Joe has been hooning around in front-wheel drive cars for awhile and currently drives the excellent Fiesta ST (RIP FiST). He would like to make a change and get something that sends power to the rear wheels or all four of them. What car should he buy?
Here is the scenario -
Looking for the next experience. Have driven front wheel drive cars all my life and want to either go RWD or AWD with my next car. Have also fallen in love with turbocharging and the nature of boost in general. My Fiesta ST is the best car I’ve experienced outside of a Miata and I love the dynamics of a lightweight car. My big hang up with many of those cars, however, is that many of them feel cheap. It’s just not that nice of a place to be and a feel for the price of a decked out model I could do better with interiors.
I want it to be dynamic to drive. That’s the #1 priority but that’s also not everything. I’ve learned that cheap can grate on me, but I love the sense of feeling connected to the car and that’s why I love my Fiesta ST so much. It can be RWD for my daily driver too. Pittsburgh doesn’t get nearly as much snow as many think.
I’m prepared to spend up to $25,000 and it can be new or used.
Budget: up to $25,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Average Miles Per-Week: 200 - 300
Wants: turbo, rear-drive, manual,
Doesn’t want: front-wheel drive, cheap feeling interior,
I was really tempted to say screw that turbo stuff (not that there is anything wrong with turbos) and tell you to get a honkin’ V8 muscle car because that is what will give you a totally different experience over the Fiesta ST. But you have given me a set of criteria and I will adhere to it because it is likely that my coworkers will ignore your wishes.
My friend, you need a small BMW, with two doors and three pedals. Though the number of cylinders will be up to you and your threshold for running costs. Your first option would be a lightly used or certified pre-owned 228i. I would suggest splurging a bit for one with the M-Sport package. Here at Jalopnik, we think the 2-series is probably the best enthusiast BMW you can buy. You will get your turbo power sent to the rear wheels mated to a manual gearbox and an interior that is far from cheap looking. Here is one with all the goodies just over your $25,000 price point.
The other option would be to pick up a slightly older BMW 135 coupe. They won’t be as fancy on the inside, but what they lack in features they make up for with turbocharged inline-six pumping out around 300 horsepower. You can nab one of these with reasonable miles for around $17,000 - $18,00o and pocket the savings for some mods or an extended warranty.
If you’re looking for both excellent handling and solid interior quality, buy a German car. Then, after a couple of years, when it falls apart and you find yourself saddled with enormous repair bills, do what you should have done in the first place, and buy a damn Lexus. But not just any Lexus, get America’s Toyota Altezza, the Lexus IS300.
Under the hood, you’ll find one of the most legendary engines in history, the Toyota 2JZ-GE. No, it’s not the turbocharged 2JZ-GTE that you’ve been dreaming about since you were a child, but it’s still a stout, 215-horsepower, 218 lb-ft inline-six that, with some mods, can make monstrous power figures.
Even if you don’t want to fiddle with mods, a stock IS300 still offers a five-speed manual transmission, rear wheel drive, and a curb weight of only 3,300 pounds. That’s a recipe for dynamism if I’ve ever seen one.
The IS300 is small, has double-wishbone independent suspension at all corners, makes plenty of grunt, and could be had with a limited slip differential and all sorts of luxury options. Plus, there’s one for sale in your area for only seven grand. Granted, it’s not in perfect shape, but if you’re willing to look out of town, you can find nice examples all day for close to 10 Gs.
You want quality and solid handling—let Japan guide the way.
Joe, it sounds like you know what you like, but you’re ready for a change. I respect that. And what I’m going to suggest (they told me I can’t demand) that you do is prepare yourself for a big change—but one you’re going to love.
You want RWD? Great. This has that covered, and then some, because I think you should try a car with everything at the rear—engine, transaxle, all the fun oily, noisy parts. This car checks every box you have: manual, light, dynamic, all that.
Turbo? This car was the first production car to even offer a turbo at all! Dynamic handling? Oh hell yes. This car had handling so dynamic people wrote books about it!
Yes, I’m talking about a Chevy Corvair Spyder. This one is a 1964, with the original, very handsome body style, and a turbocharged 150 horsepower air-cooled flat-six stuck way out back. It’s America’s Porsche 911, and there’s no way you’re not going to have a blast driving this.
I think the ‘unsafe’ handling reputation is mostly a result of Americans having no idea what to do with an oversteering car with some power. Once you get used to it, you’ll be fine, and you sure as hell won’t be bored.
Being a classic, it should be free from any of the cheap-plasticky feelings that grate on you, and at under $15,000, it’s well under your budget.
You want a change to RWD? Great. While your at it, try a change to air-cooling, rear engines, and classic car ownership. You won’t go back.