Full Speed Ahead: The Premier Car Column

By Charlie Ascher

Let’s just say that in the time you are reading this article, you have five thousand dollars magically appear in your bank account. Rational college student that you are, you have to spend it, as your terrible fear of hyper-inflation is driving you mad. Good news, you’re logical: you should spend that five grand on some killer wheels for college.

Alright, maybe a car isn’t the most prudent of purchases, but if you do have five thousand dollars that you want to spend on a car, you have far more and far better options than you might think. Using an incredibly advanced, top-secret algorithm that combines fun, reliability, practicality and economics in perfect harmony, I shall produce a list of the three best cars for you, the Middlebury student, readily available for $5,000 or less.

Disclaimer: These cars are not necessarily going to be the three best options for you. I don’t need that kind of liability. These cars are also not necessarily going to be the most mainstream of options, but c’mon, you’re more interesting than a used Toyota Camry aren’t you?

Subaru Outback/Legacy Wagon. Do you have the desperate urge to blend in with approximately 50 percent of the drivers in the beautiful state of Vermont? Then a Subaru is the car for you! There’s a reason so many people buy them around here. The cars are well built, reliable and even a little fun. I’m recommending the wagon versions of the Subaru midsize platform because who doesn’t want to fit just a little more junk in their trunk? Seriously, I personally don’t get why anyone would pick a sedan over a wagon. But anyway, they all come with four-wheel drive and “I’m a Vermonter” basically smeared in massive letters all over. Most 3rd and some 4th generation Outbacks and Legacys should be available on EBay or Craigslist (especially VT Craigslist) for around $5,000.

Charlie’s ideal choice: Subaru Legacy GT Wagon (4th Generation) with manual transmission.

Essential stats: Carrying capacity of 5 adults or 7 college students. Approximate ly 24mpg (depends on the model chosen). Trunk space for approximately 49 30-racks of Natty Ice. Liebowitz-o-Meter: 4.5/5 Rons.

Mazda 3 Hatchback. If you find yourself favoring more of a smaller car, you really can’t go wrong with the Mazda 3. Get the hatchback version because I said so. The 3 has been one of the perennial favorite steeds of our friendly northern neighbors for a while now. It’s consistently ranked as one of the best small cars because it’s fun (for real, just check out the demonic smile it has glued on its front) and efficient. For whatever reason however, no one in this country seems to get the memo and buys worse cars instead. The previous generation hatchback is just starting to dip into the $5,000 range and a hatchback from two generations ago can be easily picked up with that money.

Charlie’s ideal choice: 2nd Generation Mazda 3 5-Door S with a manual transmission.

Essential stats: Carrying capacity of 4 adults and a child or 6 college students. Approximate 29mpg average. Trunk space for approximately 25 30-racks of Natty Ice. Liebowitz-o-Meter: 4/5 Rons.

Swagger Wagon (Volvo V70.) I, of course couldn’t go without recommending my own magnificent beast. This brick-shaped tour-de-force is in many ways the ideal college car. With space for a traditional sized black bear family and a box of Twinkies, the V70 is fully prepared to take your two-months worth of dirty laundry back to your mom on breaks. While not always the most reliable, it does come decked out with a luxurious dead-animal interior, and I mean really, what more could you want? A V70 in pretty good shape can easily be purchased with $5,000 or the rights to your first-born son.

Charlie’s ideal choice: Volvo V70 R, good examples are hard to find for $5,000, but it’s just too cool not to put on the list.

Essential stats: Carrying capacity of 5 adults or 7 college students. Approximate 25mpg. Trunk space for approximately 55 30-racks of Natty Ice. Liebowitz-o-Meter: 5/5 Rons.

So there you have it, the authoritative answer on what you’ll spend your $5,000 on  — if only that $5,000 existed.