When you drive your current vehicle do you have a hard time staying awake behind the wheel? Sure, it gets good mileage and has enough space but do you still have that nagging feeling you made a big mistake buying this four wheeled snooze-fest? What you are experiencing is automotive buyer’s remorse.
Early 20th century novelist G.K. Chesterton once said that, “a yawn is a silent shout.” If your car is giving you the “yawns” then you must realize that your problem is not lack of sleep but it is instead a byproduct of a life lived in the automotive doldrums. There is no fate worse than this for a car enthusiast.
I am not saying a person needs to run out and buy that midlife crisis coupe or convertible right now as if that would make any sense in the midst of a recession. Just because you want a vehicle is expensive and fast doesn’t make it any fun to drive-I am talking to you Dodge Viper. That car is a car crash waiting to happen.
Nor do you have to go the other route and buy the dullest four door automotive appliance on the market just because it promises to be reliable and relatively inexpensive to own. I am talking to you Toyota Corolla-this is a car so utterly devoid of style that it almost looks grumpy. To put that in perspective it is sort of the automotive equivalent of Dick Cheney.
So you are on a budget but you don’t want a boring penalty box. You also don’t want to look like an insecure tool who is showing off. What to buy, what to buy? With these five cars I am going to be as specific as possible as to exact make, model and specification. Most specific models have a number of engine, body style and specification variables and each of these factors has an impact on how a vehicle drives.
I am going to recommend a few cars with the manual transmission only because there is rarely a quicker route to driving enjoyment. Granted this is only true in some cases as there are still some cars with dreadful stick shifts out there on the market. Besides the 250 pound bench press that is the shifter in the Dodge Viper I have to say that possibly the worst manual transmission of recent times can be found in the recently departed Hyundai Tiburon. Truly there is no more heinous a crime than an alleged “sports” car having a terrible manual transmission. Terrific shift action is one of the main reasons the Mazda Miata reigns supreme as the best selling sports car of all time.
In addition, I will also talk about insurance costs, fuel economy and maintenance cost averages for all you penny pinchers out there. (Insurance and maintenance estimates are over a 5 year period for a vehicle driven 15,000 miles a year and are provided by Automotive.com. Remember, these are only estimates.)
Honda Civic EX-(5 speed manual)-($19,305)-(25 city/36 highway)-(Insurance–$7,163)-(Maintenance–$1,368)-There is a reason why the Civic is everywhere. It is a great car. Period. End of story. While most Civics are sold with the automatic these drivers truly are missing out on a magical experience when they don’t pick the manual transmission. Not only is it far better at accessing the high rpm power inherent in the Honda VTEC 4 cylinder engine no other automaker bar perhaps BMW offers a stick with a more pleasurable shift action. One caveat: as the Civic is so popular it does suffer from a higher than average theft rate so check with your insurer to see if this will have a big impact on your premiums. This will depend heavily on the estimated crime rate where you live.
VW GTI-(DSG or 6 speed manual)-($23,230)-(21 city/31 highway)-(Insurance–$8,032)-(Maintenance–$1,604)-Europeans love hatchbacks and Americans love vehicles with trunks. It has been this way for such a long period of time that even Joan Rivers can’t remember when it started. But as anyone who has ever owned a hatchback knows-the European choice is far more practical. Then, of course, in the case of the GTI you also get a 2.0 liter turbocharged/direct injected 4 cylinder engine so fat with torque that it makes Carnie Wilson circa 1992 look like Celine Dion circa anytime. This car is fast, handles like a dream and is one of the few cars where I dare say the automatic double clutch transmission is the better choice as it is more fuel efficient and faster than the manual. Heresy. Another bonus? Currently VW is offering free maintenance for 3 years or 36,000 miles.
Mini Cooper/Clubman S-(S starts at $21,950)-(26 city/34 highway)-(Insurance–$6,924)-(Maintenance–$1,055)-Who knew that Mini ownership was so affordable? Well, thanks to a generous BMW backed free maintenance program owners don’t need to spend a dime on that concern for 3 years or 36,000 miles. Granted, the Mini isn’t exactly gargantuan but let’s be honest here-how many people are using all that space in their SUV? If you need a bit more space, check out the Clubman. It might just be enough for you. Now, if a Mini can’t put a smile on your face there are some very effective anti-depressants I might recommend to you. (While the manual adds to the fun factor the Mini handles with such bulldog puppy playfulness that the automatic version is equally desirable.)
2010 Mazda3-(6 speed manual)-($19,980)-(21 city/29 highway)-(Insurance–$7,522)-(Maintenance–$1,760)-While the forthcoming MazdaSpeed3 is very attractive from a power perspective (it can stomp most any hot hatch on the market 0-60) that vehicle suffers from high insurance, maintenance and fuel costs. While the regular Mazda3 isn’t nearly as quick, with the slick shifting manual transmission this smartly styled (especially in hatchback form) compact car still embodies the “zoom-zoom” spirit. Add in near telepathic handling with an interior vastly improved over the previous “lego-land” look of the 2009 model and you have a sensible family car trying its best to be as playful as a Miata.
2010 Ford Mustang-(5 speed manual)-(starting at $20,995)-(18 city/26 highway)-(Insurance–$7,745)-(Maintenance–$1,669)-Granted, if you pony up for the GT (which is fun to drive in a reckless manner that should be illegal but isn’t) or are under 25 your insurance rates will go up. Thankfully, however, the Mustang is relatively easy to repair after an accident and parts are plentiful and not too pricey. Not that you could tell from the newly revised interior which looks like a million bucks. And even if you have to settle for the 6 cylinder version that engine still pumps out 210 horsepower and 240 pound feet of torque-which is more than the old 5.0 liter V8 made famous in the Vanilla Ice song “Ice, Ice Baby.” (Don’t act like you don’t know the line-“Rollin’ in my 5.0 with the ragtop down so my hair can blow.” Maybe I am alone in remembering that one.)
Regardless of which new car you buy, be it with the “Cash For Clunkers” program or for any other reason, you should always pick the one that makes your tummy tingle just with a pinch of excitement when you think about driving it. Life is far too precious and far too short to drive a boring car. Come on, you don’t want to wind up a grumpy old man like Dick Cheney. That kind of makes you wonder what kind of car he drives, now doesn’t it?