Gordo has had the trifecta of bad luck. His home was burglarized, his car was stolen, then his house burned down. He has since moved on and is now looking for something to drive to bring him some joy again.
Here is the scenario:
My house was burglarized, my Mazda3 GT 6 speed was stolen, three weeks later my house burned down. I have since moved and am a mile from my work. Love driving out of town in the Bay Area on weekends. Looking for something fun, reliable, and classy that will make me forget about all of this and remember the joys of life, which for me is driving!
I would prefer something German and I would like a hatchback because I’m a musician and I need to haul instruments sometimes. I would really like a DSG like transmission or a manual, absolutely no CVTs. I don’t want something boring like a Toyota or something too boy-racer like a WRX STI. If it is a used car I would prefer that it has fewer than 10k miles.
As for budget, I can spend up to $35,000.
Budget: up to $35,000
Daily Driver: Not really, more of a weekend fun car but would be used for practical purposes.
Location: Bay Area, CA
Wants: Fun, engaging, classy
Doesn’t want: A Toyota with a CVT
Expert 1: Tom McParland — Don’t Take The Easy Way Out
Gordo, that is a rough run. I can’t imagine the rollercoaster you have been on during that whole ordeal. So the obvious solution to your criteria is a lightly used Volkswagen Golf R, as long as you aren’t overly hung up on the 10,000 mile cap. It gives you the class, the performance the practicality and the features you want right in your target price range. But you are you are young and are in need of some vehicular therapy so I’m going to offer a different prescription.
Go buy a Porsche.
Specifically, a well cared-for Cayman or a Boxster with a manual transmission. If you are going enjoy your mountain drives on the weekend you might as well do it right.
Porsches are generally reliable if they were maintained right and while some maintenance costs are inevitable, the key here is to build in a buffer into your budget for when that comes up. Here is a very nice and low mile 2006 Boxster with the correct number of pedals for just under $20,000. Make sure you get it inspected by any number of Porsche shops in the region to spot any red flags. Then you will have $15,000 left over to put in any necessary work and get something cheap to haul your gear.
Expert 2: Jason Torchinsky — Time For Karmic Payback
Gordo, things have been extraordinarily shitty for you, and now existence or the universe or whatever owes you a pretty substantial karmic debt in order to bring balance back to everything. I want you to think of me as your karmic accountant, helping you balance your books.
But with a difference: I’m not really here to bring balance, I’m here to help you get ahead. I’m a crooked karmic accountant, and I’m going to cook the books in your favor, and the way to do that is with this beautiful restored 1973 BMW 2002 Touring.
Burglary, fire, car theft—you’ve been through the ringer and no boring-ass new car is going to make things right. But this stunning 2002 Touring absolutely will. The Touring was the hatchback version of the legendary 2002, and they’re incredibly rare in America—hell, they’re rare anywhere.
They’re the coolest 2002, and that says a lot, since the 2002 is one of the most iconic, desirable small sports sedans ever. This one has a nice vintage rally look with big Hella driving lamps and that Alpina livery.
The engine is rebuilt with 40mm sidedraft carbs and electronic ignition and a Tii cylinder head, mated to a five-speed transmission. All 2002s are great to drive and this one seems remarkably well-sorted. It’s within your budget at $31,550, which seems like an amazing price for this car. I wouldn’t have blinked if it was going for $50,000.
Sure, it has more than 10,000 miles, but not that much more—50,000 on a car this old is pretty minimal. It’s German, a hatchback, a manual, all like you wanted, plus an incredible driver, fascinating, and a guaranteed show-stopper wherever you go.
This will make everything okay again. Better than okay. Better than ever. Buy it.
Expert 3: Raphael Orlove — You Don’t Need Me To Tell You To Buy A Porsche, So I Won’t
You don’t need me to tell you that you could buy a not-too-old Porsche, 911 or otherwise, and head up to Marin to clear your head. Everyone already driving Porsches in Marin will do that for you.
For that matter, you don’t need me to tell you that you could buy yourself an old Viper (the engine drone will remind you not to) or find a nearly-new BMW M235i with next to no miles (all the BMW billboards have you covered).
But I will say that an older BMW M3 is very much a car in line with what you want: a comfortable, satisfying partner for running the best roads in the country. The last owner of this E46 M3 claims to have sent his oil out for analysis after changing it, which would be a good enough sign for me. But I also will not forget that there are tons of V8 manual sedans out there well into your price range that would absolutely sing.
Expert 4: Patrick George — Do It All
I’ll echo what my colleagues said about your shitty string of bad luck, Gordo. Sorry life has you down. But a fun car can make you feel better at least some of the time.
I know you’re looking for something that’s more of a weekend toy, but can also haul your music equipment, so I suggest you forgo the toy idea and get one of the most fun practical cars you can buy, and a perennial Jalopnik favorite—the Volkswagen GTI. Whether it’s driving to work or moving your octobass from one nightclub to another, the GTI can do it all, quickly and well within your budget. And you can get it with Volkswagen’s DSG, one of the best gearboxes anyone makes.
In your $35,000 price range you could get a Golf R, as Tom suggested, but I think the GTI should meet pretty much all your needs just fine. Make sure to get one in green!