What Car Should You BuyThe experts at Jalopnik answer your car-buying questions.

Derrek lives in Brooklyn and needs a car, but he knows that the city will not be kind to his vehicle and it will inevitably get dinged, scratched, and beat up. He wants something that still looks fine even after living on NYC streets. What car should he buy?

(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )


Here is the scenario:

I need a car that looks good if not better the more it inevitably gets dinged up in the city. I want something that is low maintenance, easy to park, can handle some snow, Can lug a 6ft surfboard inside or on the roof and can drive around the tristate area without leaving me stranded or killing me. This will mostly be a weekend car and I can spend between $15,000 - $20,000.

Quick Facts:

Budget: Up to $20,000

Daily Driver: Sort of

Location: Brooklyn, NYC

Wants: Reliable, easy to park, can handle NYC abuse

Doesn’t want: Something too pretty or difficult to maintain

Expert 1: Tom McParland - Na’u ka Hau’oli


Derrek, you are an urban young person, looking for a car that is easy to park, reliable but still has a little bit of utility, which makes you the perfect candidate for these sub-compact “lifestyle” crossovers. These vehicles are basically just lifted hatchbacks with some body-cladding on them, and that’s not a bad thing for what you need.

There are a number of choices here like the Subaru Crosstrek and Mazda CX-3, but my pick would be the Hyundai Kona. The Kona’s styling is what you would call a bit funky, some would call it ugly. Either way, no one is going to fret when it gets the inevitably door ding or scratch, furthermore those plastic fenders will take the abuse a bit better than paint. Nor are the aesthetics going to be thrown off if you put a roof rack on top.


Naturally, the Kona’s size makes it easy to park and navigate the city, and AWD is available as well. It will return up to 30 mpg on the highway which isn’t super impressive but not bad either. The other benefit to the Kona is due to a steeper depreciation compared to the Japanese brands you can get one barely used with plenty of warranty left. Here is a 2018 certified example nearby with only 6,000 miles on the clock.

Expert 2: Erin Marquis - That Big City Beat

Image: Autotrader

You want a car that will last, nothing too fancy, that you can keep together cheaply and is easy to park. A car that looks good even when “Beat” up. My friend, I know of such a car and its name is right there in your request, almost as if you subconsciously knew the answer all along. It is the Honda Beat, and it’s your only choice for many reasons.

Number one, cars from the ’90s already look like they should have some dings and scrapes. Look at that nearly perfect Honda Beat up there. Doesn’t it look weird? The scuffs on the front are proof it has been through the wars, but it’s ready to put a few real concussions into the bodywork if you ask me. The Beat is definitely on the low end of your price point, I found many around or under $10,000 with way under 100,000 miles, so if you love it and want to fix up the inevitable dings, you’ve got extra cash on hand. Plus it’s a kei car, is mid-engine, rear-wheel drive and comes with a five-speed manual. We’ve got the Jalopnik triple crown right there. The only way it could be more perfect is if it were brown and also a wagon.


This is a car that is easy to love. Sure it can’t haul a surfboard on top (I just found out you can surf in the New York tri-state area! Who knew? Not this flyover country queen, that’s for sure) but the drop-top does lend it a kind of beachy charm. Plus it’ll be very unique wherever your travels take you. It’s extremely efficient and small, so it is easy to park and easy to fill up. A sure win for attracting whichever gender of individuals float your boat. Or should I say Beat?

Expert 3: Andrew Collins - Bumper Cars

It’s not a low-rez image, the Element always looks this pixelated. (I’m here all week... every week.)
Photo: Facebook

If preempting dings is really a priority, you might want to look at vehicles with unpainted bumpers. But shucks, $20,000 is a lot to spend on something you consider semi-sacrificial!

Let’s see, I know you’re not going to enjoy parking a Chevy Avalanche, or being seen in a Pontiac Aztek. (Unless, irony? Are you one of those hipster types?)


At the risk of forcing too much of my own dirtbag tendencies onto you, what about a second-gen Honda CRV or, oh, wait, an Element!

Pretty sure “Brooklyn dude who goes surfing” was in the design brief when this cubicle car was cooked up. Anyway, there are loads of them for sale and they’re cheap. Here’s the most expensive one I could find in a cursory Facebook Marketplace search, and comes in at half your budget.


Spend the rest of your money on rent?

I was serious about the CRV too, though. They’re not typically considered particularly “interesting” since they were, after all, intended for the masses but the first and second-generation models are starting to look pretty cool in my humble opinion. Maybe give it a mesh grille with a wide “H-O-N-D-A” emblem?


Expert 4: Jason Torchinsky - Embrace The Dirtbag


I feel like I should mention right away that when I showed Andrew my choice, he said “we are all straight incapable of not being dirtbags,” and then reminded me that you, Derrek T. Moneybags, have up to $20,000 to spend on a car. Well, dirtbag or no, I still think this $2,500 1999 Isuzu Amigo makes a hell of a lot of sense for your needs, and you’d be a fool—a big, wet fool—to spend anywhere close to $20 grand on a car for the purposes you described.

The Amigo is absolutely perfect for what you need—it’s actually very compact, so jamming into tight streetside Brooklyn parking spaces won’t be any big deal, and it has huge black rubber bumpers at both ends, with an extra bull bar at the front, and a big externally-mounted spare at the rear, so it’ll shrug off any Uber drivers reading Twitter that may back into you.


You can get your surfboard in there, letting it hang out the removable back window, and, really, in the glorious summer, you can remove the whole back roof section to really enjoy the sun. It’s a fantastic beach/surfer’s car.

These Isuzus were pretty reliable, too—I used to have an Isuzu pickup that used the same basic drivetrain, and it was remarkably bulletproof. I think the ad said the 4x4 system isn’t working, so it’s just RWD at the moment, but since you’re saving well over $17,000, I bet you can afford to get the 4x4 setup fixed if you want it.


And, to your main point, no amount of dings or scrapes are going to make this look bad. Quite the opposite, really—on a tough, fun little brute like this, more scars just mean the more fun you had with it, and are sources of pride, not shame.

So, yeah, embrace that inner dirtbag, spend only two and a half grand on your car, and live it up, like a surfing Brooklyn king. 


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Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (Facebook.com/AutomatchConsulting)

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