Maybe I'm reading too much into what you asked for, but when you said you wanted something reliable what I heard was, "I don't want to spend a ton of money on maintenance". That would rule out the BMW, Subaru, VW, and Audi suggestions (I just replaced the second throttlebody in five years on my car at $400, the fluids are stupidly expensive and when small things break they are often picey to replace so don't tell me VW's don't cost a lot to maintain). The Mini seems like a good option, but that's based on my ignorance of their maintenance costs, however, they are considered a premium brand and will likely price parts and service based on this. They also tend to hold their resale value very well, which means one in your price range is going to be beat up and/or high mileage.
As I pointed out in my initial post, tire cost is something that you should consider. You won't ahve to do it too often, but if you get an all out sports car like the S2k it'd be a waste not to put good, stick rubber on there, at which point you're going to go through tires much more quickly and they're going to cost a hell of a lot more. The Fit has tony little wheels with tiny little tires which means they're cheaper to replace.
Small and lightweight is where you want to go with this.
That being said, mazdas do catch my eye from time to time.
If you're going with a VW stay away from naturally aspirated if you want to go faster. I mean, you will go faster with mods, but HP gained per dollar spent on mods is a lot lower than with a forced induction engines. Forced induction and high displacement engines give you much more out of mods and tuning that 4-6 cylinder N/A engines. Trust me, been there, done that, never going back unless I have a weekend car to have fun in (or unless it's an M3)
^^^ That does not look good!! ^^^ Then again, neither does the Honda...
Don't know exactly where you are in upstate NY, but in general, this is one of the worst areas in the country for salt. They just use an enormous amount of it on the roads so any car driven in winter here will have rust everywhere. I wouldn't touch an older Mazda around here - 5 year old ones are known to have rusted through fender wells. I also don't drive anything remotely special through the winter here. Even a single winter will mark the car for life.
How about a Volvo C30? They are probably a little bit out of your price range, but they are unique, available with a manual and a T5 motor, are good in the snow, and Volvo's rust less than almost any other brand.
1987 Mercedes 190E 16v Cosworth
1997 Volvo 855 T5
1998 Volvo V70 AWD
2010 Volvo XC90
I average 24-26 mpg driving 50/50 city/hwy. It really does lack torque down low though, but the sound at 6K makes up for that
Last edited by Armour; 10-12-2012 at 08:36 PM.