Summer is finally here in Boston, meaning it’s above 40 degrees and everyone is wearing shorts, exposing their long-hibernated calves to the sun. And, in yet another sign of the times, I’ve been driving the Mazda around with all of the windows down and the sunroof open (despite my allergist’s warnings). But all of this sunshine and pollen got me thinking (and sneezing): what car would I want to drive every single day all summer? And which of these could I actually reasonably afford? This is a question of fun-to-drive factor, practicality, versatility, and, in keeping with the Common Gearhead’s mission, affordability. So, after much thought and allergy medication, here are the top 5 cars you could and should have for this summer for under $5,000.
5. Land Rover Discovery 4.0
Now, many of you have your qualms with Land Rovers, and they’re 100% justified. In my experience, they’re large, overpriced gas guzzlers driven by suburban moms and foreign douchebags with unnecessarily expensive sunglasses. But they also happen to be some of the most capable off road vehicles ever built. And until 2003, they were all available with a 4 liter V8 under the hood. I came around to the idea of owning one after Jeremy Clarkson prevailed with an old Range Rover in the Top Gear special that crossed South American jungles, plateaus, mountains, dunes, and the most dangerous road in the world. The Discovery is essentially a Range Rover, but a bit higher off the ground and with more windows to let in summer sunlight. It’s the ideal vehicle to bring all of your friends (if you have 4 of them) and all of their stuff to the beach, mountains, or anywhere you please.
4. Ford Mustang 5.0
Yes, it doesn’t look as cool as the original or new Mustangs. And yes, it is an American car from the late 80s, meaning it is probably less reliable than, oh I don’t know, driving a potato. But I’ll be damned if I said I wouldn’t want to drive around in a muscle car with a 5 liter V8 all summer ruining quiet neighborhoods and setting off car alarms. And, if you find one from 1988 or earlier, you can register it as a classic car, which is cool… I guess. To me it would be worth every penny to hear its 8 cylinder wail every single day. And to top it all off, you can have it as a convertible for basically the same price. Sold.
3. Porsche 944 Turbo
The 944 is a great old car, but be careful not to confuse this with the 924. They may look the same but the 924 was powered presumably by a cage full of hamsters on wheels and had a top speed of approximately one Asian tour group on the sidewalk. The 944 Turbo, however, had a 2.5 liter inline 4 cylinder with a turbo the size of Dusseldorf, and while it may not hold the prestige or street cred of the perpetually-rereleased 911, it is still a very capable car. You could push it to do 0-60 in under 6 seconds, barring turbo lag, and it was extremely well balanced, being the one car that Porsche ever made correctly (with the engine in the front). One of these is easy to find for under $5,000, and it’ll provide you all of the driving fun and nameplate-derived pompousness your little heart desires.
2. Jeep Wrangler
This one is a bit of a no-brainer. What’s the best small 4×4 often equipped with a manual transmission? Wrangler. What’s the only car that you can remove the roof and all of the doors from without being stopped by the police? Wrangler. What’s regarded as one of the most capable and reliable off road vehicles of all time? Suzuki Samurai. Just kidding, it’s a Wrangler. There’s a reason that everyone and their sister has one, knows somebody who has one, or wants one. It will get you to the beach and all the way across it if you please (and if the law permits, of course). And with all of the removable body panels, it is also essentially an open air roadster, allowing you to mess up your girlfriend’s (or slightly feminine boyfriend’s) hair as much as you like. If I had the money or extra space in the driveway I’d have one in a heartbeat, just to have one. And you should too.
1. Mazda Miata
The Miata has been widely regarded as one of the best pure drivers’ cars of all time, and it’s a shame that its reputation has been tarnished by the likes of hairdressers and receptionists (unless they all happen to be car enthusiasts, in which case, I’m sorry ladies). It’s only offered as a roadster, and it only has 2 seats: one for you, and one for your significant other and enough cargo space for one or two of their clothing items. The Miata gets great gas mileage, and it’s Japanese, meaning you only have to repair it once every Emperor’s reign. There’s a reason the brand new Miatas sold today are essentially the same as the original, and that reason is because Mazda did it so well the first time that they decided to keep doing the same thing so that they would never mess anything up. Plus, if you buy an old one, it has flip-up headlights, which is one of the very few things I’m sad didn’t survive the 90s (rest in peace, beepers).