Having a daughter is a great, life affirming experience. Having a daughter sometimes means buying a more practical vehicle than you’d ever wanted. Now that Mike’s daughter is getting her license he’s ready to have a new life affirming experience with an automobile. What car should he buy?
As a civil servant along Mississippi’s beautiful southern coast, Mike makes reasonable choices and so the well maintained Nissan Sentra he’s currently driving is going to be inherited by his daughter. Lucky her.
Welcome to What Car Should You Buy?, a new Jalopnik feature where we give real people real advice about buying cars. Do you want us to help you find a car? Send us an email with “What Car Should You Buy?” in the subject.
Mike yearns for excitement but a Miata isn’t going to work. He’d love an Icon-prepped Power Wagon but that’s more scratch than he or even Cut Chemist could manage. His budget will let him by another reasonable new car or a slightly more unreasonable and fun used car, which he’s fine with so long as it’s something a local mechanic can work on without having to learn to speak Dutch.
Here are his wishes, in his own words:
I am a big dude, racing seats need not apply. Other than that, I have looked at all sizes and shapes of vehicles from hot hatches to conversion vans and I am simply afraid I will get stuck with a Mustang as a default. I am surrounded in a sea of F150's and Camry’s and I just want something different.
We wouldn’t let that happen to you.
Budget: $17,000 - $25,000
Daily Driver? Yes, but if it breaks his daughter can take the bus and he can reclaim the Sentra
Average Miles Per-Week: 200, but the commute is short
Wants: Something funky, roomy, different, needs to fit in one parking space and have a roof.
Doesn’t want: A beige car or anything without working A/C
Expert #1: Matt Hardigree, Lover Of High Miles
One of the easiest ways to differentiate yourself from the masses is with a wagon. People don’t drive wagons and wagons aren’t beige... unless it’s a Toyota Camry wagon. And if you’re going to get a wagon why not get the grandest wagon of them all?
The Jeep Grand Wagoneer, or just plain Wagoneer, is one of the most attractive SUVs ever built. It’s big and roomy and charming, somehow appealing to both the Ralph Lauren set and to your cousin Ralph who drives long haul trucks. They aren’t mechanically complex and while FJs continue to go up in price, the market for Wagoneers has survived the hype without ballooning.
I owned a black Ford Escort with non-functioning A/C when I lived near the Gulf of Mexico and can relate to how uncomfortable a permanent case of swamp ass can be. The good news is a nice Wagoneer Limited sold on BaT recently for just $14,000 and the cool air blower worked. A cursory eBay search indicates this was a good price, but certainly not anomalous.
When you win the lottery you can get ICON to make it into your dream cruiser and, if not, you can just enjoy it.
Expert #2: Michael Ballaban, Questioner Of How Big Is Big, Really?
You set a Miata as your baseline of what is “too small,” but I’m actually going to assume you’re below 7' and below 500 pounds. If that’s the case you should actually have no problem in fitting in a BMW M Coupe.
It’s funky, it’s fast, it’s different, and with that shooting brake design it’s actually roomy enough for you and everything else, provided you don’t need to bring the kids anywhere anymore. And hey, she’s got a Sentra now, so she can drive herself anyway.
The original M Coupe is one of the cars I’ve lusted over for a very long time. It’s proportions, with its fat tires out back, make it look like the prettiest shoe this side of a sneakerhead’s closet. They’re so good they made it into our fantasy garage, and later models come with 315 horsepower, right around that sweet spot of plenty quick but not-too-much-to-actually-enjoy-on-a-street.
That engine is also a BMW straight six, of which there are approximately 80 billion in the world, so finding a mechanic who knows how it works shouldn’t be too hard to find.
You can find ones on the higher mileage side of things – but still in excellent condition – for around $20,000. The prices climb as the mileage drops, as you would expect.
Expert #3: Kristen Lee, Chief Deputy Slayer Of Tires And #Brands
Mazda is a great start, especially at the $17,000 to $25,000 price point. You want something fun, spirited and different, and I’m going to point you in the direction of a 2013 Mazdaspeed3.
Besides the obvious requirements that it fulfills (roomy, newer slightly-used car, funky, different and parkable), the Mazdaspeed3 is also a fun little car. It makes 263 HP to the front wheels, and if torque steer makes you laugh, then you’re in for a real treat.
Also, it’s super practical, because it’s a hatchback. You can seat five and still have room in the back for luggage or supplies.
I also don’t see many 2013 Mazdaspeed3s on the road. They are surprisingly uncommon, despite how fun and practical they are. You’d definitely be different if you had one of these. Hope you can drive stick!
This one that I found on Autotrader is in Louisiana, but it’s definitely worth looking into. It’s only got 8,800 miles on the clock, so it’s basically a new car. Also, the seller notes that it’s still under the three-year/36,000-mile warranty from Mazda, so that’s a huge plus. $22,000 and it’s yours.
Expert #4: Stef Schrader, Lancer-Owning Weirdo
You want a fun car, but don’t want something small. Why not get something you can terrif—er, I mean share with whole family with, too? The $17,000-$25,000 budget leaves you open to every generation of Lancer Evolution that was sold in the United States, and gives you four doors, all wheel drive, and plenty of turbo insanity.
There are pros and cons to each generation. The Evo VIII and IX are rarer, wackier, and look like ready-made Fast and Furious cars. Those crazy little vortex generators on the roof came stock on the Evo IX MR! Pictured above is a 2006 Lancer Evolution IX MR for sale in Georgia for $22,000 on Autotrader.
Maybe the earlier ones aren’t big enough, and that’s okay. With the Evo X, Mitsubishi went with a bigger, more comfortable car that’s a bit more conservative in its styling, but still guaranteed to be a rare sight on the road. It’s huge inside for a compact car, and the Evo X MR trim even came with one of the better dual-clutch transmissions of its time—just in case you don’t want to row your own. Here’s a 2010 Evo X MR for $23,995 on Autotrader.
The Recaro seats up front in the Evo X may be a tighter squeeze for a big guy, but if you find someone who wants to swap out the roomier non-Recaros from a 2015 or newer Evo, you’ll be fine. Mitsubishi had to ditch the Evo’s cozy Recaros because of updated airbag regulations in 2015 to much disappointment, so I’m sure there will be takers.
The one trick is to look for a responsibly owned example with good service records. As the prices on these cars fell, so too came cheaper, less professionally-installed modifications. Unmodified ones still exist, but they’re harder to find. That’s the beauty of the Evo, though—they’re rarer, but they have a healthy aftermarket if you decide you’d like to tinker with yours. The 4G63T engine in the Evo VII and IX is particularly stout, so modify away to your heart’s content.