Let's Buy A Fun (but Cargo-Capable) Car!
November 14, 2019 10:30 PM   Subscribe

So, my car just died in a way that I suspect may be, if not final, a poor value to fix. While I'm waiting to hear from the shop where I left it, please help me brainstorm car ideas to look at if I do end up having to take the plunge and buy something new-to-me. (Caveats: Single dude with space-consuming hobbies, dislikes SUVs, likes 'fun' cars, wishes charging an electric were practical for apartment-dwellers).

If you think a car should be 100% utilitarian, this may not be the thread for you.

I get that a car is not an investment and is really just a hole into which you pour money, and I'm open to pragmatic options, but I'll be honest, I like driving fun cars and I'm willing to pay a bit more and go out of my way (but not tooooo far out of my way) for that experience.

My current car is a little Nissan 350z, 2003, so, 16 years old. I drive about 30 miles a weekday, mix of surface streets and highway. I'm not quite sure what my budget is -- a few years ago I was lusting after a Focus RS ($35k) but realistically, mid-$20ks is probably my ceiling. I'm still single, no kids, no plans for kids, but I do want to do more with radio control stuff, and have ambitions of picking up paramotoring next year, so a vehicle that can carry some amount of cargo, and take a hitch mount and carry a cargo platform behind (not a trailer, just the 18"-ish deep cargo platform) would be awesome.

Things I like: Hot hatches or wagons. I like cars with a little grunt, but I'm not going to go for power over all else (been making those compromises for years with the Z). The WRX Hatchback was going to be my next car, before Subaru discontinued it. I like sporty coupes, but I don't think a coupe is really compatible with what I want to do in the future. I'm really interested in electric, and I'd love to look at something like a Bolt, but I don't have a place to charge one at my apartment so that's probably out.

Things I don't like: SUVs, trucks (well, maaaaaybe I'd go for an old HiLux if I had the equipment to work on one, but I don't, so meh)

Things I am neutral about: Sedans.

I really don't want an SUV, but I'm not sure how to get the cargo capacity of a hatch or small wagon, with the performance I'm after, given that everybody stopped selling hatches and small wagons that are also moderately performance-oriented. I know I could get a Honda Fit, I just don't want a Honda Fit. I liked the Focus ST / RS, the WRX Hatch when that was a thing. I like the look of the new Mazda 3 Wagon, but am a bit bummed out about the lack of the mazdaspeed trim in these leaner times. I love the look of the Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake, but.. yeah, that's not going to happen on the used market, considering it looks like you have to import from Europe special-order (I've seen one here, but, there are a lot of very wealthy people here, so, shrug). The Subaru Crosstrek is maybe on my radar, but, it's an awful lot SUV-like, which seems overkill for my day-to-day driving needs.

Realistically I guess I should look at an Accord, but, man. I want to drive something more interesting than an Accord, heh.
posted by Alterscape to Shopping (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Manufacturers are definitely still selling hot hatches -- check out the Golf GTI and Hyundai Elantra GT N line! I recently bought a GTI but the N line was very tempting from a value perspective.

I've test driven a Crosstrek and it's got a lot going for it but if you're looking for performance I think you'll hate it, they're notoriously underpowered.
posted by phoenixy at 11:01 PM on November 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

VW Arteon.
posted by oceanjesse at 11:39 PM on November 14, 2019

Check out the Jetta TDI wagons. Very fun to drive, can be found with a manual transmission, and plenty of cargo space. Takes a hitch with a higher towing capacity than many light duty trucks and has a great roof rack. After the recall and fix you can find a good number for reasonable prices used.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:51 AM on November 15, 2019

There do exist some Focus STs that haven't been beaten to hell and back. That's probably the most recent thing you'll find other than a GTI.

Maybe something like the Kia Stinger would work? It's closer in configuration to your Z, but should carry a bit more if my eyes don't deceive me.

Some apartment situations can be made to work, especially if you can arrange at least a 120V outlet to cover your commute, but even without if there is sufficient charging at reasonable rates available within a short walk of your home or work and your battery is large enough to go for a few days' commute at least. You leave the car at the charger, go home and play a video game or whatever for a while and come back to a fully charged car. Not great if you have to do it every day (in the same way Zipcar is inconvenient if you have to use it daily for some reason), but not so bad as a once or twice a week thing.

Obviously, there are a lot of apartment living situations where walking anywhere is a challenge and any place with a charger will have several acres of parking surrounding it, but if that happens not to be your situation and there is a charger near someplace you have to be anyway, home charging isn't necessary for a reasonable experience.
posted by wierdo at 2:29 AM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Kia Stinger as one that seems to fit your requirements pretty closely. New may be a bit of a stretch for your budget, but prices drop rapidly for used (at least here in the UK). Plus you'd get the balance of a 7 year warranty. One downside is that I don't think a manual transmission is available at any trim level.
posted by penguinicity at 3:57 AM on November 15, 2019

I've heard very good things about the new Hyundai Veloster N. I have really enjoyed my 2012 Veloster, and I would have said it was very reliable... until the engine failed spectacularly out of nowhere at 135K miles.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:30 AM on November 15, 2019

I have similar taste in cars as you do (Mazda3, now a Hyundai Kona EV which is great but tiny); have you checked out slightly-used Volvo wagons? Example here of a particularly sharp looking one. I used to have an old V70 and it was super fun to drive even in the base trim - responsive, great for hauling things, etc. If you want to veer more into the really hot hatch adjacent space you can go for the R-Design models like this one or this one. Sub 5 second 0-60 and you can tow nearly 2000 lbs, just not at the same time.
posted by true at 5:04 AM on November 15, 2019

I'm not sure it meets your performance/fun criterion well enough, but the Buick Regal TourX looks really good. It's slightly above your price range but I bet dealer incentives could get it really close, and I think 2019 models aren't much different than 2020s.

I know, I know—it's a Buick! But look look at that thing! They styling is really good, lots of space, and MUCH better priced than Volvo or Audi, which I think are the only others selling honest-to-goodness wagons as opposed to hatchbacks. If you can stomach that Buick logo, give it a look, though again, I don't know if it has the power or handling you'd want.

I don't have a perfect answer, though. That's why I'm still driving my 2005 WRX wagon. . . .
posted by cyclopticgaze at 5:27 AM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Elantra GT - had a '16 model and loved it and no longer have it for reasons that have nothing to do with the actual car. Good power and handling, good storage (it's still pretty small but a fair amount of cubby holes and stuff), and I even liked the funky navigation system it had that lacked any real graphics. No turbos in that generation so having one with the turbo would have been even better (and you might be able to find performance parts for the i30 that'll work on it as at least the older ones were sold as that in other markets). Did wish it had a full-sized spare as it had the space for it but never got around to getting one. I had a friend that swapped a GLI for a Jetta wagon and loved that too, but I personally don't have any real experience with them other than liking the wagon form factor.
posted by mrg at 5:38 AM on November 15, 2019

The Subaru Forester XT (the model with the turbo engine) might be one you would want to look at if you could find a gently used example.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:40 AM on November 15, 2019

I urge you not to blow off a 2018+ Accord, or at least not until you drive a 2.0 liter Sport. The big engine is seriously quick, with C&D getting a broken-in example to a 0-60 of 5.5, only tenths of a second slower than your 370, with very little lag or torque steer, and a lagniappe of 39 MPG on the highway.

I bought a 2.0 EX-L for my wife, and every time I drive it I'm astonished at what a superb vehicle it is; how well it handles, even with the OEM, formulated for fuel efficiency tires - almost as well as my E90, and the Sport would corner even flatter, albeit with its 19" wheels at the possible cost of a harsher ride. If you like shifting yourself, the Accord Sport can be spec'd with 3 pedals. And upside of its work-a-daddy looks is dramatically lowering your profile to the cops if they catch you pressing the envelope - especially in comparison to your 370.
posted by mojohand at 7:20 AM on November 15, 2019

Seconding the VW GTI. After three years mine remains reliable, comfortable, fast, and economical (40 mpg freeway). The DSG automatic is apparently very nice but I am happy with the manual.
posted by exogenous at 8:01 AM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Kia Niro might be worth looking at? The all-electric is outside of your price range but the plug-in hybrid is within it.
posted by metasarah at 8:11 AM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

I just got a used Prius Hybrid. It holds So Much Stuff. Not hot, but the performance issues of the early models have been resolved. A pleasure to drive, and they last a long time because the gas engine gets a break with the hybrid engine. 300K miles is common.
posted by theora55 at 8:22 AM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Subaru Impreza comes as a hatch - the Crosstrek is basically the same thing but on a higher chassis. I just bought a brand new Impreza hatch and love it. Maybe not as zippy as the WRX would have been but I like it a bunch. The automatic is CVT but at least mine also has clutchless manual shifting via paddle shifters on the steering wheel. My one complaint is the gas mileage in the city has been disappointing, so if you were looking at eco-friendly it may be a negative on that front.

My previous car was a Mazda3 hatch, and I considered a new one but they've sleek-ified the body so much that the hatch opening is so small as to be kind of useless. That said, the 2019 gets rave reviews in terms of that fun to drive quality.
posted by misskaz at 1:01 PM on November 15, 2019

My current car is a little Nissan 350z, 2003, so, 16 years old.

There's been a lot of changes over those years.

A lot of tech has been added or has filtered down from luxury models.
The newer thicker side pillars and higher belt lines , though structurally stronger, affect sight lines.
So you end up getting and using blind spot monitoring, back up cameras parking assist etc
Android Auto is a useful feature
I was in your position a few years ago and found it all took a bit of getting used to

But the electronic assists in traction control, braking, steering etc are great.

An Accord is worth looking at, but somewhat surprisingly so is the Civic.
It's no longer that sub compact car of old. It's not much smaller than an Accord and has all sorts of electronic wizardry
The Civic hatchbacks offer a turbo engine and a Sport build is available.

A more performance oriented larger car could be a Mazda 6 GT with a 2.5 liter turbo
But it's a sedan and pricier.
posted by yyz at 3:18 PM on November 15, 2019

Why are you not looking at AUDI WAGONS?
Sporty, comfy, hauls everything, practical, fast, good looking.
Mid-high 20's may get a 2-3 year old one.
posted by artdrectr at 12:56 AM on November 16, 2019

I had an Impreza Sport hatchback, which handled well but was not really quick. I got a newer Forester, which is a little quicker but leans slightly more. Also has normal-sized wheels, so it rides better (less hard bumps from those big-wheel rubber-band tires). They made the Forester taller, so more SUV-ish, but I still think it's a wagon. More room than the Impreza. Either one will accept a full-sized cello without folding down a rear seat. The Forester just barely swallowed a boxed-up replacement fender for a Toyota Corolla, with the seats down.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:18 AM on November 16, 2019

Thanks for the recommendations, y'all. My car was indeed not in a good way, so it is now no longer my car, and I am now the owner of a slimmer savings account and a GTI!
posted by Alterscape at 7:49 PM on November 16, 2019 [5 favorites]

Nice! If you got the manual, I recommend this transmission adapter for more fun shifting. It is very easy to install, about 15 minutes work without any need to crawl under the car.

Also, you should know that the tire pressure monitoring system (at least in my model year) is based on measuring relative rotation of the different wheels. Thus, if they are all losing pressure equally, it won't notice. This happens naturally as the weather gets colder so this time of year in the northern hemisphere is a good time to check on them. Resetting the TPMS after it triggers will probably require a dive into the owner's manual.
posted by exogenous at 7:42 AM on November 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

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