Chase just had to face the ultimate nightmare for any car owner. He went to find his car, only to discover it was gone. The silver lining is that he wasn’t a huge fan of his old crossover, anyway and wants to get something fun that can still handle the snow. What car should he buy?
If there is one thing we are very proud of here at Jalopnik, besides our attempts to popularize the term “boatercycle”, it’s helping people recover their stolen cars. Our extensive community of internet car sleuths has been successful at locating missing vehicles with only the tiniest of clues.
Even though were are too late to get Chase’s crossover back, it seems he isn’t going to miss it much anyway and wants to replace it with something more engaging that has a manual transmission and is ready for some off-roading and bad weather.
Sounds like a pretty easy mission, until you see the details—details that eliminate some of the obvious choices.
Here is the scenario:
I’m a recent victim of car theft, and an itching enthusiast. I live in Utah and the snow and salt make having a enthusiast car difficult. I’m also a classic car nut, but need something that can handle 400 miles a week for my commute.
I take frequent trips to Moab (about 270 miles from home )through a terrifyingly deadly canyon and a gravel driveway with obnoxious amounts of snow. I live on a ranch.
I have a 1972 Ford Bronco as a “project car”, that I love with all my heart and drive when I can.
I would like a manual transmission car that is not a crossover and but I don’t want a Subaru because everyone seems to have one of those.
Budget: $15,000- $20,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Average Miles Per-Week: 400
Body style: Sedan, hatchback, wagon.
Wants: A car that can handle obscene amounts of snow, be fun to drive, and be relatively reliable
Doesn’t want: A Subaru
Expert #1: Tom McParland: Says No To Hooning In The Snow
The “no Subaru” thing really makes this a challenge. Making it more complicated is the fact that you want manual transmission car that can, in your words, “handle an obscene amount of snow.” Any sedan, hatchback or wagon may not be the best pick due to the lower ride height, but I’ll assume you have a plan for that.
With the Subaru out, that pretty much leaves you with a handful of old trucks with three pedals with a ton of miles, or something from Jeep. I initially leaned towards a Mini Countryman All4.
While they are a lot of fun, reliability on these is a bit of a gamble and given the amount of miles you put on your cars, your maintenance costs could climb rapidly—our editor Patrick George has some horror stories about that engine. Still, the fun may be worth rolling the dice on.
But if you’re looking for more of a safe bet, how about a brand new Renegade? You can get a 4WD Sport with a six-speed manual for under $20,000, and even though Jeep’s long-term build quality is not much better than Mini you will have the benefit of a full warranty for the next several years.
The Renegade is technically a crossover, but could pass as a hatchback and the turbo motor with a manual transmission makes it a fun car to toss around.
Expert 2: Michael Ballaban, Big Important Car Man
You say that you don’t want a Subaru, because everyone has a Subaru. But hey man, you’re the one who brought up Subarus, not us. It sounds like what you want is a Subaru, but it shouldn’t say “Subaru” on it.
So what you should get is a Saabaru. Specifically, the Saab 9-2X Aero. Jamokes may dismiss it as “just a WRX with nicer seats,” but it’s actually so much more than that. The Aero got the WRX’s chassis and 227-horsepower all-wheel-drive drivetrain, but then the smart Swedes at Saab went to work.
They replaced the bad Subaru front seats with good ones from Saab, they replaced the suspension so that it was both lighter and better, they replaced the interior trim so that it wasn’t trash, they put in more sound insulation so that it wouldn’t be so buzzy on the highway, and they replaced the steering rack from the base WRX with the quicker one out of the WRX STI.
In short, it’s better than the Subaru. Plus it doesn’t say Subaru anywhere—it says Saab. And everyone knows that if you drive a Saab you are Interesting and Cool and Someone People Like Talking To At Parties. Plus you can get one with a manual.
You can even get examples with relatively low miles way under your budget. Don’t get a Subaru. Get a Saabaru.
Expert 3: David Tracy, Actually Read Your Email This Time
First off, Mike and Tom aren’t even following the rules. You said you don’t want a crossover or a Subaru, and what do Tom and Mike recommend? A crossover and a Subaru, respectively (Mike’s Saab is a Subaru; I don’t care what the badge says.)
But since I actually read your email, I’m here to bring some real car advice to this post in the form of a sport sedan that I recently had the pleasure of driving through rural Bavarian roads: the Mazdaspeed6 (pictured above).
One quick look at the picture may not stir your soul (unless you’re looking at the Miata), I get that—the car looks like a standard Mazda6 sedan with a little ducktail on the deck lid, some nice wheels and a sporty-ish lower fascia.
But under the hood is a 2.3-liter turbocharged inline-four making 270 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, mated to a six-speed manual that shifts as well as any manual I’ve ever played with.
Yea, the car is beefy at 3,600 pounds, and with the all-wheel drive setup, tends to yield understeer, but the car is still a lot of fun to drive thanks to solid steering, good brakes, that great shifter and an engine that takes care of 0-60 sprints in only about 5.5 seconds. Plus, it’s quiet, and corners fairly well while maintaining decent ride quality.
Add to that the fact that you can buy them for well below what you’re trying to spend, and I think I have the solution to all of your problems. Well, as long as by “obscene amounts of snow” you mean “less than about four inches.”
Expert 2: Andrew Collins, Would Rather Be Skiing
Moab, fun, manual transmission: the obvious answers are Subaru or Jeep, but if you “don’t want to drive what everybody else has,” the obvious answers are straight out the window.
I feel your pain, man. The desire to be different is exactly why I have an International Harvester instead of a CJ-7. Well, that and it was way cheaper. But back to you. Since you’ve got a classic Bronco I’m sure you’re aware of all the well-traveled 4WD options. Your budget would get a great 4Runner, or even a Land Cruiser, but since you mention “hatchback” I get the sense you’re not really looking for an SUV.
The confluence of your desires is budget is interesting—if you had less to spend I’d send you to the late 1980s for an AWD Civic or Toyota Tercel. Both wacky, fun, and cheap. And will get respect in Utah for sure. At the top of your budget you could get into a used Audi or BMW with AWD and a manual, but at 400 miles per week you’d better save some of that skrilla for gas! (Do people still say skrilla?)
My suggestion is a mid-2000's Volkswagen Golf R32. It’s a fun, AWD, manual hatchback you could buy in excellent condition and afford two sets of wheels at your price bracket. The second generation is within budget too, but the earlier “Mark IV” build is so much prettier.
Years ago a kid in my high school had one of these, brand new, and the jealously weighed heavy as the textbooks in my backpack I never read every time he peeled out of the parking lot. I still think they’re great looking cars, and while it might take a little time to find one you should have plenty of budget left over to ship it in from wherever and set it up to be a four-season mile eater.
With only about 5,000 of these things in the U.S. it’s not the easiest car to find, but you did say you wanted to stand out. Here’s a nice low-mileage one a couple states over from you, still within budget even with shipping.