Somehow, there are still people out there that hear the word “nerd” and picture a skinny acne victim in coke bottle glasses and a coffee stained short sleeve button-up, toiling away on a Linux command line at 2 a.m.
The times they are a-changing though, and nerds these days come in all shapes and sizes. Some of us nerd out over the latest concept art from the new Studio Ghibli film. Some of us obsessively track the statistics from literally hundreds of MLB games in order to ensure dominance in a fantasy league. Others, like me, track the latest car news on numerous RSS feeds because even the newest economy car built strictly for the Indian domestic market holds some exciting development in the arena of car technology.
So what then does the discerning car nerd look for in a shiny new automobile? For me, it comes down to three things: high tech features, clever engineering, and a high return on your investment. There are different approaches to car buying, too. Are we the type of car nerd that wants something fast and cutting edge, the type that wants something cheaper and more city-friendly, or the type that wants to save the planet with superior technology? Different groups of us have different priorities, so we’ll look at the best options for each group individually.
For the speed-obsessed car nerd with deep pockets: Nissan GT-R
The venerable Nissan Skyline GT-R made a strong impression of car nerds in the U.S. via the Gran Turismo series of racing simulators. It was the cheapest way to wallop the super cars and get on to the podium once you worked your way up to the harder races.
With that in mind, Nissan knew their audience when they developed the current GT-R. The car eschews a big motor in favor of an absurdly powerful 6 cylinder, rated at 480 horsepower, but routinely measured north of 500. Couple that with, by far, the most advanced all wheel drive system available, and the resulting car will walk away from Ferraris in the twisty bits.
Inside, the video game influence becomes more apparent. The customizable graphic interface displayed on no less than 6 lcd screens was literally developed in partnership with Sony’s Polyphany Digital Division, creators of (you guessed it) the Gran Turismo series. On this Star Trek grade display bank, the driver can monitor everything from their speed and fuel level, to tire pressure and cornering g-force. It’s really impressive stuff.
Honorable Mention: Lexus LFA:
It’ll set you back WAY more cash, and arguably, there are not as many shiny objects in the interior, but the exhaust system was designed by the musical instruments division of Yamaha Engineering. [It’s easily the most beautiful sound ever produced by a car.
For the frugal but forward thinking urban car nerd: Chevrolet Spark
At the other end of the spectrum, there are the types of nerds that just want something to get them from point a to point b, and keep them entertained in the interim. For them, it’s hard to find something more forward-thinking than Chevy’s new micro-car, the Spark.
Initially seen in concept form as “Skids”, one of the obnoxious “triplets” in the second Transformers film, the Spark was really targeted at emerging markets. It’s the type of car normally seen sitting in epic New Delhi traffic jams, horn blaring contiuously. However, as younger car buyers gravitated increasingly toward smaller, cheaper options, Chevy made a bold move by slapping easily the most clever “infotainment” system on the market in to it and barraging millenials with online advertising.
The infotainment system in question is called BYOME, or Bring Your Own Media Environment. What this means, in short, is that the Spark dropped all physical media playback options (CDs, Cassettes, Hard Drives) and replaced them with an app-supported Bluetooth interface. This allows the driver to pair up their fancy-pants smartphone and use it to pipe their own music, navigation, phone calls, text messages, Facebookings and such through the cars sizeable touchscreen display.
Now, GM probably wouldn’t put this in a press release, but what they really did was take some parts from a sub-$200 Chinese Android tablet, and install them in the spot normally taken up with a complicated grouping of devices including a radio, CD player, auxillary input, GPS receiver, flash memory module, and processor. In short, they saved a nice little chunk of change on one of the more technologically complex components of the car, and provided a shockingly logical alternative to a segment of the market that really only wanted to listen to Pandora in the first place.
Honorable Mention: Nissan Cube
What it lacks in clever stereo equipment, it makes up for in asymmetrical body panels. Normal people and luddites need not apply.
For the environmentally minded car nerd: Honda CR-Z
So you want a hybrid, but you don’t want something boring? Something fun to drive, but still utilizing environmentally friendly materials and processes? Something high-tech, but not overly complicated? Honda CR-Z.
The direct descendant of the legendary Honda CR-X and the too-advanced-for-the-Clinton-administration Honda Insight (the CR-Z is much more closely related to the original Insight than the current Insight actually is). The CR-Z may not be the *most* fuel-efficient hybrid or anywhere near the fastest sporty hatchback, but it is probably the most environmentally friendly hot hatch, and also the most entertaining small hybrid one can buy (Ferrari FFs notwithstanding).
The car makes 130 hp between the gas and electric motors and gets about 35 mpg combined. Like I said, not the fastest or the most efficient. That being said, it will also pull a respectable .87g in a corner, which means that the car can actually withstand 87% of the earth’s gravitational pull before the stock tires break loose and start to skid. Add to that the availability of an honest-to-goodness three pedal manual transmission, and one could argue that it’s really the only hybrid that is really built with the car nerd contingent in mind.
Honorable Mention: Chevrolet Volt
MSRP: 26,685 after tax credit
If you’re willing to drop the cash on it, you get an electric car with an onboard generator, giving it a range longer than many gas-powered cars. Plus, the stereo is an all-touchscreen affair running a full-on Android distro.
So there you have it. In my estimation, it’s a great time to be a nerd and a car guy. Shifting the focus away from putting a 3 ton SUV in every driveway has driven automakers in the U.S. and elsewhere to provide innovative features and brilliant engineering in to every kind of car, from the tiny Spark, to the fire-breathing GT-R.
Is there a new car on the market that tips the needle on your nerd-radar? Share it in the comments.
Copyright 2013 Ed Harris