- The Dacia Sandero probably is the poster-car of that category.

Story time: Making a case for cheap, underpowered cars.

Or why you should never spend more than 1'000 EUR on a daily driver.

2w ago


The year is 2013, I'm back at university after a year working in a company I joined during my Erasmus.

During that time, I saved up some money and decided to treat myself and buy my first rear-wheel drive car, thinking it will be dorifto o'clock every time I go for a spin with it. That is how I ended up with a 2002 BMW E46 320Ci, powered by a 170hp 2.2liter straight-6. The E46 M3 is my all-time favorite car, the car that got me into cars when I was a kid and saw its presentation in a magazine back in 2000. Owning that BMW was the first step towards one day owning my dream M3.

The E46 Coupe still is, to me, one of the best designs ever created.

The E46 Coupe still is, to me, one of the best designs ever created.

My ownership experience quickly became a nightmare (otherwise there wouldn't be a story). I had 6 months of trouble-free motoring, when one day of January 2014, the wiring loom decided that it didn't want to send power to the cooling fan anymore.

This is how I ended up blowing my radiator right in front of Gare-du-Nord in Paris, on a Friday evening at 7pm, right around rush hour. I had the car towed to a mechanic close to my house, and painfully started to discover prices of BMW genuine parts, which ended up draining what was left of my bank account. Good lesson learnt right there about owning cars you can't afford.

On top of that, I still needed to have a car to go to university, so I was hunting a car for less than 1'000 EUR as it was the only amount I could spend. I found very quickly a 2000 Seat Cordoba Vario (basically the estate version of an Ibiza). The car was in decent shape, relatively low mileage and everything worked, so this became my new ride while the Bimmer was being fixed.

I am not talking here about a shitbox that you drive until the wheels fall off, I am talking about a good example of an aging, basic car, something honest and unassuming.

Driving the thing in the countryside was a treat.

Driving the thing in the countryside was a treat.

The Cordoba was powered by a 1.6 liter engine making 75 horsepower, mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox. It really is a forgettable car, let's be honest, yet I consider it to be one of the best cars I have ever owned.

Part of me thinks that I liked it only because it was a car that helped me when I needed it, but the other part thinks it was because of the nature of that car.

See, the car was fitted with very skinny tires, Michelin EcoContact ones to be exact, meant to reduce consumption by removing the whole concept of grip. Under the rain, you could slide the car by doing a Scandinavian flick at 30km/h. The car was so light and under powered that you could hoon it at legal speeds without it ever becoming scary. Of course the drawbacks were revealed on the motorway, where the car was as shaky as a washing machine past 110km/h and so noisy that I'm sure I have lost audition capacity. Oh, and you could never switch off the heater, which was fine in February, but slightly annoying in June.

I ended up selling both the BMW and the Seat after university when I went back to the country where I live now, but I still miss the Cordoba to this day. That car was to me the true embodiment of fun in a car, and the experience I am chasing to this day.

'Thanks Phil, but what was the point?' - Well, while this topic has been covered over and over again, I still think sharing relevant experiences are useful. Leasing a new car to only commute to work is a waste in my opinion, but buying a cheap, basic car will at least make your commutes that little more fun, while keeping maintenance and running costs low. It's like owning a rental car!


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Comments (5)

  • Loved your article and this embodies why I love my 87 mercedes 300sdl so much, having an astonishing 143hp and weighing nearly 4000 pounds it is super slow but incredibly fun to drive at slow speeds because of the massive body roll. And it has over 320k miles on it and still running like a clock.

      14 days ago
  • I could not agree with you more. When I learned that I was being stationed in Italy, I sold my Ram and was searching for a hairpin hero car. Turns out, most of those are far above my budget, so i settled on a cheap Mitsubishi Colt in the mean time. It's a 1.1L 3cyl, with 75hp. Not exactly the stuff of legends, and about as luxurious as a cave. However, it is the most tossable car I have ever owned and I love it. You can hit a round about at top speed and just blast through it with the handbrake. It's more fun than I ever thought it could be, and reliable as the sun. It's now 2 years in and I still have not bought the barnstormer. I'm quite content with my colt.

      15 days ago
  • Underpowered car with good manual transmission is such a fun to drive! But I would not go for too cheap a car. Cheap car, rather than skimping on some entertainment or other useless bits, skimp on safety features, like fewer airbags or traction control or other similar things.

      12 days ago
  • I must agree. My Integra has given me no problems, while my 850i is a complete trash heap. I fix one electrical problem, only to get another. And currently, if you see me driving it and not signaling, that's not because it's a BMW, but more because the rear left signal won't work. I tried replacing the bulb, but no luck.

      16 days ago
    • To be fair to the 850i, it is a relatively complicated car. A neighbor of mine used to got one, the thing was covered in dust and had a puddle of oil beneath it and smelled of burnt oil the two times I saw it running. Still had massive presence...

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        16 days ago