A buddy of mine recently expressed interest in making the move to something that has a little more character than their current ‘appliance’ car.
Normally I’d suggest a $3k budget is best spent on a well sorted Civic, Corolla, or 323 – but said buddy hand been there, done that, and reckons that with something a bit more interesting he’d be more inclined to maintain and take better care of it.
It’s pretty solid reasoning, and it got me thinking. With much deliberation I have come up with a selection of cars that are fun, easy to live with, inexpensive, easy to work on. They’ll provide a short cut to the joys of owning something special, but in a package that works for someone without much money, space or time.
A boxy but well proportioned mini, Mazda’s 121 features attractive wide body styling – unusual for a car this size.
Named so for its electric, full length canvas roof, the FunTop has a sense of space in what is otherwise a tight package.
It’s more than just a can-opener job: interiors were re-trimmed in metallic grey with diagonal red stripes, while front and rear roof mounted air deflectors were employed to counter upset aerodynamics, and also help set the model apart from cooking spec variants.
A single cam 1.3L offers peppy performance and is easy to work on – useful, given that the 121 is the oldest vehicle here. Don’t bother with anything but tidy examples – they still exist if you’re prepared to wait.
The X90 is defined by its quirky, symmetrical styling which features a short cabin ending directly behind the driver and passenger.
Combined with a wide, sharply raked C-pillar and removable glass T-top (stows away in the boot), this is surely an urban homage to Fiat’s mid-engined X-19 – itself a vehicle which despite a sporting bias made its name as a wholly practical offering.
X90 shares its underpinnings with the reliable and proven Vitara, retaining the 1.6L 16 valve engine; manual/auto options; and selectable 4WD system, complete with automatic free-wheeling front hubs, and manual drive selection lever between 2WD, 4WD high and 4WD low.
Regardless of whether you consider the lack of rear seats an inconvenience or blessing, the increased rear visibility, combined with power steering, ABS, electric windows, dual airbags, central locking and optional air-con make this a very usable and practical run around that can also used for day trip adventures beyond city limits.
Mitsubishi RVR Open Gear
Small by modern people-mover standards, the Open Gear is the ideal vehicle for someone switching from hatch-back to hauler, but hasn’t quite given up on life.
Its subtle, front-seat-only sliding roof adds fun to an otherwise unnoticible platform.
Although easy to initially brush aside as just another one of the many leafy front wheel drive coupes from the 1990s, the Sera is actually extremely unique.
While no more sporting than the 1.3L naturally aspirated Starlet which donates its underpinnings, it featured exotic butterfly doors, an expansive glass canopy cockpit, and could be optioned with an immersive 10-speaker stereo system. Offbeat luxury at its finest.