Ask Bark: Going From Minivan to Just Plain Old Mini

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth
ask bark going from minivan to just plain old mini

Kirk writes:


Please advise a guy who just turned 50 and is rolling in a ’96 Honda Odyssey. My Ody was great, but the oil filter adapter O-ring recently failed and caused all of my oil to drain out while I was driving. It’s still running, but its days are numbered.

My wife happily handed me the keys to the Ody when we bought a new one for her in ’09. Yeah, we have two minivans. How great is that? The compromise was that she allowed me to get a motorcycle, which I have put 27,000 miles on in the last five years. I love riding my bike and dread the days I must take the minivan to work.

With two of my four girls in college and our third just a few years from leaving home (our youngest is 11), I’m itching to get something fun for myself. I’d prefer to buy new and spend no more than $30,000. I’d like to get something sporty with a manual transmission. I will rarely have passengers in my car. I’m 5’8” and 140 pounds, so smaller cars suit me. I’ve driven the new MX-5 Miata several times and really enjoy its light, nimble handling and responsiveness. Another car that I loved driving was the GTI. I’ve always owned Japanese cars and would have a hard time buying German (yea, I know the GTI is built in Mexico).

My favorite car that I’ve owned was a ’83 Toyota Celica GT five-speed. Something like that would be great. My concern with the Miata is that it’s too small and only has limited trunk space. We also have a lot of cold days and hot, sunny days here, so I’m not sure how often I’d have the top down. I think the ticket for me may be the upcoming 2017 Honda Civic Si Hatch six-speed. I don’t think I want a WRX type of car as the ride I heard is a bit harsh. And I’m not a Camaro/Mustang kind of guy.

Please let me know what you think I’d enjoy driving. As you can tell, I tend to hang on to cars for a long time.

Thanks for your advice!

Kirk, I feel like you’re baiting me into recommending a Fiesta ST … and maybe I will! But let’s explore some of the other options first.

Some cars that I’m going to exclude right off the bat: Audi A3 (German, not as fast as you’d want it to be in sub-$30,000 trim), all the pony cars (Camaro, Mustang, Challenger), Nissan 370Z (too heavy, not super nimble, small trunk, unrefined engine), Hyundai Genesis Coupe (a little too heavy and too much grunt in comparison to the cars you prefer).

You might be the poster customer for the MX-5. You have the minivan for family transportation, you don’t need to take many people or possessions with you when you travel, and you like lightweight, tossable cars. And while you’re rightly concerned about trunk space in the Miata, how much space do you really need when you have the Odyssey? You mentioned that driving to work might be a concern, so maybe you’re a cellist? If you need more space, let’s investigate other options.

If you liked the Toyota Celica, why not take a look at the upcoming Toyota 86? I saw the Toyo-ized version at the New York International Auto Show last week, and it looked great. However, getting in and out of the Toyota isn’t the easiest thing in the world. If you’re planning to keep the car for a while, that could end up being a concern in the future. Trunk space isn’t all that awesome, either — only about 7 cubic feet.

I also saw the Civic Hatchback in New York, and I’ve heard very, very good things from those in the know about the upcoming Civic Si hatch. If that’s up your alley, you might try waiting the Odyssey out and see if you can make it last until the new Si bows.

And yes, if you really enjoyed the GTI, you owe it to yourself to check out the ST twins from Ford. The FiST has no problem swallowing my 27-inch suitcase in the hatch, and it’s every bit as much fun as the GTI. However, the FiST is considerably harsher riding than the GTI, and the interior isn’t nearly as nice. It’s more of a raw driver’s experience than the VeeDub, and you mentioned that you’re not a fan of the WRX-style driving experience.

Why not a Focus ST? It’s got a little more grunt than the GTI, it’s not as stiff as the FiST, and it’s got about as much room as the GTI. It depends on what you like about the GTI. If you like the creature comforts of the GTI, the FoST isn’t for you. If you liked the driving dynamics, the Focus might be more your speed.

But let’s not kid ourselves. You wrote to me asking for permission to get an MX-5, so I’m going to grant your wish. Yes, Kirk, not only will I give you permission to do it, I’m going to tell you that it’s the best possible choice for you. You’ll enjoy the convertible on the days you can use it, you’ll love the driving experience, and you’ll smile every time that you get to drive it. You’ve endured a lot of minivan time, my friend. It’s time to reward yourself with the roadster of your dreams. In fact, why not the new RF model?

So while Miata might not always be the answer, in this case it definitely is.

[Image: PRNewsFoto/Mazda Motor Corporation]

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5 of 59 comments
  • Slap Slap on Apr 01, 2016

    I used to ride motorcycles - I've ridden around 50K miles, both as a daily driver and for trips, like from DC to El Paso, TX. A couple of years ago I started thinking about getting another bike. But frankly, the way people drive these days I really didn't want to get back out in traffic. So I ended up buying a NC Miata. It's a hoot to drive, and if I need to carry anything I'll use my wife's CR-V. The trunk is big enough to go grocery shopping and 99% of the trips I take. As an example, I went to Target, Lowes, and Home Depot today. I didn't buy the 8' lumber today, but I bought everything else I wanted.

    • Kclindley Kclindley on Apr 01, 2016

      Your situation is similar to mine. I see several people looking down at their phone every day when I'm on my bike and I'm concerned that I might get bumped eventually. I think the Miata will scratch my itch for fun trans portion and then I can either sell my bike, just keep it for week-end canyon riding.

  • Zososoto Zososoto on Apr 01, 2016

    I've been lurking on this site for years, and only recently started posting. There are all sorts of people from many walks of life having passionate and serious discourse here, and I appreciate that. From the stodgy right wing old fogies like CJ to the anarchist cartunez and BTSR in the middle, just about everyone gives me pause and makes me think. However, there seems to be a trend here that is troubling me. I keep on seeing men lamenting about their "better half" not allowing them to purchase or own toys, even with their own money. This might be a motorcycle, a fishing boat, or old reliable-ish cars such as a 1986 Supra or 1998 Camaro. Many times, the men gave up the good fight without being able to muster any protest at all, nay, not even a whimper. "She'd never let me keep this in the driveway." These men are more content to wistfully long for their playthings than to even broach the issue? Presumably, most of these married men have jobs and support their families. Are they not entitled to a hobby or toys of their own? I have 4 sisters and no brothers, and my father is an extremely flawed role model, though he has his merits. I grew up cherishing the women in my family, and eschewing many of my father's habits, such as his womanizing, and how he treated my mother. I foolishly extended too much kindness, honesty, and openness - as if all women were worthy - to crushes, female friends of mine, or even acquaintances. Only now, at 27, am I learning that I and many other men have gone too far. That many (or even most) women do appreciate a strong, decisive, masculine male. One who DOESN'T find it appropriate to cry while watching a drama. One who assumes the position as leader of the family. It might have been endearing, 50 years ago, to call your wife "your better half." However, let's not forget that it the reason it caught on was because it was a subversion of the norms at the time. The problem is that now many women and men are actually starting to believe it! Maybe I, as a single male, simply do not understand. But how hard can it be to say, "Honey, I'm going to buy myself a 1968 Mustang as a project car. I always wanted one, and I found a nice runner for 8K." Your responses to her objections? "I'll be cleaning out the garage to make space." ... "Wont it be fun to drive up to Napa in it on the weekends?" .... . Or if you're feeling cheeky, "You aren't going to leave me over a car, are you?"

    • See 1 previous
    • Zososoto Zososoto on Apr 01, 2016

      @carlisimo That's true. The old blame it on the wife/gf when you dont want to go out with your buds, or camping, or what have you. In your case, I think you're doing it the right way. There's nothing wrong with you having a car you like, and she gets to have a car she likes. And you have your affordable toy as well. However, she does have some veto power on new purchases. Just like I would want to have if I was married and my wife decided she just needs an Evoque or something like that. By the way, I feel like sometimes people who are learning stick hate it because of how nervous they get, especially when the car's owner is with them. Maybe you should try letting the wife borrow your car? Without your supervision? She might learn to have fun with it. A few years ago, I taught my sister how to drive stick. She knew the fundamentals, but had not mastered it. One day, I asked her to pull out my RX7 and put it on the street. My friend and I watched her stall several times, and he was trying to coax/coach her with the process. I then realized the best thing we could do is walk back inside the house and let her do it alone. A few minutes later she pulled up to the house, haven taken it for a quick joyride around the neighborhood. She ended up buying a CRX of her own, and now drives manuals exclusively if she can help it.

  • Kcflyer on one hand it at least wont have dirty intake valves like Honda's entire lineup of direct injection ice vehicles. on the other hand a CRV offers more room, more range, faster fueling and lower price, hmm
  • Tassos BTW I thought this silly thing was always called the "Wienermobile".
  • Tassos I have a first cousin with same first and last name as my own, 17 years my junior even tho he is the son of my father's older brother, who has a summer home in the same country I do, and has bought a local A3 5-door hatch kinds thing, quite old by now.Last year he told me the thing broke down and he had to do major major repairs, replace the whole engine and other stuff, and had to rent a car for two weeks in a touristy location, and amazingly he paid more for the rental ( Euro1,500, or $1,650-$1,700) than for all the repairs, which of course were not done at the dealer (I doubt there was a dealer there anyway)
  • Tassos VW's EV program losses have already been horrific, and with (guess, Caveman!) the Berlin-Brandenburg Gigafactory growing by leaps and bounds, the future was already quite grim for VW and the VW Group.THis shutdown will not be so temporary.The German Government may have to reach in its deep pockets, no matter how much it hates to spend $, and bail it out."too big to fail"?
  • Billccm I had a 1980 TC3 Horizon and that car was as reliable as the sun. Underappreciated for sure.