It's a great time for getting the right car for the right price.
The average amount of money people spend on a new car has crept up to the $35,000 mark. However, as cars have gotten more expensive, they have also gotten better in terms of value, performance, and technology, which means you can get a lot of car for under $30,000. And, in some cases, still have cash left over to go up the trim levels or tick some option boxes. Unfortunately, it's still a bit too soon to be looking for a great sub $30k all-electric vehicle. However, if you're looking for a new ride and don't want to spend over $30k, here's what we'd recommend.
Hyundai is deadly serious about pushing its new performance N brand forward and the Hyundai Veloster N is the perfect statement of intent. It's a performance hatchback powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine pushing 250 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque through a manual transmission. It also starts at $26,900 which makes it one of the most compelling hot hatches around.
The spec-sheet doesn't tell the whole story though, and out on the road, the Veloster N is a grippy little beast with a tight and responsive chassis that can make an average driver look like a hero. There's a single option to add for the hardcore, and that's the Performance Package. For $2,100, it adds a limited-slip differential, larger brakes, 19-inch Pirelli summer tires, and ups the power to 270 hp. For $29,000 that's a lot of car for the money.
The compact crossover segment is one of the most fought over parts of the market. It takes something special to stand out and the beautifully executed Mazda CX-5 does just that. It's handsome and perfectly proportioned on the outside, premium on the inside, and has the level of driving dynamics we expect from the zoom-zoom brand. It's a vehicle that looks, feels, and drives like something much more expensive. You can move up the trims and out of the $30,000 price range, but the Touring trim starts at $26,730 and has everything a modern daily driver needs and a bit more.
For under $30,000, you're getting a four-cylinder engine in your Ford Mustang. But, that's fine because the turbocharged 2.3-liter Ecoboost engine is excellent, and having less weight in the front along with a still very healthy 310 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque is wonderful entertainment. Those are specs that would have cost serious money a decade or two ago, but now it's yours for $26,670. On top of that, the Mustang has the chassis of a world-class sports car, and the Ecoboost engineis turning out to be remarkably tunable. The High Performance Package puts the Mustang out of the $30,000 range, but we would add the Ecoboost Handling Package which adds a Torsion limited-slip differential, MagneRide Damping System, premium brakes, and 19-inch wheels on summer tires. It's an absolute steal for an extra $1,995.
Honda's tenth-generation Civic is a gem of a car. The chassis is nimble in any trim, the turbocharged four-cylinder engine is as strong and economical as a Civic engine should be, it's practical in any body style you choose, and it's got all the tech available anyone needs for modern living.
The Civic, in general, takes this spot, but the Civic Si is our enthusiast-biased favorite with a remarkable blend of handling dynamics and practicality in either four-door or coupe guise. That starts at $25,200, and everything you need is there. There are a few minor appearance packages, but we would keep it simple and just enjoy that bargain.
Ford brought the Ranger back to the US for 2019, and it immediately stole our hearts. It's rugged, practical, and starts at $25,200. Like the Mustang, it has the 2.3-liter Ecoboost engine but detuned to make 270 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. That's more than enough for the hardy little truck, and it has the best payload numbers in its class. You get a 7,500 lbs towing capacity, and the ability to haul 1,860 lbs in the bed.
Still keeping it under $30,000, we would pick out an XLT trimmed model with the FX package that adds a locking rear diff, off-road wheels and tires, and off-road-tuned suspension for just $595. On top of that, the Bed Utility Package costs $395 and adds a bed liner and 12-volt power in the back.
There's going to be comments about this, but there's a reason people are buying the Toyota 86 and it's Subaru BRZ twin. Sure, the four-cylinder Subaru boxer engine is still a touch underpowered with its 205 hp and 156 lb-ft of torque, but the chassis is an absolute delight, and there's room in the back to pack a set of track day tires. It starts at $26,655, but for $28,785, you can opt for the GT trim, which adds leather bucket seats, LED fog lights, a matte black rear spoiler, and that most important of features for a sports car: heated outside mirrors. More importantly, you're getting a vehicle that teaches the art of maintaining corner speed and is incredibly satisfying to drive on the edge.
The third-generation Kia Soul is much more fun than it should be to drive, the boxy design makes it remarkably practical, and it comes packed with technology. It starts at $17,490, which means you can opt for the GT-Line Turbo trim and add some options and it still comes out under $30,000. The 2020 model gets a power bump, putting out 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque from its 1.6-liter turbocharged engine. At the same time, the EPA rates it at 27/32/29 mpg city/highway/combined. Go with the base engine, and you're looking at a wallet-friendly 29/35/31 mpg city/highway/combined. Any which way you slice it, the Kia Soul is a stellar little car.
There are no two ways about it: the Jeep Wrangler offers the best off-road bang for your buck. For $28,295, you get two doors, a choice of aesthetic styles, a 3.6-liter V6 gasoline engine and the choice between a manual or automatic transmission to control the 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels. While the interior isn't the greatest, the Wrangler can take on the most daunting of trails. There's not a lot in the way of packages unless you're a smoker or tow, but the $795 towing package adds a 240 amp alternator, a 700 amp battery, a 4 and 7 pin wiring harness, and a class II receiver hitch.
The Toyota Corolla has lived in the shadow of the Honda Civic for a long time, but the 12th generation has seen the little sedan and hatchback's most significant evolution yet. The new Corolla is based on the TNGA platform, meaning the powertrain is fitted into a lighter and more agile chassis. To help put it over the top and onto this list, Toyota's Safety Sense 2.0 suite, Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa compatibility, and Wi-Fi Connect are all standard features now along with LED exterior lighting and automatic emergency braking.
The new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine sends 169 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque through a well-tuned CVT transmission, but isn't quite up to Honda's standard, and Android Auto is curiously missing. Still, the value for money proposition is the Corolla's strongest yet, and it's a great buy. The hatchback starts at $20,290, but we would opt for the XSE trim at $23,240 which, amongst other things comes with the optional 6-speed manual.
The Golf GTI has been around for 45 years now, but Volkswagen hasn't grown complacent. For under $27,595, you're guaranteed speed, handling, build quality, an attractive interior, and versatility. You can even move house with it. To us, the GTI is not just one of the best cars you can buy as we enter 2020, but one of the best cars on the market. We would add the Driver Assistance package with blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, and pedestrian detection and emergency braking for $450 and call it a day.
Mazda has entered the subcompact crossover space with the all-new CX-30. You can get into one for $21,900, but for $28,200 the Premium Package provides something that competes in quality and style with the premium car segment. The CX-30 is gorgeous to look at, fun to drive, has a fantastic interior, every aspect is well thought through, and sets a whole new bar for the segment.
Good looking, competent, and with Toyota's excellent hybrid drivetrain the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is a compelling proposition for $28,100. For an extra $595 we would add the blind spot monitoring option that also includes rear cross-traffic alert.
Toyota has had such a strong demand for the RAV4 Hybrid that it has had to start producing it in the Kentucky production plant alongside other cars to fulfill orders. Its electric motor and 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine combine to make 219 hp, and it's quick enough for daily life. However, the EPA estimation of 38/41/40 mpg city/highway/combined makes up for minor shortcomings.
The Mazda MX-5 remains the best affordable sports car on the market. For $29,590, you can pick up the Club spec that you can play with on twisty roads and cruise with style on a long trip. While it has similar low output numbers from its engine to the Toyota GT 86, the Miata's engine is a happy little thing to wring out and delivers the correct amount of pep for the chassis. It won't take a set of tires in the back for a trip to the track, but drop the roof and head out on a drive on the right road, and you simply won't care about the track.