What's the best car for poor people?

Poverty is no joke, and getting no-jokier by the minute. Add to that, in most places, reliable transportation can mean the difference between getting a leg up and sinking deeper into financial distress. What's the best car for poor people?

This question is of particular interest to one Jalopnik reader, who submits the following:

I've recently become poor. What's the best car to buy when you're poor? I need mileage, low cost, low maintenance and looks do mean something.

-Mark

Ok, Mark. Let's figure this out. All our bitching about appliance-vehicles need not go completely out the window, either. You need good reliability ratings, deceptive roominess, great gas mileage, and a non-interference engine, so if that timing belt goes it won't take the valves and pistons with it. All that, plus decent driving dynamics and good looks. I'm going with the Mazda Protégé 1.5-liter. It's no speed demon, but the late-1990s models were among the best-looking little sedans and hatches around. Find a good one, and it might just be your ticket to eas(ier) street.

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