Home » Everybody Have Fun Tonight: 2002 Volkswagen Cabrio vs 1992 Toyota Paseo

Everybody Have Fun Tonight: 2002 Volkswagen Cabrio vs 1992 Toyota Paseo

Cabrio Vs Paseo

Welcome back to Shitbox Showdown, may I interest you in some dried apricots? It’s a snowy week in Toronto, so I’m doing what many Canadians do and jetting off to Florida. Mind you, this is more of a virtual visit to the alligator state in search of some cheap, fun economy cars. Before we jump into things, let’s take a gander at how our battle of reasonably-priced luxury sedans went.

330i Vs J30 Final

It looks like good things come in threes, as this rather cheap 330i pulled out a win over the Infiniti J30 with almost 60 percent of the vote despite its automatic gearbox and need of a steering rack. Hey, at least parts support is plentiful, although I’d be a bit concerned about the trunk floor. Anyway, fun economy cars. They used to be absolutely everywhere, from Ford ZX2s to Nissan NX2000s. Not all fun economy cars were performance-oriented, but they always had a more interesting image than a standard sedan, and they’re quite sorely missed.

2002 Volkswagen Cabrio – $1,500

Cabrio 1

Engine/drivetrain: Two-liter four-cylinder engine, four-speed automatic gearbox, front-wheel-drive.

Location: Hialeah, Florida

Odometer reading: 200,000 miles

Runs/drives? You bet.

Let’s kick things off with a car I’ve always wanted. This millennium-era drop-top Volkswagen that conjures up stereotypes of listening to Nick Drake, wearing plastic-rimmed glasses, and setting a moody away message on AIM. While everyone was fawning over the New Beetle Cabriolet, the Cabrio was a bit nerdier, a bit stranger, and secretly the cooler choice. It’s quietly brilliant, an airy and roomy small cabriolet with a wonderfully unusual form.

Cabrio 2

As with all U.S.-market Cabrios, this one’s powered by a two-liter eight-valve iron block four-cylinder engine that feels roughly as old as sliced bread. Not exactly a powerhouse, but a reliable engine nonetheless. Damping the excitement factor is a four-speed automatic gearbox that’s perfectly adequate for daily use. However, those seeking more excitement know that this Cabrio would be a fantastic base for a build, seeing as how it’s essential a Mk3 Golf. Whether swapping in a manual and warming over the stock engine or going crazy with a trumpeting VR6, this thing’s ready to be the Volkswagen of your dreams.

Cabrio 3


On the outside, the clearcoat of this Cabriolet has seen better days but the body itself seems fairly straight. What’s more, the pricey soft top looks to be in great shape, perfect for the days when the weather isn’t exactly balmy. Oh, and the relatively rare fenders seem fairly un-dented, a good thing considering how much of a bastard sourcing replacements may be. Plus, the original owner went for a fantastic shade of red paint, the shape of this thing is just handsome in a slightly dorky way, and the Cabrio was the last Volkswagen ever to be assembled by Karmann. That’s legendary pedigree right there.

Cabrio 4

Moving to the interior, there’s not much to see other than a very ‘90s dashboard with a very 2000s steering wheel. Ah, I can smell the crayons through my computer screen. In all seriousness, the tightly-grained plastics gave the Cabrio an air of quality that was hard to find in entry-level drop-tops of the time, plus the driver-centric cockpit is pretty damn awesome. Who wouldn’t want to drop the top and hit the open road in this morsel of German magnificence?

1992 Toyota Paseo – $1,800

Paseo 1

Engine/drivetrain: 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, five-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel-drive.

Location: Broward County, Florida

Odometer reading: 117,463 miles

Runs/drives? Well, it’s an old Toyota and the universe hasn’t imploded.

From the return of Crystal Pepsi to varsity jackets, ‘90s nostalgia has kept pop culture in a chokehold for the past few years. Why not drive a very ‘90s car? Sure, they have all the structural integrity of wet tissue and often feature a list of amenities shorter than a manifest for a dinghy, but they often have style at every price point. Case in point, the Toyota Paseo.

Paseo 4

Sitting underneath the pretty teal paintwork are the humble bones of the Toyota Tercel, a car known for being more durable than Willy Wonka’s everlasting gobstopper and more economical than a RyanAir flight. The 1.5-liter 5E-FE engine won’t set your world alight, but the five-speed manual gearbox should liven things up a bit. Mind you, it’s not like the Paseo has much weight to push around, so I bet it’s pretty eager by today’s standards.

Paseo 2

On the outside, teal! Sorry, I’ve got the zeal. The zeal for teal. It’s just such a fantastic color for a car of this sort. The Paseo was Toyota’s entry-level fun car for people who couldn’t afford a Celica but wanted something more dashing than the average economy car. This one looks to be in great shape, having escaped the ravages of salt.

Paseo 3

Perhaps best of all, the surprisingly good condition of this Paseo continues to the interior where we find immaculate seats and a dashboard that looks fresh off the showroom floor. While not exactly quick, you’d certainly be traveling in style behind the wheel of this time capsule.

So there we are, two very different takes on fun economy cars. One lets you go al fresco and build it up, the other reliably offers a dose of nostalgia, and it’s up to you which one comes out on top. As ever, choose wisely.

(Photo credits: Craigslist sellers)


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52 Responses

  1. As the resident VW apologist this is an unfortunate no brainer.

    The ABA in the mk3 platform is amazing, imo a top 3 engine VAG ever made. for anyone that can turn a wrench and doesn’t live in the rust belt it is a driver’s car that can last until you are dead and is great slow car fast while being really economical. but this Cabrio is in tornado red which will turn pink, has an auto trans that is awful and Mk4 parts that make it look trapped between the eras. But a bb in Windsor blue with a 5 speed? That is the one to buy.

    Teal paseo for me.

  2. Lol, yesterday I couldn’t bring myself to vote for either one
    Today I want them both!
    Sure the Easter basket looking cabrio is slow, but I had to choose it,
    cause it would keep my rabbit company !

  3. A Showdown where I actually owned versions of both of those cars? Be still my heart.

    The Paseo I owned was a 1992, and I bought if from new. I don’t recall a single issue I had over the years and 193,000 miles I put on it. It kind of ruined me for other cars, because I was initially helpless to fix anything since I’d never really had to before. I actually drove it in water deep enough to come over wing mirrors, and despite that it kept going. I ended up giving it to my brother, who drove it for another 30k miles before trading it for the first of many Suburbans.

    I was, in every way, a boring car. The power steering was so ‘good’ you could steer it at any speed with a single finger. The gear lever was the same, you could use your pinky to flick it from 1st to 2nd. It was a nothing car, it elicited no emotion, and the only standout feature I recall it having was some unusual AC vents that were basically a ball you could spin around. But, it ate miles and gave zero trouble. None. It’s a perfect first car for someone, because even being old, even having 117k miles, that thing will keep driving until the sun burns out.

    The Cabrio was what I purchased after, and yes it’s possible that I was influenced by a Pink Moon (seriously the best VW commercial ever made), and it ended up being a wonderful car to drive. On the occasions that it drove. And unfortunately there weren’t that many of them. I ended up with a mk4 Jetta after this car that ended up being unbelievably reliable, but the Cabrio? Holy shit was it a nightmare. It was a couple of years old when I got it, and while I’m not sure exactly what transpired in those two years, I’m reasonable sure it involved someone who learned how to drive a manual on this car, and who may have heard of, but never experience, and oil change. Everything on that car broke.

    But man was it fun to drive. Every VW gearbox seems to be a little different from model to model, and the one in my Cabrio was outstandingly sharp. The steering was tight, the suspension was surprisingly good in corners. When it ran, it ran, and I loved the experience of driving it. This one is an auto, so it’s more in the ‘kid’s first car’ category, but it also has 200k miles, which means likely someone took car of it. Is it a gamble? Yes indeed, but it could end up being a rewarding one. They’re super easy to work on, and there’s heaps of them in your local breakers or junkyard because they made so many. It’s a candidate for a manual swap, provided you can find one and provided it isn’t garbage like the ne in the Cabrio I had.

    I honestly think either of these would be fine as a first car. The Paseo is great value for money, but it’ll never be fast or fun without dumping loads of cash into it. But it looks good, it’s in great shape, and it will drive forever. The Cabrio looks better, drives better, and it far more fun. Provided it actually works, and that’s really just a roll of the dice. I’d have to reluctantly vote Paseo

  4. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop on the Paseo, but it never did. $1800 for a 117k mile Tercel in better bodywork, all wrapped in 90s-tastic teal? Sign me up.

  5. Yeah, the Toyota may be slow, but try that cabrio NA 2.0 with a slushbox, that is the true definition of slow. also that Paseo looks quite well taken care of and I completely forgot they made them, so I want it now. at only 117k miles, it is barely broken in.

  6. Hands down the Paseo. This is one of those cases where the shitbox showdown choice isn’t actually a shitbox but is an actual good deal. $1800 for that car in that condition seems like a bargain to me.

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