By Nick Kurczewski
Coming out of the closet can be liberating, or terrifying. It can end up being a complete non-event, or the biggest change you’ll ever face. For most people, myself included, it was a combination of all of the above (and much more). Without delving into cliches – like talking about “the road ahead,” or being sure to check under the hood etc. – I recently wondered what might qualify as an ideal coming out car.
Depending on your situation, something fast as hell and with a tank full of gas might be the best option! But let’s assume you have some form of support network – you’re going to need room for at least a couple of friends. If you’re of drinking age, you’ll need spending cash for over-priced cocktails at all those new clubs and bars. And for the romantics out there, you’ll need some money for flowers and chocolate.
This means our choices are going to be relatively roomy, budget-friendly, and lots of fun. So where exactly does that leave us? With a lot more options than you ever thought possible.
Edgy-looking and fun to drive, the Scion tC is also built by Toyota, so you’re still playing it safe and smart when it comes to reliability and dealer service. A 180 horsepower 2.5-liter engine, coupled with either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission, powers the tC. The rear seats are a little too cozy for long drives with four onboard. However, the tC makes up for this by coming loaded with cool standard features, including an 8-speaker audio system, panoramic sunroof, power windows and locks, a/c, sporty front bucket seats and a grippy leather-covered steering wheel.
The Ford Fiesta – and the slightly larger Focus – is like that romantic European fling that unexpectedly turns into something serious. For years, Ford sold vastly more attractive and enjoyable small cars in Europe than it did here in the U.S. That’s finally changed, now that the Fiesta 5-door hatchback and sedan have been brought stateside. It looks cute, has a meager appetite for fuel (29/40 city/highway) and a low base price of $13,995 (Fiesta S sedan) makes it easy on your wallet. The Fiesta is one of the cheapest cars on sale, but it sure doesn’t feel it. Every Fiesta also comes with seven airbags and electronic stability control as standard.
If you want to make a splashy entrance, there’s no better way to do it than in a Fiat 500. This little 3-door hatchback has Italian style and charm in abundance. That’s good, because the 100-hp 1.4-liter engine is not going to challenge any Ferraris or Lamborghinis. At least the Fiat sips fuel, with a 38-mpg highway average (equipped with the 5-speed manual). The new 500C convertible is also probably the car most likely to be hugged – walk past one and try not saying “awww.” For the truly fabulous amongst us, there is the limited edition 500 by Gucci. If you prefer to balance vanity with social awareness, Fiat has teamed with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation to create the 500 Pink Ribbon model. Fiat will donate $1,000 for each one sold.
Let the haters say what they will, the newest New Beetle looks better than ever and has sharper dynamics than the slightly roly-poly previous generation. VW likes to refer to this as the more “masculine” Beetle – which once led me to ask a company rep if there was something wrong with female buyers. What this means is that the Beetle has a sportier and more hunkered down exterior, along with a range of economical engines that stretch up to a 200-hp 4-cylinder in the Beetle Turbo. The cabin has also been brightened up, with body-colored plastic on the dash. Does all of this make the Beetle manlier? Who cares, especially when the result is a car that has loads of attitude, but never comes across as being arrogant.
This is the ‘where have you been all my life?’ kind of economy car. Mazda has a great reputation for building a range of vehicles that have the sharp steering and quick-shifting transmission you’d only expect to find in the Miata roadster. Available as a sedan and 5-door hatchback, the Mazda3 isn’t flashy or verbose. It’s like finally finding that special someone who, to your amazement, both you and your parents simply adore. If you crave a little more excitement, you could always opt for the wilder Mazdaspeed3, which comes with a 263-hp turbocharged 4-cylinder and rock solid ride. But like getting matching tattoos or piercings, sometimes less can offer much more in the long run. The standard Mazda3 is fine, just as it is. Sound familiar?
This is the kind of moment when you confide to someone close and, OMG (!!!), they come out too. Chevrolet has burst onto the small car scene with the Sonic sedan and hatchback. Big headlights give this little Chevy an intense stare, and I’m particularly fond of the hatchback’s hidden rear door handles – they’re tucked onto the C-pillar. Small details add up to one very appealing package (get your mind out of the gutter). There is a choice of naturally aspirated 1.8-liter and turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engines, equipped with either a 5 or 6-speed manual, or optional 6-speed automatic. Based on looks and performance, the handsome hatch fitted with the turbocharged engine and 6-speed manual is the one I’d take home.
You can’t compile a ‘coming out cars’ list and not include a model called the Fit. Don’t let this little Honda give you any body issues; this pint-sized hatchback is as cuddly as a puppy and is eager to please. You’ll be equally smitten by the Fit’s rev-happy 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, and nimble steering that offers sports car-levels of excitement. Thanks to its futuristic cab-forward design, the Fit offers tons of cabin room for a car its size. And who can resist a vehicle that comes with a “Magic Seat” in the back? The bottom cushions of the 60/40-split rear seat can fold up, the seat backs can also fold down, and there is even a hidden storage compartment.
When I was coming out, one major worry was that my passion for cars would never allow me to fit into the gay scene. Gay people could never be into cars and trucks, right? The Jeep Wrangler is honest, rugged, and proud to remain a little rough-around-the-edges. You might wear a new label, but that doesn’t mean trading in your jeans and boots image. New and improved for 2012, some of the old edginess has been smoothed over – and the Wrangler is much better for it. A new 285-hp “Pentastar” V-6 engine provides all the power you’ll need to enjoy mud-covered, off-roading antics. It’s also quieter and more economical than the outgoing motor, proving you (and your trusty Jeep) have the brains to back up that brawn.
The Mini Cooper is the selfish choice here, if only because the driver’s seat is by far the best place to be. Part of the reason is due to the cramped rear seating, which is best used for short trips, and with short friends and petite pets onboard. Keep your mind focused on the road ahead, and the Mini Cooper (especially in turbocharged Cooper S trim) immediately puts a smile on your face. Remember that jerk who called you names in middle school? Trust me, you won’t once you’re flinging the Mini into corners, and punching the gas pedal on the straightaway. There are a ton of options to personalize a Mini, from sporty alloy wheels, to roof-mounted flag decals, and wild racing stripes. The Mini ends up being all about you. And frankly, isn’t it about time?