Dan is a drummer on the weekends who has been rocking a 2006 Chevy Malibu Maxx (Google it if you need, we can wait) that is getting old and now missing some beats. It’s time for an upgrade. He wants something that can handle his gear but isn’t expensive or too big. What car should he buy?
Here is the scenario:
I’m a drummer who gigs regularly on the weekends, so I’m constantly loading and unloading heavy, awkwardly-sized things in and out of my car. My car is a 2005 Chevy Malibu MAXX LT (heated seats!) with 188,000 miles on it. Say what you want about this weird 4-year experiment, that healthy little V6 has held up incredibly well. And once the seats are folded down, there’s a frankly incredible amount of space for equipment.
It’s the other things like... power steering, power locks, CD player, front end suspension, hatch windshield wiper, seat recline latches... yeah, none of that stuff really works.
Anyway, I’m determined to get this thing to 200k but have begun to prepare for its inevitable demise. So I’m seeking a car that a) can take a beating from near-constant loading/unloading, b) has enough space for drums, c) is like, $7,000 tops, d) has some Jalopnik flavor, but e) is not super weird/unreliable so that my wife worries about me driving it (or traveling in it herself).
Budget: up to $7,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Baltimore, MD
Wants: Cheap, easy to load, and reliable
Doesn’t want: Something too small or too weird
Dan, I think we can all agree that drummers are a special breed. I myself have always wanted to play the drums, though the closest I’ve gotten to it has been to bust out some air beats when I’m rocking out to Tool or Rush. (Yes, I’m a dork.) I even had a friend in college who was a pretty excellent drummer and I agreed to teach him how to row the gears if he would teach me some beats. But he moved to Florida so that never panned out.
Enough about me, you need a car. Your best bet is a big box on wheels, which is why you want a Honda Element. The Element was one of Honda’s more interesting ideas for a crossover. Sadly, most folks didn’t prefer the giant toaster look and bought the CR-V instead. What made the Element special was the interior spacing. It was huge, and the back seats could be easily removed or folded down for even more space. The substantial space combined with a flat floor and a trick tailgate for loading made it the perfect car for people who needed to haul a lot of gear but didn’t want a commercial vehicle. That’s you, Dan!
Since the Element was based on the CR-V using Honda’s ubiquitous 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine it was an incredibly reliable car that returned respectable fuel economy. A lot of the quality options near you have manual transmissions which would make it a bit more Jalop, but if you insist on an automatic here is one nearby well under budget at what might be a slightly questionable dealership.
Boy oh boy, Dan. DAN! Today is your lucky day. You’re about to get a Nissan S-Cargo. You just don’t know it yet.
The Nissan S-Cargo is one of Nissan’s “Pike Cars,” much like our own esteemed Jason Torchinsky’s Nissan Pao. But where the Pao was a retro city car, the S-Cargo is a bitchin’ van that, naturally, looks like a snail. Obviously, it’s perfect.
It’s got vast volumes of cargo room inside, without being huge and unwieldy on the outside. It’s got gobs and gobs of style, from its friendly exterior bodywork to the single-spoke Citroën-esque steering wheel you’ll be drumming on in traffic.
Now I know, believe me, I know, that you don’t want anything too “weird” or “unreliable.” But the S-Cargo is a Nissan, my man. Nothing weird about that. It’s got the same engine as a bunch of Nissans sold over here in the States, so you can get parts just about anywhere if it breaks, though it shouldn’t.
But if you’re worried that the Nissan S-Cargo, on its own, is just slightly too bland, rest assured my guy. Here’s one for sale with only 44,000 miles at Gary Duncan Imports in Virginia with rally lights, blue hubcaps, and a hat. The asking price is a little above your budget, but Gary’s a reasonable guy. And if you don’t like that one, he’s got five others for sale, with a couple of them even cheaper.
This is your moment, Dan. Seize it.
Now, my first piece of advice would be to buy a normal car and pick up the bass, but if you’re not willing to downsize, you ought to double down on practicality.
You want the most room for the most little vehicle, the most mini vehicle, the most mini-cab.
Behold, the Mitsubishi Minicab!
Look at it. Tiny. Reliable. Unbelievably practical.
Be the weird drummer guy and keep at it with a weird car, too. Nine grand gets you a good one not far from you, too.
Spend enough time in Hong Kong, and you’ll realize that the toughest van in the world is actually the Toyota HiAce. The locals use it for everything; the airport transports luggage in them, markets transport food in them, and—more importantly—the local car scene hoons them.
Yes, the HiAce is the perfect blend of cargo hauling capability, and front-engine (diesel!), rear-wheel drive, manual goodness. And while you can’t get the one in the picture above thanks to the U.S.’s dumb 25-year import rule, you can get the older ones, which, I think, actually look nicer anyway.
Sure, you’ll have to spend a bit more than seven large, and you’ll have to deal with the paperwork that goes along with importing one (unless you want to buy one here in the U.S.), but if the HiAce can handle years of abuse in the fast-paced territory of Hong Kong, your drum set won’t be a problem.
Or maybe just keep it simple buy a dang Chevy Astro.
“Gosh, I bet my car boys are gonna suggest a bunch of dumbass weird JDM shit for this nice man looking for an honest answer,” I said to myself when I opened my draft. And lo and behold! They sure did.
Here’s an actual answer for you, an actual human: get a Subaru wagon. Everyone in Austin has one and everyone in Austin is in a band. It’s a city ordinance.
Here’s a nice 2007 Subaru Legacy wagon in B-More for a grand under your budget. Go make good music in it.