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Runt of the Litre

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Everybody has their blindside, that one topic on which they are aggressively clueless, a reverse idiot savant. For many people, that topic is Automobiles. So I often help friends find cars. And friends of friends. And acquaintances. And friends of… you get the picture. Last Saturday, I spent 12 hours power walking car lots with a young Brooklynite who just moved to So Cal and wanted a "…small, hatchback with a backseat that folds down flat, great gas mileage, a manual transmission, my credit union loan is $14K, and I can't go a penny over…".  

Jim saw 12 hours worth of bunting waving over the used car lots of Southern California in his latest Car Whisperer quest. (Flickr photo by "Today is a Good Day")Whoa, $14,000? I'm the Buck Brannaman of thousand-collar cars. I can whisper in the air intake of an abused, rusting clunker, and have it cooperating with me all the way from Santa Monica to Santa Barbara and back. But this… this is unfamiliar territory. With taxes, tags, fees, $14,000 out-the-door means a purchase price of around $12,600. Off to CarMax to try on used versions of the stars in this category -- Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Ford Fiesta, Nissan Versa. We drove a loaded 2011 Fiesta, liked it a lot, but their no-budge pricing made the math impossible. At another, less reputable establishment, we took a spin in a '09 Honda Fit that if my hunch about the body panel alignment was true, had previously been spun into a tree.  

The thing that made finding her car needle-in-a-haystackish was the manual transmission. The look on the salesmens' faces when we dropped the "MT" bomb was basically, "Of course you want a manual transmission, because we just donated the one that was sitting on the lot for the past 18 months to NPR."

At 9:30 p.m. at a lot in Glendale (via Carson, Long Beach and Alhambra, mind you), I see she's smitten with a bright red Chevy Spark. I'm ready to talk her out of it because it's just too small --  it has a 1.1 LITER ENGINE for crying out loud! Looking at that car, I felt like with a pair of grippy shoes and a knee-brace, I could beat it at tug-o-war.  

We drove it. She was right and I was wrong. It handled well, accelerated adequately, felt surprising stable busking the fast lane on I-5, and had enough cargo area for her private chef business. 2013 Chevy Spark with 4,000 miles on it, GM warranty, $14k out the door.

Sure, the Chevy Spark might lose a tug-of-war match to the stars of this car category, but it stands up to I-5, handles well, and has enough room for culinary equipment and a couple of Brooklynites to boot. What more can a girl ask for? (GM photo)Now, anybody want a great deal on a one-owner '92 Toyota 4Runner SR5 V6 in great shape? I just bought it for a thousand bucks.    

Ever bought a "runt of the litre" yourself? Do you fashion yourself a "Buck Brannaman of thousand dollar cars" too? Share your comments below! -- Your Humble Editor, Car Talk Plaza
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