Frank is a self-described millennial who has been borrowing his parents’ cars to get around. It’s time for him to get his own ride, but it needs to be affordable, reliable, and different. What car should he buy?
Here is the scenario -
I’m a millennial who has always borrowed my parents’ cars. Now I can get one on my own. I’m a digital archivist by trade but I like to do auction and garage sale hunting for fun so I need something that can haul stuff. I also spend a lot of time in the car on the weekends often driving up to four hours, so it would be nice to have something that is comfortable for long hauls.
All-wheel drive is preferred and I don’t want something that I would need to hunt for parts for; I can do some basic repair work but I need something that is turn-key and with proper care will be a long time; would prefer newer used or basic-level new cars.
While I’m looking for something easy and reliable for under $20,000 I also don’t want the same thing that everyone else has. It’s nice to drive something different.
What car should I buy?!
Budget: up to $20,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Wants: Affordable, Reliable, Spacious
Doesn’t want: Something too common
I’m going to be frank with you (sorry)—you have tricky list of characteristics to get a perfect match on, so you may have to settle for close enough. First of all, let’s toss this whole all-wheel-drive thing. Yes, it’s nice to have, but you live in Pennsylvania and you are not what is considered “essential personnel”, which means if a big storm comes you can stay home. A good front-wheel drive car with a nice set of snow tires will do just fine in mild to moderate snow.
Now that is out of the way, we can get to the easy part. You are a guy who likes garage sales an auctions, kind of like American Pickers, but on a smaller scale. And you know what those guys drive when they are trekking across the country looking for “rusty gold?” They use a van because vans are both comfortable for long hauls and easy to fit a ton of stuff in.
Now you don’t need to go all out on some giant commercial style vehicle, but something like this certified 2017 Kia Sedona would work nicely. It’s got some style, nice features, and a long warranty.
Live the van life.
A minivan, Tom? What the hell? The kid’s getting into cars for the first time and you’re gonna resign him to something that parents get out of necessity rather than desire?
Where do I find these people?
Anyway, Frank, don’t listen to Tom. It’s great that you’re just now getting into cars! I think we should use this as an opportunity to hook you into fun cars, because we may as well enjoy driving until the robots take our keys away or humanity goes extinct, whichever happens first.
So you like to go auction-hunting. Cool. I don’t think you need a minivan for that, necessarily. If the item’s big enough, call a friend with a van or a truck. What you need is a good hatchback. Put the seats down and you’ll probably have most of the room you’ll require for hauling, much of the time. And the good news is there’s plenty of hatches in the $20,000 range that will combine practicality with fun.
Might I suggest the Ford Focus ST? With a 252 horsepower turbocharged engine and a stick shift (if you can’t drive stick, it’s time to learn; thank me later) and all the pragmatism that comes with being a Focus hatch, you won’t be wanting for much. I do agree you don’t need AWD as much as you think you do.
The current model’s on the way out but there are plenty of good used deals around. Here’s a ‘15 model for just $18,997 with only 17,000 miles. Welcome to fun.
Let me be honest: I didn’t want to suggest this, but after declaring that the only right car for you is a Mercedes-Benz R-Class, I was shouted down by my coworkers, and basically asked—err, told—to be reasonable.
This isn’t something I’m normally capable of, but luckily, in my search for a morsel of reasonable-ness in the farthest fibers of my brain, I recalled my drive with the new Hyundai Accent.
This car is not particularly exciting in the grand scheme of things, but it does not suck. In fact, it was actually more fun to drive than I ever expected, mostly because of a lovely manual transmission. At 130 horsepower from its 1.6-liter inline-four, it’s not going to smoke any tires, but with that perfect shifter, a curb weight of only 2,500 pounds, 37 MPG highway, and a base price of only $15,000, it’s a compelling little baby sedan.
So look at that, if you want. Or you can buy the R-Class, which I promised I wouldn’t suggest, but screw it. It’s a 300 horsepower, V8, all-wheel drive MPV (it’s a minivan) that will transport all of your crap without issue, and that you can buy for like, nine grand. No brainer? No brainer.
I have no idea who beamed up all my colleagues and replaced them with aliens (other than PG—the FoST is fine, though a FiST is better) but if you want a nice-driving, well-made, easy to service, trustworthy spacious vehicle for not too much money, there is a car for you: the Acura TSX Sport Wagon.
Enthusiasts kinda shunned it because you couldn’t get it with a manual and instead are all now replacing head gaskets on their Outbacks. But there is more to life than three pedals. Even the nicest one I could find around here is $14 grand, which leaves a lot of room for really good snow tires if you’re all that worried about the winter.
It’s premium, it’s classy, it’s reliable, and it’ll haul all your stuff. It’s a little different, too. You don’t see these all over the place.