The commenter known as Economist writes:
I, like you, am a committed family man with two small children. Both of them are in car seats. I currently drive a 2007 Acura TL, but I miss the small cars of my youth.
I dream of getting a Miata like I used to have years ago, but I don’t know if I will get enough utility from it to make it worth the expense. I was also considering an S2000 or an older Corvette.
The biggest concern I have is that I will never be able to take my sons for a ride in my cool car if I get a two-seater, and all the cool four-seaters are either really expensive (fun BMWs) or two-doored things that are not compatible with a rear-facing baby seat (Camaro). Fords are off the table as my family will disown me.
My question is thus: What would you do in my situation? Stick it out in the paid-off TL until the kids get older? Get a Miata to have fun in but never drive with the kids? Find the perfect four-door fun car in the same price range as a used S2000?
Whenever I get a question like this, I wonder to myself, “Does the reader want good economic advice? Or does the reader want good car enthusiast advice?”
The reason I ask this is because I’m relatively certain that there’s a large segment of the B&B that doesn’t understand that there is a difference between the two, which can be frustrating at times. Any recommendation I give to any reader is often knee-jerk countered with, “WHY DON’T U SAVE UR MONIEZ AND KEEP UR CAR UNTIL THE FRAME RUSTZ AWAY?” This makes me want to break things. Very rarely is good car enthusiast advice also good economic advice. I think we’re all capable of understanding that … aren’t we?
However, in this case, since you call yourself “Economist,” I feel fairly certain that you’re aware of what good economic advice is, and I think you’re looking for me to help you give yourself permission to make an unwise economic decision. Mr. Economist, you’ve come to the right place!
I don’t think that you really want to exclude the kiddos from the fun. How fun is driving a great car if you can’t share it with those who mean the most to you? For that same reason, I don’t think that you want to wait until they’re older, either. You’ve got the chance to make some great memories with them now. Who knows what kind of disaffected, angst-ridden people our kids will become as teenagers? Better to indoctrinate them into a lifetime of automotive fun while you’ve got the chance. So, four doors and four seats it is.
“Same price range as an S2000” gets a little sketchy for me. I’ve done a whole bunch of S2000 piloting over the years in AP1, AP2, and CR models, and let me give you fair warning: there’s no such thing as a cheap S2000. Even AP1 models with 150,000 miles still fetch in excess of $10,000. (Hey, Honda, did you hear that? People liked your sports car. Try building another one sometime!) In fact, any S2000 with a price tag under $15,000 should throw up red flags everywhere. Honda Financial’s willingness to buy anybody with a 550 credit score or higher on one of these things when they were for sale means that you’re likely to see some rather well-loved examples for sale by private sellers. It’s hard to think of many non-exotic cars that have held their value as well as the S2000.
Therefore, I’m going to put your Four Door Sports Car (don’t sue me, Nissan!) budget at right around $15,000. I’m not sure exactly what qualifies as “sporty” for you, so I’ll come up with my own parameters: rear-/all-wheel drive, 240 horsepower or more, decently sport-tuned suspension, newer than your current car, able to fit rear-facing seats, and, of course, four doors. Let’s see what fits neatly inside, shall we?
You mentioned BMWs as being expensive — and they certainly can be expensive to own — but a good, used E46/E90 isn’t necessarily all that expensive to buy. There are no shortage of 3 Series sedans in your price range, including this low-mileage example with complete service records listed for under $13,000. The 328i motor tends to have fewer issues than the 335i motor of the same generation, so you’d likely have a decently solid car on your hands here.
How about a C-Class from the same era? This chap is having a bit of a hard time selling his C 300 Sport and just reduced the price to $14,000. Again, low miles here, but I don’t have access to a CarFax or AutoCheck. There are several other examples within your range, as well, but this one looks the nicest.
The problem with some of the BMWs and Benzes within your range is that many of them have a dirty CarFax, and as such they end up at Buy Here Pay Here lots, especially around tax season. So, if you do go the German route, be sure to buy from a reputable dealer and insist on having a pre-purchase inspection done by a trustworthy mechanic.
For some near-luxury, torquey fun, this Infiniti G37 sedan at $14,000 looks to be a steal. Clean CarFax, kind of a cool color, and a tint job that’s … well, you could have the tint removed. Hopefully the previous owner left a gold chain or two in the map pockets.
A bit of an outside-the-box thought for you: check out this Hyundai Genesis 3.8 at $14,000. I’ve driven my share of them, and they’re not short on power or space. I haven’t heard of many service issues with them (doesn’t mean there are none), and they’re suitably grown-up while still being fun to drive.
But, my final recommendation for maximum fun with maximum room? Why, it’s a Pontiac G8 GT, of course. They’re squeaking down into your price range now, and if you can locate an unlimited supply of lower control arms then you’ll have a reliable car that’s torquey enough to spin the tires, handles well enough to set the fastest time of the day at an autocross (yes, I did that once in mine), and has gobs of room in the back seat for kiddos who will assuredly be giving you the thumbs up as you slide it sideways around turns. Later, when things do inevitably break, it will be much less expensive to fix than any of the imports (yes, I know the G8 is technically an import).
Have at it, Best & Brightest.
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