I am curious about opinions on if there is a modern day equivalent of the VW bug. I am talking about something affordable to own, affordable to maintain, economical on fuel, simple to repair/service, and reliable/durable over the long haul. I could see something like a Civic or Corolla fitting this category. I know Mitsubishi has come out with some newer small car that gets around 50 mpg without being a hybrid and I believe it is a 3 cylinder. Unfortunately most Mitsubishis aren’t known for being easy to service or reliable but maybe that is changing.
One I can suggest from the 1990’s is the Geo Metro. I happen to own a 1994 3 cylinder 5 speed for my “beater” and find the mileage incredible, plus it is such a simple little car to work on. Swapping a new engine into it took me a couple hours. Replacing a timing belt is something one can do on the side of the road. While these cars are cheaply made and had a tendency to rust, those in warm weather/dry climates tend to last a very long time with proper care. These are somewhat picky about oil type and viscosity and do not do well with neglect but are quite durable and reliable when properly cared for. The problem is lots of people viewed them as disposables and didn’t take care of them so finding them in good shape now is somewhat of a challenge.
I would put the Geo Metro in the category of the VW bug with the low cost, simplicity, and easy of repair. It is water cooled and has minimal electronics for a car of its time. The valves use hydraulic lash adjusters so you don’t need to adjust them all the time. Unfortunately like the bug, it is very lightly built and not a safe car in crashes.