Sub-$1000 Cars That Actually Run: Subaru Legacy vs Hyundai XG300

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Welcome back to the Wednesday edition of Shitbox Showdown! Today, after some truly bizarre choices recently, I’m going back to the well – just good old fashioned shitboxes. I wanted to see what I could find for under a grand. I’ll show you in a minute, but first let’s put yesterday’s silliness to bed:

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I’m surprised it was that close, actually. But I just couldn’t keep that absurd V8 Nissan Versa to myself. Some things are so weird that they must be shared far and wide. I believe that’s one of the founding principles of the internet, isn’t it?

So with that out of the way, it’s time to scrape the bottom of the barrel again, and seek out the cheapest running and driving cars on the web – vehicles you can buy tonight, drive home without incident, get in tomorrow morning and drive to work. These two aren’t perhaps the absolute cheapest, or the best value; they’re just the first two viable candidates I spotted.

And honestly, I’ve seen worse. Hell, I’ve bought worse. Let’s take a look.

1995 Subaru Legacy – $800

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.2 liter flat 4, 4 speed automatic, AWD

Location: Boulder, CO

Odometer reading: 191,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep

I may have mentioned this before, but I generally dislike Subarus. It has less to do with the cars themselves and more to do with the attitudes of too many of the drivers; Subaru’s braggadocio about their cars’ wet traction prowess makes too many drivers too overconfident in their machines’ abilities and leads them to do stupid things. But that’s not this car’s fault, and to be fair, all-wheel-drive Subarus are capable of some pretty amazing things in bad weather.

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At least it’s a sedan and not the twenty-in-every-Trader-Joe’s-parking-lot wagon, and the second-generation Legacy isn’t a bad-looking car as midsized sedans go. All-wheel-drive was still a box on Subaru’s option sheet in 1995, but this car is so equipped, as one would expect in Colorado, and sends power from its somewhat puny 2.2 liter engine through a four-speed automatic transmission. Don’t expect miracles when you step on the gas.

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Overall, for eight hundred bucks, this car doesn’t look too bad. The seller says the brakes and tires are recent, but the struts might be done for, and it could probably stand a new correctly-sized battery. But it doesn’t look too rusty, and apart from a few bits of broken plastic, the interior looks fine. Cheap, underpowered, and all-wheel-drive: sounds like an ideal winter beater to me.

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Of course, it does mean you’d have to admit to owning a Subaru. So you’d have to be okay with that.

2001 Hyundai XG300 – $700

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Engine/drivetrain: 3.0 liter V6, 5 speed automatic, FWD

Location: Antioch, CA

Odometer reading: 190,000 miles

Runs/drives? Sure does

I had to look this car up. Nobody seems to remember that before Hyundai tried to make a BMW and succeeded, they tried to make a Buick and failed.

Actually, that’s not quite fair; this is the third generation of the Hyundai Grandeur, apparently a very successful and well-regarded car in Hyundai’s home of South Korea, and a stepping-stone along the way to the Genesis cars today. But damn if it doesn’t seem like they were trying to make their very own Buick Century based on a rough description.

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This XG has lost quite a bit of whatever grandeur it had over the years; it has suffered a fender-bender that knocked the alignment out, but the seller says it still drives. The front tires are as bald as Telly Savalas, which leads me to believe that they’ve been driving it with the alignment out for a while.

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But in the plus column, the seller says the car runs well, the air conditioning works, and it’s a good color. Kudos to the original buyer for choosing this emerald green over beige or silver. Shame about the clearcoat failing, but then, it is twenty years old.

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If the alignment can be fixed, or gotten “close enough” to not chew through a new pair of front tires, this is a pretty nice $700 car, really. I don’t know much about the reliability of them, but it’s lasted this long with some clearly indifferent treatment. At this price, if you can get a year out of it, you won’t feel yourself ill-used.

And there you have it: shitboxes in the truest sense of the word. Cheap, disposable cars you need to have a certain attitude to drive, but probably will do the job of being a car for a good long while yet before something catastrophic happens, at which point you just walk away. Which one will it be?

[Editor’s Note: Man, I have to say: When it comes to old cheap cars, manual transmissions are a requirement for me. There’s nothing like an underpowered motor mated to a crappy four-speed slushbox. Driving these two around everyday sounds like hell. -DT]

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52 Responses

  1. I can understand the feelings about stereotypical Subaru drivers, but there’s no question here. The Hyundai is probably done for. The Subaru is, even if it needs struts, a legitimate steal at that price today, as long as there aren’t any other major hidden problems. It’s a car that’ll get you where you need to go for a long, long time, without costing you a lot of money to do it, and…it’s 2022, that’s a treasure.

  2. Telly Savalas? Do you think the Millennial and Gen Z readers are going to get this reference? Have they ever seen The Dirty Dozen? They would probably think it is some influencer cooking show on TikTok or a Kardashian sex tape. You need to choose someone current and hip, like Jon Cryer or Howie Mandel or perhaps some usual supects like The Rock or Vin Diesel.

    For the money, I would expect the subie to have seats that looked like you locked feral cats up inside, a mountain of fast food wrappers on the floor, and enough crumbs in the center console to feed a flock of seagulls (both birds and the band). I am mighty impressed the seller cleaned the interior.

    Who loves ya baby?

  3. Second and third gen Legacy wagon owner here – this is an easy choice. The Legacy can easily run another decade. The auto transmission wouldn’t be my choice, but it is reliable. As a car enthusiast, I’m one of those weirdos that actually like slow cars (not unlike JT, DT…).

  4. Alignment is off and the airbag had been deployed so that Hyundai probably has structural damage. Someone might be able to pull that out with a come along, some chains and a few stout posts but why go to that much trouble to have a car that will definitely fail catastrophically if it’s ever hit in the front again when the Subaru, with none of those red flags, is also available? No reason at all. People voting Hyundai either have a brand loyalty I didn’t know existed or are just being contrary. All it has on the Subaru is two cylinders!

  5. That’s it! Challenge accepted. Race me and my oh so disdained Subaru. Any graded surface, any weather.
    (did I hit my braggadocio target?)
    I had a ’93 wagon, but it had a clutch. I did park it at TJ’s on occasion, but never had any trouble spotting mine. The divot in the torque curve at 2500 RPM was real, and really annoying.
    Between the devil I know and the damage to the XG I’m all in for the Subaru.

  6. Judging by the passenger dash on the XG that “fender bender” was either more energetic or not the first; looks like the air bag deployed and the cover wasn’t reinstalled properly (nor the air bag replaced, most likely).

  7. Easy choice. There’s too much price parity between the Sube and the Korean luxe model to really pick nits. I’m not really a big Subaru guy either, but this model was from their understated styling period and it has the 2.2, which should be good for a trip or two to the moon with proper maintenance. That thing is a bonafide steal and if I were in the area, I’d be one of the guys fighting for the seller’s attention.

  8. I think the Subaru has a better chance of still being on the road in a year’s time. Winner, winner, chicken that got left on the rotisserie a few hours too long dinner.

    And no offense David, but nobody looking at cars in this price range gives a shit about the transmission. Driving enjoyment isn’t even on your radar if you have less than $1,000 and need to get to work tomorrow to keep your job. These cars are a Hail Mary to keep your life on track.

    1. Additionally the Subie will get decent mileage, where the Hyundai, while a comfy place to spend some time, will guzzle gas every where every day. I had a friend who had one and it got considerably worse mileage than my Crown Victoria. And I had a heavy foot where my friend didn’t.

      That would m matter for me in a toy, but people who buy sub $1k transportation definitely don’t want to waste a single drop of dino juice, especially when it’s topping $5 a gallon.

    2. I definitely agree with that last part. Honestly I think those of us with the means to practice our automotive hobbies should leave the cheapest stuff out there for people who can’t afford anything else. It’s fun to fix up or beat up shitty old cars but every one that gets ruined could have got some kid to a job or school. I think twice I’ve given cars away instead of selling them when I didn’t need the cash or a trade in to replace the vehicle. So far I’m 50/50 on whether the person I gave it to actually takes care of the car.

    3. Amen to your comment! My cheap-O Ty-oter Corolla has a slushbox, which I cordially despise. But the car was cheap, the trans. shifts, and so far it has gotten me places without issues. Cheaply, I might add. If it was a Real Car, I’d be adamant about rowing-my-own-or-nothing. But then it would be an expensive car.

      Did I mention it was cheap?

    4. I agree that finding something that works is more important than finding something that’s fun, but in a not to distant past, you could find both, relatively speaking, relatively easily.

      I didn’t love or hate my ’99 Saturn 5 speed, but it was far more fun to live with on a daily basis than a similar shitbox with a slush box (especially something from a decade prior with a 3 speed). Granted, my commute (78 miles round trip) was 90% rual highway, 10% congested city.

  9. I used to find Subaru drivers kind of annoying. Now that delusional Tesla fanboys exist, Subaru drivers don’t bad at all (I’m not criticizing all Tesla drivers by the way, just those that think Elon shits diamonds and all Tesla flaws are evidence of his genius working in mysterious ways).

    I’d go with the Subaru. I prefer the Hyundai, but with the alignment issue following the accident, I’m not convinced it will be a reliable daily driver. If the car could be properly aligned prior to purchase, I would buy the Hyundai.

  10. Hyundai produced some pretty good cars not too long after this one was made, but this wasn’t one of them, and it is BEAT. The Subaru looks like it was pretty well cared for, and has some life left in it. This choice is a lead-pipe cinch.

  11. When you’re done with the welding and paint that will be required to fix the alignment, you can move on to the pressed-on (WHY, HYUNDAI?!? WHY?) brake rotors and be into this thing for more than the price tag by a factor of 3 before it’s road worthy….

    ….or you could just buy a better one. Because there are plenty.

    Take the Legacy. The Hyundai is a parts car.

  12. The Subie ticks all the boxes of for sale photos for me. Just look how well they cleaned it up. Everything left in the trunk is something that should be in a trunk of a 20 year old car. I’ll take it.

    The Hyundai pushes all my pet peeve buttons.
    In 20 years of that apparent glaring sun you never thought to apply a single coat of wax?

    Does that Covid mask hanging from the turn signal switch come with the car as I drive away? What other biohazards do you like to hang in places my hands will often touch? Am I gonna find your sitting in traffic picking your nose booger stash spot under the seat?

    But the worst offender (I can’t stand it!) is the “temporary” fix that has gone on far beyond temporary. Is that packaging tape holding the mirror on?

    I get it.
    Just to make it home.
    You’re broke and will fix it later.
    Waiting for the part.
    You don’t care about the car anymore.

    But for the love of god, as a member of one of the most intelligent, problem solving species on this planet, with infinite tools, hardware and other cheap solutions at your disposal….?!
    The packaging tape is still holding it on? Sun bleached and frail.

    The temporary fix that is far from temporary has always been the deepest shade of crimson for me.

    Wait.. what was I saying? Just started seeing red (flags).

    I’ll take the Subie.

  13. At least that EJ22 is non-interference, and SOHC is much easier to work on than DOHC.

    I don’t really like Subaru that much, except for the Forester because of the big sunroof available on it.

    Was the default torque split in 95 still 90/10 or did they make it 80/20 by then?

    Also, the EJ22 Legacy and the XG300 get similar gas mileage LOL. If the Legacy had the 2.5L EJ25D, then my vote would’ve been the Hyundai.

  14. I had a 90 Subaru Legacy FWD. I dumped because I didn’t want to cough up the dough on a suspension. By 180k miles I had replaced the CV’s at least 4 times (rebuilt made sense at the time until OEM became affordable), the radiator, and replaced the AT with a junkyard special for $700 installed. That thing was unstoppable. The rust was not. It had that bleh light blue/silver paint that was begging for a new color accented with rust at the rear wheel wells that seemed to want to take over as it must have hated that shade of blue as much as me.
    So naturally I picked the Sub. Even with just FWD it laughed at snow blizzard covered roads.

  15. Counterpoint – I’d take the Hyundai.

    As someone who has owned Subarus for a long time, the Subie is objectively the better car. But for that little money if I had to have a car I have no desire for I’ll at least pick the one I’m not familiar with.

    Who knows, maybe there’ll be something fun or at least interesting about it. Seems unlikely you won’t get back out of it what you put in.

  16. Subaru for sure. That’s a great car to keep going on the cheap, and (IMO) one of the best for Subaru styling. Also pretty easy to work on, most engine components are pretty accessible (alternator is right on top, swap takes about 5 minutes). The snow reputation is actually well-deserved, in my experience, and in this part of the country the people who think AWD/4WD makes them invincible in snow drive pickups or SUVs.

    That era of Subarus were Lego-like for their interchangeability of parts between models. When a timing belt bushing on my already-tired 99 Legacy GT 2.5 failed (previous owner changed the belt…only), we “upgraded” to the much more reliable 2.2. The difference in power was much less noticeable than expected, though my car was 5MT. The 2.2 doesn’t have the head gasket issues of that era’s 2.5. The 2.2 is also a non-interference design – you can neglect an expensive timing belt replacement on your cheap beater and mostly just risk walking.

    While I’d also prefer the 5MT, the 4AT is probably more practical for a beater since it solves another potential weak spot. The 4AT can be put into FWD-only mode by installing a simple fuse, meant to minimize the risk of permanently locking the center differential clutch pack when driving on the spare tire (mismatched circumferences). The 5MT is purely mechanical, and while still plenty drivable with the differential seized, the MPG is awful and it corners not-unlike a Jeep in 4WD (with no doubt plenty of strain on other components). The 4AT would give you the option to live with FWD-only if someone already killed the differential or it otherwise breaks – I wonder if an AWD button could be rigged up for low traction situations or winter-time use?

  17. I cannot speak to the XG300 depicted here. All observations by others are noted and pretty much ignored by me because . . . I was an XG300 owner in gold over tan. Prior to this car I have owned a wide variety of cars from luxury sedans, Mercedes, Cadillac (CT6), sports cars (911 x 3, Miata, Solstice, TR3B) econ boxes (Honda N600, original Honda Civic) and so on.

    My XG300 was an excellent, comfortable, economical, semi-luxury sedan. When I passed it on to my son it had already gone 150K miles with no repairs. He drove it another 30K before totaling it in a Wichita snowstorm. It performed flawlessly for its entire life. Averaged 25 mpg, never burned a drop of oil, and the fit and finish remained excellent up to the day it died.

    So for all the nay sayer’s who have never owned or even driven an XG300, I say shut up until you have some hands on experience rather than just parroting some crap you read on Facebook!

  18. At first glance I preferred the Hyundai solely for the color. But then I started reading. Yep, the Subaru is the easy choice. It’s just a cheap car starting to show its age, but doesn’t actually seem to have anything wrong with it outside of those struts. But the Hyundai has earned its shitbox status and three-digit price through a harder life and more serious issues. No thanks.

  19. A Hyundai of that era is the worst car I’ve ever driven, bar none. That Subie is the next city over from me and I’m a little light on wheels and cash right now, I should probably buy it myself. It gets my vote, but man, working AWD for under $1000 in this area? Unheardof. I suspect that thing has serious problems that would cost more to fix than the car is worth.

  20. Even with how burnt I’ve been by Subaru’s in the past, I’d take the Legacy over the Hyundai in a heartbeat.

    And considering the basic architecture is what Subaru used for the next millenia, parts availability and cross-compatibility between platforms is incredible. Find a binned ’07 Impreza with a hydrolocked motor [because you know someone was vaping in the engine bay while trying to install that sweet anodized battery tie-down and couldn’t wait to start the thing up, heyo!] and swap every other drivetrain / suspension part over to this thing. BAM! New car.

  21. I chose the Subaru.

    I have a Crosstrek that I don’t vape in and selected as it was one of the few newer manuals you can buy. I don’t have the eliteist attitude some owners have.

  22. “needs alignment” is always a red flag for me. That could very well have a bent subframe. It reminds me of when I was in high school and hit a median, going too fast in the rain in my parent’s Saturn. I got a new wheel to replace the bent one, had the bent strut replaced, and drove it like that for months. My dad gets back from driving it the first time since the accident (months later), and had some questions regarding the car veering badly and the outside of one front tire being damn-near bald. Stupid teenage me initially says “I think it needs an alignment”. Yeah…..bent the shit out of that subframe!

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