By on March 10, 2016


El Jo writes:

Hey Mr. Bark,

I’m looking for a reliable sporty or sportscar that I could get for under $6,000. This would be a daily driver, so it can’t be totally impractical, and I don’t want to have to take it to the mechanic all the time. It should be stick shift and newer if possible, at least a ’90s model. I’m not planning any track days, so the car would be something fun to drive on the street and on occasional trips through the twisties. Some obvious suggestions are a Civic Si or an NA Miata, but maybe you have a more unconventional answer?

If you have any interesting ideas that stretch the requirements just a little, I’d love to hear those too. I live near San Francisco.


God bless you, El. Or should I call you Jo? Regardless, I’ve spent my fair share of time bombing around the Bay Area, and I have a few cars in mind that I believe you’d enjoy greatly.

Before we begin, readers should know that the San Francisco used car market is pretty inflated in comparison to the rest of the country, due to all sorts of lightning rod economic issues, so some recommendations that I’d normally make won’t fly there. E36 and E46 BMWs, in particular, are far too expensive in NorCal.

2011 Scion tC, Image: Toyota

On the practicality scale, it’s hard to beat a Scion tC in this range. Enough power to be fun to drive with a good sized hatchback and dead reliable (just watch out for those hatch handles). If you were asking my opinion on what I’d personally buy with my money, it would be the tC all day long.

But, since I’ve recommended the tC on these pages fairly recently, let’s investigate other options, shall we?

2003 Mazda MX-5 Miata, Image: Mazda USA

While the NA Miata is an obvious choice, I don’t know why so many people sleep on the NB Miata. The NB has a dedicated community, and clean 1999 and 2000 model year examples can be found in excellent condition at the top of your price range. The NB is also less likely to have been hooned to death than your average NA, and it’s probably a more pleasant car to drive every day.

I’d also be remiss to not mention the Toyota MR2 Spyder. These are found at the top of your price range, but will also give the Honda S2000 a run for its money at autocross events with some light modifications. The MR2 Spyder of the early 2000s was known to have pre-catalytic converter issues that can fry the engine permanently, so find a mechanic who knows how to check for this issue if you’re considering one of these. The tops can be leaky, too, but we are talking about a 15-year-old car here — it’s to be expected.

2008 Pontiac Solstice, Image: General Motors

The early-year Pontiac Solstice is starting to fall into your price range, too, and it’s surprisingly quick and easy to drive hard. It still looks great on the road, too; I think the Solstice has aged much better (visually) than even the NC Miata. Problem is, the build quality on the Pontiac has always been suspect. At least many of its parts are shared with other GM cars, so it would be inexpensive to fix when things go pear-shaped. Just make sure that you never, ever, ever have to use the trunk for anything at all.

MINI Cooper hardtops are falling sharply into this price range now, and widely available in San Francisco, but I would avoid the temptation to look at one. They’re not particularly reliable, they’re not incredibly practical, and they’re not cheap to fix. Move along, nothing to see here.

2006 Acura RSX Type-S, Image: American Honda

If you’re thinking Civic Si, why not see if you can find a decent Acura RSX in your range? I’ve always been a fan of the RSX, and I think they’ve aged gracefully. The practicality factor on the RSX is very high — probably the most practical car we’ve mentioned here. They’re also holding their value, so if you sell it three to four years from now, you won’t lose much money, if any. Even an early 2000s Accord Coupe V6 could be a nice match.

Finally, the Ford Recommendation Of The Week is a New Edge Mustang GT. However, even I have to admit that an old Mustang in San Francisco is not the hippest car to have. So, with regret, I’m striking it from the list.

The official WWBD Top 3, in order:

  1. Acura RSX
  2. Scion tC
  3. Toyota MR2 Spyder

There you have it. Go forth and have a blast.

[Images courtesy of the manufacturers.]

Bark M. has been called the “Dear Abby of the Car Enthusiast Set” by noted advice columnist, Bark M. Send your car buying questions to him at [email protected], or find him in a social way on Twitter and Instagram

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83 Comments on “Ask Bark: Big Fun On A Small Budget?...”

  • avatar

    1995 Mustang convertible GT. Lotta fun and cheap to maintain and the bolt on go fast goodies are plentiful.

  • avatar

    I would throw in the Ford Focus SVT.

  • avatar

    No Mustang in Frisco .

    Wait , what ? .

    I saw this old movie once about some guys out for an early Sunday jaunt in a Mustang and a Dodge…..


  • avatar

    I would pick the Saturn Sky over the Solstice, just because I think it looks a million times better.

  • avatar

    There are a ton of options. It’s almost silly. There is definitely a wide range of what kind of potential headaches you will need to stomach though.

    BMW E36/E46
    BMW Z3
    Ford Contour SVT
    Honda Prelude
    Mazdaspeed Protege
    Nissan 350Z (don’t be scared of miles)
    Nissan Altima 3.5 SE (will need mods but is dirt dirt dirt cheap)
    Subaru WRX (be super careful)
    Subaru Forester XT (prob a safer bet, will need mods)
    Subary Legacy GT/B4 (prob the safest Subaru bet)

    There are def some potential bombs in there but if you can find a well maintained + clean + 1 or 2 owner example of any of those you should be good.

    • 0 avatar

      In NorCal, most of those options are over $8,000, much less $6,000.

      • 0 avatar

        As a Bay Area resident, I’m puzzled at your belief that you can’t get a good E36/E46 BMW for $6k. They’re thick upon the ground. Acura RSX’s hover in basically the same price range because demand is so strong. To me, RSXs, Civics, and Integras always look overpriced here in NorCal, and used BMWs are the bargain.

        • 0 avatar

          Do a Cars/AT/CarGurus search and be amazed. Anything under $6K is over 150,000 miles.

        • 0 avatar

          The BMW’s in this price range will probably be about due for the complete redo of the cooling system, and probably the ignition system…And the oil filter housing gaskets, and the intake gaskets, and the vacuum lines, and the disa valve, etc. A good car if you don’t mind working on cars; a horrible one if you’re paying someone else.

          • 0 avatar

            I mean a $6K fun car in general is going to be a dice roll. It’s def fair to point out that BMW can somehow make the M3 CSL, but still hasn’t quite figured out how to make a cooling system. Definitely something to consider.

        • 0 avatar

          It’s the manual transmission that’s rare there, judging from the AT and CL searches I just did, not believing Bark. I could almost get two E46 manuals in New York or Massachusetts for the price of one anywhere near San Francisco.

      • 0 avatar

        Fly somewhere else, drive it back?

        It’s a little riskier obviously but it’s not that bad. I’ve done it with a bike, but not a car

    • 0 avatar

      Prelude is very unreliable. Don’t do that. Practicality of Z3 is a suspect. The rest I don’t know much about, but maybe Protege. It was somewhat semi-competitive with 1G Neon, with a trunk kit.

  • avatar

    Isuzu axiom

  • avatar

    The issue is every single one of these cars, except possibly the Scion and maybe the Solstice, is going to have led a rough life at the hands of prior owners.

    You could also consider the Ion Redline or Cobalt SS, if you can find one in decent shape. GM did good work, there, and the Saturn is very cheap if you can find a good one and can put up with the interior.

    • 0 avatar

      The Sky is a looker and decent performer too. But you almost can’t even pick up a few groceries on the way home if you commute with a briefcase. They are a freaking joke in terms of useful space.

      Cobalt SS is hard to go wrong if you can find one unabused. The unloved (for some reason) supercharged SS actually had a decent aftermarket and would be much cheaper than a TC version.

      • 0 avatar

        Dave, you’d be surprised by how much space can be had in a Kappa for grocery runs. The space behind the seat will swallow a full paper bag, or a pair of full plastic disposable bags. I’ve gotten 2 or 3 full paper bags into the passenger side footwell, and another two on the seat. And that’s not counting the stuff I fit into the trunk.

        That said:
        The top has to be up.
        All bets are off with a passenger
        Don’t expect to run more than ONE errand before dropping stuff off at home.

        I’ve also used my solstice for home depot runs. A surprising amount of 8ft length lumber can be carried home with the top down. :-)

    • 0 avatar

      I love the SS as an option. Along the same vein, Saturn Ion Redline is basically the same engine and underpinnings, just a different body (a 4 door coupe!)

  • avatar

    Mazdaspeed6. Done.

  • avatar

    If you want to put a modern radio in your car, don’t buy an Accord newer than MY2002. Some people don’t care about featureless crap radios, but some do.

    Also get insurance quotes on any potential ride. Scion TC’s have some of the most disproportionately high insurance rates of any car. I remember someone saying that for him, insuring a Mustang GT would be cheaper than a TC.

    Good luck finding an Si or a stick shift RSX that hasn’t been riced to hell and back. But if you do, it’s a treasure.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Indeed. My insurer wanted more for a 2015 tC than:

      – a 2011 X5 xDrive35i
      – a 2012 535i RWD
      – a 2015 Mustang GT
      – a 2015 Golf R w/ DSG
      – a 2013 S4

    • 0 avatar

      Scion is/was trying so damn hard to be cool. At the Autoshow, they had their own area in the Toyota Area. They had a Scion DJ, a barber shop with a barber trying to look like Neil Patrick Harris in A Million Ways to Die in the West. And a bunch of decalled out Scions. It was truly sad.

  • avatar

    I actually think the RSX is a great choice, the type-s in particular has enough pep to keep up with somewhat sporty modern cars and it had a fairly reliable powertrain too. That said, I’m not sure it’s really all that practical the rear headroom is awful so if you want practicality the Civic Si hatchback that came out in 2002 would probably have it beat, it’s slower but you get a real hatch setup.

    • 0 avatar

      The K20A2 is truly the crowning jewel of the “VTEC, yo” era. Revs like a demon yet reasonably efficient and extremely reliable. With the exception of a slightly finicky 2nd gear synchro, the 6MT was great too. The Type S really was a pleasure to drive at 8 or 9/10s, yet it had very functional back seat and a hatch that could swallow an amazing amount of stuff. Great car.

    • 0 avatar

      The only thing I’d say about an RSX-S as a former owner is that while the price might be similar to an early eight generation (06-11) Civic Si, the Si is night and day better than the RSX when it comes to actual performance due to better suspension geometry and the included LSD.

      If OP doesn’t think he ever plans on taking it to an autocross though, it’s largely a moot point. OTOH, if you want to add an aftermarket radio, the stock bose unit on the RSX is an easy replacement with good OE-looking dash kits, where the Civic is a nightmare though it does have an aux-in. Plus you get a premium badge with the Acura, not so much on the Civic.


      Another thing worth noting, is that for $500ish, you can have roughly +15hp up top and 30ish in the midrange with the addition of a hondata re-flash and a cold air intake. I did that with mine and it was a huge difference. It lowers your VTEC point to 4800 and revs all the way to 8600, which made it even more fun.

      • 0 avatar

        The “cold air intake” is actually the opposite, and your performance gain to be had from is is only observable on the heinydyno. Hey my cars sounds more powafah, yo.

        Stick with the stock airbox (a CAI by design) and a high-quality paper filter, if you care about engine life. That 0.3HP gain at 8500 RPM isn’t worth the expense.

    • 0 avatar

      The front headroom is nothing special either. I’m 6’2″ and the RSX was never even an option. I bought a brand new 1987 Acura Integra RS because the sunroof in the LS took out all the available headroom. Same with the second gen, and there was never a third gen or an RSX without the sunroof, except the Type R.

  • avatar
    Frank Galvin

    If the OP is looking at 90’s models – consider the following (with a few odd ducks thrown in):
    1) Nissan 300 ZX
    2) SAAB 9-3 Viggen or some of the hotter 9000 / 9-5 variants. (always popular in the Bay Area)
    3) Nissan 240 sx (yes, I know most of them will be molested beyond belief, but maybe there is a clean example….maybe).

    Finally, if the OP is looking for something “non-conventional” – why not a late 90s Pontiac T/A? He’ll definitely have the unique ride.

  • avatar

    LSJ Cobalt
    LNF Cobalt would have ultra high miles, but you want the car that for a short time was the fastest FWD car on the ‘Ring right?

    I really like the RSX suggestion, but good look finding those in decent condition and not beaten to death. They are the next “Integra”

    If you like DIY work, what about a Fox Mustang GT for $4k and put $2k into handling mods?

    Base Solstice is okay, and you could always supercharge with a DDM kit if you need more power, but then at that point you might as well saved for the GXP. Handling mods do well on that car.

    What about a late model E36? Like the 328i coupe? That could be a neat idea.

    E30 is an option too, but good luck finding an owner who isn’t delusional about the car and its value.

    Old forgotten Porsche like a 924 or 944? Just make sure you know how to turn the wrench.

  • avatar

    Hold on…crazy thought incoming.

    Many of us live in flyover country. As has been mentioned, the prices here are a lot less. You can get a Miata in, say, OKC or Dallas or Omaha or wherever for this price range easily. Now, a full-size F150 with 125k on it? Not a chance with these gas prices, they just don’t depreciate. But sports cars? Everywhere, for much much less.

    So, since road trips also rule, and what we’re looking for should be reliable, why not fly out here to pick up something (factor in a few hundred out of the budget to Southwest) and bring it back? Obviously this will limit the choices to NOT picking a Craigslist special covered in stickers from Walmart’s automotive department, but that’s never a good choice anyway.

    I know, it’s crazy, but people here drive less per year, and you can stay south and minimize salt issues, and maybe save 30%? Too crazy to consider?

    • 0 avatar

      I could be mistaken, but I think he would have to find a CARB emissions-equipped version if he’s in northern Cali. Most (all?) of the middle of the country uses EPA guidelines, not CARB.

      • 0 avatar

        Contrary to popular belief, California makes allowances for cars that were made for other states. The restriction is that the car has to be at least two years old and have at least 7,500 miles. There is no need to modify the car if it complies with federal standards.

      • 0 avatar

        I brought a ’96 Cherokee with the four-banger into CA from FL a few years back. All it needed was a CARB-compliant cat; about $500 installed with the rest of the cat-back and a muffler. It breezed through the smog test, but had to go to ‘test only’ stations thereafter.

  • avatar

    Almost EVERY car mentioned so far in here is going to be more than $6K or not reliable.

    I agree with a V8 Mustang, simple, cheap, fast, easy to work on, giant aftermarket.

    If it were me, I’d search for an fox body LX 5.0L coupe (because they’re awesome, and I used to have one).

    • 0 avatar

      With the Fox body Mustangs, You can use 5.0 as a model designation, but not as an engine size, since it was actually 4.9L.

      Significant Digits Matter.

      Otherwise, it’s not a bad recommendation, but the person looking at an RSX or Miata typically does not X-shop pony cars.

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah, it was a 4.9L, thanks for pointing that out, sheesh.

        It’s ACTUALLY a 302, since the engine size was measured in cubic inches when it was first introduced.

        • 0 avatar

          It’s a 4.95 which makes it a 5.0 when you follow the rules of rounding.

          “Here’s the general rule for rounding:

          If the number you are rounding is followed by 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9, round the number up. Example: 38 rounded to the nearest ten is 401
          If the number you are rounding is followed by 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4, round the number down. Example: 33 rounded to the nearest ten is 30”

        • 0 avatar

          Ford always “metricified” the 302 to 5.0 in part because the 300 became 4.9.

          • 0 avatar

            This was one of THE MOST annoying things people would say to me when I had my Mustang…..

            “It’s really a 4.9L, did you know that…durrrr”

            Sheezus, NOBODY refers to this engine as the “4.9L” It’s either a “302” or a “five-oh”, but for some reason it makes some people feel better to point out the exact engine displacement.

  • avatar

    If the dude does live close to SF, he will regret the 5-speed purchase over an automatic (Even Bark’s brother saw the light when reviewing the latest VW GTI, he said the GTI auto is good for the Bay Area) – Once you do a few trips to San Francisco, you will burn your clutch something fierce in the hills. Plus a good condition RSX and MR2 Spider are also overpriced here in NorCal unless you get a car riced/hooned to near death. The RSX auto seems to me a better choice.

    • 0 avatar

      My Miata was fine even on the steepest hills in Seattle. Just use the handbrake while taking off.

    • 0 avatar

      If you burn up your clutch on the hills of SF, you deserve a slushbox!

    • 0 avatar

      The pain in the ass part about driving a manual in the Bay Area isn’t the hills, it’s the traffic. SF has steep hills, but they’re not everywhere and you’re not going to be driving on them often. Even if you do, competent manual drivers can manage.

      • 0 avatar

        This a thousand times. When you’re stuck in the 8 lanes to 1 lane funnel trying to get on the bridge and out of the city the clutch is a chore. I still never bought an automatic. The twisties all have hills, half the time down, so clutch FTW.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I’ll be singing this tune for a long time, but you want an actually reliable car in that price range that is fun to drive and is practical?

    Pop the hood! Pop the hood? Pop the hood!

    2JZ, my friend. Available in the Lexus IS300. Available with a stick, LSD, and a tight stock suspension. All of which are easily upgradable and tunable to sky’s-the-limit territory.

    You have to actively try to not get 250k miles out of them.

    Plus if the automatic isn’t a deal breaker or you don’t mind a trans swap, you can get it in pseudo-wagon form as well.

  • avatar

    “You have to actively try to not get 250k miles out of them”

    Yeah, it’s a great motor.

    A Ford 302 will do the same thing….in a full size van or pickup. Should be even better in a Mustang!

  • avatar
    Sam Hell Jr

    As a tC driver in TTAC residence, I’ll note that you’re looking at a pretty old car to find a clean one under $6k. Suckers hold their value. Figure on a 2004 or 2005 with serious miles, and make sure it hasn’t been in the hands of a high schooler.

    I kind of like the idea of an Accord Coupe, although the same age caveat applies. Still, a 2004ish EX with the right tires and brakes might fit the bill nicely. Plus you’re more likely to find one that’s been babied than some of the other suggestions here.

    Finally: how clearly did the man have to write “not an E36” for this comment section to get it? Do you people just murmur “E36” in your sleep or something? :)

    • 0 avatar

      They didn’t make a MY 2004 Scion tC. I agree with you though- a non-abused tC was the first the that popped into my mind halfway thru reading the OP’s post. Ideally a 2006 model, as the 2005 had buttons for volume adjustment instead of a knob- kill me!

      My mom had a 2005 for about 8 years and it served her quite well. I drove it all the time in high school, abused the hell out of it, and it always got us where we needed to go. You can fit a lot in it with the back seats folded forward.

      Psar, good to see you back, even if it’s for a short while. I know about being busy too, I was gone for quite a while from the site.

  • avatar
    Sam Hell Jr

    INB4 somebody starts hollering about a Celica.

  • avatar

    The biggest thing we need to know is how much you need to carry as a daily driver. I drove my Miata daily for a few months while I was in between DDs. It was doable, but things like costco runs became a bit more difficult. Picking up a Costco sized pack of toilet paper required driving with it in the passenger seat top down. If you can live with that, the Miata will be the perfect car for you.

  • avatar

    Nothing does “cheap, reliable sports car” like a Miata. Bark is right that $6,000 will get a clean NB in many parts of the US, and they’re a little more solid and quicker than the NAs (not to mention newer), although you lose the pop-up lights. Beneath the sheet metal they’re basically an NA with some refinements – stiffer body, a little more rear suspension travel, a little more power, glass rear window, etc. Parts are readily available and cheap. The aftermarket offers everything you might want. Online resources for them are fantastic. They’re among the easiest modernish cars to work on that I can think of. The engine bay is big enough to house an LS V-8, so there’s gobs of space around the stock 4 banger.

    For a 10+ year-old car that’s going to be daily driven, you want reliability and you want low maintenance costs. An E36 or especially a Porsche won’t give you that. A Prelude could, but I don’t know how easy it’ll be to find a clean one for $6k. More practical and quicker than a Miata, but obviously with a different feel.

  • avatar
    Philip Lane

    I just faced exactly this question in replacing my third (spare) car. It’s an extra car I need to have because my daily driver is a plug-in electric and sometimes I need triple digit range, and sometimes I need to go somewhere at five-minutes notice when my car isn’t fully charged.

    I considered (at least briefly) every car on this list, but some just aren’t practical because my wife is pregnant, and a 2-seater is no longer acceptable for me. I’ll have to put two adults and a child seat in this car at some point. I’m willing to contort myself into the back seat of a coupe to do so. I also arbitrarily set a minimum horsepower requirement at 240-ish. Less is enough in some circumstances. I found that 227 was sufficient for fun in a WRX, but not in a 20th Anniversary Maxima. YMMV.

    I considered a V8 swap into an E30 or E36. Ford 302 swaps are relatively easy to complete and much cheaper than LSX. There’s not as much potential, but my power target wasn’t that high.

    New Edge Mustangs can be had for cheap, and on my crazier days, I even considered a V6 Mustang with a 4.2 swap out of an F-150. Getting to 240 crank horsepower from one of those isn’t a big stretch, and it’s lighter than a modular V8. With one of these I would have gone totally nuts and swapped a Cobra IRS.

    But a couple weeks ago I knocked some sense into myself. I’m working full-time, in graduate school, and I’m having a baby. I don’t have time for a project car, and even if I did, my spare car has to be ready at a moment’s notice.

    I bought a 2004 Accord V6 6-speed.

    • 0 avatar

      Excellent choice! My 1997 Passat TDi sat in my driveway for almost five years (during which time we had our two kids) before I finally fixed the leaky injection pump seals. You made the right decision at your point in life.

      Project cars are great, but when they sit in the garage or driveway for years (taking up valuable space you could be using for something else), they really can get to be a drag mentally/emotionally – for me, it gets depressing as you see it every day and think “today is another day that I don’t have the time or energy to work on that.”

  • avatar

    The nice things about Miata’s and e36s are that: 1) there’s a lot of enthusiast owned cars for $3500 for sale. They have rollbars (miata), sport suspension, and are well maintained. They also have a build-path that allows you to autox, track, or race with competitive cars. They are 20 year old cars though.

    If you’re looking of odd ball answers, you’re not going to get a desirable looking car. The difference between the well-known cars and the in-the-rough cars are looks. You want an odd recommendation… a Cobalt. Not even an SS, but an LT. They are SUPER fun on the street because they have easily accessible handling; you can trail-brake them for days. Easily my favorite rental car back in 2009.
    Neons are the ultimate budget track beater. Those are true beaters though. You’ll pay a big premium for a similar era honda or nissan.

    Another answer is a 99+ 4.6 Mustang GT. Look for one with Maximum Motorsports parts already on it. Every once in a while, these get sold by an enthusiast and they go for $5k or so. They aren’t the Cobra motor, but they make the same Tq and the power is super accessible in a way you can’t get today. If the motor pops while you’re having fun, it’s not expensive to replace. The downside are the look and rear suspension – you’ll want a “Torque arm / Panhard Bar” or IRS setup for track work.

    Looking back, I’d find a enthusiast car with a build path, so you can take it from street car to track car to race car.

  • avatar

    When I saw that blurred coupe, the crazy part of me thought Cobalt SS…

    Better go take my meds

  • avatar

    How about an EP3 Civic Si?

  • avatar

    I’m pretty sure that the MR2 Spyder fails the not totally impractical criterion. Hard.

    Also, I’ve seen a few mentions of the Ion Redline. While I personally don’t like them, this one is under 6K and has fairly low mileage.

  • avatar

    Keeping in mind that your tastes and needs may change so depreciation matters, I’d just throw the GT back in Barks list. That, and the usual used car caveat, the individual specifics of a cars history are far more important than the make/model by the time they get to $6k.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Why not look for a C4 vette? Can be had with a manual, are a hoot to drive, fairly reliable and they don’t peg the desirability meter like the BMW’s. So perhaps you can find more car for the dough?

  • avatar

    I have an NB Miata and it works reasonably well as a daily driver. Unlike the MR2 Spyder and Solstice, it has enough trunk space for a grocery run or for carry-on luggage. But it’s loud and rough. The noise gets on my nerves drives over an hour. (Mostly road noise from other vehicles near me.) It’s been reliable and a ton of fun, of course. Great car, just a bit on the hardcore side if you have a long commute. And it’s not great on gas. I get 21-23 mpg.

  • avatar

    Do you need the ability to carry more than one passenger or more than a 6 pack home from the store?

    If you answered no then proceed to craigslist and enter the word Miata in the search box.

    If you answered yes then proceed to craigslist and enter the word Mustang into the search box.

  • avatar

    Lincoln Continental Mark VIII.

  • avatar

    After searching a bit: wow, the prices are ridic in SF, and nobody buys manuals, especially not BMW drivers. The RSX, TC, or Mustang ideas are a little underwhelming to my mind though. I see a couple (literally only a couple) of manual G35s around. The IS300 idea seems interesting. Surely eventually someone will sell a well-kept E46 with a stick out there for a reasonable price, but not today it seems. How about ditching reliability and getting an RX-8? I see a couple of those. What a wasteland it is out there, between car prices and rents, I’d suggest moving to L.A. as the most sensible option.

  • avatar

    Caliber SRT4?

    Seriously I would love a sky or a MR2 spyder but it’s hard to justify the two seater when you have 3 little kids.

    Odd ball choice if you can find it Tacoma S-runner. I really like the X-runner too but their not down in the under 10k price yet.

  • avatar

    2004 or 2005 Pontiac Vibe or Toyota Matrix GT with the 6-speed manual.

    Nothing super special but the VVT engine is rev happy, it will take to being tossed around, you can find them for under $6K, and they are strangely practical from a passenger and cargo carrying stand point. That particular combination of engine and transmission is quite reliable.

    I think all the other recommendations are kind of played out above.

  • avatar

    First year Solstice owner here. The mechanicals for the most part are reliable. Given that it’s mostly a parts-bin car, this is to be expected.

    Things that break:

    Driver may brake if the airbags fail to deply. MAKE SURE THE IGNITION SWITCH RECALL IS DONE.

    The keyfob is crap. But all of the GM keyfobs of the same era were crap. Get a nice aftermarket one from an alarm/audio shop.

    Bad catalytic converter, which was covered by a recall.

    Diff requires an additive to the fluid, so make sure your dealer adds this.

    Your outside door handles will fail. Expect to replace them at least once. I think these were recalled.

    The passenger side cup holder will fail. Don’t bother to replace this, but if you must, a nice billet aluminum one is available from

    The plastic trim where the seatbelt exits the cabin trim will break. I just threw some slit hose around the now larger exit hole, and called it a day.

    Make sure that the area the top drops into in the “Trunk” is clear of all objects before you lower it, or you run the risk of tearing the top.

    The bolts holding my headlights to the hood eventually backed out, leaving the light hanging. Replacements bolts should recieve loctite or something similar to keep this from happening.

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