Looking to buy an inexpensive vehicle, but don’t want something a bit more interesting than being the 700th Civic you’ll see today? Then buckle up, because we’re counting down some of the most unique cars you can own for less than $10,000.
- Volkswagen Phaeton
The Volkswagen Phaeton is one of the most unique vehicles Volkswagen ever made. Only sold in North America from 2003-2006, this luxury sedan was being sold for well over $100,000 dollars brand new. Granted, this six-figure price tag contributed to the Phaeton’s poor sales and short lifespan on the American market. Today, after experiencing some of the worst depreciation a Volkswagen car has ever seen you can pick one up with a V8 in it for under $10,000. This car is by far one of the most luxurious cars for this price. One of the most unique things about this vehicle is the optional W12 engine. You read that correctly, a W-12 engine. That’s twelve cylinders in a “W” configuration, pumping out an impressive 444 horsepower. Think of it as 2 V6 engines pushed together side-by-side, as that’s almost exactly what Volkswagen did. So, with 444 horsepower, the Phaeton must be quite the sleeper, right? Well, not exactly. This vehicle weighs well over 5,000 pounds, so the huge engine simply makes it perform about as well as your average Volkswagen sedan. However, much like a sleeper, to the uninitiated the Phaeton’s styling is extremely subtle, most people will have no idea you’re driving anything than just another Jetta. So with sluggish handling, abysmal fuel economy, and a six-figure price tag on a Volkswagen, it’s not surprising this car did not sell well, but it is a unique car, to be sure.
- Mazda Rx8
This car holds a special place in my heart, as I owned a 2006 Rx8 for just over a year, and absolutely loved it. As the successor to the Rx7, Mazda’s Rx8 inherited the rotary engine; rotary engines are an extremely small engine capable of very high RPM’s and high horsepower relative to their size. This makes the Rx8 handle extremely well, as the light engine improves your ability to take corners at a high speed. Rotary engines are fairly simple in their design, with only three moving parts. However, rotary engines suffer from extremely poor reliability. It is extremely common for these engines to need to be rebuilt or replaced before hitting 100,000 miles. One major failing point of these engines is the apex seals, a seal that separates each chamber at the apex (tip) of the rotor. Another factor is combustion only occurs on one side of the engine, subjecting one side of the engine to much more heat and wear than the other side, shortening the life of the engine as a whole.
Another unique factor of the Rx8 is the styling, which has proven to be fairly controversial. In comparison to the Rx7’s relatively simple and sleek styling, the Rx8 is fairly complex, potentially over-done. I am personally a huge fan of the styling, as it makes it stand out in a crowd. Another oddity, that you may have noticed while looking at the styling, is that there are four doors. One bonus that causes is less expensive insurance compared to a 2-door coupe. Not only that, but the rear two doors are “suicide doors”, meaning they open in the opposite direction as the front doors. It definitely seems like Mazda did everything in their power to make this car as unique as possible, and I would say they succeeded. However, this may have hurt the Rx8’s sales. While it was definitely priced competitively, well under the 350z, its closest competitor, its lack of fuel economy, relative power, and high amount of upkeep, and lack of reliability all contributed to the Rx8’s short 8 year production run. Luckily for us, it also contributed to a fair amount of depreciation, and you can get one of the more recent model years for less than ten G’s. Just keep a little extra cash (and maybe a spare car) around for an engine rebuild.
- Volvo S60R
So, what’s so unique about a Volvo S60? Not much, apart from the 5 cylinder engine, which is an uncommon kind of engine, but not unheard of. The S60R on the other hand, may be one of the best stock sleepers out there. The unassuming styling of the S60R catches many people off guard, especially with the capability to go zero to sixty in under five and half seconds. Keep in mind these vehicles are getting more and more rare, so while you can grab one today for well under $10,000, their depreciation has slowed down greatly. Part of their rarity is caused by its short production life, with model years only spanning 2003 to 2007. Not only is this car fast, it handles well in hazardous conditions with all-wheel drive. Not to mention this helps out that great acceleration time by keeping all four tires on the road when you floor it. Like the first two entries on this list, this car is partially unique due to poor sales shortening its production life. This is because a car buyer looking for a sporty European car probably isn’t thinking of Volvo first, as this was Volvo’s attempt to compete with Audi and BMW in the sporty-sedan market space. Don’t get me wrong, these car can definitely compete with the offerings from Audi and BMW on the track at a similar price range, but Volvo lacks the consumer base looking for that kind of performance from a vehicle. The only real drawback, in my mind, to owning one of these unique Volvos is the high maintenance cost, as otherwise this is an extremely solid all-around sedan for anyone who wants a little extra power.
- Subaru Baja
While the days of El Caminos and Rancheros are long past, you can still get “the best of both worlds” when it comes to a car and a pick-up truck. Although Subaru doesn’t share the pick-up truck heritage of Ford and Chevy, they do hold their own in regards to the Baja’s construction. Only produced from 2003 to 2006, this is easily one of the hardest to find Subarus produced this millennia. The Baja comes with Subaru’s staple boxer engine, available in turbo and standard, as well as a manual or automatic transmission. This results in a small truck that is far from the most powerful truck, as far as towing is concerned, but for one of the smoothest, best handling trucks out there. On top of that, it comes with all-wheel drive standard like every Subaru besides the BRZ. While the Baja has gained a decent following in recent years, partially due to the rarity, the Baja did not sell well for its short 4 model-year lifespan from 2003 to 2006. As a result, the Baja’s depreciation has slowed greatly. This is because, more often than not, the notion of “best of both worlds” can quickly become “worst of both worlds”, meaning most consumers would prefer either a truck with more power and more cargo capacity, or a sedan with better fuel economy and more comfort. While the Baja may do both the truck and the sedan niches passably well, most consumers want one or the other, not both. To top that off, like many of the entries on this list, the Baja suffered from a mixed response to the vehicle’s styling. However, if you want a bit more utility from your unique ride, the Baja is a solid choice.
- Pontiac Aztek
No unique vehicle list would be complete without the Pontiac Aztek. Not only does this crossover SUV have a unique styling (designed by the same man who would later design the Corvette C7) but comes with a tent and inflatable mattress attached. Obviously, this was intended to be the ideal vehicle for recreational purposes. Its optional 4-wheel drive makes traversing off-road much easier, to either get to hiking trails or campsites. Another option was having the center console double a cooler, for snacks or drinks when you’re out fishing. What contributed to the Aztec’s rarity is, like every other entry on this list, a short production life. With largely negative reviews about every part of the vehicle, from its drivetrain to its styling, sales were severely hurt. To top that off, the Aztek was also initially priced much higher than its competitors, even without the slew of option add-ons. However, the Aztek has been gaining, or at least maintaining, popularity in recent years. This is due to the fact that the unique styling has aged surprisingly well, and that one Aztek was featured in Breaking Bad back in 2013 as Walter White’s vehicle. This has caused a small appreciation in the car’s value, but it is still fairly easy to find one of these versatile SUVs for under $10,000.
And that concludes counting down 5 of the best, most unique vehicles you can buy today for under $10,000.