Erik has an old Land Cruiser that he loves, but now that his commute just went from around town to a more significant distance the classic Toyota isn’t going to make for an ideal daily driver. He is looking for something with four-doors, three-pedals, and a reasonable price. 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 -
My commute just went from 3 miles of suburban secondary streets to 20 miles of highway. My old Land Cruiser is fantastic over rocks and at 50 mph, but protests driving fast by being loud(er) and getting (worse) milage. I’m hoping to get a reasonably fun to drive commuter.
Here is the wish list -
Good for a spirited drive while appearing reasonably “adult”
Fits car seats without putting my knees in the dash - car seats are huge and I’m tall.
Reliable - I like the idea of wrenching, but not in the car I use every day.
I really do not want an automatic or an SUV/CUV type of car. In terms of budget, I can spend up to $15,000
Budget: up to $15,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Littleton, CO
Wants: Manual, four-doors, reliable
Doesn’t want: An automatic or SUV
Erik, it seems that a running theme on these WCSYB posts revolve around getting a car that you can live with every day and rely upon, but while also having a bit of fun. Now the strategy for that type of vehicle may vary at different price points and in this case you are likely looking at something with higher miles, so we want to start with a decent foundation for durability.
My pick would be the Honda Accord Sport. It is not the most exciting car from a style perspective, but what it lacks in pizzaz it makes up for in usability. Under the hood is the tried and true 2.4-liter VTEC that makes about 190 horsepower. It’s not a rocket-ship but certainly quick enough and the real joy is rowing through the gears on the six-speed manual. While the Civic Si offers a similar formula of four-doors, a bit more power, and a manual trans, the Accord will give you a larger back seat for the kiddos and is less likely to be abused or have questionable modifications.
Finding a nice Accord Sport will require a bit of a wide-net search, but here is one in Nebraska with reasonable miles well within your budget.
Erik, it seems you’re in the same scenario that a lot of young adults find themselves in: They’ve got a commute, they’ve got kids, and they’ve got a desire to avoid looking childish in a car with a big wing or a wacky paint job.
There is a car built specifically for this group of folks: the Volkswagen GTI. It’s a practical hatchback that can fit car seats, it’s got a small boosted engine and a low enough curb weight and frontal area to offer decent fuel economy for your commute, and it looks more “grown-up” than pretty much any hot hatchback out there. (And really, a hot hatch is what you need, since the class of cars offers a great blend of practicality, economy, and Fahrvergnügen).
I’m not sure that it’ll be reliable, and I don’t think it’ll be cheap to fix once it does break down. Plus, this is a bit of an obvious answer, so maybe the play is to just get this 1950 Buick for $4,000.
Heck, that Buick suggestion was meant to be a joke, but the more I look at that, maybe that actually is the move. Two bench seats, a solid-ish body, a straight-eight motor. Damn.
Erik, look, you could have gone anywhere on the internet to find suggestions for reasonable, practical cars that fit your needs, and perhaps some of those would even have supported your desire for a manual. But you came to us. And that’s why I think it’s my responsibility to give you at least some options you may not be considering, like this handsome Euro-spec BMW E30 with four doors and a stick, just like you wanted, or maybe, if you’re feeling really crazy, this 1930 Citröen C4G.
Yeah, now we’re talking! Hell, you could get both and still be in your budget!
First, let’s look at that BMW. It’s in remarkably good shape, and the price, $3,000, seems strangely cheap—what’s the catch?
Well, the catch doesn’t actually seem to be with the car itself, which is said to run just fine, but because it’s a German-market car, there’s some registration hurdles to jump through. Still, it’s over 25 years old, so I’m sure it’s solvable, maybe just with a little bit more hassle.
Still, once you sort that out, look at the fantastic car you’ll have! Alpine white, perfect-looking interior and body, a genuinely great driving and handling car with a huge following and support system! What’s not to like?
The old Citroën I admit is a much bigger ask, but it does technically fit your criteria of a roomy, manual, four-door car that’s very much not a crossover or SUV. As far as reliability goes, well, it does need work, but once it’s sorted, you’ll never have to worry about the ECU going bad.
At $7,500 and all the work required I’m not exactly hopeful you’ll choose this one, but, damn, would your life take an interesting turn if you did, right?