What do you like in a car, and how can you get it for cheap?

The recent series of posts about the Mazda's suspension got me thinking. A lot of people are kind of allergic to customization. Consumerism teaches us that we define ourselves to the world by what we choose to buy: our car, clothes, personal electronics, etc. To customize anything is unnecessary and gauche in this view.

But there's a whole segment of society for whom personal style *is* customization. Here in Cleveland, probably half the cars I see are lowered or have huge rims or wide exhausts. In fact, a lot of them are 1970s-1980s Detroit iron, beautifully restored and then modified. Children understand this. If you gave a child a laptop, they would cover it with stickers. They put tassels on their bicycles.

I have slightly unusual tastes in cars. I like tight handling. Really tight. I think the best handling car I ever had was a 1993 Civic, which weighed 2300 pounds. I could get handling like that today if I bought a Subaru Impreza WRX, a Mazdaspeed3, or, moving upscale, a Porsche Boxster or a BMW M3. The problem with all those cars is that they have way more horsepower than I need or want. I know myself well enough to know that having a faster car would just make me more of an asshole. Also, these cars cost a lot to buy and to insure.

Certain lines of cars are sold with a wide range of prices and performance levels. I've already mentioned the Mazda3, Impreza, and BMW 3 series. The Mitsubishi Lancer qualifies, as does the Civic. There are plenty others. So I can pick a car for appearance, features, and price, and then customize the suspension so it feels the way I want it to. Putting WRX shocks, springs, and wheels on an Impreza would get me a terrific all-season car (I could even put winter tires on the smaller Impreza rims) for much less than an actual WRX.

Do you like straight-line power? Get an Impreza and put the WRX engine in it. Or a Civic ... there's been a huge community of Civic modders out there for years. Do you like comfort? Find a Cadillac DeVille with high miles and a small engine, have the shock absorbers replaced with new stock parts, and check the reviews at Tire Rack for the most comfortable tires that will fit it.

You can have what you want. You don't have to pay to have it delivered in a package full of stuff you don't care about. With time and research, you can make it suit your tastes.