Okay, I admit it: I like Japanese cars. How much, you ask? A lot. [Reg: "Right. You're in."]
Now that we've got that out of the way, let's look at the year that, for me, may be the finest year for Car Lust: the first year of the new millennium. For me, the year 2000 is the automotive equivalent of an All-You-Can-Eat Steak and Seafood Buffet; it's like being the only male staying overnight in the hotel booked by the Miss Universe Pageant contestants; it's like trying to pick the greatest all-time NFL game, or having to choose the best Porter/Stout out of all the various micro-brewery products. I can't choose just one great car from 2000 to lust after, so here is a list--which, as you shall see, is mostly Japanese, with a touch of German.
The year 2000 straddles the years I like best for almost all the cars listed, and it also includes the first model year of one favorite generation and the last model year of another favorite generation. The year 2000 is the only year that captures them all.
In no particular order, here is a list of cars I would have been ecstatic to own new, and would be pleased as punch to find a used one in good condition today:
Honda Civic: Clean lines. Decent power for acceleration up hills and in passing. Phenomenal fuel economy for a non-hybrid sedan. Clear 360-degree vision. Superb reliability and rock-solid dependability (I think there's a difference). What more could you ask for?
In one of my many online searches of used cars, there was one with 44k miles for sale for $13k … which was probably pretty close to what it cost in 2000. It probably won't go for that, but to even come close would mean less than 20-percent depreciation after 8 years. Honda's ability to manufacture quality and value at an affordable price is just stupid strong. (“Stupid strong” is my attempt to sound hip and cool in emulating youthful semantic re-constructions--for the right price, I won't try to sound hip ever again; you can contact me through Car Lust Blog.)
I like the 2000 model best because the 2001 model received funny tail-lights committed Honda heresy by getting a 1.7-liter engine. In my mind, Civics are just supposed to have high-revving 1.6-liter engines. Don't even get me started complaining about current-generation Civics. I realize that technology, research, and 1.8-liter engines have made the current Civics safer and more powerful, and they still handle as well as they ever did. But the new ones are butt-ugly, in my opinion. Okay, I admit it, their butt-ugliness means I'll probably be lusting after one in another five years.
Nissan Maxima SE: Maybe this car never reprised the top-notch handling found in the 1989-1994 version, but with the 2000 model the Maxima retained and perhaps even increased its reputation as a poor man's BMW. The 3.0 V-6 put out 222 horsepower, yet still achieved 21 MPG city/27 MPG highway gas mileage, and did it with a surprisingly spacious interior.
Reviewers almost universally praised the 2000 Maxima SE as a great performer, fun to drive, and with crisp handling. The 1992 Maxima may have been the ultimate stealth challenge to BMW's ultimate driving machine, but the 2000 version clearly was Nissan’s attempt to essay a more direct challenge. The buzz this car and engine garnered burnished Nissan's reputation as a manufacturer of premier sports cars and sedans, a trend which is continuing through the current Maxima, the Altima 3.5, the 350Z, the Skyline, and the Infiniti G35.
In doing an online search for used cars from 2000, I saw a pair of non-SE Maximas that were being offered for as much as $13k. To give you context, the other cars that were in the same pricing territory for that year were almost exclusively good-condition BMWs, Lexuses (Lexi?), Mercedes, Porsches, and Corvettes. Even the Honda Accords were a little bit farther down the list, starting at around $11k and going down from there depending on age, condition, and mileage.
Honda CR-V: Take pretty much all the Civic's advantages and increase the interior cargo and seating room--what could be better than that? Fuel economy logically suffers, but still ends up better than any other SUV of any size of that year.
almost all Hondas, road noise was excessive, especially when trying to
climb mountain passes. It was willing, but the powerplant would be
screaming to maintain speed. Yet, maintain speed it would, which says
This vehicle is a classic that not even Honda has truly been able to improve much. This first-generation CR-V is my favorite because it has better lines and proportions and an eager stance that make it better-looking than the second-generation CR-V. And while the third-generation CR-V is generally considered better looking (except for the goofy nose/grill ... Ew!) and a competitor to the Lexus RX-330 in style and quality, it sacrifices significant amounts of cargo space over the previous two generations.
Okay, okay, enough justifications: the bottom line is that I just like the first generation better. I had one once, and I'm strongly considering picking up a used one with 130k miles because I have every confidence it can go to 250k miles without a problem. The first generations, at least, were perfectly built.
Mazda 626: Larger and more luxurious than a Toyota Corolla, but not much more expensive. Decent though unimpressive fuel economy. Nice lines and a beautiful stance when parked. It handles well and drives like a champ.
the V-6 and a manual transmission, it compared favorably to a BMW when
price is factored in--though maybe only in my mind. Fit and finish
finally came together in the 2000 model. And let us not forget the
ultimate reason to lust after the 626: the auto-swinging air vents!
All right, I'll admit it--it is quite likely that a 2000 Camry can out-perform the 626 in nearly every way. And the only way an Accord comes up short of the 626 is in interior space; the Accord certainly outperforms the 626 in handling, power, and fuel economy. But there is a certain aesthetic about the 626 that the others can't beat. I'm a sucker for a car with an eager stance, and the 626's lines look liquid to me, making it one of those cars that looks gracefully in-motion even when standing still.
The 626's main wart is a horrible transmission that needed to get rebuilt--often. I should know; mine is slowly developing the tranny stutter step. But despite its problems, I still kind of want to replace it with another 626, just as long as it has a better paint job than my current one. Something like the one in the photo would do very nicely.
This is the most attractive generation of BMW's 5-series, and if you are going to lust after a BMW, it might as well be an M. The big problems for me with this car are its price (I'm a skinflint, remember?) and its horrible reliability. Okay, okay--lust is one thing, but reality another. If given the choice, I would buy a 2000 Honda Civic over a 2000 BMW M5 10 times out of 10.
Toyota Corolla: Toyota made only minimal style changes from the previous Corolla generation to save costs, but the 2000 engine was a masterpiece that helped the Corolla achieve 31/38 in fuel economy while still making the Corolla peppy and fun to drive. I think someone once said this was a possible Poor Man's BMW. Okay, maybe it was me ... when I was drunk. But I wasn't struck down by lightning, and that says something.
The car itself is ubiquitous and uninspiring in appearance … but isn't the second the result of the first? In a typical automotive irony, this car would probably inspire much more public lust if so many people didn't actually buy it in the first place. On the other hand, maybe my lust for this car means I'm frumpy, insipid, and uninspiring. I can live with that.
Honda S2000: A Honda roadster that can blow the doors off of a Miata and hold its own with a Porsche Boxster or BMW Z-series--what's not to love? One review pointed out that the 2000 S2000's engine produced more horsepower/liter than any other normally-aspirated engine on the planet (240/2.0). Wow!
Honda performance, both acceleration and handling, is so wonderful on their practical cars that it is almost inconceivable to think what it must be like to drive a Honda dedicated to maximizing fun by abandoning any pretense of practicality. A non-practical Honda? You'd think just saying those words would make the universe implode, but the universe is still here and so is the S2000, almost unchanged. It is due for an update, but the fact that it has remained competitive for eight years with only minimal updates speaks volumes about the S2000's greatness. Since it is cheaper than a BMW Z4, that makes it a poor man's BMW by definition, right?
Toyota Camry: The 2000 model has always been the best-looking Camry, in my opinion. It has nice, clean lines, good visibility for the driver, and that eager stance I like so much. Also in my opinion, with its power and handling, its driving experience is the most sporty, least grandmother-ish in the history of the Camry line.
fact, if your grandmother told you she wanted a BMW, this might just be
the first Poor Grandmother's BMW. Since I've never driven one, that
might just be my imagination--but my imagination is all I need
Honda Accord: If there is a car more perfect than a Civic, it is probably the Accord. The Accord offers more room, more luxury, more power, better handling, better looks--and the only cost is a slightly higher price and slightly worse fuel economy. Would I like one? Why, yes, I'll take two, thank you.
only driven one of these once, during a test drive. Its alignment was
all messed up, so I didn't get a true feel for what an Accord drives
like. It still left me with a good enough impression that I can't wait
to drive one in good condition.
The resale value on these puppies is just a little too good, however; it's hard to find even a year 2000 Accord within the $4k range I search when dreaming of an additional used Japanese car. Camries abound; Corollas are all over the place for that price; but only a few Civics and no Accords are available for the magical $4k price point this cheapskate is looking for. Say it with me: Poor Man's BMW, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Audi A6; Volkswagen Jetta; Volkswagen Passat:
These three cars all suddenly became lust-worthy for me around 2004,
when I realized that the new-looking Passats, Jettas, and A6s I was
seeing on used car lots were actually 4-6 years old.
their frequent electrical problems, these cars' prices seem slightly
high. Their fuel economy is slightly worse than similarly-sized and
equipped Japanese cars, and the materials and and design effort they
put into these cars meant that they looked up-to-date even a half-decade after appearing on the market.
Much of this appears to be due to high-quality paint; I have rarely, if ever, seen a peeling or faded paint job on an Audi/VW less than a decade old. Audi and VW were design leaders at this time; most top luxury/performance cars had adopted the A6's smooth, rounded lines of the A6 by the mid-00s. In any case, I'd love to have someone give me one. Interested donors can contact me through the the blog's e-mail address.