Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Idle time...cars for J. Weston

My pal J. Weston in West Palm is finally talking about looking for a new car.

It's about time.

Currently his ride of choice is an 88(-ish) Toyota pickup, mostly steel gray (except for the darker gray fender that was replaced after an accident.) It's got a white bed capper that's probably as old as the vehicle itself, with clear silicone caulk sealing all the windows. The pneumatic shocks on the back glass don't work so you have to hold it up to get anything out of the back. The battery and fusebox are held in with zipties because that corner of the engine compartment was crushed during the accident. It's missing the right-hand turn blinker up front because of this. The tires are 3 inches wide and cost 50 bucks a pair. A while back we replaced the carburetor because one of the flaps was jammed, even after that I think the venerable 22R engine only makes a whopping 85 horsepower. At one time he was replacing batteries every week because a grounding issue would kill them flat even sitting in the parking lot.

There are good things about it, of course.

It's so light...it's only a 2 wheel drive, and it's a regular cab. Even with a million miles on it, it still gets fantastic mileage (thanks to that new carburetor, I'm sure, ) and beyond the problems in the past it's relatively maintenance free (the clutch was replaced less than 5000 miles ago.) Hell, there's an original sticker on it that recommends a 9000 mile oil change interval. The 22R is a 'classic' Toyota engine, off-roaders love it and worship it. And of course, if you watch Top Gear (and you should) you know that Toyota pickups (Hilux in Europe) are indestructible.

So....I had some free time at work. JW had asked about some recommendations for cars so I whipped up a quick list:

Chevy Cobalt:

Chevy's replacement for the long-running Cavalier. They finally updated the styling and some of the quirky GM interior issues, but it's a perfect example of classic American small-car. 2.2L Ecotec engine, which is legendary in some circles (GM has an Ecotec build-up guide that can get you up to 400 hp with some simple bolt-ons.) An Ecotec powers GM's Lakester, ION, and Cobalt out on the salt flats of Bonneville.

Pros: Legendary engine, solid drivetrain, fresh design. On the more inexpensive end of the scale.
Cons: Not quite as refined as some of the imports, first year model run for this vehicle.
Specs: $13,900-18,400; 2.2L, 145 hp Ecotec 4-cyl. 24 city, 32 highway.

Dodge SRT-4:

One of my "think outside the box" suggestions. Neon-based but don't let that fool you. With 230, easily the most horsepower of the bunch. Mitsubishi-sourced turbocharger. Edmunds calls it "A ridiculously fast econobox with the suspension to back it up, the SRT-4 is undeniably the most performance you can buy for $20K."

Pros: 'Rediculously fast', relatively inexpensive. Aggressive styling.
Cons: Based on a Neon (not *that* bad of a thing though,) Among the lowest mileage of the group.
Specs: Around $19k with current pricing; 230 hp, 2.4L turbo 4-cyl. 22 city, 30 highway.

Honda Civic:

Mainstay of the sub-$20k cars. Quality Honda engineering, each successive generation gets better and more refined. Probably the best equipped for the price range, with aftermarket customization options out the wazoo, but there's a fine line between 'rice rocket' and 'sporty'

Pros: Reliable engine, refined interior. Best mileage for a standard engine.
Cons: Looks are either 'econobox' or 'ricer'. Entry-level performance. Not unique as they are *everywhere.*
Specs: $13,260-21,760 (high end is the hybrid model); 115hp, 1.7L 4-cyl. 29 city, 38 highway.

Mazda 3:

Probably my biggest 'out of the box' suggestion. I think most people always think Honda/Toyota/Nissan when they think sub-$20k cars, I think Mazda's are especially underrated. The new Mazda 3's are sporty and fresh-looking, as Mazda is trying hard to get back into the small car business. Shares the same platform (Gloabl C1) as it's Ford-owned siblings, the Volvo S40 and Ford Focus. Probably my favorite of the list.

Pros: Solid, proven platform. Sporty handling and nice interior. Unique look. Highest non-turbo horsepower of the group.
Cons: Hard to find....uhh.....
Specs: $13,710-19,165; 148hp 2.0L or 160hp 2.3L. 25 city, 34 highway.

Nissan Sentra:

I included this only because I have driven a Sentra. They are decent cars, the best thing they have going for them is the quality of the engine. They are good, cheap cars. Like the Civic though, they are kind of the default, there's nothing special about them. Unlike the Civic, not a lot has changed over the years, the current generation has stayed the much the same since it's introduction.

Pros: Proven model, reliable engine. Good mileage.
Cons: Low resale value, engine is decidedly 'un-sporty.'
Specs: $13,680-18,780; 125hp 1.8L 4 cyl. 28 city, 35 highway.

Saturn ION:

I include this because JW mentioned Saturns. Modern Saturns are unlike the Saturns of yesterday's generation (like my SW2 or Raven's SL2.) Saturn has really become "just another GM division" in recent years, and as much, borrows heavily from the GM parts bin to build their cars. They aren't as unique as they used to be. Regardless, the current ION is based on the current Pontiac Sunfire and Chevy Cavalier platform, and has the same Ecotec engine as the Cobalt does.

Pros: Solid GM platform, polymer body panels (at least for now.)
Cons: Annoyingly funky centermount gauge-cluster, Saturn service is not as good as it ued to be.
Specs: $11,925-15,225; 140hp, 2.2L 4 cyl. 24 city, 32 highway.

Subaru Impreza (2.5i):

Duh, of course I have to mention this car. The Impreza is a rally-derived car, the WRX STi version of which is on my all time Top 10 list. Unlike the WRX version (which pushes the car over $30K, sorry) this car doesn't have a turbo. Thats about it though. You still get the smooth and venerable Boxer engine, you still get the all-wheel drive system, you still get the Subie look.

Pros: Rally tech in an affordable car. All-wheel drive goodness. Aftermarket power.
Cons: No turbo. And a turbo makes this car $30k. Lower mileage.
Specs: $17,061-18,295; 173hp, 2.5L boxer-4. 22 city, 29 highway.

Toyota Corolla:

I shouldn't have to say much about the Corolla...JW has experience with this car. Except now you can get the XRS version of this car which is all a-blinged and 164 horsepower.

Pros: Smooth ride, realiable engine. Decent mileage.
Cons: Options become pricey.
Specs: $14,005-17,780; 126hp/164hp 1.8 4 cyl. 30 city, 38 highway.

VW Golf:

Somehow I see this as being the car that JW will totally ignore. No offense but car-wise, he's a bit Nippon-centric, and I don't see him even looking at a VW. I can see him now "A Golf?!" followed by something typically J. Weston-ish: "That shit is whack!" Hah. Well, here's a few things he doesn't know:

The Golf is the basically the building block of the rest of the VW line. The Golf VR6, GTi, and R32 are all incarnations of the same car, and the Jetta is basically a Golf with a trunk. Like the Subie, the hopped-up R32 version of this is on my ultimate top 10 car list, and like the Subie, the 'budget' version of this car has no turbo. And 2 more doors. The car is typically German, excellent engineering, simple but impressive interior, everything efficient, everything in ordnung. It's probably the most-engineered car of everything on the list. Add TDI goodness (Yes, embrace it!! A diesel and a turbo!) and you get the most fuel efficent care on this list at a whopping 44 mpg. (The Civic's 48 doesn't count, as thats a hybrid, which I see him going for even less than a disel VW!) The guys in Europe go nuts over diesel cars, I'm not totally sure why it never caught on here. This car has legions of fans, more than any other car on this list (except maybe the Subie,) with forums upon forums. Hell, VWVortex.com has so much power, they were consulted and influenced which models VW is going to release here next year.

Pros: German engineering, proven platform. Efficient control layout.
Cons: Least likely to impress J. Weston. TDI has the lowest horsepower (remember though, it's diesel, and has higher torque.)
Specs: $15,830-19,580; 115hp 2.0L gas 4 cyl. or 100hp 1.9 turbodiesel. 37 city, 44 highway (gas engine is a bit less.)

Wrapup:

I tried to compile a list of sub-$20k cars I think someone like J. Weston would probably be interested in. You can look and noticed that I've skipped a lot. Automatically I took out Daewoos, Kias, Hyundais, etc. While the Koreans are improving on quality (I'd buy a Hyundai Tiburon...) their resale values are still pretty low. I also skipped over larger cars like the Toyota Camry, Nissan Maxima and Altima, Mazda 6, and the Honda Accord. While they are great cars, I know they are, and they start under 15K, most of them push over 20k and indeed, well into the 25K range.

I've tried to include some cars that someone in this market might not have thought of, including cars me myself and I would love to have (the SRT-4.) I looked at cheaper versions of cars on my Ultimate Top 10 list, (Impreza WRX STi, VW R32, and the Lancer Evo) and included all but the Lancer. The cheap Lancer doesn't include the AWD, the turbo, or even the same styling. At least all versions of the Subie are based on the same platform, in the US the Evo is a totally different car than a stock Lancer.

I've also skipped cars that are inexpensive but are outside the criteria of the exercise. While I think that something like a Scion TC, Ford Escape, or an Acura RSX would be perfect, the criteria is for a sedan.

Prices listed are from Edmunds.com, horsepower and engine specs are mostly from the manufacturers websites. Most of the info is for the upcoming (or already released, mostly) 2006 models, although for most cars on this list there isn't a big difference between 05 and 06 specs, and 2005 models right now are going for excellent prices (the domestic Big 3's 'employee' pricing, for example.) Mileage is EPA, so of course that's going to vary wildly. Opinions contained herein are those of ZipperSeven and trademarked Caffeinated Raptor, Inc, Ltd. GmBH, etc. Do not turn upside down, do not use while sleeping.

2 Comments:

Blogger Midnite Raven said...

I think you forgot the "Close cover before striking" or "Do not use in a bathtub" ;)

September 07, 2005 1:38 PM  
Blogger ZipperSeven said...

Yes, and:

Do not use blog for personal hygiene.
Items stowed may shift during flight.
Do not use as a flotation device.

September 07, 2005 1:56 PM  

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