New or Used: Deficient in Practicality, Full in Spirit

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
new or used deficient in practicality full in spirit

Philip writes:

As spring descends on Texas & a young man’s (OK, middle aged man’s) fancy turns to cars deficient in practicality but full in spirit, I bring to you the following dilemma for your consideration.

The parameters are simple, manual is a must, RWD is preferable, A/C is mandatory (this is Texas), price point should be less than $30K, pre-owned and pre-loved is fine.

The choices are narrowing down to classic marques and Japanese hot imports. In no particular order; Porsche 911, Lotus Elise, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution and Subaru WRX-STI. Each has unique advantages and drawbacks. Cachet versus all-out performance, specialized services versus the local franchise dealer, low-tech tradition versus hi-tech cutting edge.

This is my case for you to ponder. Or perhaps there’s even a car or two I have overlooked (I already have a BMW 325)? Your input, knowledge and experience would be greatly appreciated.

Steve answers:

You pretty much ignored one of the largest gaping holes in today’s new car market. The muscle car. Obviously you have some import leaning given your current choices which is perfectly fine. But I would consider broadening your horizons a bit.

There is a reason why the Ford Mustang outsells all of the cars you mentioned… combined. It’s an exceptional vehicle. If I were blowing $30k large on a ride it would be hard NOT to consider a late model Shelby GT500. A few weeks ago there was an ultra low-mileage one at a Carmax auction and everyone short of… well… me… went to see it. You will likely find that a 2007 model in the 20k to 30k odometer range will be in the $30k price range.

I won’t push you on a Corvette. Although that would definitely be on my list as well. I will say that a five year old Mercedes SLK 55 or a three to four year old Audi S4 would both be excellent possibilities. Yes they are as expensive to deal with as Elton John’s jewelry fetish, and the Corvette is an infinitely better ‘keeper’ vehicle than either of those two. But these models along with the BMW M3 and M5 should definitely be on the list.

Just make sure you are willing to invest in the high four figures after you buy any of these European models. You will need it.

Sajeev Answers:

Given your criteria, location and performance aspirations, you’re selling yourself short if you avoid a nicely-equipped (early) C6 Corvette. At least for a test drive. The Magna-Ride bits kill the competition, and LS2-FTW. The interior is more WRX than 911, but avoiding domestic brands on “cache” and “spirit” alone make me think North Dallas snob appeal. Which, even if I’m too young for a mid-life crisis, makes this Alief-bred Houstonian choke on his morning coffee.

But I get it: plenty of middle aged dudes go for GM’s plastic fantastic for ALL the wrong reasons. And that’s pretty lame.

You want a car with a soul, and the Corvette projects the wrong one. You can easily get a baseline 996 Porker, enjoy the $250+ repair bill for the failing headlight switch and a host of other service nightmares that aren’t so fiscally-challenging on a Corvette. But I would personally spend a couple grand over your budget for an SL55 AMG, sans warranty: expensive to care for and shockingly complex, but the best road burner for Texas highways. Both do not stop/steer/go like a Vette, but they come close enough and look like a million.

I say get over it. Buy a Vette, ditch the run-flat tires, put headers and a full exhaust, and be everyone’s boss.

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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5 of 84 comments
  • Jkross22 Jkross22 on Apr 10, 2011

    How about an 850ci from the mid 90's. A 12 cylinder with a manual transmission!!!!

  • Philipbarrett Philipbarrett on Apr 14, 2011

    What a thread! Thank you one and all for your musings on my dilemma. It seemed as if the 'Vette was the strongest recommendation but how about that NSX? Now there's a car that had NOT crossed my mind! Regrettably though, the Corvette does not light my fire. Honestly, I'm never going to get beyond it's status as a mid-life crisis car (and I'm going to put any of the hot Mustangs & Camaros in the same bracket I'm afraid). There's a "who cares what it looks like" ethos that I do understand, but to me looks are too much a part of the spirit I am seeking. I did drive some Lancers & STis (and in doing so remembered all the reasons I hate car dealers). Pretty much everything I saw in my price range was "not as described" and I realized, these are models to buy new and probably deal through the internet at that. Similarly, Porsche dealers (including my local Ruff) are fairly disinterested in oiks like me with thin wallets although I did find a gorgeous 993 but it was a convertible and when I need to go topless my wife's Wrangler offers about as much fun and the 911's doors were much more difficult to detatch. The BMWs were all great choices, I tested a stick 530i and the punch from 30mph was intoxicating except I already own a 3 series which I have always planned to keep. More on that later. So, based on the initial criteria above and being under 5'9" it has to be the Lotus. Drop dead looks, fantastic handling and Toyota mechanicals. Hard on the kidneys? Sure, but as Frankenfurter said "I didn't make him for you." A lack of understanding or appreciation by the local muscle car orientated community here means that the ones on dealer lots languish and deals can be had. Except I didn't buy the Lotus. Sheryl Crowe once sang "it's not getting what you want, it's wanting what you've got" and like the prodigal son I returned home to my BMW 325iT (wagon) and realized that it has almost everything I'm looking for. Although no longer a fraulein in my eyes, like any good women a little pampering could surely bring back some of the youth in her. After nearly a decade of ferrying children and equipment without complaint doesn't she deserve a little attention herself? I must say she's now quite a looker again, what with some bodywork, her full Bilstein suspension, Euro lights, alloy wheels and low profiles. And beautiful on the inside too; an aFE intake, Borla exhaust, chip upgrade, pulleys and a tint to protect her from the harsh Texas elements has worked a pleasant spring back into her step and sideways glances from guys who should know better than to disobey the 10th Commandment. All for less than a down payment on the Elise. It's been a fun ride.

    • See 2 previous
    • PrincipalDan PrincipalDan on Apr 14, 2011

      @PrincipalDan I'm lucky living here in the land of convertibles (New Mexico, once upon a time we had the highest percentage of registered convertible in the country.) I just checked autotrader and there are literally dozens of old Miatas with less than 60,000 miles for less than $8,000 within 500 miles of me. Enjoy your purchase.

  • Golden2husky Cash for clunkers was a horrible waste of resources. "Car dealers are asset rich and cash poor. Cash flow is something we look at every single day in a car dealership," she continued. "What if that $200,000 the government owes me is the same time I have a big payroll, and I have floorplan to pay off and, oh, it's tax time? All of a sudden, the dealer is in a cash crunch."Oh, my heart is just breaking for them...and with all that ADM, they can go screw themselves...they should have a line of credit. Use it.
  • Sgeffe How much of a current draw is one of those digital plates?
  • Ajla I had a chance to drive a few Toyota/Lexus products the last two weeks. The turbo-4 is basically charmless. I don't see much reason to go for it over the over the 2.5L or a HSD hybrid. Maybe if you live at higher elevation?The "HybridMax" is interesting. The stronger rear motor gives it more of a RWD feel. It isn't a sporty powertrain but was reasonably smooth and powerful.
  • MaintenanceCosts A fair deal would be a single tier with at least a 33% raise for everyone over the life of the contract to make up for recent inflation and quite a few below-inflation years.Retiree health benefits and pensions are ridiculous, could legitimately bankrupt the automakers (unlike the raise), and shouldn't be in the deal.I'd really like to see the union accept a bit less cash and go after the 32-hour workweek harder. I think all of our society would be better on a four-day-a-week schedule, with little if any loss of output - business after business has found that people are more productive with four-day schedules, and almost everyone who tries it keeps it.
  • Jordan Mulach Hey Matt, this story has already been uncovered as not being the Camry update. Toyota US actually took independent digital renders and used them.You can see more about it from the artist here: