By on April 14, 2011


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 [email protected], 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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95 Comments on “New or Used: Corolla Owner Seeks Outright Fun...”


  • avatar
    wsn

    All you need is to give the Corolla firmer suspension and better tires.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve priced putting a firmer suspension on it. It actually has Michelin Pilot tires on it right now. But overall, I just can’t justify putting a lot of money on a car with rear drum brakes and the character of a fridge.

      • 0 avatar
        dastanley

        That’s how I feel about my ’06 Corolla CE.  It’s bought and paid for, the 1.8 I4 has a timing CHAIN, it’s reliable, and gets good mileage.  On the other hand, it has the fun and personality of a wet dish rag.  No ABS, no traction control, only 2 airbags, rear drum brakes, and a hard shiny plastic dash and console.  The only money I’ve put into this car is one battery, one serpentine belt, one set of tires, a few air and cabin filters and oil for oil changes only.  I haven’t needed to add oil in between.  And gas.

    • 0 avatar

      @wsn if he’s gonna be stuck with a solid rear axle, at least let it be something nuts like a Mustang or Panther, of some sorts.

    • 0 avatar
      jaje

      Rear drum brakes on a fwd economy car are actually not an impediment to performance as there is so little weight in the rear of the car they work effectively (just as good as a rear disc setup) – there’s so little weight back there it is easy to lock them up).  A lot of times people will swap out rear drums for rear discs and not change the car’s proportioning valve – which leads to the rear brakes not getting enough fluid which means you don’t get any rear braking!  A rear drum setup weighs much less than a rear disc setup and have little to no rotational inertia.  You’ll laugh when most guys who hardcore race the little Civics will convert back to rear drums for this.  Now on the other hand – a Porsche 911’s rear brakes actually do quite a bit of braking due to the rear weight bias.

  • avatar
    cackalacka

    +1 on Sajeev’s GTI recommendation, and +eleventy on his wish that the MkVI is more reliable than the MkV.
     
    Coming from a lifetime of Japanese ownership, and several decades of Honda ownership last summer, I came in wary and sprung for the extra warranty. To date, though, it has given me 16k+ miles of trouble-free, superb, driving. Whether I’m commuting, day-tripping on the Appalachians, or long-distance road-tripping, this car is the complete package.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      And if you buy new, you can make a decision on an extended warranty (which would cover at least catastrophic failures) as you approach the end of the extended warranty.
       
      As to the GTI highway ride, it really depends on what you are used to.  It’s softer and more comfortable than an M3, but certainly much firmer and sportier than a Corolla.  It’s easy to determine whether it’s the right compromise, though — take it on the highway on the test drive and decide whether it’s right for you,

      • 0 avatar
        cackalacka

        Interestingly enough, I had a conversation with a buddy who had a MkV last month. He was surprised that my fiancee and I had a very comfortable trip to/from Canada last year. ‘How did you make it, what with the ride being as hard as a rock.’
         
        Which was strange, because I had driven another buddy’s MkV recently and thought that the suspension was, if anything, too Buick-springy.
         
        Walk out to his car, a-HA! While I roll on the standard 17s”, he was on custom 18s”.
         
        Damn shame the 18s look cooler, and are now standard with the ’11 models. Those seats and springs were made for 17s.

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        Sidewall height — and sidewall stiffness — matters a whole lot for the ride.  18s can be all right if the sidewalls are sufficiently compliant.  For maximum harshness with a given tire size, though, try using run-flats.  Ugh.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    400 miles a week doesn’t mix with GTI ownership. My friend that bought a then-new 2008 GTI DSG knew he made a mistake the first time he made his 20 mile highway commute. They ride horribly on the highway, such that he praises every other car he ever rides in, even if they’re cars that I think ride like buckboards. Throw in the high maintenance costs and down time for unscheduled services, and a long distance commuter accustomed to Corolla perfection will be in hell. 400 miles a week in a GTI also means tires will be an annual expense, and one that costs twice as much as he spent every three years putting tires on the Corolla.

    I’d wait until the supply issues are resolved and look at the new Civic Si. It will have the TSX engine, so I’d assume the gearing will be a bit taller than the current one. Our 2004 TSX gets about 34 mpg on the highway compared to 31 mpg for our 2007 Civic Si sedan, which has very short gearing. I suspect that the current fuel economy prioritization will see the 2012 Civic Si get a real over drive gear to bring up the highway number. Both cars have been trouble free.

    • 0 avatar
      cackalacka

      “400 miles a week doesn’t mix with GTI ownership.”
       
      Can’t argue with that. This car rides so nice I’ve taken the 300 miles a week I averaged on my old Honda, and somehow added an extra 200.
       
      As a former Honda owner, I particularly enjoy passing the Sis. Especially the ones with the fart cans and the stickers on the sides.
       

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        You passed a car and took pleasure from it? That must be nice, having such minimal requirements for joy. No wonder you’re happy with a Volkswagen. I’m just ashamed because my cars’ top speeds must only be 80 mph, because that’s about as fast as I usually go.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        @cack — I hate to say it, but I agree… my GTI isnt the best choice for long commutes.  Mileage alone isnt good enough, the ride is harsh, and its too expensive to replace tires.

        @CJ — there you go again, defending your Honda… passing doesnt have to be done at top speed, its all about how fast you get there.  And the GTI obliterates the Si at any stoplight.  TSX’s too!  :)

        That being said… I completely agree with you.  He would be much better off in an Si or TSX (preferably the older TSX from before they uglified it).  The Honda will ride better, be better on gas, tires, maintenance, and just racks up high miles way better.

      • 0 avatar
        cackalacka

        Hehehe, I’m just giving you a hard time, CJ, as you seem to take every thread, related or not, to bash VAG.
         
        I’m happy with my car because it has been trouble-free, rides like an angel, and is fitted like a $50,000 car. Still on the original treads after rolling on every mountain chain on the east coast from NC to Quebec. Every hill (be it on a metaled/logging/freshly surfaced) was very comfortable, as is my 40 miles of blissful stop-and-go commute. But hey, different strokes for different folks.
         
        When the warranty is done, and I get frustrated with ‘unscheduled services’ I may go back to Honda, provided they return to their roots, and come out with a legitimate hot hatch. One reason I got the extended warranty is, seeing Honda’s product line devolve over the past 10 years, I’m not going to hold my breath.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    I’ll agree with Steve: the CR-Z is a left-field choice, but I’d actually agree with it if you’re ok with the two-person limit.  It’s sporty, it gets very good mileage, and it should be reliable, based on how the Insight 2 has done.
     
    You could also try the Civic Hybrid, which is slow and has pretty lame tires but drives well and is a little more comfortable than the CR-Z, especially for entry/exit.
     
    Another question: are you going to keep it long?  If not, then a TDI Golf is not a bad idea.  Like the Civic it’s slow, and has bad tires in the base trim, but these can be fixed.

    • 0 avatar

      I have a tendency to keep the car in relation to how much I enjoy driving/owning it. I never lease, always finance, so minimum 5 years to just around 6-7 years – unless i can’t let go of it.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        Ok, then the VW/Audi route is probably not a good one to take.
         
        The powertrain will probably be ok, but after warranty they aren’t exactly low-TCO choices.  You could buy (or negotiate) an extended warranty for peace of mind if you find you really like the car.

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        For what it’s worth, truedelta.com data shows 2004-2010 Golfs and GTIs all as average or better than average reliability.

    • 0 avatar
      smokingclutch

      On what planet is the CR-Z sporty?
       
      His requirements are tough, but a Civic Si would fit the bill much better than the “neither this nor that” CR-Z.

  • avatar
    MikeAR

    Out of the blue, for a fun car try a V6 Mustang or Camaro. They have 300+ hp, have good economy and offer lots of RWD fun.

  • avatar
    Prado

    2012 Ford Focus Titanium Hatch. They just came out so dealer invertory is still low to non-existant in this trim level. The lower trim levels seem kind of cheap to me but the Titanium is nice. They have a lot of build configuations for such a mainstream car  if you go out and build one on Ford.com. Consider ordering one to your liking.

  • avatar
    highlandmiata

    I read “outright fun” on the main page, and instantly thought: Miata!  then you said GTI or TSX, so I wonder what you mean by outright fun…  “Outright fun” and FWD are not synonymous in my book, but perhaps I am biased…  

    I agree that new is maybe not the best thought at this particular moment in time.  Buy a miata, or buy an E30 318is. make sure it is manual.  Either will get decent gas mileage when you want it to, and both can be raced if you start going in that direction…

    • 0 avatar

      Outright fun on the weekend side – but I am practical (thus owner of Corolla) so if I can find a car that can do both – the commute, haul camping gear and bikes, and still be fun to drive, then I’d consider it “outright fun” in the sense of its relativity to practicality, as well. I live near Tail of The Dragon, so that would be my first run after the purchase, the commute to work would take place the following Monday.

      • 0 avatar
        Quentin

        Tyler, since you are a biker, hiker, and camper, like myself, I’m going to suggest against the GTI.  I loved mine on road, but it was terrrrrrible on getting to trailheads because of the long front overhang and low ground clearance.  Also, I had to cut my trip to the Beartooth mountains short a few years back because the low profile tires didn’t take kindly to the dirt road back to one trailhead.  I had to turn back and drive to Billings, MT to buy 4 new $220 tires when the right front tire blew out and I found out that the full size spare was only rated for 50mph.  Knowing that my 36 hr drive back to WV would be far less fun at 50mph, I chose to lose a day of camping and it threw off the whole trip.  The GTI just doesn’t mix with an active lifestyle.  I’m so much happier with my 4Runner for my outdoor activities.  I’m getting ready to load it up with 5 mountain bikes for a trip to Cranberry Glades.

        Sajeev – WRX does come in hatch configuration, BTW.

      • 0 avatar
        cackalacka

        Q- two weekends ago, I joined a buddy to go camping in southern Virginia. Clean mountain roads turned to salt turned to 5 inches of snow on what some might call a logging trail, others would call a glorified stream bank. Scraped some mud-flaps, but took my time and that was it.
         
        4Runner, it is not, and the Appalachians are not the Rockies; but with all-seasons and decent sidewalls (and some patient driving) he could do just fine.

      • 0 avatar
        Trend-Shifter

        The new Ford Mustang 305hp V6 gets 34 mpg.
        In your neck of the woods it is right wheel drive. 
        Rear wheel drive also provides the lowest cost maintenance for all the miles you will pour on.

        Add a trailer hitch (RWD FTW) for all your weekend activites.
        * Bike rack
        * small camping trailer
        * jet ski
        * Uhaul for those Home Depot projects. 

        Buy the V6 handling package. Pricing out the door equals the GTI.
        Now get that 305 hp Mustang out on the “Tail of the Dragon” and dust off a few GTI’s.  

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        Well lets not get crazy here… he isnt going to be “dusting” off GTIs, especially on a road like the Tail…  The GTI is a very capable car, especially in the twisties.

        But the Mustang is a nice choice for other reasons, I just dont think he is going to be into it. 

        Plus, my biggest problem with a Mustang if I bought the V6 is that someday in the future I am going to regret not getting the V8.

  • avatar
    Peugeot 504 - the Car for Nigeria

    What’s that about no hatchback on the WRX? It was gone for a couple of model years but I’m pretty sure it’s back. 

    http://www.subaru.com/content/static/vehicles/impreza-wrx/compare.html

    Subaru’s own site lists capacity metrics for five-door options and I guy I know just bought a new 5-door WRX STi. I haven’t seen it yet but I’m pretty sure it’s the current model year.

    If it’s in the price range it’s a mighty hard car to beat if you like 5-doors, and it does address that giant question mark about VW reliability.

  • avatar
    CreepyScoutmaster

    Kia Forte SX Hatchback. If you don’t get hung up on the nameplate, it makes a lot of sense. Practical and fun to drive.

    • 0 avatar
      Jason

      +1!
      Just signed for one a couple days ago.  Picked it over Mazda3 and the like.  Nicer interior in my eyes, nicer exterior to anyone with functional vision, and perhaps not “fun” it’s “fun enough”.

  • avatar
    Sundowner

    I’ve said many times that I despise the TDI motors for a variey of reasons that include over-complication, unrelaibaility, and hidden costs of expensive propietary motor oil and $2000 particulate filters. Avoid this turd of an engine  The 2.0T gas motors, however, are stellar little beasts, and I’m a big A3 fan. I’d say go with a gas A3 uber all other options. I’ve had an A3 gasser for 5 years, and it’s beena great and reliable little car. I had a 2010 Jetta TDI for 10 months and came damn near torching it several times.
     
     

  • avatar
    aristurtle

    http://www.msf-usa.org/
     
    I was in the same situation as you a year ago (well, with a Civic rather than a Corolla) where I wanted something interesting but was willing to keep the econobox around as well for when it was more practical.
    In the end I realized that getting a motorcycle actually made the most sense. You want sporty suspension, 30+ MPG, good acceleration, and fun? Check. Cheap? Well, for a secondary vehicle it sure comes in under the price of Sajeev’s ‘vette, or even a Miata, for that matter. Easy to repair and maintain? Man, I don’t even like to pop the hood of my car anymore, even the stuff I used to take for granted now like such a pain to get at by comparison.

    Consider it. Take the class and see if it fits you.

    edit: Wait, you live near Tail Of The Dragon? This isn’t even a hard decision.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Best advice: I’m with Sajeev; Keep the Corolla – it’ll last forever and your wallet will thank you, and get the Corvette for fun.

  • avatar
    william442

    A two to three year old S 2000, if you can find one. Super performance ,and reliability. Ours is white with the red and black leather, and there is not a stock GTI in the world that can keep up with it.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      @william442:   Interesting about the S2000. We looked at them last year, but they were much more expensive than a Miata and that’s what we settled on. Our neighbor’s daughter bought one and the dealer in South Carolina paid to fly her down to pick up the car from Cincinnati! I never heard of such a thing, but she has a very nice red S2000. Can’t remember the year and don’t know what she paid, but I’m sure the dealer still made out O.K!

      • 0 avatar
        jaje

        The S2000 was made to compete with the Boxster / Mazdaspeed Miata (came later) – and was a tribute to its founders first car (S500 / S800).  A Miata was cheaper and much slower.  Not apples to apples here.

  • avatar
    RGS920

    Ditch the Corolla for a Civic Si Sedan.  It has all the practicality and reliability of the Corolla but a much more powerful engine and sporty chassis. However, if I were in your shoes I would keep the Corolla for the long hauls between work, wait until winter, and try and buy a lightly used Lotus Elise for 20-25K.   

  • avatar
    djsyndrome

    Go get a 2ZZ engine and matching 6-speed from a junkyard. Way cheaper than buying another car and unlike many of the recommendations above, will actually start every morning.
    I’ve put well over 200k miles on mine, and it still spins to 8200 with the same ferocity it did when it was new.

    • 0 avatar
      RGS920

      He could just scour used car listings until he finds a 2005-2006 Corolla XRS.  It has the 2ZZ engine and 6 speed close ratio transmission, rear disk breaks, beefed up chassis and sport suspension.  No need to muck around doing an engine swap.  Also I don’t think many junkyards have 2ZZ engines lying around :P 

  • avatar
    vvk

    Mazda2, Ford Fiesta or Mini Cooper would fit the bill nicely.

    However, given the amount of driving you do, I would suggest you reexamine your priorities. You want something smooth, quiet and comfortable. Think midsize or large sedan.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Go used, there are a ton of old Miatas and Corvettes out there for less than $10,000 dollars.  Many of their owners don’t drive them daily so the miles stays low even on a 10 or 15 year old model.  Keep the Corolla for the daily grind and use the other to CUT LOOSE!

  • avatar
    EEGeek

    I have no idea about the interior, ride quality, or reliability, but the Forte 5 SX might be a lower cost option.  The only other 5-door hatch I can think of not already touched on is the Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback.
     
    I disagree with the notion of the Audi A3 TDI over a VW Golf.  The Audi is only available with DSG, and I vastly prefer pushing a clutch for engagement in the process of driving.

  • avatar
    neevers1

    Anytime you look at the VW, just think, “It’ll leave me stranded at least once”, if that’s ok with you, then get the VW, if not, move on.  Seeing that you are coming from a Toyota of any kind makes me think that’s not ok with you.

    Honestly wait for the Focus ST, it’s going to be the car you want, and I think you’ll regret anything else once it arrives.  Or perhaps just the normal 2012 Focus. 

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      I don’t think my friend’s GTI has stranded him, but it has left him at the mercy of a terrible VW service department any number of times, cost him an improbable amount in service and repairs, and spent more than a year parked while he drove a Toyota and arbitrated a lawsuit with VW.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I’ve owned a number of VWs, new and old. Not a one has EVER left me stranded. Nothing but boringly dependable service, in fact. Ditto my numerous friends with VWs. My best firend with the 100mile commute has a 250K mile ’03 Jetta TDI, other than routine maintenance he has replaced one door handle. Obviously it is an unreliable heap.

      I too don’t get the recommendation of the A3 over the Golf TDI. Basically the same car for 10K more money, just a bit fancier and no stick (which is no sale for me). Compared to a Corolla, a Golf is going to seem like an Audi anyway.

      Having owned a number of diesels (currently a MB 300TD), availability of diesel is simply not an issue. No, not every station has it, but considering I used to get near 800 miles per tank with my ’02 Golf TDI, it is not like you are filling up very often either. Definitely not an issue anywhere near an interstate highway. And once you experience the quiet thrust of a TDI, you will become a believer.

      • 0 avatar

        @krhodes1: Agreed. In my experience, VW diesels are actually better long-term-reliability wise than the gassers. The only downside that I can think of is the fact that most Americans are afraid of diesels due to the malaise-era GM oil burners… thus, they are impossible to find new is some parts of the USA, and overpriced on the coasts, where they’re becoming popular.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        last time I was at the VW dealer (and no, it wasnt last week, my GTI hasnt been as unreliable as so many people seem to think they are!!), they had a red 2-door stick shift Golf TDI that for all intents and purposed looked exactly like a GTI.  It had the older (2006) GTI 17″ rims, nice sport seats (no plaid though), even appeared to have the lowered sport suspension of the pre-2008 GTI.  Sticker was $25k IIRC, and mileage was typical TDI… 40+mpg.

        Be a good all around choice if he has to do a lot of driving and really liked the VW feel.

  • avatar
    bludragon

    I haven’t driven one but I’m pretty sure the CR-Z is not going to bump up the fun factor much.
    Here are some for consideration of a fun’ish commuter:
    Audi A3
    VW GTI
    Mazda/Mazdaspeed3
    2012 Ford Focus hatch
    Civic Si (wait for the 2012 model to either get that or a cheaper used 2006-2011).
     
    Based on economy, cost of ownership, highway comfort, I’d be looking at:
    1. Focus
    2. Mazda3

    3. Civic Si

  • avatar
    TEXN3

    Keep the Corolla, get a Miata.

    Sell the Corolla, get a WRX.

    The CR-Z is appealing to me as a commuter (I do carpool with 1 other guy). But, in Boise the commute is 10 miles and 12 minutes, not going to get much out of a hybrid and sacrifice the backseat for second-vehicle household use. A used WRX is top on my list, but so is the upcoming Impreza (manual) and Cruze ECO (turbo and manual, but needs better tires).

  • avatar

    The first review I ever read on TTAC actually mentioned the Tail of the Dragon: 2010 Mazda3

    I was also considering (surprised not as many mentions) the Mazda3 5-door grand touring, due to fun-factor, practicality, interior “stuff” and the fact that I can find a good mix of driving fun while still being able to use it as a commuter.

    Of course, I’d wait and see what Skyactive and the new facelift brings for the 2012 models (and the supply issue facing Mazda in Japan).

    Personally feel that if I want German handling yet Japanese Reliability (if I was to sell the Corolla – if not I would go German), I must rely on Subaru or Mazda.

    Thanks guys for the comments. That’s why I love this site. 

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      The Subaru will hold up and feel more durable over time.

    • 0 avatar
      neevers1

      You sound like you won’t consider anything other than an import. I’d get over that and go look at the 2012 Ford Focus, best MPG, best handling, best in class power, and Ford’s quality is rated way above Subaru or Mazda.

      I’ve driven a Titanium, and I wouldn’t even consider any other car than it, unless I wanted more than 160 hp.

      • 0 avatar
        TEXN3

        The new Focus will be nice, however I have to issues with your statement. As is true for many of these cars, you can’t get both best rated MPGs and the best handling package. Also, how can you determine the quality of a car when it is only being delivered to dealers right now?

      • 0 avatar
        neevers1

        I gotten to drive one. 

        Also how do you determine the quality of any car, by the reputation of the car’s maker. Unless you always want to buy 8 year old cars….

    • 0 avatar
      Grahambo

      Tyler, I agree with your sentiment about Subaru and Mazda providing the best mix of German-like handling (if not always quite the same feeling of solidity) and fun with Japanese reliability/durability.  Unfortunately, the fun quotient seems to have abated somewhat with the newer generation Legacy/Outback (although Subaru has shown an ability to be responsive in correcting some of its mistakes (see 08 to 09 WRX) and the Mazda 6.  Still, I think that cars like the MZ3, MS3, Miata, RX&, and WRX/STI are doing a good job keeping that particular flame alive — and for a reasonable sum of money, to boot.  The WRX does not have the best interior in the class or anywhere near it (that said, I am not all that blown away by the MKVI GTI interior even if it remains nicest in class), but it’s livable and, like the car itself, will be durable over the long haui, especially if any mods are focused on suspension/chassis/brakes as opposed to not wringing out every last iota of boost from the boxer.  Long term-ownership and durability/quality wise, I am in full agreement with TEXN3 — IMHO, Subaru generally has Mazda and Ford (and certainly VW) beat, albeit not up to Honda or Toyota levels.  Now, that could be certainly changing (indeed it is never constant), especially inasmuch Ford over the last few years seems to be atoning for decades of past sins with renewed quality.  In addition, Subaru AWD > FWD from a pure performance perspective, any day of the week (although Mazda and Ford can be quite good with their lower power FWD applications, much like VW).

  • avatar
    Zombo

    I’d wait to choose between the new Focus as well as the Hyundai Veloster , and new Civic . That way you get something sportier with decent fuel economy that is much more reliable than a VW .

  • avatar
    Quentin

    Buy a well used Miata. 

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Try a new Focus hatch. It has about 30 more HP than the Carolla, a more modern and advanced powerplant with direct injection, 6 speed manual or 6 speed dual clutch automatic, is a blast to drive, offers up to 40 highway MPG and has some extra room out back for gear. I would avoid VW. There new Jetta is as bland as toast, comes with a very enemic base 2.0 liter 115 HP engine and gets far worse mileage. There is the larger optional 5 cylinder which is even thirstier but not much quicker. The VW will handle good but it’s long term reliability is very suspect. I would not recommend the Lexus CT-200H just yet as Toyota’s reliablity and recall happy reputation as of late would make me want to wait a few years to see if this rather complex piece of hybrid machinery is going to be reliable.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      If you read the original request, and Sajeev’s and Steve’s responses, the suggestion was a Golf GTI (German-built, with a 200hp 2.0T engine, premium interior and a sport suspension) not a base Jetta

    • 0 avatar
      EEGeek

      One thing I don’t like so much on the Focus is that the manual is only a 5-speed, and the mileage rating suffers.  I’m not sure how much difference it makes in getting around every day, but most everything else in the class has 6 forward gears.  With the manual highway rating being only 30, I’d guess the Focus manual could use a taller cruising gear.  They also don’t offer the higher spec models with a clutch.

    • 0 avatar
      PartsUnknown

      The reliability of the CT-200h is not in question.  The “rather complex piece of hybrid machinery” has been in production for a while now.  You may have heard of it, it’s called the Prius.  The CT-200h’s drivetrain is lifted from the Prius, and as Mr. Karesh’s True Delta will attest, it has been dead reliable.

      I would question the CT-200h’s value proposition at over $30K+, but not its reliability.

  • avatar
    ajla

    HHR SS?

  • avatar
    eldard

    It is not the best time to buy big ticket anything. Once the car loan bubble pops, well insert clever remark here_______________.

  • avatar
    JMII

    I immediately thought Civic Si. However if you looking at the GTI and Mini, you shouldn’t pass up the choice I went with: Volvo C30. The T5 is not know for its mileage but on the highway these cars do alright due to their smooth shape. The C30 has bits of the Euro Focus and Mazda 3 under the skin so it really a question of if you want to stand out in a crowd or blend in… and budget of course. Used C30 in the base Version 1.0 package can be had on the cheap since nobody even knows this car exists. Moving up to Version 2.0 gains you 18″ rims, satellite radio and a body kit, but the engine and interior bits are the same so can save money if you stick was the base version. Now, you might not find a CPO example since these cars are really rare. A C30 would be a huge step up from your Corolla, but its not as quick as the Mazda Speed 3 or as nimble as the Mini S… however its way nicer on the insider and a looks 100X better then either (to me). The TSX is another good choice if you leaning towards 4 doors, love to rev the engine and enjoy a smooth manual transmission, however like most Honda products it doesn’t have the outright torque for “highway passing” that you would get with the other choices provided you looking at the up model turbo versions.

    • 0 avatar
      EEGeek

      Except that the C30 is a two-door, and he’s says he’s looking for four.  The same holds true for the Mini.  If he needs four doors, presumably he needs some back seat room, and the back seat of the C30 is really cramped from what I recall.  Also, the small rear opening rather defeats the purpose of a hatchback.  All IMHO, of course.

  • avatar
    Arminius

    I commute 340m/wk of mostly freeway driving and love my 08 DSG GTI.  No major mechanical problems so far.  Are there more practical cars, yes (Corolla for one).  Are there sportier cars, yes (WRX, MS3).   But for my tastes it strikes the perfect balance between practicality, refinement and sportiness.  It gets decent gas mileage, has plenty of acceleration when needed, firm and confident handling and it’s small enough to get into openings in traffic larger vehicles cannot.  It can seat 5 in a pinch, put the seats down and you can put in a lot of stuff.  Personally I wouldn’t want a stiffer ride for everyday commuting but what is warm to some is cold to others.  I also went with the DSG as I frequently deal with a lot of stop and go rush hour traffic and it’s nice at such times to just to leave it in auto.  I also find the interior a step up from the other competitors in its class.  Last, I do like the fact that you don’t see a lot of them on the road and unless you throw on a fart can or some other garish aftermarket part, does not have any real stigma associated with it.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Pay cash for a Cobalt SS 2.4 liter. You’ll economy plus performance with a much improved engine compared to a friend’s 05 Corolla S engine that reminded me of a tractor motor.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    You didn’t mention transmission options, but for me the single “must have” feature for fun is a good manual transmission.  An automatic, no matter how good, excludes a huge amount of the driving experience.  I had a friend that went from an 1995 M3 to a 335i automatic and was already sad within a week.

  • avatar
    HoldenSSVSE

    MazdaSpeed3

    Mustang V6 with a manual

    Scion tC

    Genesis 2.0T Coupe

    Volvo C30 (surprised no one listed this)

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      I mentioned the C30 above. The car is so far off everyone’s radar it doesn’t surprise me that it gets overlooked. We compared directly with the Mini and Genesis Coupe, the Mazda Speed 3 was out of the running because the wife wanted just 2 doors. The Mini is well… mini and the funky dash made my wife shake her head is disappointment. If the Genesis had been out longer and available on the used market it was the strongest contender. In the end the C30 fit the bill perfect as the hatchback configuration is really optimized for daily commuter setup. Also the front drive platform was safer thus more wife friendly. The Mustang never entered the equation since compared to the other on the list it just seemed to be oversized.

      • 0 avatar
        Philosophil

        I test drove the C30 just last week and fell in love with it. I would get it in a flash (I love the retro rear hatch), but it’s a little bit outside my financial comfort zone at the moment.

  • avatar
    hubcap

    I’m gonna give you the straight dope.

    You drive a considerable number of miles. If I were in your shoes I’d keep the Corolla and add an S2000 to your stable. I know everyone is screaming Miata but like Obi-Wan said {waving  hand in front of your face}, “the Miata is not the car your looking for. There’s nothing for you here. Move along.”

    I’d take an S2000 over a Miata any day of the week (and twice on Sunday).

    If you decide to give up the Corolla and can wait until the Focus ST comes on line (this fall) you can compare it to a WRX (which doesn’t get the mileage you want but is a barrel of monkeys to drive).

    And somebody mentioned a bike. Regardless of what you do I’d say get one.

    On a side note—> doesn’t VWOA know how their cars are perceived?? They’ve set lofty sales targets but for some reason refuse to address, or even acknowledge, why both newcomers to the brand as well as previously loyal owners won’t buy in—>their bottom basement reliability . How many more units would VW sell if they just had average reliability??

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      The S2000 is a sweet ride, and definitely faster than a Miata.  But its a lot more expensive than a Miata, both to buy and maintain.  I think thats why everyone suggests Miata… you can buy a $3000 Miata and still have fun with it, or you can spend more and have more fun.  $10k is the basement price of entry for an S2K, and those are usually the pretty beat up ones.  But if he can afford it, thats a great choice, and I definitely like your idea of keeping the Corolla and getting a second car.

      As for VW, they HAVE average reliability.  They are NOT Honda, no doubt, which has excellent level reliability, but average… yea.  They just had a really bad 4th generation, and thats compounded by the fact that every one of thier cars uses the same basic mechanicals, so they were all bad.  Older ones were average, and 2005+ are above average.

  • avatar
    topgun

    Keep the corolla and buy a new Mustang GT for the fun stuff…

  • avatar

    Low-mileage, CPO 2008 or 2009 Saab 9-5 Aero. All the boxes are covered.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    Sajeev…  “the flaming pile of garbage that was the Mark V Golf”… ok, now I take offense!  I hope you are confusing the Mk4 with the Mk5.  Everyone admits the Mk4 was definitely a flaming pile of garbage.  The Mk5 has proven to be much better.  Plus, VW barely changed anything on the Mk6 besides the fenders and lights, its essentially identical mechanically.

    That being said, I have to admit, 400 miles a week is not a good idea for a GTI.  He would be better off with a Civic Si.  The gas mileage alone makes it worth it, along with being less expensive to both buy and maintain.  Rides better too…

  • avatar
    jd arms

    So many good choices, and plenty of good advice.  Many of these strategies are sound, but personally, I would keep the Corolla and get a well used MX-5 Miata.  Save some money for new brakes, possible timing belt and water pump, and maybe some decent tires.  For a minimum amount of money, you can keep it running well, and the fun per dollar quotient is good.  It isn’t an Elise, or even an S2000, but it’ll get you started.  And if you keep your finances in order now, in a few years you might upgrade to a Lotus or S2000, or something else.

    If there is nothing wrong with the Corolla, you know the maintainence history, and it is paid off or nearly paid off, keep it.

     

     

    • 0 avatar
      Sinistermisterman

      +1 on the Miata/MX-5. Plenty about, bombproof engine, and the correct wheels doing the driving. But I’d take Mr Lang’s advice, wait a while and let the market get back to normal before you go spending your money.

  • avatar
    rocketrodeo

    Keep the Corolla. Get a motorcycle. North Georgia, East Tennessee, and western North Carolina are heaven for sportriding. Cars just don’t compare. You’re not going to find “outright fun” in an affordable car.

  • avatar
    Wagen

    I’m going to echo the sentiment to keep the Corolla as the “practical” car and buy something else for the “fun” car.  IMHO, until you spend 3-series/G37 money you’re not going to get anything so significantly distinguished from a Corolla as to justify the price (e.g., all 4-cyl, FWD, etc.).  So, let the Corolla be the practical daily driver and let your new purchase be the “fun” probably non-practical car.  Make it RWD.  Mustang, Miata, 350Z, used G35, 3er, etc. – whatever fits your fancy and pocketbook.

    I speak from experience. I’ve owned in the past a Civic (back when they were double-wishbone; 100,000 trouble-free miles; not really all that much fun but should’ve kept and drove it until the wheels fell off), a MkIV GTI (more fun than the Civic but not light-years beyond; got rid of it before maintenance problems developed), a Z4 (a very fun 3-year lease until I moved to the snow belt), and a couple of 3ers (about as much fun as I think is possible in a compact 4-door, but increasingly problematic as they grow older and each successive generation is worse about that). In retrospect, I wish I’d kept the Civic and the Z4 and skipped all the others. I’m convinced two cars with very specific purposes work better than one that is a compromise provided you have the resources to keep and maintain both.

  • avatar
    mongoose221

    sajeev: “Or a Subaru WRX, but the interior design, lack of a hatchback and lousy mileage leaves me flat.”
    I know this was said earlier, but how on earth could you say “lack of a hatchback” ? The wrx has bee offered in a wagon/hatchback model since it came to the US if I’m not mistaken, and I KNOW it has been available since 05+ (including every year from 08+) as I just bought a 2011 two months ago. The “lousy mileage” is not that true. I average about 22-23 per tank, with a 50/50 mix of highway and city. I average about 27-28mpg highway if I’m traveling on the highways a lot. I’m sitting on about 3k miles already, so the engine is definitely broken in, and I also have a full stage2 (turboback and intake with cobb AP tune) done, which has only affected my gas mileage as I tend to boost a lot more often now since it is fun : )
    I traded in my 2010 civic si coupe for this vehicle, so having driven both, I can definitely say that, in stock form especially, the WRX is the clear winner. The interior is nowhere near as bad as people make it out to be, the seats are supportive, the steering wheel is comfortable, and everything (HVAC and radio) are in reach and easy to use. Sure it isn’t the most “plush” but it is roomy, comfortable, and functional, and the seams and panel gaps are all flush, at least in my car. You can get a fully loaded one with leather (which is a nice package) for just shy of 30k. The shift knob is meh, so that was the first thing I changed. Keeping the car stock, there is NOTHING shy of 30k+ that can hang with it aside from it’s big brother STI (and I preferred the lower model as it is just as fast due to being lighter, and more comfortable suspension, not as track oriented), a 5.0 GT mustang and an SS camaro… and if you do a little engine modding, you can easily hang with anything under 50k with no problem.

  • avatar
    CraigSu

    Tyler, this may be a little bit outside the box, but instead of the GTI or TSX, why not look at a CPO Acura TL?  You can also get a really good deal on a new Saab 9-3 (sedan or wagon) right now.

  • avatar
    bodayguy

    Why keep the Corolla? If I had to drive 400 miles a week, I wouldn’t want to do it in a kitchen appliance. I know it has a practical side, but come on, he’s says he wants something fun to drive and I don’t blame him.

    Get the Civic SI or if the GTI gets you thrilled, go for it. You can’t predict maintenance issues and if you buy new, you know how it’s being treated.

  • avatar

    Used Mazdaspeed3.  For around $25K you’ll get 260+hp, amazing handling – the Mazda 3 has the most fun handling of any hatch at its price point, in my opinion – and you won’t see many of them on the road. You get an amazing weight to power ratio in a car that’s ultra-reliable.

  • avatar

    Seriously consider keeping the Corolla. You are doing with that car exactly what TMC built it for – to blithely pilot yourself up and down the highway to your place of work. Nothing, seriously nothing, will do that in a better/cheaper fashion than that car. If you get any of the cars on your list – GTI, Si, WRX – you’ll hoon it up the onramp and think “what a great decision I made!” then find yourself, 5 minutes later, wondering when the road you take to work got so rough and why you have to turn the radio up louder than before. Then you’ll realize that almost 30mpg on premium and the Corollas 36-40mpg on regular are not the same thing, and that 17″ or 18″ tires are a lot more expensive than 14″ or 15″ tires…

    So find a used version of one of the fun cars suggested here and slap a “my other car is a ” sticker on the Corolla’s ass.

  • avatar

    <i>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>
     
    I can’t believe that no one seems to be making the connection between cash for clunkers and the used car shortage.  You can’t buy a good, cheap late model used car because the government destroyed a huge number of them and created a gap in the used car market.  Now the entire country is going to have to go through 10-15 years of scarce used cars, and we’re going to have more polluting, poor mileage junkers on the road as people drive what they can get — or afford.   Another government bright idea that had exactly the opposite effect of what was intended.
     
     
     
     

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      “Another government bright idea that had exactly the opposite effect of what was intended.”

      It’s intended to give GM/Ford some spending money without calling it bailout and they achieved it.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      People HAVE made that connection several times on this site alone, and each time someone like oyu brings it up, other people patiently explain that facts that show why C4C is not the reason for this shortfall.

      The numbers that C4C affected are a small percentage of the number of cars in the market, and the vast majority of vehicles “lost” to the program and crushed were undesireable, older guzzlers… clunkers.  Yes, there were some exceptions, the list published had a few shocking vehicles on there, but even if those are taken at face value, it wasnt a big number.  And for those oddballs, chances are the vehicle that was traded to the program was beat to crap or non-running.  Consider the basic facts… it was a $5000 credit for a tradein.  It the car was worth more that $5k, it would have just been simply traded in as a regular car.  We basically only lost out on a bunch of old pickups, Explorers, malaise era rustbuckets, etc.  Thats not what people want to buy.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Agreed – the supplies of used car is tight because of the crash in sales of a few years ago. People who did not buy new cars in Carmageddon have held onto thier used cars longer. Plus the poor economy the past few years has not helped car sales either. And I think people are finally realizing that you can keep modern cars a lot longer with not many issues.

        But good used cars are out there, I just picked up a nice clean ’95 Volvo 945 for $1400. The finest cheap used car known to man. The Sedish Panther, but with actual build quality, safety, and driving dynamics.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        Exactly, no one has any money, no one has any credit, people are keeping thier cars instead of trading them in, the ones that can buy new are leasing less and buying more, all that makes a much bigger effect on the supply of used cars than 700,000 junkers being crushed.

        Good find on the Volvo!

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar
    PG

    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!

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