Sometimes low-tech is best-tech.
Technology is both a blessing and a curse. In the automotive world, it brings us safety features that can save lives, as well as information and entertainment at our fingertips. If we really want, we can have our own WiFi spots in our cars, a 24/7 concierge service available to help with just about anything, and a fully motorized interior that can configure itself at our will.
It sounds like a utopia, but the reality can be a car that overwhelms you with information, constant beeping, confusing menus and a vast array of buttons. Much of it can be unnecessary for a daily driver, all of it adds expense you might not want or be able to afford, and sometimes you just want to get in your car and drive the damn thing. You've got two good eyes, a sharp mind, paid attention in driver's ed, and haven't reversed into anything since you were a kid, if at all. Or, maybe, you just wear a tinfoil hat. Whatever the reason you might want to keep a low technology footprint, here are some worthwhile cars to consider.
Nissan has developed a habit of keeping generations of models in production way beyond their expected lifespan. While that means slowing sales for the Nissan 370Z while other cars get ahead of the curve, it also means the engine and chassis are standing up to the test of time. The current generation Z car has outlived three generations of Chevrolet Corvette with little change while packing the strong and reliable 3.7-liter VQ Series V6 engine, a solid manual transmission option, and the most low-tech interior available in a 2020 model year car.
It's a comfortable and practical everyday driver if you only need two seats, and you need to head to the top trim to even get Bluetooth streaming audio and navigation.
In 2020, you can still buy a Jeep Wrangler without air conditioning, power windows, and power locks. You can take the doors off, manually remove the roof, and go have simple fun with one of the best off-roaders around and all for under $30,000. If you plan on driving it until the wheels fall off, there's a lot less to go wrong with the base Sport model over the long term. The Sport S is a big step up and adds a bunch of bells and whistles.
2020 saw a bunch of updates to the 4Runner across the board, including the base SR5 model. They now include Toyota's Safety Sense P suite of driver assistance features and a larger touchscreen, going from 6.1 to 8.0 inches. However, there's no smart keyless entry system or push-button start, and a refreshing lack of luxury features like power-assisted or heated seats. What the 2020 Toyota 4Runner does have is a basic, yet relentlessly reliable, engine and 5-speed automatic transmission.
For $14,000 you're not going to get much, and that's good because that's the aim here. You even save $1,100 by not optioning the automatic and going for the engaging little manual transmission. The engine is asthmatic at best, but once it gets going it's way more fun than it should be for a car under $15,000. The base Chevy Spark comes with a surprisingly complete infotainment system that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but it's simple to use and not distracting for the most part. On the plus side, there's no steering wheel controls, no cruise control, no power door locks, no power windows, and no heated seats. It's spartan in there and there's not even a remote keyless entry system available on the base Spark LS model.
There's a lot to be said for owning a car you don't care about. For $14,730, the Nissan Versa comes with a basic chassis, engine, 5-speed manual transmission, wheels, seats, and a 7-inch touchscreen display showing the picture from the standard rearview camera and what's playing on your phone. It's truly back to basics motoring outside the touchscreen, which we suggest just ripping out to get the ball rolling and truly enjoy the zero craps given driving and parking experience. There really is a freedom in not worrying about shopping cart dents or car thieves. You don't get the alloy wheels in the pictures below, so don't even worry about curbs either.
We avoid dropping Mazda's MX-5 in lists as much as possible because it would be in a top 5 list of cars that appear in lists. However, it fits here because while there's a level of comfort, Mazda knows how to keep it modern yet simple. The infotainment system is a 7-inch affair that does what you need on a road trip, plus you get power windows and all the things considered basic on a car of its price. However, you also get a roadster that values handling and driving joy over technology. There's no adaptive suspension, but there is a joyfully slick and simple 6-speed manual transmission to be had as well as an old-school manual-folding soft top to take satisfaction in folding down and up again.
Nissan's third entry on this list is here for much the same reason as the 370Z. It's old. The current Frontier's design dates all the way back to 2005, making the 4.0-liter 6-cylinder engine and 5-speed manual, which is a rarity in its class, well-proven technology. The $25,050 Crew Cab S is a pure workhorse complete with manually adjustable cloth seats. The base S model comes with a just as well-proven 4-cylinder engine for $19,090 and is an absolute bargain. Both do come with a 7-inch touchscreen display and Bluetooth capability, along with a backup camera, but that's about it in terms of modern conveniences.
Ram still sells its previous generation trucks under the Classic heading, which gets you not much more basic than a Tradesman trim truck. For $27,645 you're getting the rock-solid Pentastar V6 and a Torqueflight 8-speed auto hooked to the rear axle powering steel wheels. Outside, there are no thrills unless you start adding packages or any paint that isn't white or red, while inside you have heavy-duty vinyl bench seating for three and an old school stereo that's only just modern enough to have Bluetooth capability.