Unique US Cars
November 2, 2004 11:43 AM   Subscribe

What's the coolest/funnest/economical alternative car that can be purchased in the US, is somewhat affordable, and safer than a motorcycle?

I want to explore my options before I buy a used Corolla.

I'd really like a Carver, but most of these futuristic hybrid motorcycle things are unavailable in the US or really expensive.
posted by mecran01 to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total)
a mini cooper?
posted by amberglow at 12:01 PM on November 2, 2004

I got a Scion Xa a few months ago and love it love it love it. 38 MPG, and it's much roomier inside than it looks like it should be. I commute an hour with it. Made by Toyota. Nice MP3 CD player. And I got it with a bunch of extras for below 15k.
posted by adampsyche at 12:04 PM on November 2, 2004

I was thinking about getting a Scion too because of the mileage. Do you have a link to any safety ratings (I cannot find any) and know if it is good in the snow? The Prius's also look very affordable. Plus, I think you can get up to a $2000 tax break if you buy one.
posted by jasonspaceman at 12:09 PM on November 2, 2004

I love my VW Golf TDI. I get 42mpg (with an automatic) in a mix of city/highway driving. It costs a little more than some of the other fuel efficient cars, but if you use all synthetic oil the engine is likely to last 400,000 miles, which brings down the TCO of the car a lot over most cars that only last 1/2 that.
posted by bradhill at 12:19 PM on November 2, 2004

Response by poster: prius: affordable for me is $6500.

Golf TDI: my VW mechanic has a few Jettas sitting around that the owners gave away because at a certain point the non-engine mechanical failures get too expensive. I drive an 88 Golf with a transplanted Scirocco engine, and my average repair costs over the past year come to $150/month. So I don't know if the TCO would really be that low.

The Scions look great, but I'd probably have to go for an Echo with a great stereo.

What I want is the fun of a motorcycle and the crash ratings of a car. Cheap. Yeah, I know that's unrealistic.
posted by mecran01 at 12:24 PM on November 2, 2004

I want to second the Mini Cooper vote. I love mine. It's amazingly fun to drive, and you can customize the look from wheels to roof. And (around here, at least) most Mini drivers still wave at each other, so you get that little "car club" feeling. But it's a good car for many reasons.
posted by icetaco at 12:24 PM on November 2, 2004

Oh, sorry - just read the above and the Mini isn't in your affordability range. Well, shoot.
posted by icetaco at 12:25 PM on November 2, 2004

Look into used cars for $6500. I guess that's obvious.

The Honda Del Sol or the Honda CRX. The CRX is somewhat popular as a rally car, making me think it's got a decent fun-quotient. The Del Sol is tiny and low-slung, and looks sorta like an old Porsche 914. Just checking on ebay, and there are lots of both models, well within your price range. A slightly stealthier option would be the Civic Si from a few years ago.

The Toyota MR2. I think these have been in and out of production over the years, and I think there have been 3 generations. They're pretty hot.

The Miata would be an obvious choice.

There's a huge community of enthusiast-owners for all these cars, with lots of aftermarket goodies for souping them up. All except the CRX and Civic Si are either convertible or pop-top, for that wind-in-the-hair motorcycle goodness.
posted by adamrice at 1:08 PM on November 2, 2004

.... damn, adamrice just beat me to recommending the Miata. They're fun to drive, anyway. MR-2's are nice too, but sort of rare and relatively expensive. You'd want the turbo, or else the older model.

A good old MG-B makes a pretty decent ride, too. Cheaper, slightly closer to a motorcycle. Slightly less reliable.

But if you'd seriously consider driving the ugliest car in existance, the Toyota Echo, then I just don't know...
posted by sfenders at 1:16 PM on November 2, 2004

Response by poster: It's not that I don't realize the Echo is ugly, it's just that I can't stand the thought of major repairs every four months. That rules out the MGs and a few others.

The Del Sols and the MR2s sound viable, and a CRX would be a possibility.

Someone needs to make a SmartCar that banks like a sportbike.

That is all. Thank you.
posted by mecran01 at 1:26 PM on November 2, 2004

'Merica will have to wait until 2006...
posted by grateful at 2:10 PM on November 2, 2004

Define cool.

I think the Prius is up there, but in a cool enginerring way. Also, I prefered the early models I saw with the citron-esq rear wheel covers. Shame you can't afford one.

The Swatch Smart is pretty funky, but US roads have more monster SUV things than most other places, so you feel a little bug-like (as in squashed-like-a) inside one. It is, however, significantly cheaper than a Prius -- you might be able to swing it.

I believe the Prius and the Smart have the same fuel efficiency (60mpg? don't quote me) -- one because it's high-tech, the other because it's small and light.

Test drive an Echo for a few hours before buying one. My mother drove one that was a courtesy car while her Rav4 was being serviced and she experienced severe pains down her right arm and across her back. There's something weird about the Echo.
posted by krisjohn at 2:50 PM on November 2, 2004

Perhaps it is a bit out of your price range (MSRP is about $15K), but the Sparrow is cool, and powered by an alternative fuel.
posted by jeffbarr at 4:36 PM on November 2, 2004

I managed to score a 1997 toyota celica last year for about $7k. Sporty and it gets 31mpg. You could probably find a 1995 celica for less.
posted by Hackworth at 5:21 PM on November 2, 2004


I have a classic Vespa and I love it. Fun -- Check. Cheap -- Check (approx $1500 - $3000). Safe -- Uh, Maybe. Scooters are safer than motorcycles, mostly because they just can't do the performance hijinks of a 1000cc motorcycle. This forces scooter riders to be a bit more sane, and to stay alive.

This might not work for you, due to the saftey concern. But they're damn economical (60 MPG and a fill up at the service station is about $2), and more fun per dollar than just about anything. Legal.
posted by zpousman at 8:35 PM on November 2, 2004

I'd love to say scooter, but unfortunately, where I live, scooters are licensed and insured as motorcycles, and the general price of them is so high, a motorcycle is generally cheaper.

I was considering one, but why bother... oh well.

Can I put in a vote for a moped? I haven't driven one myself, but if you feel safe riding a bike, you should feel just as safe on a moped...

That sparrow looks seriously... uhhh... wrong. :-D
posted by shepd at 10:08 PM on November 2, 2004

why, why, why do the car companies insist on using flash in a pop-up window instead of just using the actual browser window in the first place? flash (if used for the whole website) is automatically scalable to fit the window width, and there aren't any formatting issues like you see with HTML, so why the heck do they still make me use a damn fixed-width popup?

i have been looking at the smarts - i like the styling and the crash ratings are actually not that bad, apparently. my wife and i have a really short commute and i do like the idea of a more fuel-efficient car for 'round town driving. on the other hand i'm 6'4" so it would also be nice to find something i comfortably fit into, too... how are the minis, for taller drivers? could i even try to get in one?
posted by caution live frogs at 5:24 AM on November 3, 2004

Response by poster: I'm 6'7 and fit inside my 88 golf, and according to the recent Wired article the Smarts are pretty roomy. They are actually being sold in Canada [Oh, Ca-na-da] so somebody should know!

I need at least three wheels for winter driving, otherwise a scooter would be tempting. Plus the commute is 25 miles, which would get kinda exhausting on a scooter. I used to own one circa 1985, and it was fun, but a little scary when cars tried to crush you.

The Sparrow looks cool! I thought Corbin motors was filing for bankruptcy or something.

Someone needs to build a 750cc bike with a heated, indestructible shell. Tragically, the powers of the lazyweb do not extend into mechanical engineering.
posted by mecran01 at 5:45 AM on November 3, 2004

Response by poster: Sparrow review circa 2000.

They don't seem to have much in terms of structural protection (metal plates to provide rigidity). I can't help but wonder what these would cost if they were mass produced by Kia or someone. Probably $9,000 (pulled out of the air) and you'd be competing with the aforementioned possessed Echo or Suzuki Swift (or equivalent).

What is the equivalent of a Geo Metro? I couldn't find anything new cheaper than an Echo (which we have established are probably possessed by evil spirits and will lead to impotence).
posted by mecran01 at 6:03 AM on November 3, 2004

Response by poster:

The sparrow, above, and below is the Carver:

Of course, this is probably more about a looming midlife crisis than actual transportation.

posted by mecran01 at 6:18 AM on November 3, 2004

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