Andrew is a Captain in the United States Air Force, and when he’s not serving our country he’s futzing around on Jalopnik and Bring A Trailer looking at cars that are more fun to drive than his current hand-me-down Lexus. What car should he buy?
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The life of an Air Force officer takes one to exotic locales like Abilene, Texas and Omaha, Nebraska. While Andrew is currently based in the heart of the Midwest, he could end up almost anywhere and wants to have something fun to drive when he gets there.
Though not the “high and tight” type of pilot, as a former owner of an E46 M3 and an incomplete ‘68 Charger he has a need—a need for a decent amount of speed one can achieve in a car that can also transport a child.
Andrew’s current ride is an automatic 2004 Lexus IS300, which is a fine automobile but not a particularly exciting one. With that as a trade-in and a little cash on the table he should have somewhere in the neighborhood of $8,000 to $12,000 to spend on something reliable enough to make the short drive to work during the week and longer excursions during the weekend.
Here’s how Andrew describes his perfect drive:
Twisty turny, with ups and downs and maybe a couple straightaways for some speed. A nice view is always appreciated; think Sierra Nevada mountains. Or bombing through the mountains in Oregon or Washington. Hopefully with few critters around to dart in front of me. Preferably with no old ladies in the road checking their mailbox.
He’s gotta be able to put a car seat in the back and his idea of “performance” includes something both quick in a straight line and on curvy back roads. After owning a BMW he’s not too enamored with the costs associated with European luxury so he’s more interested in a Japanese or American vehicle.
Budget: $8,000 to $12,000
Daily Driver? Yes
Average Miles Per-Week: 250
Wants: Fun, quick, stick, space for a car seat.
Doesn’t want: Flashy, European, too expensive to maintain.
Expert #1: Patrick George, Budget Backroad Bomber
First of all Andrew, thank you for your service. And by that of course I mean reading Jalopnik on the regular.
High maintenance costs and wrenching on a newer car don’t seem to be your thing, which is fine; not everyone has the time, a garage, or is a closet masochist. Your best bet is likely to go Japanese then. The obvious choices, like a Mazda Miata, Nissan 350Z or a Honda S2000, are out because you need a car seat. I’ve heard mixed things about the reliability of the Mazdaspeed3, and experienced the same with my old WRX. Both are good cars until they aren’t.
Here’s what I’m gonna tell you to do: get an Infiniti G35 or G37 coupe with a stick. Here’s a decent one near you. Their looks have aged pretty well, you should be able to accommodate a car seat, and you get a beefy and robust V6 engine with plenty of power and rear-wheel drive. We rag on them sometimes because they tend to attract a lot of douchebags, but the car’s extremely solid, plus you’re an Air Force pilot so who cares? You’re cooler than any of us. Do whatever you want.
Expert #2: Raphael Orlove, Baja Fighter
If you’re looking for a fun four-seat not-quite-hardcore, not-quite-cruiser car with a manual transmission, I would immediately point you to an Alfa Romeo GTV6. But you won’t buy one, because you’re not insane. That’s fine. There are many other cars that will leave you less likely calling people on forums from the side of the road looking to get a spare part shipped to Nowhereseville, USA.
If you’re looking for something cool and stylish and sporty that’s easy to own, I think you have two good options in front of you. The first is probably a little too strange and old and unreliable, but a Mitsubishi Starion is one of the most badass underrated cars of the modern era. They look awesome, they’re easy to find, and there’s a community that makes these things super fast. But I’ve heard very mixed things about Mitsubishi construction during this era, so maybe you want to pass.
After all, there’s a really ideal choice: a two-door Subaru 2.5 RS. The hard part is going to be finding the right car to buy, since just about all of these cars have either been crashed or modified, but they look good, drive well, and there are tons of parts and knowledgeable fans here in this country. I think these things have a style way beyond even the early Bugeye WRXs, and they’re beginning to pass out of a boy racer image into a modern classic. Cool, right?
Here’s a seemingly unmolested one for sale at a reasonable price in Seattle.
Expert #3: Matt Hardigree, Spends A Lot Of Time On Bring A Trailer
We’re not quite yet in the zone where the more desirable (i.e. V8) Challengers are affordable, although that would make a nice compliment to any future Charger you might buy and they’re unexpectedly gigantic so you’d have room for two car seats, a dog, and a small television.
You know what’s close? A pre-New Edge SN95 Mustang Cobra, which comes in just at the top of your price range for a nice one. These are better than the Camaros of the same era and, I think, more attractive.
If you can snag one of the ones with the modular 4.6-liter V8 you’re getting 305 horsepower in a muscle car that isn’t Krzysztof Kieślowski heavy. Finding a stock one may be problematic, but a few low-key modifications are probably fine.
This particular Mustang is underrated and doesn’t carry the stigma of a Fox Body while offering some practicality and a lot of performance for the price.
Tell us what you think. What car should Andrew buy?