Robert loves his MG, but now a kiddo is in the picture the British roadster isn’t the most ideal car for kid transport—even though a car seat technically fits. He needs something affordable, safe, reasonably fuel efficient and a manual transmission. 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:
For the past five years or so, my daily driver — and only car — has been an MGB. It’s fun, cheap, and small, even if it is a constant project to keep it on the road. Anyway, last month, my wife gave birth to our daughter and has told me in no uncertain terms that my rusty old British iron is no place for a newborn. (Despite the fact that a car seat totally fits on the passenger seat — I have the pic to prove it.)
My wife has a newish Honda Civic, but (quite fairly) she doesn’t want to be the only one who can drive with the baby. When she goes back to work, it would be helpful if either one of us could drop the baby off at daycare/grandparents/etc. She won’t drive the MG, so it looks like I need to get a new car that can accommodate the baby.
I need something safe, with four doors and working A/C, it also should get more than 25 miles-per-gallon and have a manual transmission. I can spend up to $10,000.
Budget: Up to $10,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Los Angeles
Wants: Four Doors, Safety, Manual
Doesn’t want: To put his kid in an old British sports car
Expert 1: Tom McParland - So You Are Keeping The MG, Right?
Robert, given your connection to the MG I assume you would still be keeping that as a fun/project car on the side and this purchase is more for daily driving and kid hauling duties. Fortunately, your requirements aren’t too difficult, but finding a suitable example might mean a bit of travel.
Since you like things that are a bit different than the norm I say you should go with a Volkswagen TDI model. The torque from the diesel motor will feel punchier than your MG, you can easily get 40 MPG or better, and there are quite a few TDI cars on the market with a six-speed manual transmission.
Here is a 2011 Jetta TDI up in San Francisco with 57,000 miles for just under $10,000. The Jetta may look like a ho-hum sedan, but these are fun to toss around. And the rear seat and trunk space a really generous for a “compact” car. I would imagine the air-conditioning is working just fine, and the 2011 Jetta received a “Good” overall rating from the IIHS on crash tests.
Also, make sure it’s had the recall to fix its emissions-cheating issues.
Expert 2: Justin Westbrook - Acura, Or What Honda Thinks Is Fun
One of the first cars I thought of this time was an Acura. It’s fairly new, so it should be a lot safer than the red 1991 BMW 535i manual I wanted to suggest, but underneath its still essentially a Honda, which means it should be fairly reliable, decently fuel efficient and just a good car to daily drive.
This 2005 Acura TL is black, with a manual, within budget and in your area. The listing claims the owner still has the stock wheels, too, if you’re not down for the gunmetal aftermarket wheels it’s currently wearing. Plus, Andrew Collins loves his.
But at least talk the BMW over with the wife first.
Expert 3: Jason Torchinsky - I’ve Done This, Listen To Me
First thing, Robert—can I call you Bob?—is that, Robert, keep the MG. No matter what. While I normally tend to go for deeply weird choices for these, I’m going to dial it back a bit and suggest something I 100 percent know will work great, because I’ve done it myself: a first-gen Scion xB.
I’m a big fan of using cars that are technically terrible kid-cars as kid cars, so much so I used to do a whole series about just that. But when I returned those Lotuses and GT-Rs and Miatas, my wife and I usually plopped our kid into one of the most easy, usable, and enjoyable general-purpose small family cars I’ve ever driven, our xB.
The xB is, as you can see, a big unashamed box on wheels, and that’s exactly what you want. The rear seat area in an xB is cavernous, bigger than most SUVs I’ve been in, and that’s the crucial area for baby, big-ass baby seats, and baby equipment.
Almost any stroller we’ve tried fit into the tall rear cargo area, and access to kid and stuff in this car is second to none. Rear doors open wide and give great access to the little kook in the back, the interior has massive headroom and feel startlingly spacious and airy, and the kid is usually far enough back that they can’t kick your seat until well into their elementary school years.
Plus, the xB is surprisingly fun to whip around! It’s only got 103 HP or so, but it weighs as much as a thinking about a pie and has wheels at the corners, making a really fun, chuckable package. I had Tiff Needell throw mine around a track once, and it was a blast.
All this and bulletproof Toyota reliability, and you have a baby-hauler that can’t be beat. They’re not expensive, either: this bronze special edition five-speed one is under six grand and is in immaculate shape. If you have up to $10K to play with, you can get a near-perfect one. Just stay to 2006 and earlier, as the second gen ones screwed it all up.
Expert 4: Patrick George — Say ‘Si’ To This Deal
Hey Robert. I would have loved to have suggested a Mini Cooper or Mini Cooper S, given your predilection for fun and small British cars. But your requirement for four doors is tricky, and I’m not sure you’ll find many recent, in-good-shape, manual four-door Minis (or Clubmans/Clubmen, I guess?) for around $10,000.
Plus, the four-door Cooper is ugly. I’m sorry, but it just is.
Besides, the last thing you need to worry about with a kid, and I hope that MG still, is more repair bills. Justin Westbrook is on the right track up above. But I say go deeper into Honda World: get a previous-generation Civic Si sedan.
They all had manual gearboxes, they came in sedan and coupe variants, and they all had delightful, high-revving naturally aspirated VTEC engines. I won’t say it can match the character of your British sports car, but it’ll come close, and it will be tons of fun in its own way.
Sedans in your price range were trickier than I expected to find, however. Here’s a 2014 model near you on Craigslist for $14,800. If I were you I’d try and meet the seller halfway around $12,000. That’s a great deal for that car, and one that will give you tons of fun and very few headaches. A little extra may be worth spending on a car you know will last long-term.