Ask Bark: Hi, I'm A Millennial Who Likes Cars!

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth

Conner (Conner? Is that a real name?) writes:

Hey Bark,

Twenty-three-year-old car buying millennial here.

I recently got my first big boy job that pays big boy money. But because I’m definitely not a big boy yet and have nearly no responsibilities other than making rent, I’m going to spend it on silly things like cars and candy. (Effing bravo! –Bark).

I bought my first car three years ago, and I’m possibly the only person to win German luxobarge reliability roulette with an ’03 Audi allroad 2.7TT. (Brown: Check. Wagon: Check. Sorry B&B, not a manual diesel.) It has yet to lunch a turbo, and I’ve learned a lot by fixing the little things that have come up. I love this machine and will be keeping it as my dedicated AWD winter wagon/shit hauler/adventuremobile in addition to whatever I get next.

However, the winter-limo is neither the most fun nor most practical thing to scoot around my central Idaho ski town during the non-winter months. So, I’m looking for something much more fun and slightly more economical to become its stablemate.

My budget is around $17,000, with $20,000 on the higher end. I think that I would prefer a hot(-ish) hatchback of some kind where I can row my own, but am open to pretty much any and all suggestions. The Audi has spoiled me in terms of comfy seats, a quiet cabin, and a good stereo. Stuff like this would be certainly appreciated in whatever comes next. New or used is fine, and I have no allegiances or aversions to particular brands. American, German, Japanese, whatever.

The shortlist I’ve got so far goes something like this:

  • Fiesta ST (frontrunner)
  • Focus ST (bigger than I need)
  • Mk. VI GTI (VW sucks for cheating, but this is still a good car)
  • S2000 (I’ve just always thought these were cool for whatever reason)
  • WRX Hatch (least favorite, but it checks nearly every box)

I know that this list is likely missing a number of great candidates, so please help me either expand or narrow my search! As mentioned, I live in central Idaho, but would have no problem traveling just about anywhere in the northwest for the right car.

Many thanks in advance!

Oh, Conner. You’re just so Millennial-ish! You might not realize this, but us Gen Xers used to be young, too. When I was your age, my choices were not anywhere near as good as what you have available to you today. When I was 23, I bought a freaking Hyundai Tiburon with 140 horsepower — and my friends were completely jealous because I had a new car. I paid $13,000 for it. Oh, those were the days.

Where were we? Oh, yes, I was saying that it’s unbelievable how far we’ve come in the last 15 years. It truly is a golden age for cheap, safe speed. Also, get off my lawn. Seriously. I just had TruGreen out to treat it.

I know that you aren’t going to drive this car much in the winter, so I don’t think the driveability of the car in the cold is a huge deal. That’s good, because all of the cars you mentioned are downright awful in the snow without an investment in winter wheels and tires. Having the Audi around will save you money and frustration, and it will keep the snow and salt off of your new toy.

I’m going to address your list from least preferred to most, and then we’ll talk about some additional ideas.

The newest S2000s are nearly a decade old now, and even in their primes, they are just not that great to drive on a daily basis. I have more S2000 seat time than most, and I wouldn’t recommend having one as a daily, even if you don’t have to drive it in the snow. I would imagine that a lot of the S2000s in your price range have been driven hard and put away wet, so get ready to get intimately acquainted with the differentials and axles if you decide to get one. Bark doesn’t recommend an S2000 for anybody who is not intending to use it as a dedicated track/autocross toy.

WRX Hatch checks all the boxes, I agree — except for the box of you actually liking it. For that reason alone, you should remove it from your list. If it doesn’t light you on fire, then why on Earth would you spend your money on it? Just because the Internet says it’s neat? Bah. Next.

This hurts me to say this, but the Fiesta ST doesn’t check any of the boxes you mentioned. Comfy seats? Not really. Quiet cabin? No. Good stereo? No. The FiST is about as close as you can get to the E30 M3 in a modern car, which is a great thing until you need to drive it every day. The suspension is mega-stiff, the brake pads wear very quickly (and are hard to source come replacement time), and you can’t put adults in the back seat for any length of time. While I love mine, I don’t think it’s the right car for you.

The Focus is a little more refined than the Fiesta. And while you might think it’s too large now, the first time that you have to take some friends somewhere, you might be glad that you have the extra space. It’s less bumpy and had a slightly better stereo, but the seats are still not super comfortable. I’m 5’9″ and 170-175 pounds, and I don’t fit in the FoST Recaros very well. You’re probably super fit and trendy and what not, so maybe that’s not a concern for you, but I wouldn’t want to drive it every day.

Which leaves us with the GTI. I find it amusing (in a good way) that you have a negative opinion of Volkswagen as a company for “cheating.” Personally, I don’t give a fuck if their cars pollute the environment, but I realize that people of your generation are programmed to look for micro-aggressions and triggers and whatnot, so you have to consider whether or not your Idaho ski town buds would leave nasty notes on your windshield, accusing you of being a dirty carbon-fouler, blah, blah, blah. I doubt if any of them truly understand the nature of the “cheating,” or how many cars other than VW are actually cheating cold-start tests and the like as we speak, but if it keeps some hot snowbunny from putting your legs over your shoulders in the back seat … well, we don’t want that. If I were the one making the buying decision, I’d go GTI. But, I think I have a better idea.

There’s a brand that’s so popular in the Pacific Northwest that if one were to live there full time, you’d think that it actually had a non-trivial share of the automotive market. Of course, I’m talking about Subaru. I know that you don’t care for the WRX hatch, but why not consider a BRZ? They’re in your price range, they’re attractive, and they really do check every box that you have. If you want to get into a little bit of modding, there are oodles of forums that will help you turn your BRZ into a rip-snorting mountain road scalpel. The ladies will dig it. You’ll have fun driving it. It’s a win-win.

Go find a lightly-used BRZ, save some loot for some power and suspension upgrades, and you’ll be the happiest millennial this side of Justin Bieber. Christ, I’m old.

Please make sure to drink your Ovaltine, and also to email your questions to Bark at He also dispenses wisdom 140 characters at a time on Twitter, and he takes terrible quality photographs on Instagram.

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
Mark "Bark M." Baruth

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3 of 119 comments
  • Maymar Maymar on Mar 15, 2016

    Just because they're stupidly cheap and no one else has recommended it, Mazda RX-8? Of course, I don't know if your experience with the Audi means you'd be adept enough to keep a rotary running, or if you've spent all your reliability luck on the Allroad. Still, fun, but a touch more refined than a Miata (but thirsty). Mind you, as empathetic as I am to doing something irrational and stupid because you're young, maybe budget for $5k of irrational and stupid instead of $17-20k? Just maintaining rainy day savings, have something set aside for if anything happens to the Audi, or just get started on retirement savings (boring, really boring, but 5+ more years of compounding interest helps). $5k will at least easily get you a motorcycle (and also gear and lessons, definitely get good gear and lessons).

    • Wagoon2.7TT Wagoon2.7TT on Mar 15, 2016

      An RX-8 has crossed my mind before. One of my good friends has one and loves it. She loves it enough to be on her third engine. I don't know if I'm ready to take that on. (And I'm sure that my reliability luck has pretty much been spent on the 2.7TT) This is very good advice, and something I've been thinking a lot about. As has been brought up earlier, this is definitely not a "now need", but a youthful want. I'm trying to balance rational planning and impulsive fun having, which I'm finding to be kinda tricky. Thank you for the input.

  • Jagboi Jagboi on Mar 16, 2016

    You could nicely fit a 2007+ Jaguar XK into your budget, either coupe or convertible. I didn't see any XKR's it the budget, but you might in time. The XKR is the supercharged version, initially 420 hp, after 2010 the 5.0 is 550 hp. Normally aspirated is 300hp (4.2) and 385 (5.0) Aluminum body, and very reliable, you will be spending a lot less on repairs and parts than for the Audi (been there, done that as a former VW owner). I think the 2007 and up is nicer than the earlier cars. I know 3 owners and their cars have all been trouble free in 5+ years of ownership.

  • Jeff Glad that GM still makes a car for enthusiasts. Maybe if Chris is lucky he could get his hands on one it would make a good car review.
  • Tsarcasm Someone tell soft skull (musk) about the moss magnuson warranty act
  • Ajla Nice car.
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X Not at all.
  • Verbal Here's a little tale about long-term Tesla ownership.In 2017 my buddy bought a three year-old Model S for $68k, which was the going rate at the time. He kept it garaged and treated it with kid gloves. It looked and ran virtually like new. The only problem he ever had with it was some kind of recurring issue with the driver's door handle. He never had to replace the brakes.A couple months ago, at ten years of age, the original battery finally bricked. Tesla quoted him $17k to do a battery replacement. But! If he replaced the battery, they would give him $11k in trade on a new Tesla!!! You don't have to be a math genius to see that those are crooked numbers.Using aftermarket parts is a non starter. Rebuilt batteries can be sketch. And the cap that goes on the battery is a Tesla-only part.Most people don't have $17k burning a hole in their pocket for a car repair. What are you going to do? Ask your credit union for a $17k loan to put a new battery in your ten year-old car? Good luck with that.A local auto recycler quoted him $1000. The recycler said that if he replaced the battery, the car would have a resale value in the low $20k's. That wouldn't give him enough headroom to make it worth his while. He said there are 150,000 dead Teslas in the national inventory (don't know where he gets this figure). And there's no demand for used Tesla parts, since most Tesla owners seem to treat their cars well. So Teslas with dead batteries have marginal scrap value.Thus, my friend's Tesla, with 80k miles on the clock and in excellent condition, with a dead battery, was scrapped. During his ownership, the car depreciated by around $800 a month.He saved a lot of money by not paying for gas, oil changes, tune ups, and consumables. But in the end, all those saving were erased by huge depreciation.Welcome to long term Tesla ownership, folks.(Cue the wailing and rending of garments from the Tesla fanboyz.)