Sometimes you judge a book by its cover. It’s okay, I get it, we all do it once in a while. But it’s often worth giving the story a read anyway, to see if you like it more than you’d expect. Cars are no different; models you initially dismiss could turn out to be fantastic after a drive — sometimes, a car just grows on you. Yesterday, we asked which cars grew on all of you, and today we’re going to take a look at what you came up with.
The third-generation Prius. Really.
I’d have never got one for myself. But after driving my elderly uncle around to his to various doctors and hospitals, I ended up with one after he passed away. It’s a relatively quiet, smooth, comfortable commuter car with usable tech and real-world gas mileage in the low- to mid-40s MPG around town.
It took a little time to get used to the moaning and rubber-band effects of the CVT and replacing the original tires, which managed to both be hard as rocks and wear out fast and inconsistently, but once I got past that it was a great little car. As an old-school hotrodder, it goes against everything I believe a car should be. But I grew fond of the little silver doorstop.
The Prius may not be the apex of performance. It’s no hot rod. But it’s reliable, economical, and efficient — what more could you want in a daily driver?
Every Single Minivan
Minivans. I saw the practicality in them, saw how they made sense for nuclear families with 2.8 children and their detritus. I had owned both a station wagon and a small-mid SUV at that point, and felt like those configurations would give me all the people- and cargo-carrying capacity I would ever need.
When my S-10 Blazer crapped out and left me with only our Cruze hatch and our beater Corolla, I knew I’d need to add something to my fleet. At the time, my grandma and mom, who I was taking care of, started having mobility issues. I needed something with a tall hip-point and ability to get a wheelchair in and out of easily. I started looking at older Toyota Highlanders, Santa Fes (the three-row versions), and the like. This was in 2020, and used cars were just starting to grow scarce and go up in price. Most everything I was looking at was $15K or more, which was going to be a stretch at the time.
Then, we decided to take a trip to the beach. I had reserved a midsize SUV at Enterprise, but they had a Grand Caravan SXT and asked if I wanted it. I said sure, thinking the extra space would be great for the three adults and toddler on a 10-hour ride.
Folks, I fell in love with the van. As a notorious over-packer, I appreciated how it just swallowed everything that I threw in it. I left the third-row seat up, where my passengers took turns napping. The driver’s side middle seat stayed folded down for ease of exit, and as a place to keep a cooler and things we needed quick access to. It was comfortable, fast enough (285 hp will move even a 5,000-lb vehicle at a decent pace), and I loved the power sliding doors and tailgate. When we were at the beach and were packing up the wagon with its cooler, towels, and umbrella, we just shoved the whole thing in without folding it up first.
As soon as I got home, I started researching vans. It took another six months to find one I liked, but $10K for a loaded Grand Caravan under 100K miles in early 2021 was a great deal. I’ve folded all of the seats down and packed an entire storage unit full of totes in it for an estate sale. I’ve put a queen sized bed in it. I used it to haul around six adults in comfort, plus there stuff, while we drove the backroads of SE Ohio looking for abandoned train tunnels. Yes, it has the driving dynamics of a storage shed on wheels, and it gets maybe 20 mpg on a good day, but it beats most trucks and SUVs at stuff-and-people-moving. I’m hoping to eventually replace it with a hybrid Pacifica or Sienna.
I actually had a similar experience recently, in which I converted to the Cult of the Minivan. Keep an eye out for that blog.
The LX/LD Platform
Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger.
I was shopping for a new car to replace my long serving 2002 Olds Intrigue (10 years, 215K mostly trouble-free miles, RIP. Screw-off haters.)
I test drove nearly every mid-sized 4-door on the market and was not truly impressed with any of them. The Kia Optima and new Chevy Impala were both high on the list, but the dealers had an ‘additional dealer profit’ of $3000-6000 on both of them. I liked the Volkswagen Passat, but was concerned with reliability. I was ‘meh’ about everything else and was seriously considering another Intrigue I had found on line with just 43K miles.
Then I got volunteered for a sales trip to Charleston SC (the sacrifices I make....) and decided to rent a car rather than subject the Intrigue a 700 mile round trip in the heat of June.
Enterprise initially offered me an Altima, and then upgraded to a Chrysler 300 because the one Altima they had on the lot had an overheating issue.
Wow. The 300 was relatively quick, quiet, comfortable, had plenty of space, a huge trunk and got 30 mpg on the highway.
When I got home, i arranged a test drive of a Charger with the local Dodge dealer. I had previously test driven the Chrysler 200 but dismissed it for reasons I cannot recall (I think the dealer wouldn’t come down on MSRP.) but had passed on the Charger/300.
After spending a week with the 300 and test driving a Charger SXT Plus with the 300hp V6, and working out what i felt was a good deal ($30K out the door, 2.9% Financing) I had my first ever brand new car.
I would probably still have it had I not lost my left leg to a copperhead bite. :-(
“Relatively quick, quiet, and comfortable” is American luxury in a nutshell. If there are three things a good Chrysler should do, those are exactly all of them.
Joining The Subie Squad
I didn’t really “ Hate it” per say but my wife really really wanted a Subaru Crosstrek, which I was trying tom avoid since every other care here is one of those things. We have had it for a few months and took it on a road trip to the mountains where we actually did in fact need 4WD and high clearances to navigate some deeply rutted, poorly maintained access roads.
And you know what? Its a perfectly fine car. Is it insanely fast? Nope. Does it get amazing fuel economy? Nope. But its a well designed car that seems to have had a lot of thought put into it. On freeway it gets a reasonable 32 MPG. The seats are comfortable. It has a huge 16 gallon tank so you can drive all weekend without stopping at a gas station. It can turn on a dime. And yes, it goes off-roading really well and surprisingly well for not being a Jeep.
Subaru usually does put real thought and effort into its cars. After all, they’re building chassis around an engine that no one but Porsche uses — it’s tough to copy off someone’s work when their engine won’t work for you.
To me there were two kinds of Mustangs. Balls sideways truck handling loud brutes with V8s and fake fast cars that couldn’t do anything with the V6 or worse I-4.
About 10 years ago, I was at a small airport and all they had was a baby blue Mustang V6 to rent. Yuck.
But the chassis was well balanced, the performance (with the 305 hp V6) was excellent and fit well with the chassis. You could drive it like it was a Taurus and get around 30 mph, or you could hoon it and have fun. Suddenly I realized that Ford had taken a crude handling “pony car” (the Fox mustangs I drove earlier) and made an inexpensive GT that could actually do grand touring.
Mustangs have truly gotten better with age, up to the outgoing generation’s independent rear suspension. The one you drove a decade ago likely didn’t even have that. Give the new one a shot, you may be even more surprised.
The Kia Soul.
For the longest time I viewed it as just another (boxier) Kia CUV. Fine, but no more.
I ended up driving one as a rental down in LA, and I was very pleasantly surprised - it handled well, visibility was phenomenal, great on gas, and ‘spirited’ (which is a nicer way of saying not fast, but entertaining nonetheless). A surprising amount of room to haul stuff, and a really well organized, well thought out, interior. Liked it so much I was seriously considering it for our next car - though instead we went with a Fit.
As tough as it is to say, there are some benefits to these compact CUVs. Visibility is a big one — with taller side impact protection, the high seating position actually lets you see out the windows.
Hyundai Veloster N. I admittedly, WAS(not any more) a badge snob and had wrote modern Hyundai off as the same company from the 90s. I wanted the FK8 CTR but I was not willing to pay markup or participate in bidding wars. The VN was actually last on my list. I looked at the Golf GTI/R, but they were just too subdued and mature for me. The gen 2 BRZ/GR86 was also on that list but dealers couldn’t deliver within a reasonable time frame. This would be a 2nd fun/track car, so day to day livability was not an issue. After reading and watching countless positive and raving reviews, I decided to test drive that was available on the lot. I put the thing on N mode and was smiling and giggling the entire time when I drove it. I bought it that day.
Story isn’t over yet. After buying, the badge snob in me kinda had buyer’s remorse. I STILL didn’t think the VN had the ‘street cred’ its rivals had. It was a fun and raucous car, no doubt.
Then I took it to the track(in stock form) and all of that disappeared. It’s a well sorted track ready car. No, it really is. I put in decent times, even passing cars with more ‘street cred’ and posting better lap times. After installing aftermarket wheels and 200TW cheater tires, my times dropped even further. I was out-cornering S2000s and Miatas and keeping up with Porsches and Corvettes at corner exits. I installed a larger intercooler and an oil cooler and my lap times are getting better and better. I’m 1:59 now in Heartland Park.
Originally, I had planned to sell or trade the VN for the GR Corolla. I don’t know if I’ll do that any more, to be honest. I can, however, possibly live with 2 hot hatches and sell or trade my DD.
Hyundai does a lot of things wrong and continue to do so, if you would believe the headlines. But if there’s one thing they poured the entirety of their heart and soul and resources in to, it’s the N cars. Not only in overall build quality and reliability(N cars aren’t problematic like their regular cars), but in all out performance. It’s a car they didn’t need to build. But they did, and they did it right. To me, that makes it more impressive than its rivals.
More hot hatches is almost always better. I vote you trade in the daily, and keep the Veloster N and GRolla. You won’t regret that.
The MKI Jetta
Back in the early eighties I was forced to buy a VW Jetta because the company I worked for at the time liked its female junior professionals to drive them. I have no idea the reasoning behind that decision, but I liked having a pay check and a career, so I knuckled under and bought one. It was the Mk1 in metallic blue, and I really begrudged buying it and sending my El Camino back home for one of my cousins to wreck, although I admit the El Cam is the worst possible choice of vehicle for 80s New York, but I actually enjoyed driving the car. Looking back now; if someone offered me an as new El Camino or an as new Mk1 Jetta, I’d probably pick the Jetta. It was kinda lowkey great little car.
I can’t say it’s entirely surprising that a Jetta is a better daily driver than an El Camino. I’m especially not surprised that, in 1980s New York, the Jetta fared a bit better.
Tesla Model Y
Tesla Model Y.
At first, I though the spartan interior was dumb, and the center screen would be annoying as hell for checking speed, etc. I thought all the gimmicks were pointless, and FSD was a dangerous pipe dream.
Then I drove it. The control with an electric motor is fantastic, love the one-foot driving and just how smooth and quiet the motor is. After a month with the center screen you realize that setting cabin temp is a once-a-month exercise at most, and how great it is to just hop in a car and go without even pushing a start button. It has tons of room given it’s shape and footprint. FSD is still a dangerous pipe dream, but auto steer is great. I now hop in my wife’s Audi and wonder what the hell kind of tractor I just hopped into, with a million screens, buttons and vents all over the damn place.
I adore one-pedal driving. Having been on a few EV press trips in my time, I’ve grown accustomed to the experience of never braking. I miss it in ICEs now.
For me the Jaguar F Type. When the concept came out I thought it looked great, but when it went into production I thought it was a little too expensive for what it was and was also terrible to drive in Forza Horizon (yes I know that is not a useful metric but still) with almost no traction. I rather lost interest.
However with my recent move to the States I was looking for a sports GT that could also serve as a daily driver and tired one out and feel in love. Objectively not as good as a Porsche Cayman but far more characterful and $ for $ you can get a better used F Type than a Cayman. I was so smitten I brought one
The Porsche likely beats the Jag for reliability, but there’s no contest between the two on looks. The Brit has the better styling, inarguably.
this fuckin thing.... (the 2020 ioniq Limited EV)
10 years ago, if you’d have told me “rob, you’ll have an EV, and it’ll be a hyundai....” I would have gone out of my way to make sure you checked yourself in to some sorta rehab facility......
last Feb (2021) my wife on a friday night sitting on the couch after work, was like “I wante heated seats” (for her 2016 cherokee)... and if there’s one thing to know about jeeps is that they’re cool till you own one, and then you realize what a total shitbox those things really are... so i couldn’t wait to get rid of that thing.... anyways, i was like “ya know, it’s probably cheaper to just hop in to a new car that already has heated seats....” so we started scrolling thru the internet for new inexpensive cars (that jeep had about 40k miles on it, and was about to start getting expensive - shit transmission)...
about an hour later we stumbled across this thing... (we debated the PHEV too, but went with EV, because it would work better for what we needed it to do).... anyways... we saw hyundai had a deal on these and our local dealer was trying to clear out their 2020 stock...
we called them up in the morning... they said they had the car in the base model which we were looking for. “perfect! we’re on our way.” we get there, the sales guy has no idea how to sell an EV, so he was like “yeah i dont know much about this thing, here it is...” which was super nice, because we didnt have to listen to a dumb pitch. we took it for a spin.... it did everything we expected it to.... somewhere in all that they convinced us on the Limited as opposed to the base model...
we were like “cool. lets run the numbers.” the clown in finance tried to tack on a buncha shit. to which i was like “lol. I work in legal/accounting. so no...” (i dont)... but he came back with $700 down, $150/month 35 months $18k buyout.... i did check the numbers on the base model... it was like $10/month less. and the buyout was a few hundred less.... we went with the limited because it was considerably nicer.
where was i..... oh that’s right heated seats.....
anyways. that was super nice... but here we are over a year and a half later... thru a gas spike, free charging at work. saving close to $300/month. the car actually drives extremely well. gets about 190 miles/charge as opposed to the 170 that’s claimed. nice quiet interior (battery absorbs a lot of the noise)... it even has adaptive cruise control and automatic lane control. my wife’s parents even tried it out and was impressed, and while they did that I sat in the back which had tons of legroom. it’s proved me wrong about every concern we’ve had about EV, including range anxiety and charge times... this car continues to impress me every single damn day. huyndai really knocked it out of the park with that little car.
Inexpensive EV runabouts are the future of commuter transport. Why not get in on it early? The cars are good, the use cases fit, everything lines up.
Mazda Miata. Specifically, one just like this:
I’ve related this story here before. I rented a 5.0 Mustang for a vacation several years ago and LOVED that car. I was convinced I was going to buy one. Specifically a convertible. Test drove several cars from several dealers, and had the email composed to commit to buying one from a dealer an hour away. At the same time, I was looking at comparable convertibles. The 370z was high on my list as I’ve always wanted a Z (but they’re all stupid expensive here). And a Miata was on my list since I’ve always owned mostly Mazdas. I was sitting at my desk at work browsing auto trader (what else should I be doing? working?), and saw that there was actually a Miata at the dealership 3kms away from my desk at work. I popped over at lunch to test drive it. I liked it. Seemed good. After work, I took my wife with me and we went back to test drive it together. This time I had more time and went on a longer test drive. She said something along the lines of “you’re having fun now aren’t you?” I went back and test drove another 5.0 again, and she was right. The Miata was more fun.
The Miata went from a due diligence check to make sure I wasn’t making a big purchase with blinders on, to my primary target. I didn’t buy the one I test drove. A whole different “dealers suck, but some other dealers are cool” story happened. I did end up with a NC2 PRHT in exactly the red I was looking for, and drive it all the time. It went on an 8000km road trip, and just kept getting better the entire time. It’s basically the best car I’ve ever owned at this time. And yeah, Miata is always the answer.
Big rumbling V8s are a blast in a straight line, but there’s something appealing about a car with such low limits that you always feel you’re surpassing them. Slow car fast forever.
I Do Not Believe You
Ford GT! I just wish I had one.
$kay, did the GT actually have to win you over? Was there ever a point where you didn’t love it? Or has it always been the One True Perfect Car?
Not The Steakhouse
The Subaru Outback.
Like any good enthusiast, I automatically hated the outback and it’s CVT transmission, it’s engine with only 185hp and it’s silly off road pretensions, especially after they made the body change for the fourth generation that added that big stupid plastic rack on top. I was proudly manual only, thank you. I KNEW that CVTs were the devil’s handywork (even though I’d never driven one) and could tell you all the reasons they sucked, because I’ve read all the same stuff you have.
Flash forward a few years and I test drive an Outback and... it’s great. It’s comfortable in a way my VW wasn’t, the CVT is actually... invisible. As in, I put it in drive, I go 5 minutes or 8 hours and at no time do I notice it. Which is actually great. After 8 hours of driving I don’t feel fatigued like I did with my manual. And it’s got more than enough power to haul me, my girlfriend, our kids and a vacations worth of luggage and bikes and boards wherever we want to go with no complaints. The stupid plastic roof rack is ideal for hauling paddleboards and lumber, the silly off road pretensions make it ideal for hauling my bike and some camping gear into areas that would have broken my VW. And in the 2 years I’ve had my Outback, I’ve missed the manual transmission exactly zero times. And I’ve missed the cost of German maintenance even less. My red manual VW wagon should have been the best, but it was awful. The outback, on the other hand is probably the best car I’ve ever owned.
Do yourself a favor. Break out of the constricting little enthusiast box and try something everyone says is terrible. You might be surprised.
A CVT isn’t always the end of the world. A good one can just blend in to the driving experience, wholly unnoticeable among the wind and tire noise. Just don’t beat on the car, or you’ll feel the engine sit unmoving at redline.
The First Panamera
The first gen Porsche Panamera. I thought it was about ugly AF and hated every thing about it. Until I drove a friend of mines after I relentlessly mocked him for getting it. And then I fell in love with it. The way it drove and handled and just comfortably ate up miles down the road. I loved the ergonomics of everything for the driver and the fact that you could actually fit people in the back seat. I started wanting one and could care less what it looked like on the outside. I was driving it and couldnt see the outside.
From the driver’s seat, it’s hard to see that bulbous 2000s styling. Of course, this doesn’t work if everyone buys one, because then you’ll see one at every stoplight, but for individual purchases it makes sense. Modern problems require modern solutions.