Philip hurt his foot playing basketball and can’t drive a manual anymore. He wants something fun and sporty with some extra space for gear and antiques. He lives in Northern California and has a budget of up to $20,000. What should he buy?
(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )
Here’s the scenario:
After a basketball accident I have nerve damage in my left foot and sadly can’t drive stick anymore. Looking for something practical but still fun to flog on weekends. My commute is absurdly short but I’m surrounded by great enthusiast mountain roads as well. I have a work truck and really just looking for an entertaining, reliable, unique point A to B vehicle that still has some space for a (local) day trip. Very open to off-the-wall suggestions.
I go surfing and camping regularly. Not afraid to get dirty. Lots of local twisty roads to enjoy, but being fast isn’t important. I sell antiques at fairs so extra space would be nice, but this is a second vehicle.
I want fun to drive, useable space, reliable, sporty, and not afraid to modify. Looking to spend no more than $20,000
Budget: Up to $20,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: San Jose, CA
Wants: Fun, somewhat practical, reliable
Doesn’t want: Anything with three pedals
That is certainly an unfortunate development regarding your basketball injury. The upside is, finding a decent automatic car is exponentially easier than finding a manual. The tricky part is combining fun with a level of practicality that’s also reliable. You mentioned you don’t necessarily need “fast,” but would like something that can carve up some back roads.
Fortunately, I found just the ticket: the Acura TSX Sportwagon. These are rare, so the fact that there is a relatively low-mile example in your vicinity is a sign from the universe that this is your next ride. The TSX was essentially a rebadged version of the European-spec Honda Accord that could give the Germans a run for their money in terms of handling and feedback. Of course, the TSX is also more reliable than its European competition. Under the hood is the excellent 2.4-liter VTEC four-cylinder pumping out about 200 hp. These things weren’t rocketships, but would provide enough punch to get you moving and still return a respectable 30 mpg. Of course, the wagon version took everything good about the sedan and increased the cargo space.
This long roof would look sharp with a surfboard on top and still give you enough space for whatever else you haul around. The biggest criticism of the wagon is that Acura did not offer the fantastic six-speed manual for U.S. buyers, but as an automatic-only car it looks to be perfect for you.
Okay Philip, you’re looking for sporty, roomy, and affordable. Lots of cars do an okay job on two of those three, but there’s only one that does a hat-trick on all three, with a decent automatic transmission and pricing within your budget: the Honda Fit.
I’ll tell you a story. When I lived in Pennsylvania, I had a go-to guy notary who lived way out in the sticks. This dude had lived a life — he spent most of the ‘80s running speedboats back and forth out of Miami, carrying undisclosed items to undisclosed locations. He shaped up and got back on the straight-and-narrow, but he never lost his taste for sneaky speed in fly-under-the-radar machines. His business vehicles? A Honda Fit. His autocross toy? That same Fit, on Hoosiers.
This 2019 Fit I found on Carvana has 52,200 miles and the automatic transmission your left foot requires, at a price just under $19,000. If the poverty-spec hubcaps and boring silver paint don’t tickle your fancy, there’s a whole candy shop of low-mile Fits on AutoTempest in your region. It’s a weird thing about the Fit: older folks and retirees absolutely loved the thing, as often happens with practical, reasonably-priced cars that sneak a little extra dose of sportiness into the recipe. My advice: Run a local search for automatic Fits under $20,000, and pick the one with the color combo and options you like. You basically can’t go wrong.
Phillip, you want a practical, automatic daily driver that’s fun in the twisties, but since you’re coming from a stick-shift BRZ, I’m guessing you won’t settle for any old slushbox. No, you need a good automatic, and you need it in a hatchback that comes with plaid seats.
It’s rare that someone’s needs on WCSYB feel like they have an objectively right answer, but everything about your question screams GTI. Fun to drive? Check. Useable space? In spades. Reliable? Listen, it’s fine, don’t worry about it. You even mentioned being open to mods, and a GTI is going to have the aftermarket to support those tuner dreams.
Finding a good automatic gearbox under twenty grand can be tough in this market, but you’re not likely to find a better one than Volkswagen’s DSG. This ‘17 GTI, over in Hayward, CA, will give you a transmission you actually enjoy using — rather than one that feels like a sentence passed down from the basketball court.
First of all, Philip, this is why you should never physically exert yourself. But, you don’t have to worry, because I’ve got the perfect car for you. It’s one you probably didn’t consider, but that’s okay. It’s why I’m here.
Behold: the 2013 Acura TL SH-AWD. It’s got everything you’re looking for. With its funky all-wheel-drive system, it’s fun in the corners, and it’s tried and true 3.7-liter V6 (WITH V-TEC, YO) means it’s quick in the straights. It’s got 305 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque all routed through a 6-speed autobox.
Put those figures together and it’ll rip off 0-60 in under 5.5 seconds. The engine is stout enough to take mods, I’d assume. I don’t know. I’m not a mod guy.
This particular TL is a 2013 with just 83,000 miles on the clock, which is nothing for one of these Acura/Honda V6s. It’s also a post-facelift model, so you aren’t stuck with that – let’s say controversial – front fascia.
On God, Philip, I’m now looking for one of these for myself, because I like them so much. Make the right choice, get the TL.
Do you want us to help you find a car? Submit your story on our form.