Gabe has a very fun Fiat 500 Abarth, that shockingly has become expensive to maintain. He wants another fun car with a manual that is reasonably reliable but does not have to be practical. What car should he buy?
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Here is the scenario -
I’m a college student selling my Fiat 500C Abarth! The car reared its ugly head and needed transmission maintenance which was almost the price of the car itself, and it made me realize I need something futureproof. I am looking for something fun and reliable that can handle both a 500 mile per week summer commute and a little bit of Michigan winter. I commute to Pontiac, MI from Ann Arbor, MI 5 days a week in the summer, and drive to and from Brighton, MI frequently in the winter.
I have a $20,000 budget for something Fun first (whatever that may entail), reliable second, and practical third. Oh and preferably manual.
Budget: up to $20,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Wants: Fun, manual, reliable,
Doesn’t want: Another Fiat
Gabe, as a college student you will come to learn that there are memorable college experiences that you may come to regret later. The Abarth was fun while it lasted but like the Jello shots that seemed like a good idea at the time, we try to learn from our mistakes yet still try to have some fun.
This brings me to your replacement for the Fiat. You don’t need to totally “grow up” just yet, but you should manage your risk a bit better. The Ford Fiesta ST means you can still party but with fewer regrets. You can find a number of examples with reasonable mileage under that $20,000 mark though some of these cars are approaching the original retail price. That’s the market reality right now.
Gabe, I fully support your practicality-third approach. You’re a college student, you don’t need a hatch that’s built to haul around kids in car seats — you can live while you’re young, get something weird and interesting. But college kids aren’t always flush with cash, so getting something reliable and fun is the way to go. What’s more reliable than a bubble-era Toyota?
This, my friend, is the Toyota Sera. As a ‘90s Japanese car, you probably couldn’t kill it if you tried. But as a compact coupe with gullwing doors and a glass roof, it’ll make you the most interesting guy on campus by a long shot. Sure, it’s not particularly fast, but it’s nice and lightweight — perfect for throwing through some corners on that long Michigan commute.
This Sera is for sale in Grand Haven, MI, with just 135,000 miles on the clock. It’s had a number of maintenance items addressed recently, and it even includes some of those hard-to-find Japanese parts. It’s only $16,000, too, so you’ve got room in your budget to pick up one of those dinosaur head-grabber things for use in drive-throughs.
Ah, yes. European cars are often the achilles heel of young and idealistic car lovers such as yourself, Gabe! I counted myself in that group once, but I’m no longer that young, and my ancient BMW has nearly beat the idealism out of me. So, take it from one who knows: Euro cars are the bee’s knees until they’re not. That’s why I recommend this 2015 Honda Accord EX-L V6. Wait! Don’t go!
You see, it’s all about trim. You need a two-door Accord with a six-speed and a V6 engine! Of course, it would be silly to put a young scholar and car enthusiast behind the wheel of a boring commuter like a Honda Accord. That’s why I’m not putting you behind the wheel of a boring commuter; I’m putting you behind the wheel of a fun coupé that only looks like a boring commuter. And I’d argue against that, too. Really, it’s more of an association, because I can dig the Accord coupe’s looks. Especially after the facelift in 2016 — the problem is those newer models break the budget.
You said you want a fun, reliable car with a stick shift to drive 500 miles per week, and you have little regard for practicality. We can argue about the Miata being the answer all day, but the thing about the Accord is cylinder count. The V6 in the Honda makes all the difference with mileage like that. It’s truly one of life’s great mysteries why the Honda V6 goes unsung, but its performance will catch you off-guard. The specs list a conservative 278 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque. And when you put Honda’s smooth-shifting six-speed behind that V6, you get one of the most underrated machines of the last decade. The reliability is just the icing on the cake.
The combination of finding something that’s both fun and engaging to drive while being reliable and practical can be a bit of a doozy. But I think I found the perfect car from Pontiac.
I’m not talking about a Grand Prix or G6t. I’m talking about another example of GM’s time-honored tradition of getting it right at the wrong time: the Pontiac G8.
Yea, it’s a total opposite coming from something like a 500 Abarth, but hear me out. Sporty styling, rear-wheel drive, practical because it has four real doors, and best of all, that big 6.0-liter V8 up front. I managed to find a GT trim because the base V6 was pointless and I wouldn’t do that to you. So that means 355 horsepower. Sadly this is an automatic. But you’re still going to get to 60 mph in just over five seconds. This example I found is right around your budget.
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