By on January 19, 2009

I’m almost due for my next car. Well, in six months. Which might as well be tomorrow. My GTI will go back to Volkswagen so that some poor clod can own it out of warranty. And this leaves me shopping for a replacement. This is where I’m in trouble. Not only do I have car-lover’s ADD, but I am picky about cars I actually will drive and don’t want anything too common. Even though I’m a jerk, I won’t drive the official car of jerks everywhere. So that means no 3-Series.  Did I mention I prefer a hatchback or wagon? All this hemming and hawing has left me thinking about a Volvo or Saab. The trouble is, despite stories of the better experiences (“My Volvo V70 has gone 400,000 miles with only routine maintenance), whatever I buy will be weird, and therefore will break down. It’s not the breaking down I mind so much, but the cost of parts and repairs. The trouble is, I’m not unhinged enough to actually think an Alfa or a Citroen makes sense to buy. So what I really want is an Alfa Romeo or Citroen with Honda build quality. And if you take away the breaking down, you take away quintessential European-car character. What this means is that I’m crazy, but not crazy enough.

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79 Comments on “Intermittent Daily Podcast: The Weirdo’s Paradox...”

  • avatar

    Right there with you – going from 07 GTI to something new, and pulling my hair out to the point of “Aw screw it, Civic SI” as kind of my safe, can’t-go-wrong approach. That is a surefire recipe for a wandering eye in a year though.

  • avatar

    I dunno…a Suzuki SX4? It’s a hatch, and a little offbeat. Pity, years ago I saw a 71 Challenger R/T with a 383 that had been turned into a two door wagon. That would have been a strong contender.

  • avatar

    Woot! A podcast…

    I too love the Mazda5, and I think it will be our next vehicle. It’s very practical and offers a fun alternative to everything, save more expensive Euro wagons. Probably get the GT model, auto only. I promised the wife that I’ll put on a roof rack and tint the windows to make it more “sporty”. Whatever, better than sucking fuel with reactive AWD on a crossover.

  • avatar

    If there was a reliable Brera, there’d be no reason to own anything else.

  • avatar

    I want an Alfa Spider so bad. I actually want an 8C, but even if I had the cash I doubt I’d part with it… Scots Heritage and all. But a Spider? In a heartbeat.


  • avatar

    Good luck with the replacement. One car I thought of beyond the Swedish brands is the Opel… I mean, Saturn Astra. Checking off your boxes: Hatchback, Euro style, weird, reasonable quality compared to any European car. And like odd European brands in the US, Saturn may be hard to buy new in the near future… Might be too big of a step down in power from the GTI, but it’s one that I thought looked intriguing from afar.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    Since you like wagons and hatchbacks, and you like decent handling cars that are kind of quirky, you’ve got a lot of options.

    – Used Mazda 6, available in wagon or hatchback.
    – New or used Mazda 3.
    – New or used Subarus of all sizes and shapes, not including Forester.
    – Mercedes-Benz c320 wagon or C240, used. But since it’s German, keep in mind you need a Japanese car as backup.
    – Suzuki SX4. Guigaro styling. Suzuki reliability. It hasn’t been “discovered” by tuners and maybe insurance isn’t too severe.

  • avatar

    wow, after all these years, that 164 still looks fantastic.

    Justin, looks like a Volvo C30 may scratch that itch of yours. That glass hatch is the cool part.

    slothrop, I personally like the Astra idea, but you’re right…it’s too much of a step down from the GTI. the Volvo’s got style and a great interior.

  • avatar

    How about a Volvo C30 or Mazdaspeed3?

    Trust me, you don’t want a Saab 9-3. Not that they’re bad, being $10k less than a 3-series, but the interior is really pedestrian for the price, especially after a nice VW interior.

    As uncommon cars go, the Mitsu Lancer MR looks like a very nice car, and if I’m correct, is available as a hatch. Not sure about the reliability, but waay better-looking than the WRX.

  • avatar
    Scorched Earth

    Agreed with Ron Panhard.
    -Last gen Mazda6
    -New Mazda3
    -Any Subaru, INCLUDING last gen Forester XT

    In fact, as a fellow car wierdo I’d say an old Forester XT would be a perfect choice. It’s strange, fast as hell, and quite reliable.

  • avatar

    Old RWD Volvos are bullet proof, that might be a good choice.

    Old Saabs are just as bad as Alfas, or, in the case of 9000s, are Alfas.

    A 2CV might be simple enough to maintain, but it is a death trap. The DS and SM are amazing, but keeping them running will destroy you mentally and financially.

    New Saabs and Volvos are just GMs and Fords. That said, through the Ford connection a Volvo C3/S4/V5 is really just a more expensive, less reliable Mazda 3, which would be the more appropriate choice.

    Although you’ve ruled the brand out, the previous generation Honda Si was a hatchback, is very rare, and I believe was even made in Europe.

    If you want a new Volvo that is well made and actually says Volvo on it (unlike the Mazda 3) then I suggest you consider the vehicles on this site:

  • avatar
    Sonic EJ

    If I were you I’d be talking myself into spending about 35K and looking for a 2006-2007 BMW M-Coupe.

    Unless the price is too high it fits what you are looking for perfectly:

    -Not a 3-series
    -Possibly unreliable

    Not to mention:

    -Sexy as all get out
    -Lots of go fast M3 parts
    -Sounds perfect
    -2 seats (I think this is a plus)
    -Low depreciation
    -6spd transmission
    -Decent gas mileage

    Do it, it’s a good idea…

  • avatar

    @ Sonic EJ :

    He said wierd, I think you were spot on with the M coupe but you got the year wrong. 2001 fits the bill, I think. Comes with the same S54 engine but weighs less than 3K lbs, has one of the funkiest designs ever, and is a hatchback. Nice examples available for under $30K.

  • avatar

    Yeah, C30 was my reflex thought but tried to think outside the box w/ the Astra. Clubman? Or, speaking of boxes, another really weird offering is the HHR SS w/ manual tranny. The build quality there probably will disqualify it though, if the styling doesn’t.

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    Wow! Wasn’t expecting a chorus of suggestions, but then, I should have.

    Actually, there’s a 2007 M Coupe directly below where I’m sitting at this moment. Just stays in the garage when the weather is so bad.

    Thanks for the tips! Unfortunately, Mazda3 being the conventional choice, I just can’t do it. Will reserve judgment until I drive the new one. But it’s unlikely.

  • avatar

    How difficult can this be?
    You mention the car yourself…the saab 9-3.
    Don’t believe the cr*p from all these biased people. A saab 9-3 does not break down more often than the average japanese, american or european competitor.
    And the interior? Nothing wrong with that either.
    So, the saab 9-3: not for everybody, but for you.
    Show ’em you ‘re different.

  • avatar
    Sonic EJ

    If you already have an M-Coupe and need another car it’s tough to go wrong with a 2005 Legacy GT Wagon (only year with the 5spd in the wagon). My brother owns one and loves it. I have the Sedan and it is amazing as well. AWD>FWD in every way.

  • avatar

    Justin Berkowitz:

    The previous generation Civic Si hatchback is my top recommendation; it is very rare.

    But if you really can’t do anything Honda, or really need something new, there something very rare, that comes as a hatchback, and is built in Europe.

    For better or worse it is the Saturn Astra.

    Possibly GDM Opel badges can be found on eBay.

  • avatar

    Trouble with the 05 and newer Legacy (GT model specific, that I’m aware of, including some outback xt/turbos) was that they couldn’t hold an alignment to save your life. Buy one of those used, and get ready to chew some tires..

    Aside from that, its a nice choice though, I have to agree with Sonic. I’m only aware of the alignment issue because my parents owned and 05 GT (brand new) and it couldn’t hold its alignment even on everyday pavement, and then thereafter they owned an 05 outback (xt? turbo, anyway) and it had the same problem. Both cars needed a brand new set of tires on almost a yearly basis. I don’t think they ever got more than 12-15K miles out of a set of tires with either car. Besides that though, rock solid reliability.

  • avatar

    Just saying, I know you said no 3-Series but I really can’t remember the last time I saw a current gen 3-series wagon. Is that suitably weird and off-beat?

  • avatar

    The last-gen Civic Si is hardly rare, I see them all the time now. They were only rare when people weren’t buying them new. Sold as holdovers to teenagers, they started popping up all over the place.

  • avatar

    i am of a similar car-buying attitude- so thats why i got myself a subaru outback. granted, mine’s a 1998 model, but still applies. i just probably have less expendable income than you.

    if i were shopping for a new car, i would probably be looking into the volvo c30 myself, though. i do long for good economical reliable rwd car though ): (like many of us here)

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse


    Did I hear you say you want a Saab?

    Pick me! Pick me! Pick me!

    Just so happens I have one. And I’ll make you a great deal. I’ll even deliver. Coast to coast, no charge.

    You’ll love it. Really. Its, um, quirks actually become endearing over time. Trust me.

    Torque steer. Rattling build quality. Electrical gremlins. Turns every drive into a motoring adventure. Justin, you just can’t put a price on this stuff so I’ll throw it all in for free.

    Add a shorter warranty than any other GM brand and the fact that (just announced!) GM’s internal review has deemed that Saab will now have its own independent management structure, well, how can you lose?


    Ahh. Springtime in Trollhatten.

  • avatar

    I would recommend Subaru Impreza STI. I have one.
    It’s rare, reliable and FUN!

  • avatar

    “Even though I’m a jerk, I won’t drive the official car of jerks everywhere.”

    Couldn’t the GTI be considered one of those cars?


  • avatar

    How about a GM clone of a Japanese car like the Saabaru or Pontiac Vibe.

    Used you get a nice arbitrage of domestic depreciation and import quality. The Matrix is not that common and Vibe even less so. The styling on the current models is so-so but a used spec

  • avatar

    FWIW, my 164 was somewhat less than reliable. I’d avoid one of the 24-valvers like the plague.

    Now, a GTV-6, on the other hand…

  • avatar

    Import a Holden Sportswagon. V8/V6, rare as hen’s teeth in the US 0f A.

  • avatar

    Yeah, I don’t have much to add. If it’s gotta be new, grab the C30. Costs slightly more than a GTI, but it looks better, has a bit more power, and I’ve never actually seen one on the road. There’s also the R32 if you don’t mind slapping down an extra couple of grand (same deal with the 9-3), or an A3 or EvoRex if you don’t mind being That Guy. Mini’s out, of course, since the things are everywhere. The Eclipse is out, because it’s a murder car. Crossfire and the Z cars are also out, because you can’t actually use them.

    If you’re willing to buy used, I’d suggest picking up one of the ’05-’06 Saabarus for a song (I did).

    Here’s a thought: what about a HHR sport wagon? Weird, lots of grunt, and reasonably unique. It’s not like you’d have trouble finding a good deal on one.

  • avatar


    How’s your Spanish?

    A commenter the other day said something about 159 Sportwagons selling in Mexico. Now THAT would be weird, cool, fun, yada yada.

    No local warranty support, though.

  • avatar

    Get any well-equipped car in this category with a stick, and you’ll have your rarity right there. :)

  • avatar
    Seth L

    I’d second the Astra recommendations if it weren’t such a gutless weeny of a car. I rarely see them on the road though, so yes it hits the unique/euro/hatch portion.

    How about a Mercedes C~whatever hatch? Fairly unique, terrible engine, european.

    How determined are you to avoid BMW because there’s the older M coupe hatchback?

  • avatar

    Awww, come on Justin: Bite the bullet and buy a Honda or Toyota already! Resistance is futile!

    Seriously, you can probably rip off all the manufacturing decals and badges, and maybe even make your own TTAC badge for it.

  • avatar
    Jordan Tenenbaum

    What, no Audi A3?

  • avatar

    If GM brought the VXR version of the Astra over, I’d be all over it.

    As they aren’t, the Volvo C30 would be my pick.

  • avatar

    Just hang on for a few months! Fiat SpA and Chrysler are talking about *maybe* bringing some of their stable of small cars over here. Wouldn’t a nice, new 500 just be too dang snazzy? Especially in Abarth form??

  • avatar

    Acura. Didn’t I read here they have a sub zero brand recognition these days? Then be a douche and slap on the JDM grill.

  • avatar

    You’ve got one hell of a choice to make then…no mazda3 (even mazdaspeed?) which is the only other performance oriented hatchback in that price area that I can think of, I guess the mini or the sx4 is possible, but the mini is small and the sx4 is decidedly low-rent compared to what you already have. If you liked boats you never would have gotten a GTI in the first place, so that probably rules out any fwd midsize sedans. And to top it off, no bmw. You have got to be kidding about that one.

    I’d say you really need to go rwd. A slightly used C300 or 328, stick a must. The GTI is already expensive enough that you probably should just go and get the real deal anyway, and with the used car market being what it is now…

  • avatar

    TT? Older or newer…

  • avatar

    Hyundai Elantra Touring? It’s on my list of cars to check out.
    Based on previews, it looks to be in the same class as the Astra, decent chassis tuning let down by a relatively mundane engine. But there aren’t too many small hatchback/wagons available with a 5-speed.

  • avatar

    I’m looking to pick up a WRX wagon myself. Offbeat, handles good, good platform to build on if you’re into that sort of thing. And it’s a practical 4wd wagon that looks great with roof racks.

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    kross22 :
    A commenter the other day said something about 159 Sportwagons selling in Mexico. Now THAT would be weird, cool, fun, yada yada.

    Very cool. Illegal to import though. SO sad. Thank Mercedes for successfully lobbying Congress to close all the import loopholes in the 1980s.

  • avatar

    just get a Mazdaspeed 3 – since you won’t get a Civic SI (which wipes the floor with your GTI, just go to any autocross to verify this statement) because jerks apparently drive them.

    Or better yet – Mini Cooper S – its a BMW that isn’t really a BMW, so you don’t have to drive the official car of jerks, yet you get the benefits and the chic of driving a Mini.

    Plus its a hatch.

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    tedward :
    And to top it off, no bmw. You have got to be kidding about that one.

    I’d say you really need to go rwd. A slightly used C300 or 328, stick a must. The GTI is already expensive enough that you probably should just go and get the real deal anyway, and with the used car market being what it is now…

    The only problem is that I don’t really want a mainstream sports sedan. As I said above, I am more interested in a less-than-usual car. Since the 328i is pretty much the most common car in New York, it doesn’t really fit what I said I was looking for.

  • avatar

    Mr Berkowitz: …but I am picky about cars I actually will drive and don’t want anything too common.

    Hey, I’m with you here. Its just that for me, this means a decade or older vehicle without rust.

  • avatar

    I second a Hyundai Elantra Touring – quirky hatchback, “sportier” than the standard Elantra. I’m sure that there are plenty of “go-fast” parts for that engine, too. Due out this spring.

    The son of a fellow I work with picked up a 2006 Acura RSX-S for $13,000 – only had 40,000 miles on it – it’s (as I’m sure you know) a hatch, though you won’t get a washing machine in there… :-)

  • avatar

    Same situation; considered the following:

    1. Volvo C30: awesome car, but doesn’t handle
    2. Mazda3: nice, but common.
    3. Mini Cooper S: sort of perfect, but $$$.
    4. BMW Z4 Coupe (used): amazing and tiny and same $$$ as Mini

    Scrolling through Autotrader I came across an incredibly low mileage, unmolested 2001 Honda Prelude SH. Paid cash and love its rarity, handling, 16″ tires and the fact that no one else ‘gets it.’

  • avatar

    Also go to

  • avatar

    Justin, You need to find a clean Subaru SVX. Rebuild the tranny – if that hasn’t been done already – and you’re off.

    You get iconoclastic style – harkening back – I might add – to the Citroen SM.

    You get stunning build quality (the build quality of the CV joints alone is enough to make Ettore Bugatti blush).

    And – as a bonus – you get to pretty much go anywhere you want – any time – unless the snow is just too deep.

    Great car! Had the “Fatherhood. Must get station wagon” trance not taken me, I’d still have one.

    It is NOT a sports car, mind you. It’s Ok in the twisties – depending on what you have on the wheels. It is a Grand Touring car that eats highways like a Dyson sucks dust out of corners: fast, silent and comfortable.

  • avatar

    BMW 318ti



    -jerks say it isn’t really a BMW

    -e36es break down less than an Alfa or Saab, but enough that they’re definitely European

  • avatar
    Brian E

    Lexus IS300 SportCross. You can thank me later.

  • avatar

    I like the IS300 suggestion. But if you want something that really looks unusual, go with the C30. And if that’s not good enough, JUST GET THE CITROEN!!! Sacre bleu!

  • avatar

    Saab 9-2x

    -I cannot do Alfa Romeo or Citroen with Honda quality, but I can do Saab with Subaru quality

    -Pretty rare


    -Available in WRX spec

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Hmmm… how about this???

    Stop getting these poseur cars. Go for a “I don’t give a shit” car and customize it to your heart’s content. I think Gatorbacks and racing stripes would be the perfect match for this manly wagon.

  • avatar

    Every car enthusiast should have at least one Alfa in his life; after all you’ve got a Volvo to fall back on. There’s a pretty blue ’74 GTV with only 42k miles up on eBay right now.

  • avatar

    Given your restrictions, I think I would give the RX-8 a good look over, then maybe the Subaru SVX and BMW M-coupe. Maybe a clean BMW 2002 touring if you could find one…

    It such a tricky question. When I turned 18 I set out to own a beater from different country every year, but eventually I found myself looking at cars made in Russia or Brazil and gave the whole idea up before I went broke. That said, one day I will own and drive a Tatra T603!

  • avatar

    If you’re up for going used, the old C36/C43’s Mercedes built in the late 90’s were uber cool, especially with the two tone interior.

    If you’re zeroing in on Volvo, what about the S60 R? More of a Q ship, granted, but you’d still have fun.

  • avatar

    Actually, the more I think about driving in NY, the more I like the Saabaru 9-2 suggestion…

  • avatar

    I usually don’t jump on these recommendation threads, but it sounds like you’d enjoy a Forester 2.5XT with the JDM Forester STi suspension and some regular STi wheels. Simple, somewhat understated, and fast, plus Subaru quirks and reliability. It’s a real head turner, too:

    You can get a more muted color combo, though.

  • avatar

    New Hyundai Tiburon, 2.7 V6 (sweet DOHC, sings like and Alfa, but doesn’t constantly break), and six speed.

    Better hurry, though. (But you’ll get a GREAT deal and have a very long warrantee – and very few duplicates on the road).

    Or if you prefer right-wheel-drive, wait for the new Hyundai Genesis coupe.

  • avatar

    Revving up an Alfa V6 to dowshift before a fast sweeper… brings a smile to my face just dreaming about it!

  • avatar

    How about a late model V70R. 300hp wagons aren’t that common.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    How about a GM clone of a Japanese car like the Saabaru or Pontiac Vibe.

    My thoughts too – the Saabaru 9-2X.

    Or a C30.

    Or a Mini.

    Or a Genesis coupe when they come out.

  • avatar

    In these recessionary times, arguably the best “weird” and rare bang for the buck out there – if you can find it – is a 3 door SAAB Viggen.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Kia Soul; be the first one in your town.

  • avatar
    Scorched Earth

    Second on the Subaru SVX!!! My favorite car ever.

    Another awesome old choice…a 3000GT VR4…find one with newly replaced turbos.

  • avatar

    For some reason I want an Alfa 75…

  • avatar

    Get something too weird and no one will even recognize it’s weirdness. i.e. The Alfa in the picture, most people will think it’s a Taurus or something.

    My advice is get a weird color on top of whatever car you want. Ruby? Sky blue?

    A silver 90s Maserati doesn’t get you noticed. An amber gold ES350 does, though. :)

  • avatar

    i’m not sure they have this model where you are, but i’d go for Subaru Legacy 3.0R Spec.B wagon with the manual transmission.

    might not be as outright fast as the turbo, but the 6 is so nice and with a new (likely uglier) Legacy around the corner, should be able to do a good deal

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    I’d wait until at least April and see what the new Insight is like. It won’t have power, but it will have utility off-the-charts (its a hatch), and it looks like it has one of the most driver-focused cockpits around.

  • avatar

    I love my weird Saab 9000, turbocharger and all. Then again, part of my maintenance routine is to purchase a bottle of classy booze for my mechanic monthly. Even with proper preventive maintenance, I’m now a member of the “Avis First” service level…

    You could go way out on a limb and purchase something that nobody else in the country owns.

    A Chrysler.

    Or a 1959 Singer Gazelle convertible.

  • avatar

    If I was in the US and wanted something different, small, fast and well screwed together then a personally imported Focus ST (or RS if really brave) would be top of the queue.

  • avatar

    Not too common? I just saw my first 4 door MINI! I thought I was seeing things and had to pull over to rub my eyes…it was parked next to a 4 door Jeep Wrangler.

  • avatar

    Although it isn’t available as a hatch or wagon, why not consider a Volvo 780. It’s as easy to keep as any turbo Volvo of that era, but has a rather more attractive coupe body manufactured in Italy by Bertone. They’re comfortable, more-or-less reliable and not the sort of car you see everyday. They can be had for just a few thousand dollars, and plenty of upgrades are available if you want to go that route.

  • avatar

    2008+ Subaru WRX (or STI) in 5-door trim!

  • avatar

    Evolution – the model with the wierd carbon fiber roof fins. Good car and chance Mitsubushi won’t even be around the US in a year or two should give additonal points. Rare, Overpriced, depreciate like a rock and more reliable than anyone would guess.

  • avatar

    92 Lancia Integrale Evo1!

  • avatar

    This is an old podcast right? Or did I go back in time again?

    Anyway, a 328 Wagon isn’t a mainstream sports sedan…It’s a wagon, and after the recent facelift it’s pretty neat looking too. Yes you see them around a lot, but that’s for good reason.

    On the jerks issue, I’m with TopGear on that one. Jerks have moved on to Audi, leaving BMW for the really car-loving ADD afflicted.

    Saab hasn’t had anything going for it since that Saabaru 9-2X from back in the day, but that would be a step back from the GTI. The 9-3 is an old Opel Vectra, the 9-5 is a design from 1997. Volvo is quirky, but in a ‘look how bland-yet strangely appealing’ way, the problem is they usually have bland handling. I like the V70 as a concept, but that’s not really the best car for an enthousiast to drive.

  • avatar

    “This is an old podcast right? Or did I go back in time again?”

    It is. I sent a message to Robert about it. The real podcast is on Autofiends if you want to hear it.

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