Mobile Advice

If you describe yourself as a normal person, take a look in your phone’s contact list. Rifle through all those names until you find the dullest person you know. Take a good look at that phone number - that should be the one you dial when you have questions about buying a car. If you think the best route is asking your car buddy, you will regret it … unless your car buddy is really dull. In that case, he probably works for Consumer Reports. Pick that guy’s brain like you’re interviewing Elvis after he returns from “hiding”.

I was recently asked my take on good cars under $20,000. Of course my initial train of thought went immediately to the wonders of pre-owned performance exotica that can be had for this kind of cash, but then I was told it had to be a brand-new car. This is when it dawned on me that my version of a “good” car might not match up well with someone who simply sees their car as a mode of transportation.

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Reliability, practicality, frugalness: these are things that generally don’t sway my decision process one way or another. I’ve been lucky in that I only require my car to be cheap and fun… And proceeded to completely ignore that first parameter and bought an AMG. This had me thinking that if I were to recommend a car to someone just looking for an A to B car, they would end up with something uniquely terrible. That, or they’d quickly become a mechanic for all the things that would go wrong, an accountant for all the money thus spent on repairs, or a combo of both. I’ve begun to notice it is not just me either, almost every car lover falls for it at some point.

So poor is our decision making process that by no fault of our own, we desire cars that are actually far, far from “good.” My long-held desire for various forms of two-door Jaguar is one example. Another comes from my friend and his persistent yearning for another Passat W8 (God help his soul). Even reliable vehicles are included in our clouded judgment. Another friend of mine also loved her Jeep beyond words, despite its accelerating like the Queen Mary 2, and having a monthly payment on par with premium luxury brands.

A decision still had to be made, though: what’s a nice car for my friend looking to spend less than $20,000? Well, one of my usual go-to favorites: the Ford Fiesta. Why? It exemplifies the rare instance where a simple car – despite a noted lack of horsepower - is huge fun to drive. It’s a car that mocks you. “I could have taken that turn much faster than that, wimp.” It also undercuts his budget quite nicely.

So maybe I have to take back what I said about giving out bad advice. He’s sold on it, and I now know that I’m capable of thinking about cars in a more sensible way. I guess you can look at it as ownership experience versus driving experience. But if you listen to someone like me long enough, I’d still try and sell you on something absolutely absurd, but wonderful. Perhaps a Supercharged XKR? They’re getting quite affordable these days.

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