Dalida has been recruited by her brother into the cult of cars. Naturally, she’s in the market for a car, and one side of her brain wants something sensible like a crossover from an import brand. But her newfound Jalopness has some other ideas. What car should she buy?
Here is the scenario:
I’m a young female looking to buy my first own vehicle. I’m in my early-20s, recently out of college and carrying small student debt. My die hard Jalop brother (who got me to visit the website daily) says that of all the SUV’s on the market I can only consider a Humvee, brand new XC90 (I swear if you could make love to cars he would dry hump every one of these) and a maybe, MAYBE a Porsche Macan.
Every day since I’ve started the search I’ve been questioning whether we’re actually siblings, but DNA tests don’t lie. He also insists that I buy an IS F. And while all of these options are lovely, none of them are anywhere near my budget of up to $20,000 nor I don’t think anyone of them is a smaller, simpler, SUV preferably from a Japanese brand because they tend to be pretty reliable.
But maybe he is onto something and I should get something a little bit different. I just don’t want to break the bank to do so.
Budget: up to $20,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Columbus, OH
Wants: Automatic trans, reliable, but something “Jalop”
Doesn’t want: Something too weird or hard to fix
Welcome to the club, Dalida! Jalops inherently have to take some level of risk on their purchases. This would be a pretty boring place if we all drove Camrys.
Just look at some of our staff members. Anytime David Tracy gets an actual functioning car, he gives it away. And Mike, who owns a Yugo just bought a Lexus wagon. Not just any Lexus, mind you, but one that will likely require a bit of unexpected investment in the near future. And then there is me—I’m supposed to be the reasonable one, but I traded in a perfectly fine and fully paid-off Mazda3 for a GTI simply because I wanted something faster.
Second, if you really want street cred, get a wagon instead of a crossover. While there are plenty of readers who don’t “get” the whole wagon thing, and they just haven’t seen the light yet. What you need is a wagon that is practical and affordable, but with just a dab of questionable longevity.
I’m talking about a Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen. Yes, it’s front wheel drive and because we believe in investing in snow tires over additional weight and cost, you should be just fine in the winter.
(Ed. note: A Golf is not weird, but it’s fine. - MB)
Here is a 2015 model with only 25,000 miles and well within your budget. While chances are that a lightly used Sportwagen will treat you well for years to come, there will be that nagging feeling in the back of your head once the warranty expires.
Dalida! Yes, your brother is full of shit when he tells you to get an XC90, Humvee or Porsche Macan. If you can somehow find one of those for under $20,000, you probably don’t want it. Copart should not be a car-shopping website.
I’m tempted to go the safe route and suggest one of the usual WCSYB favorites: the Mazda 3 hatchback. It’s fun and as practical as many crossovers, and you can easily get a used one with an automatic (and the larger 2.5-liter engine) in your price range. In fact, I recommend you take a test drive of that anyway.
But since you seem to really want something unusual, that also happens to be Japanese and a crossover, how about a Nissan Juke Nismo? Funky looks, 188 turbocharged horses, crossover practicality and it’s something very different. So different it had to die recently because Nissan is deeply committed to boring people to death. Yet I’ve always liked the Juke, and you might too.
Here’s a 2014 Juke Nismo with the CVT (although if you can get it with a manual instead, I strongly suggest that route) with 6,000 miles for about $16,000. Good deals on these can probably be had everywhere, so check it out.
Dalida! That’s a fun name. You know what shares most of the letters in your name and is exactly what you want and need for your next car? A Delica. Dalida’s Delica. It sounds good, right? That’s because it is good. This 1991 Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagon 4WD will do everything some stupid, boring-ass crossover will do, but better, with more personality, and way cheaper.
A crossover is mostly wasted space and clunky design trying to give the illusion of capability. This $9,900 tough-as-nails off-roadable box on wheels is such a better idea.
It’s smaller than almost every crossover on the outside, yet the inside is a Tardis-like massive volume of space. It’s a little room on wheels, and those wheels are big, grippy, and all of them are driven, so you can go pretty much anywhere, roads or not.
It’s two-tone, has some nice beefy pushbars up front, and is right-hand drive. It’s different, sure, but plenty practical and economical. You’re young, Dalida. Now’s the time to drive something fun, something unusual, something that you can pile full of friends and drive out wherever, even sleep in it.
It’s tough and friendly and practical and crazy all at once. You can stop looking. This is your car.
There’s one thing that sticks out in your note that my colleagues don’t seem to be questioning: do you really need a crossover? Because for single early-20s life, it’s hard to beat the pure joy of driving something small and tossable.
I love the Delica suggestion, but I also know that owning a weird car that almost no one in the United States has sadly makes it hard to find parts and service. Sadly, this means I can’t tell you to get a Volkswagen 411, either, even though a super weird 411 sounds like absolutely what you need if you’re okay walking a lot, and calling in spare parts from several states away.
Unless you’re routinely hauling large dogs and furniture, it’s time to think smaller. Much smaller. Meet one of the best dual-clutch automatic transmissions I’ve ever driven: a brand new GTI. It’s the end of the year, and deals on 2017 models—new-car warranty and all—put them right at the $20,000 mark. Here’s a pretty red GTI S on Autotrader for $19,497—well under its original $27,835 MSRP.
The GTI sounds like exactly what you need: exciting enough to have fun with, but practical enough not to leave you stranded. It’s a silly quick, easy to park and easier to hoon. The interior is far nicer than you’d expect in a little hatchback, and the plaid seats are a real joy.
Okay, so it’s not weird, but it’s good.
Bonus: While the GTI’s automatic mode is near-psychic levels of “very good,” if you want to ease into using a manual transmission eventually, the paddle shifters are great for that. Paddles are a good way to ease into how a manual works without accidentally missing a shift. Learning to drive a manual will open up even weirder and more wonderful cars to have later, when you have a bit more disposable income to pour into, say, a Daihatsu Rocky.