What car for a young man starting a career in Los Angeles?

A young friend is starting a career in Los Angeles.  His goals are the following:

  • fun to drive
  • favorably impress superiors at work
  • appeal to single women
  • spend less than $60,000 and ideally much less

What should he buy?

[Update:  I hadn’t wanted to prejudice anyone so I withheld my suggestion… the new Ford Mustang convertible.  He will be in California, where driving on the backroads in a convertible can be a lot of fun.  The fanciest V6 convertible lists for only $25,000.  There is a small back seat for a Golden Retriever.  The solid rear axle isn’t an issue considering that California has no potholes.  He doesn’t need the big V8 engine because California traffic is generally so heavy that he’ll be lucky to hit 30 mph.  To me this is a fun car that doesn’t say “I’m trying to impress you with my wealth” (which is always a failure in LA because there is always someone richer in the next lane with a $100,000+ car).  What do folks think of the Mustang idea?  Am I totally out of touch with youth?]

55 thoughts on “What car for a young man starting a career in Los Angeles?

  1. In his position, I would consider only 2 cars. The Mazda Miata and the Saturn Sky. Both roadsters, both hold only 2 people, both cost under $30,000. No one would ever (justifiably) fault a Miata without having driven one for several years. And no one can fault the Sky, since it doesn’t appear until later this year, or perhaps early next year. But… It’s real, I’ve seen one, and it has everything that the Miata has, including the all-important criterion of seating only 2 people.

  2. I’m partial to the Cadillac CTS. Reviews look good, they say it’s fun to drive (especially the CTS-V), and its looks are striking.

  3. Maybe a Toyota Prius, if you can circumvent the waiting list. Leo DiCaprio drives one, and he’s dating Giselle. It works from most angles- it’s cheap, it’s reliable, it gets insane mileage, the bosses and ladies should forgive its frugality because it’s so trendy and eco-friendly. Remember, this is LA, it isn’t the 80’s, and presumably by “young” you mean “not trying to pick up 35 year olds just yet”. Hollywood’s about image, not necessarily tossing cash around. I’d rate a MINI or xB or Element higher than a corvette even if the target audience is starlets. Style among the young and privileged now is matching the car to the $400 jeans and $180 t-shirt, not the car to the gold chains and rolex.

  4. 1) Don’t saddle yourself with tons of debt at the start of your career. Being payment free is liberating (trivially low payments are close enough).
    2) Most of the cars that are fun to drive are the worst for driving to-from work (bad mileage, impractically small, loud, bumpy) sadly.
    3) Don’t out-drive the boss.
    4) Lots of women don’t care. The ones that do will have their favorites. As often as a girl will like your ${car} a girl will think it’s not manly enough or too macho or the wrong color.
    5) no comment about cost aside from point 1

    The car that most closely fits the description you’ve given is the BMW 3 series sedan (4 doors). They just redesigned it (check out http://www.bmwusa.com), you may or may not like the new look. It’s in price range, BMW has a reputation for making very fun to drive cars, nods at without competing with the boss’s 540 or 745i, and probably hits as close as possible to the woman-approval peak of the bell curve.

    Freebies include: it’s probably the most reliable of the list of cars to come from germany, and BMW in general is known to have great resale value (this translates into low lease payments relative to the MSRP of the car should you go that route)

    Disclosure: I drive a Lexus V8. Overbought early in career, bad mileage (12mpg with my driving) but surprisingly sporty, outdriven last 4 or so bosses, girlfriend hates it. Hopefully someone can learn from my experience. 🙂

  5. An Acura RSX Type-S looks fast even when it’s going 20 on the 405.
    I’d also second the Mini or xB.
    Don’t get a convertible because you don’t want to breathe the air in LA – for that matter, any car with an air filter would probably improve his health.
    The Miata is too small, and won’t impress single women. (But it might impress other men)

  6. Roadsters are fun, but you won’t be seeing the Sky for a while—the Pontiac Solstice (same basic car, though I imagine there will be trim level differences) will hit showrooms this Summer, but I predict a fair waiting list since it actually looks like it might actually be worth owning, especially at just under $20K (fairly well equipped it seems). Of course it is also a brand new platform. The Miata also has its fans, though it appears that its going to be getting bigger (from the pictures I’ve seen, a much longer hood—IIRC this is because its going to the be on the RX8 platform). Speaking of, there’s always the RS-R. Chicks dig rotary engines.

    The Scion marque doesn’t do much for me as a whole, nor does the Element. The MINI convertible is apparently a blast and the CooperS is fun to drive, but the waiting list is pretty brutal there as well (90 days when I was shopping last September… The convertible is probably even worse). Don’t be fooled by the back seat, its for your gym bag—I’m not that tall (brush 6’0″) and I was all the way back to get comfortable.

    I ended up going with the VW GTI. Its fun to drive and compact. It was a hell of a lot less than $60K, has some of the most comfortable seats I’ve ever experienced in a car, and my girlfriend seems to like it and the slight boxiness does it for me in a way that the lunchbox-like xB or Element don’t (though we should be seeing the more rounded GTI body style at some point, looks more like an Audi but I’ll reserve judgment until I see one in person). Also, I don’t really need a convertible. if I want the wind in my teeth, I’ve got a Ducati. 😉

  7. Buy a restored Toyota FJ40. Classic lines, and you can take ’em far enough out that they don’t want to walk back.

  8. Honda S2000. IMO you need a roadster living in the sunshine state. Highest fun factor of any of the cars mentioned above. Its also a real attention getter. More so than the BMWs, etc. If he wants more info, he can check out http://www.s2ki.com. Bimmers are status cars and really are dime-a-dozen especially the 3 series. But, it depends what the person wants. There are people who are impressed by status, especially in LA. If status is what he is after, he could get a slightly used BMW 745 for around $60k. Stay away from lesser models. Might as well go full status as opposed to merely being in the wanna be group. I’d personally stay away from BMW, Mercedes, and Audi. Not worth the money or hassle. It will be in the shop half the time.

    The miata is old, slow, small, and looks very generic. The Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky are very nicely designed and would be a good choice. Performance wise, they are not as good as the S2000 or Z4. But, there is a slight counter trend going on in Cali where people think its “cool” to drive American made cars. Especially Cadillac. The only problem I see with the Sky and Solstice is that GM will be producing a lot of them, so you will see them everywhere. Great price though.

  9. No one under 30 drives a Miata. And 2 seaters are limiting. A good convert choice is a Turbo Beetle or a MiniCooper – though the mini is underpowered in an automatic. A good choice in a sedan for CA is the Prius or a VW Passat. The Scion Xb and Honda Element are also good as they would hold him, friends and pooch. My personal fav – and good if he is a Mtn Biker, is the Subaru Baja – 4 comfy seats and a little truck bed for bike/camping gear etc – a quirky neat vehicle.

  10. PS – ignore all advice to get a restored vehicle. Caifornia does not need the additional pollutants that these vehicle in the pre-low emissions school put out.

  11. I would vote for an Audi (A4) or VW (GTI). Current versions are fine, but new models for both are due this year. The newly redesigned Jetta looks nice as well. That should be available next month.

  12. A Mustang lacks style. It’s a classic “young, fast and stupid” car. The only people who won’t mock a Mustang are other Mustang owners. Plus it’s from Ford and, other than Mazda, their cars aren’t that good quality-wise.

  13. I think of the Miata as a chick car or gay man’s car. The two men I know who drive Miatas are gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! but your friend is apparently straight. The Honda S2000 is a better roadster, with enough punch to push you back into your seat.

    If he really has a Golden retriever he needs a back seat.

  14. [ Wow, my comment formatted horribly without the paragraph breaks. Phil, does your blog allow limited HTML in the comments? It doesn’t offer a “Preview” so, lets give this a whack — if it doesn’t, then this comment will also look like crap. Apologies for the double-comments. ]

    “The Mazda Miata: it hugs the road like men hug men.” Don’t remember where I heard that quote, but it is incredibly apropos. It is the quintessential gay man’s car. Especially yellow ones. Of course, the young man that Philip is referring to may very well be of that pursuasion, so the Miata could be perfect: he could go out cruising in it and folks would know what he’s after.

    The Ford Mustang suggestion is interesting, but all of those granola-eating hippie treehuggers in California will crucify you for driving around a “polluting gas guzzler”. Just think of how you’re killing Mother Earth! For shame! You’ll have to light some sage to banish the evil Pollution Spirits. Blessed be! *gag*

    It’s California, why not just get a Segway? Or is that too dated these days?

    Now that California’s pushed people into the gas-electric hybrids or the fully-electric cars, those lunatics are talking about a “by-the-mile” tax because they can’t make as much money through gas taxes now! http://www.engadget.com/entry/1234000707020792/ — stop the insanity.

    My current “fun car” is a white Mitsubishi Lancer OZ … had leather seats and a sunroof put in … cost me somewhere in the ballpark of $21K new. I like the car. Get your friend to test-drive one. It’s not the fastest car, but it’s got good curb appeal and handles well, four-door and fairly roomy for a sporty car, sizable trunk with rear seats that can fold down. Works for me …

  15. If your friend really has to worry about what his superiors at work think of his car, I’d suggest that his first priority should be a new job.

  16. Well, the “impress the boss” part is tricky – depends a lot on the boss. Philip’s suggestion of the Mustang isn’t a bad choice. Might be just the thing, depending on the boss you want to impress.

    I should point out that even in California there are nice places to drive, and – compared to back east – you can have an enjoyable time driving on back-roads pretty much year round. Yes, there are times and places where there is a lot of traffic. If you do not do all your driving in peak times at congested places, you can find some nice drives.

    Also remember Colorado is only a day’s drive away, and driving across the West, you will find times when a V-8 comes in handy.

    If your boss grew up in the 1960’s/1970’s the Mustang might be exactly the right choice.

  17. Mini Cooper S – soft top or not. Frankly, with the giant sunroof, a soft top is entirely optional. I’ve had one for 18 months, and it’s a constant pleasure to drive. No horrible debt to crawl under either. Mustang? Bleh!

  18. The Mustang idea isn’t a bad one at all. The problem with making these suggestions is that we don’t know your friend at all. Cars are very personal choices. If it were my friend j$ looking for a car at that price range, I would suggest an old Cutless Supreme with a 459 in it. If it were my friend Prall, I would suggest a Honda S2000 or maybe a nice suped up Toyota Supra. If it were me, I would be buying a Mitsubishi Evolution V, right hand drive, and prepping it for SCCA rally racing. The Mustang is a very nice car. A BMW Z4 or Porsche Boxster are nice cars. A Lotus Elise is a very, very nice car and is only ~$50k. Maybe one of those fits your friend. Maybe he would be more comfortable in a chopped, dropped El Camino with gold wire spokes and hydraulics. With that kind of budget, spend a weekend out driving new cars. Try on a roadster. Try on a sports coupe. Try on as many cars as it takes to find the one that feels perfect to you.

  19. I’d recommend the Lexus IS300. Its a nifty moving sports sedan and its a toyota and won’t have to fix it.

  20. Depends on the person, age, location, and job. But, having said all that, here’s a more “sensible” choice, but still a lot of fun: VW Jetta. In 2000 I bought one for $24K instead of a low-end BMW for nearly $30K. 6-cylinder, moon roof (not a convertible and all the hassle that entails, but you can still get the wind in your hair and see the stars on a night drive out of town). Stick shift. VERY fast off the blocks, handles great. 4-door, so you can take more than one person to lunch if necessary, but a small backseat so it’s really a 2-person car. At work, you look serious, not flashy and not an asshole in a huge truck (unlike SO MANY in SoCal). On the road in traffic, you can maneuver along with anyone.

  21. Re: Mitsubishi Lancer

    The Lancer that you really want is the Evolution for $30K. It’s an all wheel drive race car.

    Subaru Impreza WRX STi for $30K has 300HP, AWD, 6-sp. But the Subaru and Lancers are acquired tastes.

    Miata, S2000 convertible 2-seaters: you cannot carry your babe-magnet puppy anyway. Might as well get a motorcycle. Somebody in the back seat will be hugging you tightly! Why not?

    The Lexus IS300 has the same reputation as the Miata in terms of sex appeal.

    The sporty Mini would be my choice for style and speed. But there is no trunk space. A 6-cylinder Jetta GTI is safer and more practical.

    A fast comfortable four-seater with good heritage is the Infiniti G35.

    For a versatile funky-looking fast car, get the Subaru WRX Sport Wagon or the Subaru Forester XT.

  22. i have 2001 BMW 2001 sport – bought it just as the bubble was bursting in SF – i love this car. drives smooth and quiet at high speeds and is a marvel of product design and engineering. alas the new styling from BMW leaves alot to be desired. i would not recommend buying a used 2002-2004 7 series – many reliability problems. i’m waiting for the next wave of design from BMW. this may take 4-5 years.

    i’ve yet to see a ford (or other american car) that has good workmanship and design. the only possible exception is the new Ford GT.

    i like the german design/stlying – i’d really recommend the VW GTI or
    Jetta – nice economical cars, beautiful lines, and says “i don’t care if it didn’t cost 60K”. You see alot of GTI’s in the parking lot of art center college of design… also these cars don’t attract alot of unneeded attention but have a lot of charm.

  23. Used Saab 9000 AERO or 9-5 turbo, loaded. Put the rest of the cash, or the money that normally would have gone into the monthly payment, into buying real estate (even if out in the boonies). Chicks will take the guy with a house or even vacation cabin over the guy with the expensive car every time. And the Saab is a fun car to drive with lots of space, and decent creature comforts for when you are stuck in traffic. And then you will have the cash to buy the special woman a Hello Kitty iPod to show you care.

  24. I’d recommend a motorcycle.  The performance:price ratio is unbeatable.  For about eleven grand, you get a machine that can run circles around cars that cost ten times as much.

  25. Most of these people are on crack, including you (Mustang? what???). How about a Chrysler 300c? Good enough for Snoop.

  26. Yes, I wanted an Evo or a WRX STi but neither were available when I purchased my Lancer OZ in 2002. The Evo’s were a 6-month wait, and the WRX STi’s were FOB in 2-3 months. I needed a new car right away as my old one was on its way out (a 1993 Nissan Sentra XE).

    In 3-4 years, I’m really looking forward to selling my Lancer and buying a WRX STi … *cackle*

    Phil, that’s probably the best recommendation … the Subaru WRX STi. Subaru all-wheel drive, 300+ HP, comes turbocharged with an intercooler stock off the showroom floor — there’s something to be said about driving a car with turbo.

  27. Hmmm, is your “friend” trying to overcome some serious deficiencies in the manhood department? I mean, who really thinks one’s choice of automobile says anything about one’s value as an employee or as a relationship partner?

  28. Why not a bus pass? It’s cool and convenient and shows that you care about the community and the planet.

    I’ve heard that the Red Line in LA will impress anyone with the amount of money you can afford to waste per-passenger, too. Conspicuous consumption at its finest!

  29. Toyota Pickup.

    Whenever one of those single women friends need to move guess who they’ll call for help?

    I’d also suggest a 4×4 for ski trips or anytime he wants to leave the LA basin for a weekend getaway in the winter.

    Maybe it’s too practical…

  30. I’m a young [27] single professional and just left LA.

    I’d veto the Mazda*, Ford*, Mini and VW. They fit in in LA because everyone drives one. Only thing you get with the ladies is a sense of comfort because you drive the same thing as the last guy.

    I’d go for something unique – the suggestions for a restored convertible are perfect. You get the thrifty element, the favored opinion from the bosses, something that’s fun to drive and best of all – you’re unique. Standing out in a crowd is much classier when done with a car as old as your father, instead of the latest, greatest and most expensive thing.

    Downside is the maintenance and lack of warranty. Some people find those comforting. If your friend wants peace of mind, I’d vote the European roadsters. Boxster, Audi TT, BMW 3series, BMW M3, etc.

    I rebel against the corporate culture when I’m not in the office and drive a Wrangler. That’s appealing for the class of young ladies whose company I enjoy. I find the rest to be much too high maintenance.

  31. I started working after university in California about 5 years ago. I went ahead and bought a new Miata. Yes, there is the queer stigma (I am heterosexual), but I didn’t care – it was a great car and fun to drive! I really got into it, taking the twist roads whenever possible, auto-cross racing, etc. It would beat cars with more muscle.. in the turns.. because it handled so well. Lots of women liked it. The only folks who thought it was a gay car were… insecure men.

    Now, a few years later and a whole lot wiser I would reccomend that your friend buy a simple & efficient used car. This flies in the face of the materialist crap that Los Angeles culture, which I have grown to loathe. A car to impress the women will attract the wrong kind of women. A car to impress the boss means you’re working for the wrong boss. I suppose the exception is if you’re in a sales role and just need a ‘nice’ car, in which case I think a reputable employer would either get you a company car or provide a stipend for the purchase of one.

    After several years of enjoying the Miata, I finally paid it off, still enjoy it, but barely drive it. I also found a wife during the time… who wouldn’t have cared wha kind of car I drove. A cannondale road bike is now my main commuting vehicle and I prefer the exercise & lack of financing W’s petrolium friends.

    To summarize, I doubt your friend will read or heed this, but it really is worth it to be as close to debt-free as possible. Even if the new car can be purchased with cash he’s short-changing himself on depreciation.. the money invested in something more tangible: a fund for further education, world travel, or an educational hobby (I fly airplanes too) will take your friend much further than a fancy-looking car. Did I mention how much I hate LA materialism?

  32. FJ40 > Wrangler, and my restored FJ40 will smog test better than anything here sans the Prius. (It runs a modern GM Vortec engine, complete with the computer, O2 sensors, cats and all.)

  33. I suggest a transportaton bike by Breezer bikes. It would certainly impress my boss, but then he owns a bike shop and thinks about the future of the world. The Villager model would be an excellent choice. And since traffic moves at around 30 mph, he won’t be far behind those with cars, and he’ll be getting a workout, saving money, and be using a nearly pollution free transportation option.

  34. disgusted: You’re not from the US are you?
    Me neither…
    I take the train, great for meeting said ladies.

  35. Nothing is more fun to drive than a Miata, and few cars are as reliable or as cheap to own. Only insecure men worry about what others think of their cars. Real-life demographics on Miata ownership run the gamut anyway, with no basis for stereotyping; most owners buy them because they’re handsome and fun, but the performance is there for those who know how to use it. The S2000 is a great track car, but a bit high strung for LA traffic, and you can’t rest your arm on the windowsill.

    That said, lightweight roadsters are not for everyone. They’re small and rather Spartan (it’s a feature, not a bug). One test drive and he’ll either hate it or need to take it home. Brand new Miatas are going for <$20k now, so he’d have plenty left over for something else with a back seat, if that’s important.

    One distinct advantage of the Miata is the online support at miata.net and its well-mannered forum.

  36. Holy jeez do we have potholes in California. When traveling cross country I can always tell when I cross from AZ to CA, or OR to CA because the roads instantly go from good to absolute crap. I bottomed out my van twice on what looked to be _normal_ city streets in LA. I hit those things hard enough that the rearview mirror detached from the window.

  37. Im surprised nobody mentioned a late model Corvette convertible. Recently Corvettes are much more refined, handle great, still have the V8 power, and get nearly 20mpg city. And one a few years old will be around $30k. If hes looking at sports cars, consider it.

  38. Be a little different and check out the new 2005 Volvo S40-T5 (about $26K). My younger brother picked up the new S40 after looking at Mazdas and then almost buying an A4. He has a lot of the same requirements as Philip’s friend, and the Volvo fills them beautifully!

    The car is a dream to drive and looks great. The 5 cyclinder turbo is tied to a 5 speed shiftable automatic, and just screams (~230 HP, full torque at 2000 RPM). Handling is more sophisticated than an Audi, and comparable to BMW. The car is small but quite roomy inside. Volvo’s seats are 2nd to for comfort.

    This car won’t out do the boss, but will indicate some intelligence and willingness to take risks. Volvo’s reliability and resale value is also pretty decent, so leasing and maintenance costs are low.

  39. Saab 9-3 Aero Sport Sedan. Fun to drive and very safe, at the same time one of the best looking cars for the money. I bought mine fully loaded for under 32K a year ago.

  40. Well, the chic Hollywood choice for a new car is the Toyota Prius — so environmentally responsible. The better choice being in Southern California is a restored classic auto of your choice (all the better if a convertible). They are easily fixed in the LA area and with the great weather the bodies last. A Mercedes convertible is always a good choice.

  41. Get some current real world data – get a long term rental car for a month, and observe who drives what to find out if a certain type of vehicle (or even a certain color) is needed for entree to the activities he wants to join. Think of the choice of car as like choice of clothes or hair style – an efficent signaling device to other parties. This is sort of an economist’s or social scientist’s viewpoint, but that’s what some of LA is about…and LA has some differences wiht the rest of the US.

    I bought a used Z28 IROC Camaro – while a great car in many ways, I learned my fellow Camaro drivers tended to have multiple tatoos AND knew probation officers…

    Your Mustang convertible suggestion is very good. I drive a 97 Mustang V6, and I like it. The new one is much better, with a better ride, and handling (built on the same platform as the Jag S type) and a more powerful V6.

    On the other hand, he could buy a good size van, and then manage rock bands…Tony Blair did this while in college.

    Keep under 60k and consider putting some money into energy royalty trusts to pay the gasoline. Look at s stocks like SJT, ERF and others.

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