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Which Car Blew Away Your Expectations?

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Years of playing Gran Turismo instilled in me the concept that the R32 GT-R was a good car, but I sensed that the vehicle’s reputation was a little overblown. This often happens with early generations of vehicles that go on to be extremely famous. It’s hard to compare the performance of an original, Blue Flame Six-powered Corvette with a modern Z06, for example.

One of the fun aspects of making the show “Proving Grounds” for NBC Sports was that I, as the showrunner, was able to pick a lot of the cars I wanted to run around the desert race track we’d rent for a week at a time. One season we decided to do a “Rad” episode and so I reached out to friends to see what might be available in the form of ’80s and ’90s cars.

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If you’ve never seen the show, you’re in good company, as many people have not. The basic premise was that we’d take four extremely different cars and run them around a “Proving Grounds” we built at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway in a town so far away from anything else it’s called Desert Center. The course we built had an off-road section, a wet corner (complete with sprinklers), fake deer, and a chicane we built out of boxes that were constantly being blown around by sandstorms.

For the “Rad” episode we ended up with a Mazda 787B that raced at Le Mans, a cocaine white Formula Firebird, a DeLorean DMC-12 from the DeLorean Motor Company, and a Skyline GT-R (R32) from Toprank Importers. I was excited about those cars roughly in that order, from most excited to least excited.

You can see the episode here (or below) because, during the pandemic, NBC Sports quietly uploaded some of them to YouTube, which was a fun surprise:

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Also, side note: The day we shot was so incredibly windy that we had to basically dub all the lines outside the car (this is called ADRing and it’s a fun sort of ass-pain). I’m guessing you wouldn’t see it if I didn’t point it out, but I can’t not see it.

Since Parker Kligerman, our co-host, got to drive the Mazda 787B, it was up to Sam Smith to review the GT-R. He loved it. He wouldn’t stop talking about it. Leh Keen, our hot shoe, also was in love with it.

In spite of all of this, I assumed the car would feel just merely fine when Sean, who runs Toprank, asked if I wanted to drive the GT-R for a quick couple of laps around the full Chuckwalla track.

Proving Grounds R32 Gt R 3
Photo: NBC Sports/TangentVector

Nope. They were right. I was wrong. This wasn’t my car and we weren’t filming so I wasn’t able to push it as hard as Leh (nor, frankly, am I anywhere close to being able to push even a lawnmower as hard as Leh).

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At this point, I’d done countless laps around the track, mostly in minivans and Miatas (and an off-road fire truck), so I had a decent sense of where my limits were and where it was safe to push a car. With each turn my instinct was to push harder and harder and by the time I reached the back-straight I was driving way faster than I’d planned.

A little voice in my head started to ask me if I wanted to pay for the repairs to a JDM R32, but the car was so well-balanced, the power delivery so smooth, and the all-wheel-drive system so perfectly calibrated that it was impossible not to drive it faster as the lap went on.

So I did. I kept it safe and somewhat reasonable. I didn’t beat on it the way I beat on those poor rented Grand Caravans. I just went as fast as I was sure I could handle and probably would have kept driving if it wasn’t getting so dark I was afraid I’d hit one of the coyotes or snakes that would sometimes wander out after the sun went down.

The R32 has never left me. It is absolutely as good as you heard. Probably better.

What about you? Which vehicle exceeded your expectations for it? Did it do so because those expectations were low or high?

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Space
Space
1 month ago

Oldsmobile 88, for the simple fact it refused to quit. Also the horizontal speedometer.

Defenestrator
Defenestrator
1 month ago

Second-gen Chevy Volt. I bought it in 2021 as a sort of stopgap so I wasn’t stuck driving a truck around all the time when various plans got wrecked by 2020. It’s basically a Cruze with a battery, so my expectations were not particularly high, but it exceeded them in every way. The battery means the throttle response feels like driving an ICE around at 4500RPM, and it’s genuinely quick to about 40mph. It also means the car’s weight is lower and closer to the center, so handling is better than it has any right to be. I’ve started calling it the gateway drug for BEV cars. Added bonus: I can remotely start it to run the heater inside the garage.

Zane Stringer
Zane Stringer
1 month ago

My NB Miata, the first car I bought from a dealer (used), it was better than everything I had read. I was actually driving to said dealer to test an 07 Mustang GT, but it sold before I got there, so I decided to try the Miata. I barely fit (seat all the way back), and it was not fast, but I have never felt so connected to a car.

When I unfortunately wrecked the NB, I bought an 08 Mustang GT. The exhaust had been modified, it was Grabber Orange so visually loud as well, loved it. Kids LOVED it, they basically thought it was a big hot wheels car. I remember the sound of the V8, incredible. But, I eventually rented a 2019 GT convertible during COVID (thanks National!), and 465 HP plus the newer chassis had me hooked. It’s definitely on my list of cars to get.

For now I will make due with my 9-5 Aero wagon, a 2002 Avalanche, and a 1995 900SE turbo convertible that may be on the chopping block as the top & windows now longer operate. We shall see.

Jeremy Aber
Jeremy Aber
1 month ago

I had an Elantra and a Sonata as rentals on some recent trips, and even though I’ve been admiring Hyundai’s improvement over the last decade, I hadn’t actually driven a new one until now. I was pretty blown away at how nice they are! Plenty of power, handled well, very comfortable, and still got something like 40-45mpg on the highway as non-hybrids. I’m more interested in getting another EV as our next new car, so I’ll be looking closely at the Ioniq 5 & 6.

Vb9594
Vb9594
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeremy Aber

My wife and I did 1,100 miles in a rental Santa Fe last year and it opened our eyes to Hyundai. In Feb I bought a ’23 Sonata N-Line. Absolutely superb car

If you told me 10 years ago I would own a Hyundai, I’d have laughed at you.

Donovan King
Donovan King
1 month ago

Porsche 911 GT3 RS. Got to do 10 laps at a track day thing as a gift from my wife. I picked that car because my Dad loved 911s and he had passed a year earlier. Driving that thing blew my expectations of how good a car could be away. I’ve never felt so confident and had so much respect for a machine. I totally understood my Dad’s love affair with Porsche and it was a connection back to him that I’ll always cherish. It’s my new dream car that I’d buy in a heartbeat.

GertVAG
GertVAG
1 month ago

Fiat 500X I had for 10 days as a rental in Portugal. While I don’t see the appeal of mini crossovers, this car, despite being an atmospheric diesel, was simply fun. Big enough to feel comfortable, it soaked up the bumps in the road and it was small enough to be fun on the mountain roads, with input from the steering wheel that I never got from my Passats. And the engine loved revs, it sold me on Fiat diesels. Still think about that car often!

John J Gerding
John J Gerding
1 month ago

I would have to say that my Durango Hellcat is my “surprise” car. I knew it was fiendishly fast, but I never expected the comfort level on long trips. Soon after purcase, I drove from Florida up to Rhode Island for Christmas, and I have never been so comfortable. The car is quiet, smooth and the seats just keep all of the aches and pains away. There is absolutely no wind noise with this car, even at speeds around 80 PH. Bumps in the road just don’t exist. Usually on long trips, you stop for gas, take a leak and maybe walk around and stretch to get the kinks out. Not this car. Gas, leak, go. No cramps, etc. AND, I had contracted COVID in Rhode Island, and ended up driving straight through coming home.

Please keep in mind that I am 75 years old, so I have been on a lot of road trips in my life. Frankly, the only other car I have owned that allowed me to drive this way was a 1990 Probe. (Surprise!!!) I also spent some 12 years as an OTR Big Rig driver.

Myk El
Myk El
1 month ago

Honestly, my 2007 Honda Accord V6 Hybrid. I needed a commuter vehicle that seated 4 comfortably. I was looking for a basic automotive appliance. It punched above it’s weight class performance wise and was efficient. Added bonus was it LOVED highway miles and road trips. I got so much more than I expected.

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
1 month ago

I would like to point out that the GT-R is not an “early generation” of any sort, as the Skyline line started in 1957 with the ALSI-1 Prince Skyline (1.5-liter OHV four with 60hp; a suitable comparison with the Blue Flame-engined Corvette). The predecessor to the GT-R was the S54 2000GT of 1964, later renamed GT-B. The first Skyline GT-R was the Hakosuka of 1969.
The R32 was a fully mature product and swept the racing tracks.

Mrbrown89
Mrbrown89
1 month ago

Our Chrysler Pacifica PHEV. I was just expecting a bad car to drive in general. Well having the battery down in the middle section helps a lot with cornering. Also getting 30mpg in long trips while having 5 humans, two dogs and all our bags, eating miles. I feel I am driving a plane with how solid and quiet it feels on the highway

CUlater
CUlater
1 month ago
Reply to  Mrbrown89

Second the PacHy vote. Other candidates I’ve had were 2018 Mazda6 with the turbo (just felt right, with the car rotating around you as though you were at the center in the Twisties) and 1st gen LHS (way more agile than something with such space should be). The GLH Turbo was super surprising crude pocket rocket for the time.

Last edited 1 month ago by CUlater
Forbestheweirdo
Forbestheweirdo
1 month ago

I love this site because of stuff like this, questions that bring out tons of fun stories. While I check in on the site several times a day, and read nearly every article, this is probably my favorite since the STAB callsign one. I have now come back three times to just read through the comments and I love it so freaking much!

TheCrank
TheCrank
1 month ago

1st gen Miata. This was back when they were pretty new and didn’t yet have the reputation they have now. My girlfriend’s brother in law had one and let us use it while we were visiting from out of town instead of a rental. It was just so much fun tossing the car around and shifting gears, I was genuinely sad to stop driving it.

Geekycop .
Geekycop .
1 month ago

Two options for me.

1) 1985 Mustang GT, t-tops, 5 speed, and carbureted. It was a blast until my little brother snapped the pedal assembly in half while goofing off in my driveway.

2) My R53 mini cooper S. I got to drive an r50 back in ’01, and it was fun but I genuinely was not expecting the difference between that and the supercharged version. I doubt I’ll ever give the thing up until it literally rusts into oblivion.

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
1 month ago

Not particularly special, but you haven’t really lived until you’ve sat in a Panther Crown Victoria with a NYC cab driver trying to maximize his rides for the day.

Last edited 1 month ago by Harvey Park
Stefan Furi
Stefan Furi
1 month ago

My ’95 Jaguar XJ 40 with the sweet 4 litre inline 6. Oh I loved the look and I bought one, without really trying. I was expecting a shitty ride and a lack of spirit,but oh boy it exceeded my expectations very quickly. It was fast stable as beton brick and smooth as the finest silk from Egypt. It was this weird mix of old jag tech with Ford big platform electronics (thank you Ford, with your parts I never had a problem), so it was pretty reliable, meaning it never let me stranded, but… But I quickly learned why the Hayes books are so popular and I quickly learned how to wrench on a big Jag. There was one point where I was only able to get in the car through the right back door, because all the other were broken. Not a pretty sight I assure you that. But it was surprisingly easy to fix them, even if I had take the doors apart. Oh boy I loved that car, I still dream about it…

Rob Rex
Rob Rex
1 month ago

Volvo XC40 Recharge. I expected a comfortable if quirky-ish crossover for dad duty.

I didn’t expect a sleeper that does a 12 second quarter miles while my kiddo is giggling in his car seat listening to Bluey.

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
1 month ago

The R32-34 are hardcore dream cars for me. Above Supra, by a lot. I’m gonna have to go with the FJ Cruiser, though. If all you want is a closed top Jeep that is dead nuts reliable and you can put a bed in, nothing is better. Amazing adventure vehicle. Maybe the best

Goblin
Goblin
1 month ago

Oh, forgot.

Cadillac XT6Got it as a rental for a month, and it absolutely blew me away in the way it was better than what I expected in every way.

I was anticipating all the things I’d find to disparage in a brand I had no specific respect for, and oh boy did it laugh in my face.

Snappy, revvy engine for an SUV, all the power I’d need in such a large vehicle, comfortable in a German, firm way, excellent handling, excellent road behavior, practical – EVERYTHING was better than what I expected.

And the little “American” idiosyncracies were strange in a good way too.

No headlights that turn in curves ? How about a SIDE headligt (quite powerful one) that illuminates when you turn :)A gauge cluster with no mph-km/h reading ? How about a menu that switches the speedo between mph and km/h 🙂 As you drive, you see that needle at 60mph, you switch the menu to km/h – boom, the needle jumps to 100 :)And the tailgate that opens with a waved foot, over that projected Cadillac logo. I know, everyone has it, but it’s neat and it works.

And all the driver customization – seat position at exit, at entry…

But most of all, that engine, and that suspension, worthy of a German in all the good ways.

Last edited 1 month ago by Goblin
Nick Loh
Nick Loh
1 month ago

The final generation Chrysler 300. I had never driven an American car before, nor had I been a passenger in one for more than a short trip or two. My parents had shunned American cars after the Malibu Classic they bought after emigrating to the US for college. Japanese cars were all I’d really known. When my car got rear-ended in 2012 and had to spend a month in the shop, the rental company gave me a 300 because it was the only car they had available. I was immediately hooked. I loved the huge (relative to other cars I’d driven) body with chrome everywhere, the cushy suspension and tiny base-spec wheels that meant it wallowed around turns and lazily floated over bumps, the features that I’d never had before (heated seats, and a touchscreen to control them with? A color display in the gauge cluster? A weird shifter that confused people so much they had to do a recall?), and the overall “this is me, take it or leave it” vibe of the whole car. I drove home that day grinning like an idiot the whole time, and even though I was happy to have my own car back after the repairs were done, I was still a little sad when I had to return that 300. Ever since then, I’ve had it in my “if I had infinite money and space” dream garage, and every so often I browse used car listings and get a little tempted…

Last edited 1 month ago by Nick Loh
Dangerous_Daveo
Dangerous_Daveo
1 month ago

KTM 1290 Super Duke… I know it’s not a car, but how a motor that big can rev and hit a limiter so quick without even noticing you’re even getting close to redline blew me away, and then you realise what gear you’re in…

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