Hammer Time: Gunfight at the Cheapskate Corral

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang

A 2008 Suzuki Forenza. After reading the owner reviews, it pained me to even think about buying the car. I found a 2008 S model on eBay for $6700 (incl. bogus fees). Only 7500 miles? What a deal! But for whom? Since this car was sub-par for a multitude of ‘too cheap for their own good’ owners, I deep-sixed it. That left on eBay a Kia Rio LX, a Chevy Aveo LT, a Ford Focus SE (with about 15k more miles), and the ringer: a 2008 Toyota Yaris. Prices/mileage were $7100/16k, $8000/21k, $8500/33k and, ahem, $10,700 with 12k. All automatics. All with power windows/locks. None with sunroofs or any other high end stuff. Just good solid A to B transportation with a lot of good owner feedback. On second thought, screw it. I don’t believe a tightwad would be happy with real world fuel economy in the mid-20s so I’m nixing the Aveo. Begone! As for the other three . . .

You may remember that I lambasted the Kia Rio in a prior review. And, yes, as a new car in stripper form, it’s as competitive as Cyndi Lauper taking on Andre the Giant. But give it some power features, a/c, power steering, and depreciation worthy of a Korean car and the story changes. Owners apparently like it in this trim. So I drove one. It’s nice, in a very average sort of way. In fact I found it to be almost identical in function and form to a Chevy Cobalt. The ride is quiet. Seats are comfortable. In automatic form, the mileage stays above 30. The LX offers a trip computer, cruise. It’s cheap but functional. Blah, blah, blah. Heck it’s a damn long lost Korean twin of the Chevy Cobalt LT.

Other pluses? Kia has a five year/60,000 mile warranty on it even if it’s bought used. Cobalts have a five year 100,000 mile warranty. But who cares? This is average reliable transportation. If you’re looking for average A to B and value cost über alles, a Chevy Rio or Kia Cobalt will likely do fine for those friends of yours who can’t tell the difference.

The Ford Focus? Well, now we’re getting somewhere interesting. Yes, Robert panned it and buying a 2008 still puts you in the first year of the model run. But the owners apparently like it a lot. Even more so than the Rio/Cobalt that is going on an average 4.5 blah years.

Why? Well, I can absolutely say with 100+ percent certainty that the seats are better. The stereo system with SYNC is a far nicer setup. The engine is a bit more playful. It’s ugly (godawfully) but in virtually all respects it seems like a step-up from the other two. If you’re willing to pay a small premium and go against the anti-spending nature of a true tightwad, the Focus is a pretty good model. Farago be damned.

Finally we have the Yaris. I’ve driven a Toyota for 12 years but somehow this four-door model struck me as bland and weird. Gauges just don’t belong in the center. I understand the ergonomics and cost justification. But it’s . . . well . . . just haunting to drive with no readouts in front of you. I never got over that. The ride is a bit more detached than the others. But the quality is evident and I can see this vehicle still on the road in 20 years. The others?

12 years? Definitely. 15 years? With enough care and a conservative driving style that would be fine. 20 years a la Paul Niedermeyer’s neighbor? Well there’s the sign of true frugality. But I really don’t know if the economies of car ownership are going to change dramatically by that time. I’m inclined to say, “Yes.” So with another near-new car purchase needed between 2020 and 2025, I would dictate the following.

The hardcore tightwad who is apathetic towards cars would be fine with a near-new Rio or the common Cobalt. Audiophiles can put the Focus on the list. The fearful would choose the Yaris. Although a Nissan Versa would be a far better deal. And there’s the rub. If you want cheap AND good you have to accessorize and customize these cars. With the enthusiast in mind I would say screw all of them and buy a Versa. On the cheap of course.

Steven Lang
Steven Lang

More by Steven Lang

Join the conversation
2 of 29 comments
  • Rudiger Rudiger on Jul 03, 2009
    psarhjinian: "The North American Versa is built in Mexico. I’m not faulting Mexican workers per se, but plant of origin can make a huge difference for what would otherwise be an identical product (see: 99-03 Ford Focus, for example)"I remember looking at a brand-new, Mexican-built Focus on a dealer's lot once. The rear hatch wouldn't latch properly (it just kind of flopped around loose). It was pretty egregious that a defect like that would get past quality control at the factory (even for a bottom-feeder, $10k, no A/C, strippo econobox like that Focus). The Mexican-built Dodge Neon didn't exactly enjoy a sterling quality reputation, either.
  • Ronnie Schreiber Ronnie Schreiber on Jul 03, 2009

    Steven, Can you email @ rokem@netzero.net? A friend of mine had two cars die, is looking for a couple of four door sedans and I was wondering what you had in inventory.

  • Lou_BC Ironic, the Honda Ridgeline, a truck that every truck guy loves to hate is in 6th place.
  • 28-Cars-Later I keep forgetting I own it, but the space look on the ext cab reminds me of my 'Yota pickup of the same model year. I'm pretty sure there is some vintage of Hilux which features the same looking ext cab window (maybe '88?) its a shame these things are mostly gone and when available are $1,000,000,000 [INSERT CURRENT CURRENCY].
  • Sayahh Imagine if Ford had Toyota design and build a Mustang engine. It will last over 300k miles! (Skip turbo and make it naturally aspirated.) Maybe Yamaha will help tune it...
  • Sobhuza Trooper Isuzu's crime was to build some damn good trucks.Shame on them.
  • El scotto Listen, unless you were Lord Headly-Stempmoor or such when you got off the off the boat, boot in Canada, you got the short end of the stick. People got on the boat, these days a plane, to escape famine, becoming cannon fodder in yet another stupid war, or the government thought it was A-OK to let soldiers kill you. Juneteenth is just a way to right one of the more bad ideas in the American experiment. Instead we have commenters who were buying tater chips and diet soda at Wal-Mart and got all butt-hurt because they heard someone who wasn't speaking English. I'm going to go fix a couple of frankfurters with salsa and guacamole and wash them down with a lager or three