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I Need A Stylish And Fun Commuter Car For Less Than $25,000

Illustration for article titled I Need A Stylish And Fun Commuter Car For Less Than $25,000

Jeremy has been daily driving his 1991 Mazda RX-7, but the car’s age and lack of amenities, like a working air conditioner, mean it’s time for something a bit more modern. He wants something fun with decent gas mileage, and most importantly some style. 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 have daily driven a 91 RX-7 for the last seven years slowly upgrading parts as they needed replacing and upgrading other parts of the car as time and money allowed. When I bought the car, I was a single man with time and money to spare to allow for wrench time. I also lived close enough to my job that I could walk or bike to work, so losing the car for a week was no big deal.

Since that time I became married and switched jobs requiring a 45-minute commute in heavy traffic. The lack of functional A/C, the extreme heat of driving a Wankel engine vehicle, broken radio and the slow overall demise of the vehicle (rust) despite my best efforts now have me looking for a reliable daily car while I decide the fate of my 7.

I’m looking for something super reliable and easy to fix if something goes wrong. I would also like to keep some of the fun and joy the RX-7 gave when driving it. I drove the 7 through rain and snow with zero problems... alright there was that one time where I tried driving on abused tires in the snow but apart from that no issues. So, RWD is not an issue nor is 4WD or AWD necessary.

The new car must get at least 28 mpg highway. Working A/C, Bluetooth radio, remote start, bonus if I can put two kayaks on top easier than the top of a crossover, but not required. Something fun and unique but also reliable. (Like a unicorn, ya know?) Oh and absolutely no crossovers, I also don’t care much for muscle cars either. It can be an automatic or manual.

As for budget I can spend up to $25,000

Quick Facts:

Budget: up to $25,000

Daily Driver: Yes

Location: Cincinnati, OH

Wants: Fun, good MPG, style

Doesn’t want: A crossover or a muscle car

Expert 1: Tom McParland - One Car, Three Flavors

Photo Credit: Jason Torchinsky
Photo Credit: Jason Torchinsky

Okay Jeremy, you want something with style, fun, and reasonable fuel economy. You also mentioned retaining some of the same character of the RX-7. That wasn’t the fastest car for it’s time, but it was light and fun and enjoyable to toss around. There aren’t too many modern cars with those characteristics, but Toyota and Subaru teamed up to make something pretty close.

No matter which badge you go with the Toyota/Scion/Subaru, 86/FR-S/BRZ packs a lot of style for the price. These aren’t the rarest cars, but the looks have aged well. All of the cars have a 200 hp flat-four that returns up to 30 mpg and an available six-speed manual. While some folks criticized the small coupe for a lack of power, it will probably feel a bit more punchy than your old RX-7. What sets the Toyobaru apart from the rest is that it’s incredibly well balanced; you can push it hard and not get yourself into too much trouble.

There are plenty to choose from depending on your brand preference, so here is a 2015 FR-S with a manual for well under your budget.

Expert 2: Michael Ballaban – Nothing More Fun And Stylish Than Italy

Illustration for article titled I Need A Stylish And Fun Commuter Car For Less Than $25,000
Photo: Fiat

Tom is right, the Toyobaru Twins are fun cars. Tons of fun. But for my less-than-$25,000, I’m getting a Fiat 500 Abarth ALL DAY. OK OK, so we’ve heard both good things and not-so-great things about the reliability depending on who you ask, and two kayaks bungee-corded to the top might just be downright comical, but to me, the compromises are worth it. The car is just that fun. It’s the opposite of what pretty much every other “fun” car is supposed to be these days. It pops on the overrun, screams at you under full throttle, and the shifter feels a bit like you’re stirring coal.

Yeah, I know that sounds like an anachronism, but when you’re driving on public streets, there’s no point in having 5,000,000 horsepower and still feeling like you’re only crawling at highway speeds. The Abarth feels like you’re going 5,000,000 miles an hour all the time. But because you’re not actually moving at speed, you should be getting around 30 mpg everywhere you go.


And in these days of big cushy SUVs, Fiat is only selling a couple hundred a month, so you’ve got a smidgen of individuality there.

Just make sure you get the manual. “Automatics ruin everything” is a cliche and not always true these days, but in the Abarth, it’s absolutely on the money. And speaking of money, even fully loaded this thing should be under your budget. You don’t need a link to purchase one. Just walk into literally any Fiat dealership wherever, and demand one in robins-egg blue with the smoked headlamps.


Expert 3: Erik Shilling – I Know What You Need 

Illustration for article titled I Need A Stylish And Fun Commuter Car For Less Than $25,000

Jeremy, good afternoon. I’m from Ohio, so it’s too bad about Cincinnati. The RX-7, is great, but, as you note, you’re a grown up now. You’ve got a spouse. You might even have children on the way, if they’re not there already. You also have a job, which I’m sure is stressful. You might even have a mortgage.

For all these reasons, you probably do need some “fun” in your life. So please do not buy anything American. Very, very few American cars have been fun or cool since the Johnson administration.


Instead, I will suggest a Subaru, and a WRX specifically. Here’s a 2016 manual for $23,495 that is fun, “stylish,” has bluetooth, and is within your price range. This one is even certified pre-owned, which our in-house Subaru fetishist, social media editor Aaron Brown, says is the only smart way to buy a used Subie.

Will it fit two kayaks on the roof? That’s a good question. I’m sure an enterprising WRX owner could make it work. The fuel mileage isn’t quite what you want, but life is about compromise. Good luck on your quest. At the very least, it sounds like you’re already the most interesting car human in Cincinnati.


Expert 4: Raphael Orlove – Wait, You Said Easy To Work On?

Illustration for article titled I Need A Stylish And Fun Commuter Car For Less Than $25,000

Jeremy, I am sorry that my coworkers are all so SENSIBLE and PREDICTABLE today, but I’ll do what I can to make up for it. Alright, that’s not true. I’ll recommend the most boring and middle-of-the-road choice possible, but not yet.

For around $25,000 you can get one of the most interesting cars of the pre-Recession years, the brutal and wonderful V8 Audi RS4 is right up there and... oh wait. Shit. You said easy to work on. Nevermind!


Well, you still have a couple options. Certainly you could get The Good Corvette, a real King of the Road, the fixed-roof coupe C5, the one that’s lighter, better, without being over-the-top. There’s one near your right in your range, too.


Or, if you’re reading that and thinking it’s too sensible, just get something dead simple. This particular car is about as basic as can be, down to being carbureted. It’s a home-brew supercharged 12A FB RX-7. What could go wrong?

Do you want us to help you find a car? Submit your story on our form.

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

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Margin Of Error

Honda Civic Si, Lime green.

Budget: up to $25,000 - Check

Daily Driver: Yes - Check

Location: Cincinnati, OH - Sorry for this

Wants: Fun, good MPG, style - Triple check

Doesn’t want: A crossover or a muscle car - Check

Also, any car with a fixed roof can carry a kayak or two.