Good morning, and happy June! (Wait, it’s June already? How the hell did that happen?) Today we’re looking at a couple of newer gas-savers with some interesting styling choices. But before we do, let’s take a look at yesterday’s lien-sale results:
Easy win for the Mustang. There wasn’t a whole lot of love for either of these cars in the comments, but the ability to confirm that the Mustang runs seemed to make it the safer bet.
Oh well. Maybe you’ll like today’s options better. Here we have two economy cars, both with manual transmissions, both from the Austin, Texas area. Now, traditionally, economy cars aren’t much to look at. Some designs last long enough to become iconic: think Beetle or 2CV. But more often, you end up with simple, dreary, forgettable shapes, like Nissan Sentras or Chevy Chevettes. But why does it have to be that way? Why shouldn’t a cheap-and-cheerful car be more, you know, cheerful? Why not go retro, or full-on weird? These two did their part to make the small car landscape more fun, while they lasted, anyway. Let’s see which one is the better buy today.
Engine/drivetrain: 1.8 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, six-speed manual, FWD
Location: Austin, TX
Odometer reading: 184,000 miles
Runs/drives? Runs great
The Nissan Cube appeared in the US in 2009, but this is actually the third generation Cube. The first was nothing much to look at, just a basic small hatchback with an extra-tall roofline. The second generation introduced the basic shape we see here, with that amazing asymmetrical rear window. That window, by the way, is on the other side on right-hand-drive Cubes, and the rear door opens on the opposite side. Nissan basically mirrored the entire car, not just the dashboard as usual. This might be the most work a carmaker has ever done to switch a car from right-hand-drive to left.
US-market Cubes got a larger engine than Japanese models, a 1.8 liter four-cylinder, powering the front wheels through either a CVT or, as in this case, a six-speed manual. This one is said to run and drive perfectly, and everything works including the air conditioning. It’s being sold by a dealer, so we don’t have any real knowledge of its history. A careful inspection is a good idea just to make sure everything’s in order.
It seems to have held up well over the years and miles: There is some wear and tear inside, but not much. The silver paint looks good, and I don’t see any signs of damage. If it really does have a mechanical clean bill of health, this looks like a pretty good deal.
That is, it’s a good deal if you like the Cube’s unorthodox design, which I happen to. Yeah, it’s weird, but at least you can find it in a parking lot.
Engine/drivetrain: 1.4 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD
Location: Austin, TX
Odometer reading: 150,000 miles
Runs/drives? Very well
Fiat took a different route when designing the 500, taking a page from Mini’s book and creating a modernized version of their classic 500 from the ’50s. It’s larger, and the engine is at the opposite end, but the feeling is there. I do applaud Fiat for designing this car as a two-door; not every car needs four doors, and two larger openings on a tiny car can be a lot more useful than four small ones.
Also like the Mini, the Fiat 500 is a bit more stylish and upscale inside than your average economy car, especially this one in “Lounge” trim. The body-colored dash is a nice touch, and works better here than in another retro-themed vehicle – Chrysler’s PT Cruiser. The gearshift residing in a pod extending from the dash instead of coming up out of the floor can be found in some other cars as well, namely the Honda Element and the Toyota Matrix. I imagine it helps keep the throws short while putting the lever within easy reach, and with modern cable-operated linkages, it doesn’t really matter where the actual shifter is.
This little Fiat’s 1.4 liter twincam engine is said to run well, and it recently passed an emissions test, which is a good sign. The seller also says that the air conditioning and all power options work fine. Cosmetically, it’s a little rough around the edges outside, with some dings and scrapes on the left front corner, and a broken side marker light. The clearcoat on the paint has also seen better days.
The inside looks better. The leather seats are in good condition, and it looks nice and clean in there. I’ve liked these little cars ever since they came out, and I was sad to see them discontinued in the US. It’s cool to see them finally depreciate into my typical price range, but of course it’s now when I don’t need, or have a place to put, another car. Such is life.
Small cars make sense, and stickshift small cars are a lot more fun than automatics. There’s no shortage of options, if you’re willing to dig a little, but why not choose something with a little style? So what’ll it be – the Japanese exercise in weirdness, or the Italian retro pastiche?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)