sportscar.
This decision needs a lot of research, and all I can do here is give some initial ideas. To find out more, get involved with the owners who will be car enthusiasts. Each of the cars above has web forums and Facebook groups dedicated to discussing the vehicle, and attending your local Cars and Coffee meet is a good way to see what’s happening where. I’ve seen all the cars mentioned at my local event.
Also, virtually every manufacturer describes their vehicles as sporty, but most of them are lying through their teeth. A true sportscar is built for the rigours of motorsport, not just offering sharp handling, a coupe body and a bit of bling. Any car can be punted around a track, but you want it to last. All the vehicles mentioned above will do the job, but even so, whatever car you get, make absolutely sure you prepare it properly and then maintain it well. You can read more about this in our guide to track days.
Good luck and let us know what you choose!