Matthew’s “ripoff from hell” 240SX which was previously featured on this site, keeps breaking down. (Sorry. -ed) He needs a safe and fun commuter car that can manage two booster seats. Other requirements are an automatic and some warranty. 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:
I’m a father of two young kids (six and four) with a 30-45 minute commute. My current vehicles are the “Ripoff From Hell” 240SX Convertible that — surprise! — is broken again, and a 2007 Suzuki Boulevard motorcycle. My family desperately needs me to get a commuter vehicle so I don’t have to take the wife’s car on bad weather days and leave her without emergency transportation. We have come to an impasse though as she demands the car be new-ish enough to have a warranty, and an automatic so she can drive it if needed. I don’t want a penalty box on wheels. It also has to be able to fit two booster seats in an emergency. I have a budget of up to $30,000.
Budget: Up to $30,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: York, PA
Wants: Fun, Automatic, Warranty
Doesn’t want: A boring SUV
Matthew, this is one of those instances where everyone says “this guy needs a GTI.” I figure there has to be a reason why you haven’t already chosen what seems to be the obvious solution to your problem, though. I imagine you are going to part ways with the 240 convertible and would prefer something that gives you a similar driving experience albeit with some updated safety.
That car would be the BMW 228 convertible. I realize you asked for something “reliable” and I am recommending a used BMW and those should maybe not go together. However you can find a number of good cars for around $25,000 that would give you plenty of buffer in your budget for some extended coverage. Similar to your 240, the 228 is a compact convertible (or coupe) with a four-cylinder motor sending power to the rear wheels. (AWD models are also available.) BMW claims up to 34 MPG on the highway which is pretty respectable for a sporty car. The back seats are surprisingly usable and you did say you only need to put boosters back there in “emergency situations.” Here is a nice example in OH with under 50,000 miles for just under $25,000.
Tom is right that a GTI is probably what you need, though since it needs to be automatic you wouldn’t be getting the most fun version of the GTI. But also you won’t be getting the most fun version of any car, and a GTI is a cliché, as is a Honda Civic Type R or a Subaru WRX STI.
Instead, I will recommend a regular new WRX, which has a flat-four that makes 268 HP, or only a little less than the 310-HP flat-four that is in the STI. The WRX with the CVT also comes in at a little less than $33,000, but you sound like someone who can increase their budget a little bit.
The WRX is the kind of car — a non-electrified hot-ish compact with bad fuel mileage — whose days are also numbered, given the way the entire industry is headed. You also say you need this for “bad weather days,” and the WRX has all-wheel drive standard for that, though be sure to get some winter tires as well. Welcome to Subaru.
It’s the revenge of the compact sedan today! I’m going to build from Tom and Erik’s sensible advice about the GTI here, except I’m going to trade in that middle letter “T” for an “L” and recommend a Jetta GLI, which often goes overlooked. It can’t be easy living in the shadow of the GTI, but the compact sports sedan does alright. It has great design and is a fun car to drive.
Why settle for new-ish when you can go new, full stop? The 2021 Jetta GLI starts at $26,345, though you’ll likely pay more for the auto transmission. That does buy you a new VW with a full warranty, riding on a modern platform and with current safety equipment.
Sure, it’s not a roadster (or hot hatch) but it will easily fit two booster seats and as the kids get older, the sedan’s backseat will be a comfortable place for the whole family. The GLI is far from a penalty-box or economy car.
Matthew, I want nothing more for you than to experience the joy of a V6 Kia Stinger, the performance bargain of our times and the unlikely descendent of all those cool Aussie muscle cars that inspire Ford and Holden fans to put up fists every other Sunday. But the V6 Stinger GT is expensive, and this market sucks. I will recommend the turbocharged inline-four-powered Stinger instead.
Yes, it’s the one nobody talks about. But even without that engine, you’re still getting a 255-HP sports sedan with the same great chassis, decent space for your family and a nicely appointed interior, badge be damned. Used four-cylinders are all priced at under $30K just about everywhere I look, and while you can have all-wheel-drive if you like, that’d also make everything heavier. So perhaps it’s best to stick with an RWD car to make the most out of that weaker engine and invest in a set of winter tires instead.
Here’s a Premium-trim example from 2018 with just under 27,000 miles located a ways away from you, though there are more out there if you include AWD builds.