Seeking the collective help of you fine people - Used car search

The surprisingly capable 4wd Pathfinder.
The surprisingly capable 4wd Pathfinder.

After years of anonymous lurking on Jalopnik and Oppo, thoroughly enjoying the wealth of entertainment and information you all produce, I’ve decided to make my first post. Exciting!

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Recently, my little brother’s 2003 Pathfinder (pictured) suffered its last shenanigan during an ill-advised, somewhat clandestine off-roading adventure. My parents weren’t happy about it, but they’re still willing to help him out with a new (old) car, for whatever reason. In short, I’m wondering what you guys recommend for a 17-year-old who doesn’t really like cars but likes to be comfortable.

We’d gotten the Pathfinder for about $5,000 from a friend, so I guess that’s as good a place as any to start, budget-wise. Other loose qualities: 4-door sedan; slow but not unmanageably so; higher trim (leather, electronics, etc); safe; reliable.

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I have a couple ideas floating around, most based on the philosophy of trying to find a reliable, cheap car that emphasizes options and comfort over core quality:

  • Early 2000's Lexus GS300 - $4,000-6,000 on CL for decent examples. Comfortable, not complete slouches, and “dtg11 - Now with 100% more 2JZ” seems to be pretty stoked about his or her late-90's model!
  • Mk5 VW Golf - Mid-generation models are going for around $4,000, it looks like. Three doors would be perfect, but I’m worried about reliability. Can anyone advise here?
  • Mid-2000's Nissan Altima - Right down the middle of the fairway, here. Personally, I wouldn’t actively seek something so thoroughly beige, but for my kid brother’s purposes this might be perfect. Can be had for almost any price depending on the mileage and vintage, with a variety of options. Haven’t heard anything specific about reliability here, but I have to assume it’s pretty good due to the sheer number I still see on the road.
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On second thought, there’s no real theme here. Feel free to suggest random, fun stuff. I guess I’d say no projects, but I’m bored at work so anything interesting is welcome. Thanks, as always, Oppo!

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