Conner (Conner? Is that a real name?) writes:
Twenty-three-year-old car buying millennial here.
I recently got my first big boy job that pays big boy money. But because I’m definitely not a big boy yet and have nearly no responsibilities other than making rent, I’m going to spend it on silly things like cars and candy. (Effing bravo! –Bark).
I bought my first car three years ago, and I’m possibly the only person to win German luxobarge reliability roulette with an ’03 Audi allroad 2.7TT. (Brown: Check. Wagon: Check. Sorry B&B, not a manual diesel.) It has yet to lunch a turbo, and I’ve learned a lot by fixing the little things that have come up. I love this machine and will be keeping it as my dedicated AWD winter wagon/shit hauler/adventuremobile in addition to whatever I get next.
However, the winter-limo is neither the most fun nor most practical thing to scoot around my central Idaho ski town during the non-winter months. So, I’m looking for something much more fun and slightly more economical to become its stablemate.
My budget is around $17,000, with $20,000 on the higher end. I think that I would prefer a hot(-ish) hatchback of some kind where I can row my own, but am open to pretty much any and all suggestions. The Audi has spoiled me in terms of comfy seats, a quiet cabin, and a good stereo. Stuff like this would be certainly appreciated in whatever comes next. New or used is fine, and I have no allegiances or aversions to particular brands. American, German, Japanese, whatever.
The shortlist I’ve got so far goes something like this:
- Fiesta ST (frontrunner)
- Focus ST (bigger than I need)
- Mk. VI GTI (VW sucks for cheating, but this is still a good car)
- S2000 (I’ve just always thought these were cool for whatever reason)
- WRX Hatch (least favorite, but it checks nearly every box)
I know that this list is likely missing a number of great candidates, so please help me either expand or narrow my search! As mentioned, I live in central Idaho, but would have no problem traveling just about anywhere in the northwest for the right car.
Many thanks in advance!
Oh, Conner. You’re just so Millennial-ish! You might not realize this, but us Gen Xers used to be young, too. When I was your age, my choices were not anywhere near as good as what you have available to you today. When I was 23, I bought a freaking Hyundai Tiburon with 140 horsepower — and my friends were completely jealous because I had a new car. I paid $13,000 for it. Oh, those were the days.
Where were we? Oh, yes, I was saying that it’s unbelievable how far we’ve come in the last 15 years. It truly is a golden age for cheap, safe speed. Also, get off my lawn. Seriously. I just had TruGreen out to treat it.
I know that you aren’t going to drive this car much in the winter, so I don’t think the driveability of the car in the cold is a huge deal. That’s good, because all of the cars you mentioned are downright awful in the snow without an investment in winter wheels and tires. Having the Audi around will save you money and frustration, and it will keep the snow and salt off of your new toy.
I’m going to address your list from least preferred to most, and then we’ll talk about some additional ideas.
The newest S2000s are nearly a decade old now, and even in their primes, they are just not that great to drive on a daily basis. I have more S2000 seat time than most, and I wouldn’t recommend having one as a daily, even if you don’t have to drive it in the snow. I would imagine that a lot of the S2000s in your price range have been driven hard and put away wet, so get ready to get intimately acquainted with the differentials and axles if you decide to get one. Bark doesn’t recommend an S2000 for anybody who is not intending to use it as a dedicated track/autocross toy.
WRX Hatch checks all the boxes, I agree — except for the box of you actually liking it. For that reason alone, you should remove it from your list. If it doesn’t light you on fire, then why on Earth would you spend your money on it? Just because the Internet says it’s neat? Bah. Next.
This hurts me to say this, but the Fiesta ST doesn’t check any of the boxes you mentioned. Comfy seats? Not really. Quiet cabin? No. Good stereo? No. The FiST is about as close as you can get to the E30 M3 in a modern car, which is a great thing until you need to drive it every day. The suspension is mega-stiff, the brake pads wear very quickly (and are hard to source come replacement time), and you can’t put adults in the back seat for any length of time. While I love mine, I don’t think it’s the right car for you.
The Focus is a little more refined than the Fiesta. And while you might think it’s too large now, the first time that you have to take some friends somewhere, you might be glad that you have the extra space. It’s less bumpy and had a slightly better stereo, but the seats are still not super comfortable. I’m 5’9″ and 170-175 pounds, and I don’t fit in the FoST Recaros very well. You’re probably super fit and trendy and what not, so maybe that’s not a concern for you, but I wouldn’t want to drive it every day.
Which leaves us with the GTI. I find it amusing (in a good way) that you have a negative opinion of Volkswagen as a company for “cheating.” Personally, I don’t give a fuck if their cars pollute the environment, but I realize that people of your generation are programmed to look for micro-aggressions and triggers and whatnot, so you have to consider whether or not your Idaho ski town buds would leave nasty notes on your windshield, accusing you of being a dirty carbon-fouler, blah, blah, blah. I doubt if any of them truly understand the nature of the “cheating,” or how many cars other than VW are actually cheating cold-start tests and the like as we speak, but if it keeps some hot snowbunny from putting your legs over your shoulders in the back seat … well, we don’t want that. If I were the one making the buying decision, I’d go GTI. But, I think I have a better idea.
There’s a brand that’s so popular in the Pacific Northwest that if one were to live there full time, you’d think that it actually had a non-trivial share of the automotive market. Of course, I’m talking about Subaru. I know that you don’t care for the WRX hatch, but why not consider a BRZ? They’re in your price range, they’re attractive, and they really do check every box that you have. If you want to get into a little bit of modding, there are oodles of forums that will help you turn your BRZ into a rip-snorting mountain road scalpel. The ladies will dig it. You’ll have fun driving it. It’s a win-win.
Go find a lightly-used BRZ, save some loot for some power and suspension upgrades, and you’ll be the happiest millennial this side of Justin Bieber. Christ, I’m old.
Please make sure to drink your Ovaltine, and also to email your questions to Bark at [email protected] He also dispenses wisdom 140 characters at a time on Twitter, and he takes terrible quality photographs on Instagram.