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.
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?
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.
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.
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:
- Acura RSX
- Scion tC
- 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.