Paul lives in Southern California where image is everything. He wants something stylish and sporty but nothing too over the top or too fast because he plans on giving it to his daughter in a few years. What car should he buy?
Buying a fun and luxurious car for yourself is one thing, but getting one with the intent of passing it down to a first-time driver complicates the scenario a bit. Now for all of you who are of the philosophy that teens should only drive the cheapest junker you can find and anything above that is fostering entitlement, save it. Some people have comfortable incomes, they use those incomes to buy nice cars and sometimes the offspring of those people end up with those cars. It’s not wasteful, it’s smart.
Plus, passing it down maximizes your purchase value and puts the teenager behind the wheel of something modern, safe, and well cared for.
Here is the scenario:
I need a car that’s fun for me to drive but sensible to hand off to my daughter in three years. Ideally, I’m looking for a car no older than three years old that will be fun for me to drive for the next few years yet easy for my daughter to learn to drive when the time comes. Ultimately, I will hand this car off to her to drive around town. I’m looking for something sporty, but not too powerful. On the smaller side so it’s easy to drive for a novice, but I need it big enough so that could fit two adults and two kids.
What car is out there that’s fun to drive yet not too powerful for a new driver? The budget for this purchase would be no more than $30,000. Since I’ll probably be paying for gas when she starts driving it, something MPG friendly is also a consideration, but I don’t want to give up too much power for efficiency. Lastly, I need something that I wouldn’t be embarrassed driving to the office if the CEO saw me getting out of my car. Unfortunately, living in Southern California, image is everything.
Daily Driver: Yes
Estimated ownership time: Three years then giving it to a teenager so they can have it for awhile
Wants: Stylish, Sporty, Fuel Efficient, Perhaps a bit of status
Doesn’t want: Too much power
Paul, so this can be a tricky one because you aren’t just shopping for one person, but really two drivers. You need a car that will make you happy now and something that will work for a teenager down the road. You may remember a time in the not-too-distant past when one Japanese luxury brand was coveted by both mature buyers and younger folks—that’s right, I’m talking about Acura.
Acura’s lineup isn’t quite the tuner fantasy it once was, but it still makes some pretty decent cars that can be driven by people generations apart. What you need is a lightly used TLX. While Acura may have gotten a bit silly the with the marketing, it is a nice sporty sedan without being too extreme. I suggest a V6 version with the “super-handling” all-wheel-drive. The 290 horsepower motor will make it plenty quick, but not something that temps speeding tickets, while the torque-vectoring AWD system allows you to push the corners a bit, yet will keep the car planted with a young driver behind the wheel. Here is a 2015 model with only 13,000 miles for under $26,000. This particular car has the Advance package will all kinds of tech goodies for you and advanced safety features for the kid.
So it’s basically a fancy Accord, but that means Honda reliability, and while no one really brags about having an Acura it is certainly a respectable ride for an executive type.
Back when I was but a wee tot (of the human—not tater—variety), I used to sit in the back of a Chevy Astro van admiring Europe’s awesome sports cars as my dad took my family on long road trips throughout Europe. Strangely, of all the cars I observed on Europe’s glass-smooth streets—Lotuses, Porsches, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and TVRs—one car quickly became my favorite: the Audi TT.
Looking back on it now, I understand why, because the TT’s ridiculously round profile still looks gorgeous to this day. Is it particularly powerful? No. Does it handle like a true sports car? From what I’ve heard, not really. But, I mean, just look at it. It’s fantastic.
It’s the perfect car for you and your daughter, really. It’s stylish, sporty, fairly decent on gas, and it’s got the badge of Volkswagen’s luxury division, so there’s some status, there. It also has rear seats, so you could theoretically fit two children in the back, so long as the children were really, really small (I don’t know much about children, but I hear they’re small, so that’s good).
As for pricing, you can pick up a first-gen TT for dirt cheap these days. Here’s one sort of in your area for about seven large, but you can find them for even less. I know you mentioned that you’d prefer something newer, so you could step up a generation, but I’m partial to the first-gens. Just look at all of those swoopy curves.
Don’t worry, Paul. I’ve already fired David Tracy for suggesting you buy a first-generation Audi TT for yourself or your kid. Don’t get me wrong—I love that car’s design enough to call it a future classic. But only buy one if you hate yourself, and your kid, and you have a deep and abiding love for your Audi technician.
Now, an actual answer. You need “a car that’s fun for me to drive but sensible to hand off to my daughter in three years” that’s good on gas, not too powerful, on the smaller side, won’t embarrass you and can be had for under $30,000.
BAM. Mazda Miata. The answer to everything, again.
The new-for-2016 Miata nails all of those qualities, and while a small, stick-shift roadster may not be the very best car for a new driver, the Miata’s control, relatively low power and driving dynamics will teach her how to handle a car properly. Plus, you said she’ll mostly be doing around-town stuff in it, which is perfect. If she masters driving on a proper sports car, she’ll be set for life. You’re welcome.
Look, first of all, don’t spend anywhere near $30,000 on your kid’s first car. We’ve covered this. Nobody’s first car should be that expensive, I don’t care if we’re talking about God’s boss’ dad’s dentist’s kid. But that doesn’t mean that this car can’t be awesome, because it absolutely can be.
This car can be something that you’ll have a blast driving, you’ll look like a badass when people see you in it, and it’ll fit four people and stuff no problem. This car can be a Corrado.
That’s right. You can own a 1991 Volkswagen Corrado in remarkably good shape for under six grand. That’s one-fifth of what you’re looking to spend while getting you – and later your daughter – into a fun, practical, sporty car that has a real following and still looks great.
This Corrado has the supercharged 1.8-four, and it makes a respectable 160 HP: plenty to have fun with, but not so much that your little girl will get into too much trouble.
The Corrado is widely considered to be one of modern-era VW’s best drivers’ cars, and if you want status, anyone who cares enough about cars beyond looking at a badge and extrapolating your income will have some respect for a well-maintained Corrado. Sure, lots of people won’t even know exactly what it is, but who cares about them, anyway? Not you, because you’re having too much fun wringing out this little German pocket V2.
Did I mention this was the first widely-sold car to have active aero? It has a spoiler that raises an lowers at speed, or with a switch your daughter can use at stoplights to let everyone know what a badass she is.
Get the Corrado. Set aside $5,000 of what you’re saving into some repair fund, just in case, and stick the rest in her college fund. You’re welcome.