“Car guys” are occasionally asked “what car should I buy”. I get this at least every month or so. Usually I have a quick answer, and it is usually not what the person wants to hear. The problem is that there are so many different variables and preferences that have to be factored in to the decision. I guess what it comes down to is that I will pick something different than most people, because I am as unique as everyone else. It still is an interesting question to consider what I would actually buy myself, within each type of vehicle that I could possibly buy.

To really cover all the bases you can’t just break it down by type, but also if it’s new or used. So what ARE my top picks? Over the next few weeks Wednesdays will be “W.W.I.D.” if I was in the market for a particular type of vehicle. Let’s start with the hot thing these days… small cars.After compiling the list I was surprised at the results, there is a clear pattern here. And it’s NOT Hondas. Again, these are just what I would personally buy to drive myself, not (necessarily) what I would recommend for others to buy.

What Would I Drive: Small Hatchback

New: MazdaSpeed3

The Speed 3 isn’t entirely an economy car, but it’s incredible combination of performance and versitility put it at the top of my list. If you are looking for incredible gas milage get a Honda Fit. I lust for a Speed 3, and if I could go buy a new vehicle for myself right now this is absolutely what I would get.

Nice Used: Mazda Protege5

I have always liked the little Protege5. There really aren’t many to choose from since the SUV craze caused almost every maker including Honda & Toyota to not even bother selling these, except for the Matrix/Vibe. And I just can’t make myself drive a Toyota car. I would recommend a Honda Civic hatch if you could make due with only 3 doors.

Cheap Used: Ford Focus ZTW

This is a tough one, because there just isn’t that much to choose from. I’m including wagons since there are a few decent ones. The Focus is the same platform as the Mazda 3 and is underrated in general. A used Focus wagon can be had dirt cheap. I have seen 2003 Focus Wagons with 60K advertised for only $3,000. Did I mention that you can get these with a stick-shift? An honorable mention for the Saturn SW though, which is even cheaper and can also be had with a stick but is a little older and probably more of a maintenance headache.

What Would I Drive: Small Sedan

New: Honda Civic

You really didn’t think I would make it through the small cars without picking a Civic, did you? The Mazda 3 is a close second here, just because it is more interesting and different. But when you factor in gas mileage and resale value as well as driving quality you just can’t do any better than a Civic.

Nice Used: Mazda 3

The depreciation makes the 3 a better buy than the Civic here. Fun car, plenty around, looks great, 5 speeds can be found.

Cheap Used: Mazda Protege

Same as the 3, there are plenty around and dirt cheap now. Fairly easy to find a stick also. Of course I also have to mention the Saturn SL here, strictly from personal experience. But for reliability and build quality I have to give the edge to the Protege.