Hooniverse Asks- What Car Should My Sister-in-Law Buy?

My sister-in law needs to get a new car. Well, not a new car, but something different from the ’91 fart-canned Miata that has been her daily driver for nigh-on a decade. That red drop top has developed a nasty overheating problem that will require the removal and probable tanking of the engine block to solve. As no one really wants to invest that much time in the beast, she’s looking at replacing it, but can’t make up her mind.
Now, she grew up in a household with a lot of impressive iron, and was used to driving to high school in a Pantera or Jag E-Type, so she does have some rarified tastes. Unfortunately, she also is a bit lax in abiding to maintenance schedules so whatever she ends up with will need to be able to go that extra mile ( or 5,000) between oil changes.
So far she’s been looking at cars that would not be considered daily drivers even by Jackie Stewart – Lotus Esprits, Elises, Elans, and the like- even an Espada! A boxster runs high on her list, but even that seems somewhat mundane to her. The criteria required are: sporty above all else, sufficiently reliable and comfortable for 50-mile + daily drives, and fit in your pocket small. Living in Southern California means that winter driving capabilities aren’t an important factor.
While married, she and her husband are unburdened by kids, so a two-seater would meet their needs. They currently have in their stable a 2002 A4 (her husband’s ride), a Milano, a ’67 Duetto and a clapped-out toyota pickup of indeterminate age. None of these (save the Audi) are acceptably reliable – or comfortable – transportation over the long haul.
Her father and I have been pushing for the Porsche (along with an improved maintenance regime) or a newer Miata. She says she’s done with boring Japanese cars, and that a convertible top, while nice, isn’t necessary in her next ride.
Any suggestions as to what she should get?
Image sources: [forum Miata.net, digiads.com]

76 Comments

      1. Unfortunately, the interior makes the Fisher Price Cozy Coupe look like a Bentley Arnage. Terrible. It's like someone took all of an Aztek's unpainted cladding and molded it into a dashboard. Don't get me wrong, they drive great, but when I was out looking for a 2-seater it only took 5 minutes to cross it off my list.

        1. Huh.
          Never really liked the 350z. Looove the look of the 370 (fangs, boomerangs and all).
          Never been a big fan of either Porsche or Nissan exhaust notes.

  1. A Lotus Elise is a perfectly good daily driver. Toyota engine (as much as I hate Toyotas and as many problems they are having, their engines are still smooth and solid), sporty, and not boring. Hell, if she was used to driving to high school in a Pantera, the Elise is downright civilized! Plus, compared to other options — like an Ariel Atom or a Se7en — it is much more drivable on a daily basis.
    I would also recommend a nice, used E36 or E46 M3 or an Audi RS4.

    1. I'm going to slightly disagree on the Elise for one, and only one reason. If the owner of the Elise has any back problems whatsoever or needs to wear a skirt for any reason, getting in and out is damn near an impossibility, especially with the top in place be it soft top or hard top.
      But driving that thing is about as great as it gets, especially in the PA mountains around 6pm on a summer evening with the top off, no radio, only her Blackwatch racing supercharged engine…the wind in my hair…ok I'm back. Sorry.
      Dang I'm glad I don't have back problems…and rarely wear a skirt.

          1. My goddam calf escaped today, got outside the damned gate, and the neighbor came and got me and I had to get it back on the same side of the fence as its mom…
            Oh. Different kind of calves. Nevermind.

          2. My farmer brother-in-law is already convinced I don't know shit. Wonder how he's gonna respond when I tell him that calves look great in heels.

  2. I'm a big fan of the mazdas (contrary to my usage of a Ford for the LeMons car, which was a right place/right time thing), so I would stick with the flying M – go ZOOM ZOOM. Here's my shortlist:
    Mazdaspeed 3 (if small is the key – previous generation bodystyle preferrably)
    Mazdaspeed 6 (once you've made sure the smoking turbo has been fixed by the dealer – dd'd one of these until buying my most recent beater b2200)
    NC chassis Miata (if she's been happy with the older version she should be pretty chuffed by this one as well)
    Finally, if she's interested in the Z3, I do know of someone (in So-Cal, San Diego area) selling a 2000 2.5 with 30k on the clock (these are verified old-man miles as well) contact me for more info, asking price is 6k, but I'm sure there's room for movement.

  3. 2004 Ford Lighting. Seats 2. Gets terrible fuel economy. Replaces that Toyota pickemup. Comfortable long hauler. Loud, fast, and to anyone not in the know, just another truck. Also, built Ford tough.

  4. Budget applies, maintenance habits remain unchanged:
    MR2
    S2000
    Lexus SC300
    Monster Miata
    Budget applies, better maintenance habits:
    MR2 Turbo
    MazdaSpeed MX5
    SC300 + Forced induction (stealth Supra)
    Z3 M Coupe
    M3
    NSX
    S2000 + Forced induction
    WRX
    Evo
    Monster Miata
    Budget not a big issue, still not clockwork on maintenance:
    Lotus Elise (I have met people who use them as daily drivers)
    Porsche Boxster / Cayman
    996 911
    Newer NSX
    S4
    Monster Miata
    Anyone notice the common thread here?

  5. With her "rarified" tastes? A VW R32 would be my suggestion. Think of it as a WRX STi for adults, with the sweetest exhaust note this side of an M3.
    Plenty of 'em on eBay.

      1. Got tipped to it earlier. Was going to run an article on it, but it's already all over Twitter and FaceBorg, thought it might be horribly redundant, since everyone seemed to have seen it.
        Yes. I want it. Curse you, total-lack-of-money!

  6. I believe you may have happened across some manner of V8 powered 914 yesterday. While that particular car is out, a rather awesome project is a 914 with a later model flat six (993 preferably). Properly braced the car is ridiculously light and fast, and the terror of the club racing world. Plus I think a 9014 kit looks pretty sweet on it for road use. Then again a project car really isn't what she wants, it's what I want.
    Tell her to get the Boxster Spyder, it's bad ass. Or find her another classic XKE (wait, that's for me again).

  7. Dead reliable? comfortable?
    If I were in the market for a car of these requirements I'd jump for a Volvo P1800, or even better a P1800ES. There's a guy in Long Island whose P1800 coupe has the world record for most miles put on a single non-commercial vehicle. It's racked up over 2 and a half million of em! It isn't as sporty as some of the options on the table but it's certainly different. I wouldn't call it mundane.
    [img src="http://www.volvo-addict.co.uk/acatalog/volvo-p1800-3-1.jpg"%5D
    [img src="http://www.speedace.info/automotive_directory/car_images/volvo_1800_roger_moore_the_saint.jpg"%5D

  8. I think she's on the right track with the Elise, if she wants small, sporty, and reliable.
    Gotta comment on that Miata photo, though – the owner is doing it right, and it's one of the disproportionately large number of Internet car photos with New Hampshire plates.

    1. If she doesn't want to worry about maintaining it meticulously, that's probably not the greatest idea in the world. I think a Mazdaspeed (read: turbo) NB would be a very nice step up if she wants to keep it in the small, light, easy-to-park, and easily-maintained field.

    2. The sequential turbo setup is pretty notorious for going wrong which is why it's extremely rare to see it left intact on anything with the slightest tune.
      The 13b is a solid engine as long as you're absolutely religious about the maintenance schedule… miss one too many oil changes and you'll be rebuilding it though. Add to that wear on the turbos and… yeah…
      Basically, if you're dealing with someone who is known to exceed oil change intervals by several thousand miles, avoid turbo chargers.

  9. Anything with a moonroof, or whatever you call an enormous, opaque roof panel that comes off. Pretty much a Targa top. It's excellent, even in a Michigan winter!
    Personally, I'd take a Boxster or some other Porsche. I'm not biased at all…
    Actually, there are a number of great choices that people have listed. Elise being one of them.

  10. Okay, people, she's done with Japanese cars, why keep on suggesting them. Of everything I see mentioned above, got to say the Z3 M Coupe is the wonkiest one that still fits the reliable bill. But forget that, how about something really absurd: a Chrysler Crossfire. Don't laugh (too much)– the cost of these things has plummeted to where they are no more than a comparable year Miata. For this you get a Mercedes SLK with improved suspension and steering, an Eric Stoddard-designed Karmann-built body, and weirdness galore. You also get a rear wheel drive coupe or roadster with solidly good acceleration (outrageous if she gets the supercharged version), phenomenal roadholding with those oversize tires, and some of the best braking distances around. Is it as much of a machine as the Boxster? No, but a near-new one will be half the price of the Porsche.

  11. I'm not up on current Subaru availability, but I would go for the latest (last?) turbo Legacy Wagon that came with a 5-speed.
    Fun, and somewhat grown up.

  12. BMW Z4 M Coupe. Miata-ish size. Lots of power, no convertible top to mess with. You won't see one on every street like the Boxster. Sure everyone loves the Z3 M Coupe, but those are getting to be a little old to be considered really reliable, plus they are even harder to find especially the wildest S54 powered ones. While odd looking the Z4 coupe isn't quite as odd looking as the Z3 coupe. Probably a lower cost to maintain than the Boxster too, at least you can see the engine when you open the hood. It shares most mechanical bits with other 3 series and M3s.

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