1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata M-EditionEnlarge Photo
We get a lot of reader mail at High Gear Media, and we’re happy to report that very little of it involves threats of bodily harm. The most common question we get involves the purchase of a replacement vehicle, and reader Sondi Moore has reached out to us seeking advice on a replacement for a beloved 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata.
Sondi’s car has racked up 200,000 miles on the odometer, and while it may not have any current problems, that’s about the time when multiple systems start to fail. One week it’s the clutch slave cylinder, followed by a pinhole leak in the radiator. Get those items fixed, and a wheel bearing is bound to fail. No matter how much affection you have towards a car, there’s always a time to cut your losses and move on to a newer model.
Sondi has a limited budget as well, and can’t spend more than $11,000 on reliable transportation. Still, that’s a decent amount to work with, and Sondi wants another compact car that’s fun to drive. With those primary factors in mind, below are the top five cars we’d recommend. Each is entertaining in its own way, each offers reasonable (or better than reasonable) handling and each can be found for less than $11,000 on the used market.
2007 Mazda MX-5 Miata SVEnlarge Photo
2007 Mazda MX-5 Miata
If you love your 1997 Miata, Sondi, you’re really going to love the latest generation of Mazda’s classic roadster. The third-generation MX-5 has all the charm of your first-generation car, but with more horsepower, more interior room, more trunk space and, unfortunately, more weight. While the first generation cars were less-than-ideal as daily drivers, the latest generation manages to yield a better ride quality without sacrificing handling. Used examples are plentiful, and $11,000 is enough money to buy you a clean 2007 Mazda MX-5 Miata.
2004 Acura RSX Type SEnlarge Photo
2004 Acura RSX Type-S
We’ll go out on a limb and assume you know how to drive a manual transmission. If that’s the case, you’ll want to look at the latest model Acura RSX Type-S you can find within you budget, but we suspect it’ll be a 2004. The 2004 Acura RSX Type-S blended performance with a surprising amount of civility, but finding one that hasn’t been thoroughly abused may prove difficult. Look for cars that haven’t been “upgraded” to aftermarket exhausts, wheels or suspension kits by previous owners, since they’re generally signs that the car has been driven hard. If you can find a clean example, your money will buy you hatchback functionality, Acura reliability and the thrill of a 201-horsepower four-cylinder engine and six-speed gearbox that loves to be wound out. If you can’t drive a manual, or prefer the simplicity of an automatic for rush-hour commuting, opting for a Base RSX should allow you to get a newer car, maybe even a 2006. You’ll lose out on the horsepower of the RSX Type S, but even base model RSXs produced 160 horsepower.
2007 Scion tCEnlarge Photo
2007 Scion tC
Few cars blend functionality, reliability and handling better than Scion’s tC series. In 2007, buyers could choose between the stripped-down Spec model, with its 16-inch wheels, glass roof and relatively plain interior; or the Base model, which came with 17-inch wheels, a sunroof and cruise control. Both models featured a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, good for 160 horsepower and mated to either a four-speed automatic or a five-speed manual gearbox. Used 2007 Scion tC Spec models should be well within your price range, and you may be able to find a 2007 Base models for under $11,000 if you look hard enough.