Tristan loved his manual cars, but he had a bit of an incident on a mountain bike that did serious damage to his left ankle. That means no shifting for a while. He is looking for something affordable with two pedals, but doesn’t want to give up having fun.
(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )
Here is the scenario:
I used to throw around RWD manual cars like they’re disposable (they are) but I broke my ankle doing extreme stuff on a mountain bike. My left ankle. The fun ankle. So now I need an automatic that is still fun to drive. I know there are guys out there drifting autos, but I might also be convinced to get into drag racing.
What I’m looking for: AUTOMATIC :( easy and cheap to tune or modify, good Handling, AWD or RWD, must be fun and somewhat light but big power is only a bonus for me. Cargo space isn’t important but would at least like to be able to put a bike rack on the back or roof (or a hitch) for when I can eventually go mountain biking again. Unlike my past cars, I’m hoping to keep this one around a little longer. Not against a wagon or hatch, but really don’t like fwd.
As for budget I have around $10,000 to spend.
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Wants: Auto trans, horsepower, fun
Doesn’t want: Front-wheel-drive
Expert 1: Tom McParland - If You Can’t Feel The Clutch, Feel The Power
Tristan, sorry to hear about your ankle. You certainly want to take it easy for a bit, but this could be an opportunity to open you up to a different world of cars.
My take on this scenario is that if you are going to get an automatic car, only get something that was never available with a manual to begin with. That way you don’t think you are missing out on some other experience with that same car. The other point is that if you only have to worry about mashing the gas and the brakes, you should get the most fun possible out of the gas pedal, and that means something with a V8.
I know you mentioned something that you can tune up for maximum power, but what if you could get a ton of horsepower right out of the box? What you need is this 2004 Mercedes E55 AMG. Under the hood is a 5.4-liter supercharged V8 with 469 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque, and it is also a supremely comfortable car to cruise around in.
Now, does this particular example seem like a risky venture sold by what might be a questionable dealer? Sure, but even if the thing blows up on you after a year, you can at least say you owned an AMG Mercedes with a monster V8.
If the Benz seems like it might cost you $10,000 to buy and $20,000 to fix maybe try one of these Dodge Charger police cruisers. They are cheap, durable and have Hemi V8 power. Also, Philly parking sucks and maybe if folks think you are a cop (do not pretend you are a cop), you can avoid a few parking tickets.
Expert 2: Kristen Lee - Did Somebody Say Stupid, Cheap Power?
I’m sorry to hear about your injury, Tristan! That’s really unfortunate, but at least you’re not letting it stop you from driving and having fun. Big, cheap and dumb power, you say? Look no further than the Ford Crown Vic Police Interceptor.
Mod or no mod, these things are awesome. And, as the saying goes, they really don’t make them like this anymore: V8, body-on-frame, rear-wheel drive, a sedan and American. Beloved by cops near and far, it is an institution.
This is a car that can take some abuse and because Ford made so many of them, I don’t imagine parts will be tough to find. You do run the risk of everyone on the road thinking you’re a cop, but depending on what kind of person you are, this is either a good thing or a bad thing.
Definitely head for a police auction if you’re looking for one. Especially if you wanna see some cheap stuff. But if strolling around isn’t your idea of fun, here’s a 2011 model for sale for just $5,590.
Expert 3: Patrick George - People Forget This Came With an Auto
You’re still an enthusiast even if the three-pedal life isn’t for you. This is well-established. Fortunately, we live in an era when automatic transmissions are better than ever—lots of gears, lots of quick shifts, lots of options.
I’d love to suggest you get a Volkswagen GTI with the wonderful DSG dual-clutch automatic, one of the best transmissions on the planet. But at $10,000, any used GTI you get is gonna give you more pain than even your broken ankle did.
When going cheap I generally suggest going Japanese. And have you seen how cheap the Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S/Toyota 86 have become lately? There aren’t many around ten grand—you may want to bump that budget to $15,000 if you can—but they’re a hell of a used bargain these days. And they come with a slushbox.
Here’s a six-speed automatic BRZ near you for just $9,500 with only 79,000 miles. That’s a hell of a deal. While the automatic isn’t quite as fun as the stick-shift Toyobaru, it’s not soul-killing the way a CVT WRX is. And you can still have your RWD fun this way. Perhaps it’s a temporary solution you may come to love long-term.
Expert 4: Erik Shilling - The Racing Stripe Only Inhances the Power
You should get an SVT Mustang Cobra. I couldn’t find one after a brief search in Mystichrome, but maybe you can. This one, for $8,000 seems perfectly suitable though. It’s an automatic, and makes 390 horsepower.
It also has ground effects, which are stupid, but the good kind of dumb, if you’re in the right mood. Sometimes you have to lean into being bad, to make the good feel all the better.
And it’s got a motherfuckin’ racing stripe. Listen, I’m not saying this would be a great choice, exactly, but it would be a choice. You could definitely probably fit a bike rack on it. This is your chance to a go a little wild, and a little lowbrow. Seize it.
Correction, 2:20 p.m.: I’m a gullible dumbass who believed a Craigslist ad purportedly selling an SVT but is, in reality, not. I should’ve known better, and I’m sorry. Instead, I will offer two alternatives, both 1990 Mustangs, and both with 5.0s. They’re not fast upfront, but the aftermarket is huge and perfect examples are incredible.
First, a convertible:
And second, a coupe (that you can rescue from a shitty owner):
Both are around $10,000, and would be the start of something great. — E.S.