Patrick loves cars but has never really needed one. He has gotten by just fine with using his bike. Now he has a new job and a longer commute through the DC traffic hellscape. If he wants to survive he is going to need four wheels and doors. What car should he buy?
Here is the scenario -
Longtime listener, first time caller here. I love Jalopnik even though I’m a cyclist; I have a license but I’ve never even owned a car. City kid.
Next month, however, all of that that changes. I got a new job just 12 miles away! While our traffic is awful, our public transportation is worse, leading me to you all. At 28, I am going to buy my first car. Gulp.
This is, first and foremost, a commuter. Probably 150 miles a week, give or take. It’s not a long commute but it’s a slow one, laden with potholes and speed cameras; it’ll take up to an hour ~each way~. I live in the middle of DC, which means I’ll be parallel parking on the street at least once a day, often in the dark. Hopefully, this will be comfortable for all that. I am also 6'5, so the tiniest of cars are out of the question.
Being good on gas would be nice, being reliable is better. I’ve been conditioned not to drive fast by living here and I can’t drive a manual so a slow car is quite alright. It’s got to be able to get up a hill, though, because I live on a steep one.
If it sounds like I’m dreading this, I kinda am. DC’s not nice to drivers. But the right car could improve my perception a little here. (I think.)
I’d like something I could mount a bike rack to ~and~ something I can carry art/art supplies in. (Also open to carrying bikes inside.)
I’m a painter, semi-professionally, and like to work at a large-ish scale (think 2x4' and 3x4' canvases.) I don’t carry a dozen at once, but being able to carry a few paintings comfortably would be a nice bonus. Sometimes I have to deliver work out of town or take work to show and it’s never fun to measure and test rentals for interior space.
Something with a durable cargo area (think Honda Element status) would be good, because I’ll inevitably spill paint inside.
As for budget, I can spend up to $40,000.
Budget: up to $40,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Washington DC metro
Wants: Durable, good storage, easy to park
Doesn’t want: Too much fancy tech
Expert 1: Tom McParland - You Said You Wanted Simple
While you are a guy that can appreciate a nice ride, it seems that your true passions are cycling and painting. Therefore if this is a car you are buying more out of necessity than desire, you should get something that best compliments those two activities. Normally, I’m the one advocating for getting the nicest ride you can afford, but in this case, I think you should bank a good chunk of that $40,000 budget because you can get something that fulfills your needs for much less.
What you need is a Ford Transit Connect, but not the one that is a van for passengers, the other one that is more like a commercial vehicle. They aren’t fancy on the inside, and you said you didn’t want or need a lot of tech, but they hold a ton of stuff. You could hold several portfolios worth of paintings or have enough bikes for a Tour de France team. They also get pretty decent gas mileage at up to 27 MPG on the highway. Despite the fact that these are a “van” they are small enough to easily parallel park.
And here is the best news, a nicely equipped XLT trim will set you back less than $30,000. That’s plenty of cash leftover for expensive bikes and/or paint supplies. These “commercial” style vans usually are only found in white which is a bit boring, but you are an artist, use that as a canvas to make your fan look awesome.
Expert 2: Jason Torchinsky - You’re Artist, You Can Pull This Off
I’m desperately trying not to always be a shill for Nissan’s long-gone series of creative, limited run cars known as the Pike cars, but I’ll be damned if you don’t happen to have the perfect set of criteria for one: the S-Cargo.
Tom’s basically right there that a small, utilitarian delivery van is the right idea; I’m partial to the first-gen Ford Transit myself, but I think that, as an artist, you can get away with something a little more fun, a little more daring. A little more S-Cargo.
That’s right. Your situation is perfect for Nissan’s snail-themed fun little delivery van, the S-Cargo. It’s great on gas, has an automatic, not really fast (but adequate enough—it has a 1.5-liter engine, the biggest of all the Pike cars), is small enough to be easy to parallel park pretty much anywhere in DC, and yet is a genuine delivery van, with plenty of room for bikes and tall canvases and all manner of stuff.
Plus, look at the damn thing: it’s that most elusive of automotive wonders, a non-boring cargo van. It’s silly and fun and practical all at once. There’s plenty of blank canvas on the sides if you decide to paint a mural there (I mean, you should) and even if you do nothing it looks like nothing else on the road.
The interior is roomy and surprisingly comfortable (I’ve checked) for your long, dull commute, and the S-Cargo will de-dull that trip by 70 percent, minimum, if my math is right.
There’s even one available not far from you, and it’s about a quarter of what you’re willing to spend: $9,900. Most had dark gray trim, but this one has yellow, which I kind of like. It even has a canvas sunroof for when you need to see some sky on your long-ass commute! If you prefer gray, there’s options for that, too.
Man, I actually think this one makes real sense! Weird.
Expert 3: Kristen Lee - Embrace the Right Angles
You know what you need for the crucible of bad traffic? Something large and in charge. Like the Ford Flex. You sit up high so you can see over the jam and people will have no trouble missing you.
The Ford Flex was always rather special to me because in a sea of SUVs masquerading as sporty cars, the Flex rejected that idea wholly and simply looked like a box on wheels. Its simple design means that it will age well and, frankly, not a whole lot of people have them. Obviously, that led to Ford killing off the Flex in 2016, but that only makes them all the more appealing. You’d be buying novelty as well as utility!
With its seats folded down, the back of the Flex is room as all hell. Throw down some WeatherTech mats to protect your upholstery from paints and you’re all set!
Here’s a 2017 Flex for just $27,830. And it’s got all-wheel drive for bad weather.
Expert 4: Ryan Felton - Buy Something Fun and Weird
You don’t want to fuss around with tech and need something sturdy? Something with a lot of space? Look, man, forget what these other busters pitched. I’m telling you to get Every. Yes, that’s the name of this silly van from Suzuki. Every! And it looks like it fits everything you need.
This particular 2008 model from Duncan Imports looks like it has some after-market work done—obviously, for one thing, the VW body stands out. But it has good specs! Only 40,000 miles on it. A brown exterior with a tan interior. Surely, D.C. drivers will stay the fuck off your back in this thing.
Plus, it’s well within your budget.
Of course, it’s not legal for full-speed road use as it’s not legal within the 25 Year Rule, but there are plenty of other options like a 1993 Mitsubishi Delica for $18k that’s good for getting to any trailhead, no matter how far.