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Best low-cost cars for ‘safety’

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Best low-cost cars for ‘safety’

Images from Wikimedia Commons

Images from Wikimedia Commons

Noah Siderhurst

Images from Wikimedia Commons

Noah Siderhurst

Noah Siderhurst

Images from Wikimedia Commons

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Alright, so this list isn’t really about safe cars (I guess the engine output stats give it away). This list is really about cars that make you feel fast without a six-figure income. Some you might even be able to afford with a high school job. Enjoy.  

9) Lexus IS 350

This is basically a BMW without the insane repair costs. When I was looking for cars, Lexus was one of the top brands my mechanic recommended for performance and reliability. As you may know, Lexus is Toyota’s luxury brand, therefore, they use many of the same parts. You’re not buying some obscure part that’s only made in Stuttgart, you’re buying the same part that’s in your mom’s Camry.

8) Toyota MR2 Spyder

If the Lexus is basically a cheaper BMW, the MR2 is basically a cheaper Porsche Boxster. It’s mid-engined with two seats, but the Boxster will toast its 1.8 liter engine. In my opinion it doesn’t look the best (almost like a Porsche copycat), but it’s light and agile, and that’s what counts in this price range.

7) Nissan 350Z

The 350Z is probably as close as I’ll come to putting a muscle car on this list. Like the Lexus, it’s got loads of power, and it’s cheap. Unfortunately, most critics find it a bit too heavy and boat-ish to handle that power. The good news is that there’s a huge modding community that’ll set you up with coilovers and some wild sounding exhausts to tune this clunker up (think JDM, Tokyo Drift styling).

6) BMW 330ci

This is by far the best of the E46’s. The coupe is by far the superior body style, and this car combines a decent engine with some stellar handling for a quite refined experience. Really the only caveat is that it’s crazy expensive to maintain. These cars are getting old, so they’re cheap to buy but costly to keep on the road. Be sure to get a mechanic evaluation before you buy one (as you should with any car).

5) BMW 128i

I honestly didn’t even know there were any one series cars in the U.S., but I was wrong. This car is basically a smaller E90 with the same engine. And it’s cheaper. It’s not quite as iconic as the 330ci, but it’s probably a better deal for the money.

4) Subaru WRX

So far, we have two main types of cars on this list. First, there are the cheap Japanese sportsters where tuning is everything. Then there are the luxury European cars (and their Lexus sidekick) that give you exclusive speed. Now I’d like to introduce something different: Subaru’s rally beast. The WRX puts down over 200 horsepower to all four wheels, giving you great grip exiting corners or trashing your suspension on back-road potholes. You can even pile 5 people into this spacious sedan. On top of all that, it’s Japanese, so modding and repairs are fairly cheap. The WRX fills a unique niche, making it a classic.

3) Porsche Boxster

You might be surprised to see a Porsche on this list, but early-2000s boxsters are now in the low-budget tinkerer category. Obviously Porsche parts will burn your money very quickly, but owners usually take pretty good care of cars like this. Porsche also has a name for building indestructible cars. Just make sure to replace the IMS bearing because you might be looking at a repair worth more than the car. When it comes to performance, I don’t think I need to say much. It’s a mid-engined roadster with over 200 horsepower. It’s light, nimble, and it has a Stuttgart badge. If you want a badge that carries weight and performance to back it up, Boxster is the one for you.

2) Mazda Miata

Miata Is Always The Answer. As an owner, I can fully attest to that platitude. The Miata has long been praised for its chippy character and affordability. According to Mazda, the Miata was certified as the world’s best-selling two-seat sports car in 2000. Several things have made it into this icon. Obviously, it’s available to the masses because it’s cheap and reliable. It’s also incredibly tunable if you have more money. I’d recommend checking out Flyin’ Miata for some very well developed parts. In the stock car, a snappy gearbox, precise steering and tight suspension make it feel like a sports car. Being a roadster, it’s also incredibly light and small. I own an NB (1998-2005), and from the driver’s seat, I can actually touch the rear wheel reaching out my door. It’s not a car for those with weak joints or long torsos, but for my 5’10” frame, it’s cozy. The 1.8 liter 4-cylinder isn’t big, but it doesn’t want to be big. It fits the short wheelbase and front-engine rear-drive layout (which handles like a go-kart). You may not be going crazy fast, but it feels like lightspeed with the top down, tires squealing, and engine roaring to 7000 rpm in a screaming glory of naturally-aspirated thunder. As Top Gear presenter Chris Harris puts it: “We need to enjoy performance for its nature rather than its quantity.”

1) Subaru BRZ/Scion FRS/Toyota 86

When Chris Harris said that, he was actually talking about the Toyota 86. The same concept that applies to the Miata applies to the 86. It’s engine isn’t massive, but it makes you feel fast. It’ll move around in corners thanks to its notorious “Prius tires.” It’ll feel engaging with a six-speed manual and great steering. With the 350Z aging and the old Supras, Skylines and Evos either out of production or too costly to mention, the 86 seems to be the heir to the populist Japanese thrown (excluding the Miata of course). As 86s come down in price, they will surely sit next to the Miata as staples of cheap fun. It must also be said that the 86 doesn’t have the reputation as an old man’s car that the Miata does. I hate that stereotype, but it has to be acknowledged. People will stop to look at an 86 where they wouldn’t a 2008 Miata.

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