New or Used: Corolla Owner Seeks Outright Fun

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
new or used corolla owner seeks outright fun
Tyler writes:

Sajeev and Steve,

Everyday for the past 6 months I’ve been reading TTAC, usually on my phone between actual “work” at work. I find it very informative and enjoy it immensely. In the next 2-6 months I will be looking to “upgrade” my current car (Corolla S) to something a bit more sporty and fun to drive (which compared to a corolla leaves a lot of options out there) but, as usual, I am having difficulty deciding what to consider. The possibility of buying a outright fun car and keeping the Corolla is a possibility. I should also mention that I travel quite a bit (400 miles/week) with 75% highway use.

I would like to purchase a new car, unless I can find a very nice CPO Japanese car. For the most part I am open to many vehicles, but I am strictly looking for something in regards to (in no particular order): sporty suspension, good gas milage (30+ highway), excellent fit & finish (leather is not necessary an issue, but some soft touch plastics would be nice), and decent passing acceleration on the highway. Beyond all that I am really into 4-door hatchbacks, but open to a nice sport sedan.

I’ve driven both the VW GTI and Acura TSX, while I feel more confident that the later would be more reliable, I enjoyed the GTI’s handling, trim, and the simple fact that it’s not commonly seen on the road and is just not a boring car to drive or have parked in your driveway. I haven’t test drove a Mazda 3 5-door (waiting for the upgraded engine, revised front grill) or the new Lexus CT-200. Due to the milage I also considered the VW Golf TDI – but diesel scares the crap out of me (reliability, cost, availability, etc.) maybe you can convince me otherwise that diesel is a viable option.Suggestions and comments are greatly appreciated.

Steve Answers:

As Ed mentioned in an earlier post, this is not the best time in the world to buy a new car. The Japanese automakers are already experiencing severe supply issues and many of the parts needed to assemble your car are simply not there.

This is also happening on the used car side. I have been to three auctions this week. Bought zero cars. That has never happened to me in 10+ years in the auto auction business. Of course this is tax season. But the supply and quality of vehicles are simply atrocious at the moment and the prices are sky high. I’ve even seen a 15 year old, 300,000 mile Chevy Blazer with a nicotine drenched interior go for over $1,000, and a 2008 Toyota Tundra Limited with 179k miles sell for over $20,000.

I would wait out the storm. But if you have to buy now…these would be my top five choices.

1) Honda CR-Z EX 6-Speed

2) Lexus CT-200h

3) Audi A3 TDI

4) Mini Cooper

5) Ford Fiesta

The CR-Z is absolutely perfect on the highway. For everyday driving it offers plenty of sportiness and the real world fuel economy can easily surpass 40 mpg. I spent a few hours with the CT-200h as well. If you have the money and desire to spend $30k, that’s worth a look too. It along with the Mini Cooper would be my top three. The new Mini is a fantastic machine.

The Audi A3 is a rare car and you’ll have to pay a premium for that rarity. It may be the best of the five. But it may be out of your price range. On the other side of the equation, the Ford Fiesta SES would apparently be a worthwhile choice if you’re looking for a ‘keeper’ car for the next 10 to 15 years. I have yet to drive it. But everyone in the automotive media world seems to think the world of it. I would put that on your list as well.

Sajeev Answers:

Sometimes this column hinges on a gut reaction. After further reflection, I’m having a hard time finding an equivalent to the GTI. There’s the MINI Cooper S, if you like the styling and cutesy owner culture. Maybe the Nissan Juke, but the interior is a little (a lot?) on the Tupperware side. Or a Subaru WRX, but the interior design, lack of a hatchback and lousy mileage leaves me flat. Maybe a Hyundai Genesis coupe, but you need a 4-door. You, my friend, are made for a GTI.

And with any luck, the Mark VI version of this famous VW nameplate isn’t the flaming pile of garbage that was the Mark V Golf. Too early to know, and if you’re terrified of the post-warranty ownership experience of a VW, consider the Mazda 3. Or wait for the 2012 Ford Focus to hit the showroom floor.

I would do that “buying a outright fun car and keeping the Corolla” possibility you mentioned: a pristine Corvette C5 Z06. Same or better fuel economy, way more performance, fairly reliable and cheap to fix and absolutely no excuses or compromises. Because, no matter what you look at, the LS6 is always FTW.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to, and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder. In a rush? Don’t be shy about asking to cut in line.

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2 of 95 comments
  • The MINI Cooper S was mentioned - one other thing to consider there is the new MINI Countryman, which is a four-door hatch back just like you wanted, also with optional all-wheel drive. They are a ton of fun to drive still, just like the base MINI, but have a lot more space, and also a softer ride. The basic MINI is pretty practical though as far as storage goes, with the rear seats folded down you can fit quite a lot in the back. You owe yourself at least a test drive of a MINI if you are looking for a fun car.

  • PG PG on Apr 15, 2011

    Look man, here's what you need to do: Keep that Corolla and use the money you save on gas and maintenance to buy yourself a used Ferrari Testarossa. Forget the sportbike, forget the hot hatches... what you need is an insanely expensive, somewhat-fast-today supercar from the 1980s whose repair costs will exceed your annual salary. You can't lose!

  • Brett Woods My 4-Runner had a manual with the 4-cylinder. It was acceptable but not really fun. I have thought before that auto with a six cylinder would have been smoother, more comfortable, and need less maintenance. Ditto my 4 banger manual Japanese pick-up. Nowhere near as nice as a GM with auto and six cylinders that I tried a bit later. Drove with a U.S. buddy who got one of the first C8s. He said he didn't even consider a manual. There was an article about how fewer than ten percent of buyers optioned a manual in the U.S. when they were available. Visited my English cousin who lived in a hilly suburb and she had a manual Range Rover and said she never even considered an automatic. That's culture for you.  Miata, Boxster, Mustang, Corvette and Camaro; I only want manual but I can see both sides of the argument for a Mustang, Camaro or Challenger. Once you get past a certain size and weight, cruising with automatic is a better dynamic. A dual clutch automatic is smoother, faster, probably more reliable, and still allows you to select and hold a gear. When you get these vehicles with a high performance envelope, dual-clutch automatic is what brings home the numbers. 
  • ToolGuy 2019 had better comments than 2023 😉
  • Inside Looking Out In June 1973, Leonid Brezhnev arrived in Washington for his second summit meeting with President Richard Nixon. Knowing of the Soviet leader’s fondness for luxury automobiles, Nixon gave him a shiny Lincoln Continental. Brezhnev was delighted with the present and insisted on taking a spin around Camp David, speeding through turns while the president nervously asked him to slow down.
  • Bobby D'Oppo Great sound and smooth power delivery in a heavier RWD or AWD vehicle is a nice blend, but current V8 pickup trucks deliver an unsophisticated driving experience. I think a modern full-size pickup could be very well suited to a manual transmission.In reality, old school, revvy atmo engines pair best with manual transmissions because it's so rewarding to keep them in the power band on a winding road. Modern turbo engines have flattened the torque curve and often make changing gears feel more like a chore.
  • Chuck Norton For those worried about a complex power train-What vehicle doesn't have one? I drive a twin turbo F-150 (3.5) Talk about complexity.. It seems reliability based on the number of F-150s sold is a non-issue. As with many other makes/models. I mean how many operations are handle by micro today's vehicles?