Hammer Time: The $20,000 Question

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
hammer time the 20 000 question

Have you ever been made an offer you couldn’t refuse? You never know when it might happen, so a little practice can’t hurt. Here’s the scenario: thanks to one of my old friends from New Jersey who has an amazing collection of Louisville Sluggers, 200 thousand dollars has been allocated to TTAC’s writers. $20,000 each. You’re welcome.

There is one catch.

The writers at TTAC have to buy a new car. That’s right. One new car (no BOGO free deals for a leftover Aveo). It can be anything they like. Hyundai, Toyota, Chevy… Jaguar? Fat chance! These fellows can go a little over the $20k mark on the MSRP. But the real world price before tax, title, bullshit fees etc. has to be no more than $20k.

So what car will they get? Will they follow the bleating herd of Billy Joel fans and buy something more milquetoast than a Milan? Perhaps a beige Camcord with an off-creme interior? Or maybe a Jetta that’s been as thoroughly decontented as Christina Aguilera’s last album? Or will it be something a bit more in your face? Like a… well… let me get to that later. I have to go move some mink coats. Just remember, when you’re taking favors from guys in a certain line of work, every decision has consequences…

Ronnie Schrieber: Twenty grand for a car? I wish the rules didn’t specify a new car as I’d use the 20Gs to restore my Elan. Does anyone make anything with more than 200HP and AWD in that price range? If not I’ll take a Honda Fit with a K20 retrofit. Or maybe find a 2010 Ford Ranger 4cyl 5-speed for about $14K and put the rest into the Elan.

Note: Ronnie received the Billy Batts treatment soon after I forwarded this to one of the Goombas.

Murilee Martin: I would go for a 2011 Hindustan Ambassador Classic, which retails in Mumbai for 482,000 rupees (about $10,700). The remaining $9,300 should cover shipping, baksheesh to customs officials, and the money I’ll spend trying to get it registered in Colorado. The Ambassador is essentially a 1948 Morris Oxford with an Isuzu 1800cc engine, so I’d be combining pre-British-Leyland Morris styling with late-20th-century crypto-GM drivetrain technology.

The guys appreciated Murilee’s attempt to bring in some ‘new culture’. Unfortunately they didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. So Bugsy & Co. delivered to him a non-running, island hopper Suzuki X-90. The rest of the money is in the mail.

Jack Baruth: I would put my money on a stick-shift Mazda5. Plenty of room for my son, my guitars, and the occasional rebuilt Neon racing motor. Yeah, it’s slow by today’s standards, but so is a Miura. The rest of the $20K would go to tint the windows. Don’t laugh: your wife might be in here.

More like more kids from multiple mistresses. ‘Comare’ in Mafia speak. In fact, legend has it that the name Mafia comes from “me fighia,” the Sicilian word for “my daughter,” as in “call those guys with guns because Jack Baruth is after “me fighia” [Ed: this is factually incorrect, but fuhgeddaboutit]. We kid Jackie, we envy you. And we know a guy who can guarantee his tint will conceal 98.7% of all indiscretions.

Marcelo De Vasconcellos:

Since it’s a present and provided I already had my family’s transportation needs covered, it’s pretty easy. If I had 20,000 USD to spend now, on a brand new car, I’d head on over to my friendly Nissan dealer. I’d get a Juke. The S model starts at just under 19 000. So, I don’t really know if it’d fit into the criteria (after tax etc.). If not, I’d get a Cube. I like it. At 14 000 it easily fits the bill. And I’d have a roomy, economic, funky car to roll.

If my family was in need of a better car, I’d stay at Nissan, too. I like the Tiida. Hatch or sedan. Roomy and economic, though not at all funky. But that’s ok for a family (commute) car.

The guys were looking at their gen-u-ine Rolexes by the time Marcelo got to his 2nd sentence. After a while they just figured that he was speaking in Portuguese (possibly because he called the Versa by its non-US-market name). They bought him a Cube and gave it a landau-style opera top.

Edward Niedermeyer: I’ve got fun covered when it comes to cars, so what I need is practical. I hear the call of the box-on-wheels. A stripped Transit Connect would put me about two grand over budget (before a $500 cash-back incentive), but I could work that off in short order by starting a weekend delivery/drunk bus service (in all my spare time). If the judges don’t take kindly to this kind of rule-bending, I’ll take a Kia Soul with a manual transmission and that some of that natty houndstooth upholstery.

Ed always has the best ideas. Unfortunately, he also has expensive taste, and at $22k, a lot of other options open up. Luckily the family already has a small fleet of Transit Connects we bought when it got too expensive to regularly transport bodies (for medical research only, of course) in Suburbans. We’ll give him one of our used models (low miles, minimal bloodstains) and throw in the houndstooth upholstery to make up for it.

Sajeev Mehta: I’ve personally considered driving something with less than 6-figure mileage, less than a decade old but with cheap/honest construction. I’ve caught myself using the “Build & Price” feature on Ford’s website for the last real compact truck: a regular cab XL, four-banger, 5-speed, dark shadow grey Ranger. Don’t be too surprised, especially when MSRP minus rebates is a tick under 18-large. Which leaves money in the kitty for a junker 1999 Mercury Mountaineer with soft bucket seats, intact front clip and fancy wheels in which to do a complete Mercury truck conversion: M-2300 pick-em up, here I come!

Sajeev always has an angle. It’s a good thing in our line of work. After further commiseration, the family decided that we would throw in some mud tires on the Ranger so that Sajeev can visit some of the more remote regions of our travels. And it should go without saying that the world’s first Mercury pickup would be incomplete without (you guessed it) an opera top.

Alex Dykes: I’d go for the new 2012 Ford Focus. Long the desire of Euro-wannabes, the new 2012 Focus is finally about the same car as Europeans snap up like candy. In SEL trim it eeks over the $20K mark but haggling can cut that back by a grand. Decent interior, SYNC and competitive mileage make this my ideal commuter.

The good thing about Alex is that he always makes sense. Then again, the bad thing about Alex is that he always picks bad fights for mere cents. Alex also happens to corner the market on gumball machines in his neck of the woods. He had a blood fight with the ‘I want my $2’ gang also known as Better Off Dead. Alex recently got pummeled and ran over multiple times with a Schwinn. So the boys will pretty much always give in to what he wants these days.

Bertel Schmitt:

Also known as ‘Vinny Blue Eyes’ was not immediately available for the offer. Our accountant has decided to keep the money in a 999 year CD with a -1% interest rate for Bertel’s own good (he probably would have tried to buy BYD with the $20k).

Michael Karesh: I haven’t driven the Focus yet, and the Fiesta suggests I’ll be disappointed in its handling. Not sure I could live with the styling of the Mazda3. So make mine a Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback GTS. Fun to drive, practical, and a very long warranty.

A Mitsubishi for Mr Karesh? Did anybody see that one coming? It’s not often that a Goodfella finds himself speechless, but there you have it. And since the majority of Mitsubishi dealers are actually fronts for our organization (hey, a guy’s gotta make a buck somehow), a Sportback should be no problem.

Steven Lang: I’m addicted to small cars. Call it a penchant for efficiency or a deep yearning for a car/driver experience. When I drive I want to be ‘involved’. A base Mini Cooper would be my #1 choice. But you can’t find them in a base model. Anywhere. So it won’t pass the 20k test.

Since that’s the case I’ll take…welll… In my world, the 6-Speed CR-Z is absolutely the most under-appreciated car of the modern day. Plenty of sport and comfort with 40+ MPG’s to boot in the real world. Along with great potential for add-on’s that will come directly from the hardcore enthusiast community. The CR-Z in EX trim is far better than the EPA/CRX numbers and standards suggest.

The real reason Steve wanted a small car is that he hates transporting our former clientele. Fine then. We’re going to give Steve a pink Geo Metro with pink elephants on either side of the hood. The rest of the money goes to the same unique financial instrument that Bertel has at the moment. Oh one more thing. The only air the Metro comes from the bone crushing bumps of the nearby railroad tracks. Andiamo Stefano!

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3 of 66 comments
  • Deanst Deanst on Mar 18, 2011

    Jack Baruth is an absolute genius - of course the "correct" answer is a stick-shift Mazda5. I am in no way biased in this view, despite the fact that I bought a stick-shift Mazda5 last week. Even with Canadian taxes, the total was about $2 less than the $20,000 guideline! (And I thought GM was the only manufacturer offering $5000 incentives.) On a more serious note, I believe this is the only 6-passenger vehicle now offered with a stick shift. (With the possible exception of some pick ups.)

    • Michael Karesh Michael Karesh on Mar 18, 2011

      I would have picked a Mazda5 myself, but Mr. Lang said this one was for my personal needs, as I had a Taurus X for the family.

      If I could have only one car for the family, and it had to be a new one for under $20k, then it absolutely would be a Mazda5.

  • Accs Accs on Mar 30, 2011

    Hmmmm When ya sit down and think about.. what ya can get.. for 20k... not a lot comes to mind. I mean.. ya really dont have a lot of choice. Buying a minivan that isnt mini is just plain stupid. If ya cheap and a Ford Windstar doesnt snap its rear axle than thats decent. The Honda Ody has its 6cycl issues.. and pushes the size and weight towards Jenny Craig. Chrysler only survives by making them cheap.. while Kia can only make them cheaper! Gm vans... no. For the bastard who is really afraid of driving and thinks awd / 4x4 is the means to the end, boy have you got another damn thing coming. The suv/cuv segment is one stupid bunch of mess. Ya got comparos in engine, in seating, in ability and in CLASS... most of which isnt worth it and the rest ya wont ever use anyway. Ya cant even get a decent midsize sedan now... because they've all turned to PORKERS = qualify for the Large segment as noted by the EPA = Accord/Camry/Taurus/Legacy/6/Malibu/Sonata... right in compao against Avalon and or 300. Honda has the Fit, which was brought in while Civic and Accord got larger... to Focus against Yaris.. but yet no 5dr Hatch from Honda, with NO AWD. I'm sorry.. having awd gives you PEACE OF MIND, wont save your ass when you got bald all-season tires in 2" of snow. Mazda3hatch and or the 5 is the only half decent cars on the market that I see, with the Focus hatch coming in behind. The Tiida / Sentra-with-a-hatch Versa is a dirtbox that I wish they did right. The Juke doesnt get more pointless. Hyundai has the Elantra as a hatch = touring. GM had the chance to make the CRUZE a winner... by selling the hatch for the U.S.... There really isnt much choice...

  • KOKing That base hybrid system must be something other than the normal Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive, since that uses the two electric motors as the ('CVT') transmission without a separate transmission of any kind.
  • Analoggrotto Too much of the exterior is shared with the Grand Highlander. Toyota/Lexus is clearly over extended here as this was rushed in direct response to the Kia Telluride which has decimated RX sales. Lexus was not such a major offender of just changing the front and rear end caps on a lesser Toyota model (this worked for LX / Land Cruiser as the latter is already expensive) but for such a mass market vehicle, buyers will notice and may just go to Toyota (or Kia) for their big SUV.
  • Crtfour I'm a BOF SUV fan. In my opinion it's certainly not a looker (but what is these days). But it does look the part and should be great off road. Plus kudos to Toyota for retaining actual shift levers. So I give it a thumbs up.
  • Theflyersfan UX Hybrid, NX, NX Hybrid, NX Plug-In Hybrid EV, RZ, RX, RX Hybrid, RX 500h, GX, LX, and now the TX. (source: the bloated section of the Lexus SUV site) It's looking like the Taco Bell menu over there - the same dozen ingredients mixed around to make a lineup. I'm waiting for something like the WX to compete with the Chevy Trax and maybe the LXXXL to compete with the Hummer EV and maybe a four row crossover in 2025 and a lower-cased line like the rx or nx to compete with the German CUV-"coupes" and their slashed tops and cargo areas. C'mon Lexus, there are more micro-niches to be filled! Gather your boardroom committees together and come up with another plan! And careless parent alert: shouldn't that kid be in a booster seat? I mean in my age, we sat in the way back of station wagons on the flat floor and bounced around with every curve, but these days you gotta deck your kid out in 50 pounds of pads and bubble wrap before they leave the driveway, so get that child seat in the way back right now!
  • 28-Cars-Later Nice minivan, just add the sliding doors and quit living in denial.