Welcome back! Today on Shitbox Showdown, we’re leaving the ’80s nostalgia behind (finally, I can hear some of you saying) and looking at two cars that are only just starting to age into bought-for-cash beater territory. But before we do, let’s take one more trip back in time and finish up yesterday’s broken classics:
Wait. Stop the presses! A Saab has lost a Shitbox Showdown! I don’t think that has happened before. Not only that, but it lost to a Mitsubishi. Didn’t see that one coming. Honestly, I’d happily wrench on either of them. But I do think I’d have more fun with the Montero.
Now, I’ve been looking at (and buying) cheap cars from the classifieds for a whole lot longer than I’ve been writing this column. And it has been fascinating to watch over the years as cars gradually drop into beater price ranges, and at the other end, sometimes frustratingly, rise in price into classic territory. Today’s shiny new cars are tomorrow’s shitboxes, and today’s shitboxes are tomorrow’s shiny classics, and if you can’t see that, you don’t know shitbox from Shinola. (Yes, that was a long way to go for that pun, but I stand by it.)
The cars we’re going to look at today are at or under the average age for cars on the road in the US these days – 12 years or more – but they still look remarkably good. By contrast, I remember scrapping a rusted-out 1984 Honda Accord that was so far gone I couldn’t even jack it up to replace a rotted brake line. That was in 1995. They really don’t make ’em like they used to, and in a lot of ways, that’s a good thing. Which one of these is a better bet for a cheap-ish beater? You be the judge.
Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Odometer reading: 203,000 miles
I have to admit: I kinda dig the first-generation Kia Soul. I mean, I liked it more before it was every fifth damn car on the road, but it’s still a neat-looking little box. It amuses me that, despite the ridiculous “youth-oriented” hamster commercials, most of the Souls I see are driven by middle-age-or-older folks. I’m sure Kia doesn’t care; a sale is a sale. But the older demographic probably did mean fewer Souls left the dealerships with manual transmissions than might otherwise have. Luckily, however, this is one of them.
This is the higher-trim “+” model, so that stickshift gearbox is connected to the 2.0 liter engine, rather than the 1.6. It also has power goodies and audio controls on the steering wheel. Power windows and locks are, of course, a given; this is about the time that window cranks disappeared from “premium” economy cars. Nowadays, they’re all premium, for better or worse. No idea how much of the power stuff works – it’s being sold by a dealership, and they won’t tell you anything like that in the ad, if they even know.
They do say it runs well, and has “nice tires.” It is north of 200,000 miles, which would be worrisome if it were a year newer. In 2012, Kia changed the Soul’s engine from the older “Beta” design to the trouble-prone “Nu” engine. Horsepower rose by 24 to 166, but reliability plummeted. Hyundai and Kia are still suffering fallout from the resulting debacle. But this car, with the older engine and a manual, should be pretty reliable. A careful inspection is still a good idea, of course.
Otherwise, it looks nice and clean, especially for a twelve-year-old Minnesota car. Rust is still a huge problem in road-salt states, even with all the galvanizing and undercoating of newer cars, but if you keep it washed and garaged in the winters, you can keep most of the corrosion at bay.
Engine/drivetrain: Turbocharged 1.4 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, six-speed manual, FWD
Location: Sacramento, CA
Odometer reading: 111,000 miles
Runs/drives? Sure does
Chevy’s small car game has always been a little sketchy. At best, you get a fun, rowdy little plaything like the Cobalt SS. At worst, well, you get the Vega. In between, there is a vast ocean of dull, poorly-built but rugged cockroaches like Cavaliers and Corsicas. In 2008, the latest chapter of the Chevy small-car saga opened, in the form of the Cruze, a world car designed largely by Daewoo and Opel. And despite the fanfare surrounding its launch, it seemed to be more of the same in a new shape.
This “Eco” model has a far higher-tech engine than its predecessors, at least: a 1.4 liter turbocharged four with variable valve timing tuned more for fuel economy than fun. This one is, at least, backed by a six-speed manual for a little bit of driving engagement. I do find it funny, however, that despite all the advances, the GM Delta II platform on which the Cruze is based still uses the same suspension design as the 1980 Chevy Citation: McPherson struts in the front, and a twist-beam axle in the back. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I guess.
This Cruze has covered only a little more than half the miles of the Kia above: 111,000. You’d expect it to still be in good shape at that mileage, and you’d be right. It does have a couple of minor issues that need repair, namely a minor oil leak and inoperative rear windows. Otherwise, it runs and drives well, and the seller says its maintenance is up-to-date.
Chevy did offer the Cruze as a hatchback and a wagon elsewhere, but the hatchback didn’t come to the US until 2017, and we never got the wagon. So for a cheap used Cruze, this four-door sedan with its mail-slot trunk opening is the only option.
These cars, and a whole crop of cars that came out around the same time, are still sliding down the steep part of the depreciation curve, so prices can only come down. We’ll be seeing more Cruzes and Souls in the “thrifties” section in years to come. Used car prices in general are still artificially high, of course, but being willing and able to drive a stick is still the key to a good deal. So, today, faced with these two choices, which is your new ride?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)