At the recommendation of others and to keep everything about my car in one place, I'm doing what I should have done almost 2 years ago and made a "build" thread for my car.
It all started in early 2021. I had decided that I was going off to college almost 900 miles away from home, and I (and my parents) decided that making that trip multiple times a year in my only (running) car at the time, my project 2003 Land Rover Discovery that I bought for a few hundred bucks, wasn't gonna cut it. Thus, the search began for a reliable car that was comfortable and got good mileage, preferably for under $20k. It really needed two things for me to be happy, besides the initial criteria:
- It had to be a manual transmission with NO REV HANG (which bothers me to no end)
- It had to have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Thus, the search began. Initially, as a Volvo person, I wanted a Volvo, but something nice enough to be deemed reliable without some work was out of my price range, and unless I went with something super old, I wasn't getting a manual trans and the ability to install a CarPlay headunit. With other used considerations falling into a similar group, I decided to turn to new cars. I test drove the Corolla and found it bland and overpriced, the Impreza only had a 5 speed and felt outdated, and the Civic had so much rev hang that I immediately turned it down, despite the nice shifter feel most Hondas are known for.
Then I found the Forte. I had really liked the Elantra GT N-Line (which they discontinued by the time I was ready to buy a car), so the natural next choice in my price range was the Forte. The dealer I visited (and ultimately ended up buying my FE from) had both a 6 speed GT and 6 speed FE on the lot at the same time, so I was able to test drive them back to back. While I liked the GT more, the FE 2.0L felt like a sweeter engine, with basically no rev hang (the GT had a little bit), and being so much cheaper while still having CarPlay, it's the route I took. Here's my FE the day I bought it:
I was super excited obviously, and drove it everywhere when I first got it, putting over 3,000 miles on it in around 2 months, despite nowhere to go with it due to the pandemic, which was still kind of a thing at this point.
I loved it, and felt that it would be perfect with some modifications to bring the suspension more in line with the GT. And so, the modifications started to begin.
First up was the lower engine mount, as the factory one was way too soft for my liking and the engine moved around too much while shifting and in stop and go traffic. First, I tried out a cheap mount I got on Amazon. It was ok, and helped with the driveline slop, but brought too much NVH into the cabin. I tried modifying it, which helped, but when it broke in, the engine was moving around more than the stock mount. Tried some combination of stock and aftermarket, but nothing. Then, after seeing some recommendations here for the Powerflex lower mount, I pulled the trigger and installed it. It was perfect. Very little NVH (just at idle with AC on), and the engine movements were much more controlled. I was super happy with this upgrade, which got even better once it broke in and most of the AC-idle vibration slowly went away. I drove it like this for a while.
After driving it for a while, I started getting sick of the light, plasticy stock shifter. I was used to the one in my Volvo, which, while not super short throw, has a factory weighted knob that felt so much better. As such, it was upgrade time. After some research, I landed on the Boomba short throw shifter that replaced the knob too, since I didn't like the plasticy feel of the stock knob. Install went very smoothly thanks to the good instruction video from Boomba, and I fell in love with the car all over again. The shifter feel with the Boomba short shifter was fantastic. It felt way better than my Volvo, and even, dare I say, better than the shifter in a friend's Porsche 911. It still is the best modification I've made to this car. At over $300, it's also the most expensive, but wow was it worth it.
Next, the suspension deficiencies compared to the GT was kind of a bummer since the shifter made the car feel so great when rowing through the gears. To help remedy this, I installed an Evilla strut bar after a few people on here expressed the surprisingly large improvement it makes. Install took around 5 minutes, and it fully lived up to expectations. At just over $100, it was a great value for how much of an improvement it was to handling with the base suspension setup.
After a few months, the slight slop left over from the factory rubber shift cable bushings started to bother me a little bit, so I got a set of SXTH Element cable end link bushings. Thanks to another helpful video, this install was also painless, and relacing the soft rubber bushings with solid aluminum bushings made a big difference, and further improved shifter feel.
A few months later, I got the itch for even better steering feel after reading about the lower tie bar on here. For $100, I figured I'd give it a go. While not as easy to install, and even though the improvements weren't as great as the strut bar, it was also a good purchase, and protected the underside of my car from a few things over the year I've had it. A writeup for both the strut bar and lower bar (with pictures of how to cut the undertray for installation) can be found here
With a Midwest winter now imminent, I went ahead and ordered a set of Continental VikingContact 7 winter tires. Tire Rack was running an incredible deal on them, so I was able to score a set for $270. They are great in the snow and still returned pretty solid fuel economy. I'm now towards the end of my second winter running them and they still look pretty much new, even though they have over 10k miles on them.
With a set of winter tires on the factory steel wheels, and considering the cost of mounting and balancing the set of tires each season, it got me thinking about a set of aftermarket wheels and tires for the car. I eventually ended up pulling the trigger on a set of 17x7 Enkei J10s, with Sumitomo HTR AS/P03 tires and a set of TPMS sensors from Tire Rack, since they mount and balance them for free and ship the whole set to you for free. Once the weather started getting warmer, I got them on, and love how they look on the car. The grip was also worlds above the factory Khumos, and while I did sacrifice some mileage, I feel it was worth it.
(Continued in next post due to picture limit)