Zack is from NJ and has driven trucks and Jeeps. He wants to change it up with something compact and sporty with a manual transmission that can also fit his bike. He has a fairly modest budget and would like something somewhat unique. 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 -
Currently looking for my first manual car. I am in my twenties. I have driven only pickup trucks and jeeps. I am looking for something more sporty and enjoyable. I’ve never driven a manual before so this will be a car I will learn on. Here are my general requirements -
Easy to learn Manual
More sporty than pickup truck or wrangler
Something that doesn’t blend in
I can spend up to $15,000
Budget: up to $15,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: New Jersey
Wants: Manual, hatchback, fun
Doesn’t want: A Jeep or a truck
Hey Zack, greetings from a fellow NJ resident. Did you catch that “UFO” sighting the other day? Yeah, it’s hard to be proud of our state sometimes, but you have something to be proud of since you are embarking on the journey to learn how to drive a manual transmission. Hopefully, you have a friend or family member who is can teach you the ropes and is fairly patient. Though with the right technique and some practice you can probably get the hang of it in a short amount of time. Now all you need is the right car. You mentioned fun, sporty, and something that stands out in a crowd. I wanted to find you a Saab 9-2X which is basically a re-skinned WRW wagon, but most of those have been all beat to hell by now.
However, I did find the next best thing which is a MazdaSpeed3. Honestly, as your first manual car, the Speed is probably overkill for you as a regular Mazda3 can also be found with three-pedals and will be less likely to be as we say “pre-hooned,” but life is short so you might as well experience the fun that is torque-steer.
This particular Mazda3 in PA is red and has all kinds of interesting styling elements and a big-ass hood scoop for the turbocharger. These cars pump out about 263 horsepower and a whopping 280 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels. Once you can get a handle on it these things are a blast. Of course, if you put the back seats down you should have plenty of space for your bike as well.
Like Tom, my first thought was Saabaru. But you’re going to have to spend some time hunting, they’re pretty rare. Then I thought “STI Hatch” and realized they’re pretty expensive! Tough to find under $20,000, let alone $15,000. A Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart would rule but, again, you have a long search ahead of you there.
You’re probably going to end up with a WRX, which might be fine, and you could make stand out by tapping into that car’s extensive aftermarket. Here’s an ’08 that looks OK at a cursory glance. Hood scoop, three pedals, three-spoke steering wheel. The good stuff.
Throw some graphics on it to spice it up or something. And don’t forget to do your own homework regarding which years and parts can be problematic.
Zack, this is a noble goal—find something that’s not common as hangnails and won’t bore you into a coma. That, coupled with your practical demands make this tricky, but by no means impossible. And I think I have something that fits the bill, and is pretty damn cheap, too. Something that most people I think forgot even exists: a Volvo C30.
Remember these? They were cool! Essentially, a C30 was a modernized version of the old P1800ES shooting brake Volvo sports car—right down to the all-glass hatch, which is great.
These were interesting cars on a lot of levels—five-cylinder engines! Those always feel pleasantly bonkers, right? These were fun to drive, being not too heavy, not too bulky, and making a decent 227 horsepower.
I found a nice six-speed manual 2011 one not too far from your area for only $6,800! It’s got that big hatch and roof rails so there are options for your bike, and I promise you that you will likely be the only one of these in any parking lot you end up in.
They’re well-built, fun, practical, unusual—this is what you want!