Car Corner
Annual - Cars Worth Waiting For

September 2, 2012
By Scott Lewis

This column is supposed to be a list of cars that when new cost over $20,000... and I believe are worth waiting until they are available on the used car marketplace for under $20,000. The premise is that year after year I will refine this so it becomes my shopping list for my next daily driver.

In the past I may have stretched this a bit, but not too much. Some cars take too long to get below $20K, and they would not be viable daily transportation at that age. Really, who is going to wait until an Audi R8 gets to under $20K and buy it as a daily driver?

I just bought my son his first car, a 1995 Lexus ES 300 sedan. I tell you this because it influences this article in a couple of ways.

  1. Because I bought my son's car... I get to use it if I need it. It is a sedan, so if I need a car with more room I have it available to use. This allows me to look at cars with only two seats. Although I have two teenage sons, I will only be with both of them when my oldest has "our" car with him.
  2. Because I have access to my son's car, I am willing to get a slightly older car as a daily driver. Older cars require more maintenance. If I have to leave my car in a shop for a couple of days... I will borrow my son's car.

Let's do a quick recap of the previous cars from this list that are no longer on my radar, and why.

From 2009: Nissan 370Z - Not appealing anymore. Infiniti G37 Coupe - Only on list for back seat... would rather a 370Z. Audi TTS - Too expensive, will take too long to be affordable. Porsche Boxster & Cayman - Too expensive, and would require a maintenance budget (engine under car). Pontiac Solstice - Not appealing as a daily driver. Chevrolet Volt - range too short for my 80 mile daily commute. Honda CR-Z - Turned out bad... too slow and not good enough mileage for that slowness, just get a Mini Cooper.

From 2010: Volvo C30 R-Design - Lost its appeal. Mercedes Benz E350 Coupe - Too expensive to wait for. Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR Touring - Lost its appeal. MazdaSpeed 3 - Only cared because it was a four door, not needed anymore.

From 2011: Dodge Charger - This was added because my son liked them. He has a Lexus now, so... off the list. VW GTI - Only on list because it was available with four doors, just get a Mini Cooper.

I am getting a little bored with my Mini Cooper (my current daily driver). I fully expect to buy something next year. What will I be looking for:

  •  A newer car to replace my Mini Cooper S as my daily driver. This is what this month's column is about.
  • A slightly older car that would come from my Modern Classic column (due annually in December). This choice would be a cash purchase and would have me keeping my Mini Cooper.
  • A Classic... in the truest sense... based on all the years of researching cars for my Classic Car Watch column.

Let's get on with looking at daily drivers to replace my 2004 Mini Cooper.

Coupes/Convertibles - Since I do not need a sedan for a daily driver, coupes and convertibles are again viable for my next car.

BMW 3-Series Coupe/Convertible - The 3 Series is one of my favorite cars. I like the "idea" of the new 328i. A turbocharged 4 cylinder car that gets up to 36 mpg on the highway. Of the newest design I would get the Sport Edition, knowing how much I love the sport seats that BMW uses. Since I don't have to worry about the size of the back seat... it's a coupe or a convertible.

Example: As an example of what I would look for... I setup a search for a 2003-2006 BMW 3-Series convertible. Why 2003-2006, and not 2007 and newer? Simple... I do not like the look of the 2007-2011 3-Series. The coupes look better than the sedans, but overall I prefer the appearance of the previous generation. These "E46" series cars are available all day long for under $20K. I can tell you now that I will test drive these next year. I will be looking for a car with under 100K miles, preferably blue.

The car pictured is a 2005 325Ci. This was at the dealer I bought my son's Lexus ES 300 from. It was impressively clean, with only 66K miles and a price of $14,995. Perfect! I even told them to hold onto it for me until next year... but I doubt they will. I would rather a 330Ci with an automatic. Though I love a manual, I would be buying this car as a real nice cruiser, so an automatic would be good enough.

Audi A5 - I have to give strong consideration to the A5. I love the styling of these. During the last few years Audi has really impressed me. These cars are getting close to $20K in the used market.

Example: The only ones I saw under $23K had over 90K miles. That's a lot for a car that came out in 2008. The car picture is a 2008 A5 with the 3.2 V-6 and Quattro. It had 52K miles and was listed for $26K. We are close with this car. We'll just have to see if these dip below $20K next year. I would guess a 2.0T car without Quattro should just dip below $20K this time next year.

Mustang/Camaro/Challenger - I realize it is unfair to lump these together. These cars get a lot of consideration with me. Hey... I am a Muscle Car fan and these are the closest thing to traditional Muscle Cars we have today. Big V-8 engines in two door cars. Granted these are a lot smaller on the inside being they are actually Pony Cars. But where else can you get this. Sure, the Charger R/T gives you an affordable American car with a burly V-8 engine. But that is a sedan. Real Muscle Cars have only two doors.

I really can't see getting a Challenger. They are just too big and heavy. They will always feel slow compared to the Mustang and Camaro. And for all that size it does not have a large back seat. The Camaro is heavy as well, but I am a Camaro fan more than a Mustang fan. I have owned two Camaros (1993 & 1967) and have never owned a Mustang. But the new 5.0 Mustang just sounds like the closest thing to the Pony/Muscle car formula of days past, somewhat light and nimble with more power than it deserves.

These will always be on my mind. I can't help it. But I think there are much more refined cars on this list that I will be thinking about when it comes time to drop the cash down. I could not find a single Mustang 5.0, or V-8 Camaro or Challenger for under $20K on AutoTrader. I don't know if that will change by next year.

Scion FR-S / Subaru BRZ - This new pair of sport coupe twins is going to be a great pair of cars. I really like them already... I just need a good test drive. For all intents and purposes these are rear wheel drive versions of the Mini Cooper. 100 hp/liter in a lightweight package. I love it. It doesn't have to be super fast to be fun to drive. These cars will be a no-brainer once the initial hype wears off. I am a little concerned that they only have 151 lbs/ft of torque. They might feel slow compared to the supercharged engine in my Mini Cooper. Nothing a good test drive can't tell me.

Mini Cooper - Yes... Mini Cooper. I love these cars. I am on my second one. I could definitely see getting another one. A low mileage convertible maybe. I think I am going to be looking for either more luxury or more performance with my next car, so this may not last on my list. Time will tell. However, I can't remove this from the list because I have loved them for so long.

Example: The car I selected to show you caught my eye because of the body color trim. Note that the pieces around the wheel wells, as well as along the bottom of the car on all sides, is body color. Normally this is black plastic. I like this look. It has to be easier to keep the body color looking good than it is to keep the black plastic looking good. This car is a 2009 Mini Cooper S with 42K miles for $18K. I could easily see buying this car next year.

Two Seaters - I am hesitant to get a two seater as my only transportation. What if I get stuck and have to pick up my sons without being able to get to my oldest son's Lexus first. But I can dream. Below are my gut reaction to being able to consider a two seater for a daily driver.

2003-2008 BMW Z4 - Now that two seat convertibles are viable daily transportation I will list the convertibles I really like, starting with the BMW Z4.

This is going to sound weird. I really like the first generation Z4. I clearly remember when they came out trying to see if there was any way I could afford one. Its starting price was almost reasonable. Then there was the BMW short films... with Clive Owen as "The Driver." I remember the one where he drove a Z4 and slid it right to the edge of a draw bridge. Very Cool!

I also remember thinking these cars got old looking really fast. They seemed to go out of "flavor" within a year or so after they came out. I wrote some of that off to the general coupe/convertible marketplace at the time. With the return of the Camaro and Challenger, plus the new Subby/Scion twins, it gives new hope for coupes... and convertibles.

I find that I like this car more and more now that I see it less and less. And I really like the styling of the first gen car. These are now affordable. I could easily see getting one of these.

Example:  I found over a dozen on AutoTrader under $20K, with a manual transmission, under 100K miles and within 300 miles of San Antonio. Cool. The car pictured at right is a Z4 with the desirable 3.0 engine. It had 59K miles and was listed for $18,495. This car could do a lot toward getting me to consider dropping the back seat in my daily driver.

Audi TT - I removed the Audi TTS because it is too expensive. However, the TT is very affordable in the used car marketplace. These go back to 1998. The first generation, or Mk1 cars, ran from 1998-2006. The Mk2 goes from 2007 to present. The Mk1 looked a lot like an upside-down bath tub. I never thought of these cars too seriously. They always seemed low on power compared to their competition. But I have come to realize how little it means to be a half second faster to 60... when you are already faster than most family cars congesting the highways.

So the TT, like the 1st Gen Z4, have renewed interest with me. I prefer the styling of the Mk2. Sharp readers will notice that the TT Coupe is actually a 2+2. It has a back seat. Yea... Right! I consider the back seat of the TT Coupe so small it might as well be a two seater. And a convertible version is a two seater.

Example: The Mk2 models are still a bit above $20K. If you like the Mk1 styling then there are plenty of examples under $20K. For a quick example the car pictured is a 2009 Audi TT with the 2.0 turbo motor (easily chipped for more power) and I believe a DSG transmission. It had 51K miles and was priced at a tick under $23K.

MIATA - Yes... I put that in capital letters... MIATA. I have always been a huge fan of this "chick" car. They are a great handling car. Like the Mini Cooper, they prove you can have a super fun to drive car at an affordable price. I would stick with a 2006+ model, just to be a low mileage car. You can find Miatas in great condition all day long for under $20K.

Example: I easily found over 40 Miatas in Texas with under 30K miles and under $20,000. This is too easy. The car I selected to show you was the cream of the crop if you wanted the absolute best car based solely on mileage and price. The white Miata at right is a 2009 that only had 13.9K miles and was priced at $17K. That is a sports car bargain. Granted, I don't think I would get one in white. But it shows you how affordable these great handling cars can be. Why would you want to get one new when you could get this.

Corvette - The Corvette is a conundrum. I am a huge fan, so I want it on this list. However, it takes a fair amount of time before a Corvette gets below $20K. Possibly too long to consider buying one for daily transportation. If I could get exactly what I want... it would be a 2008+ model with the full leather interior... including the leather covered dash. I will be waiting a long time for a car like that to dip below $20K.

A quick check of AutoTrader for a Corvette with under 100K miles and under $20K in Texas showed the newest vintage I could get was 2004 (the last year of the C5 edition). At under $20K you will be hard pressed to get a C6... for now.

Example: C5's are all over the place. I saw literally dozens that looked like they would be perfect in my driveway. But the C5 has a parts bin interior. In fact... the stereo in the C5 is identical to the stereo that was in the 1999 Suburban we used to own.

However, there are some gems to be had. I really liked this white 1995 C4 Corvette for $17,995.. with only 27K original miles. This goes along with the fact that even though this is older... I have my son's car to fall back on if this one has to go in the shop for a couple of days. And this car is just a few years away from being a classic itself. Take care of it for a few years and it will bottom out on price and start appreciating.

Sedans: - I cannot rule out the idea that I may get a sedan for a daily driver. If, and that is a big if, I get a sedan, I would expect it to be my daily driver for a very long time and support my ability to buy toys from that time on. So, what sedans look good enough to me to have one that will last me until I retire?

2008-Present Cadillac CTS - If I get a sedan it will be to buy one last sedan to use as a daily driver for as long as possible... and then buy as many "toys" as I can in the future. We will kick off sedans with what has been my favorite sedan for a few years now, the Cadillac CTS.

I only have one complaint with the CTS... it is a bit too large. Granted, I thought that was a plus in the past, at least until I bought my son's Lexus. Now I don't care about rear seat legroom. So the CTS may be bigger than I need. But I do love the looks of the car. I cannot afford a V Series, and it will be way too long before a V Series falls below $20,000. I seriously like the coupe edition of this car, and I could see a CTS Coupe being my ultimate daily driver... forever. The Coupe came out in 2011, and will take too long to get below $20K. The 2008 CTS sedan was on the cusp of going under $20K last year. I just did a quick search on AutoTrader and got a dozen 2008+ CTS cars with under 75K miles. However, Cadillac just came out with the ATS (see below). Is the CTS relevant anymore? We will have to see.

Example: I saw half a dozen CTS sedans ripe for the picking. These are just now perfectly affordable for just under $20K. I saw one or two I would call before this one. However, that call would have been to confirm whether or not they included the Direct Injection version of the 3.6 V-6 engine. The Direct Injection motor is the 306 hp engine... same as in the V-6 Camaro. I would prefer it to the standard engine that is down about 40 hp or so. So the car to the right is a 2008 with the Direct Injection 3.6. It had 58K miles and a price of $19,991.

Cadillac ATS - The ATS is supposed to be sized like a 3-Series BMW. Perfect. I like the styling... and can't wait for this car to get into production. It is too early to tell, but this car has a lot of promise. Car and Driver just did a quick review of the ATS in their September issue and they said it is so good, they will need to drive it side-by-side with the Audi and BMW to tell if it is better or not. Like them... I look forward to a comparo of this car with its competition. The fact that it is so good that they need a comparison test to know says a lot about this car. It is already good enough to warrant side-by-side testing. That should be good enough for me.

Buick Regal GS - As for the Regal GS, I have read that it is close to a front wheel drive BMW. That is exactly what I had hoped Buick would build. I thought this could be an Americanized version of the BMW 328i. And look... BMW went to a turbo 4 for the 328i. How interesting. Yes... this car will not be a BMW eater... but it doesn't have to be. It just has to be good in its own right. I love the styling... much more than the BMW. I have also heard rumors of another version of the Regal that will have even more power. A GSX perhaps. Either way... I like how this car turned out and I want a test drive.

2006-Present Audi A4/S4 - Like the BMW 3-Series... I really like these. They are very attractive, well appointed and make great sport sedans. I prefer the Audi A4 to the BMW 3 Series. But the new turbo 4 from BMW knocks down 36 mpg on the highway. Audi may have to do a little catching up in that department. I would like to do more research on these. I would prefer to be sure that these cars could be had with a DSG dual clutch transmission... if I went with an automatic. Otherwise a traditional manual would be acceptable in this sporting sedan.

Example: I found plenty of A4 cars listed on AutoTrader. You can be very choosy. The car pictured at right is a 2006 A4. I just thought it represented a great buy from a mileage/price standpoint. It had 44K miles and was priced at $15,888. This would make an excellent car to drive while buying only toys from this point on. Ideally the toys would get a lot of mileage, so this sedan would be able to last a really long time.

2006-2010 VW Jetta GLI - I have eliminated the GTI from consideration. The GTI was on my list because it came in a four door and I thought it would be close to a Mini Cooper with more back seat room. That is not important anymore. However, should I consider a sedan, I still like the looks of the GLI. I don't want the 2012 edition of the GLI. They softened this car up too much for 2012. This is basically my bargain sedan. If I don't get a Cadillac CTS, ATS, Regal GS or Audi A4... this car could still be a viable four door that I could have fun in for a long time. In fact... I think of this car as a more affordable car to the A4... which it is.

Example: For some reason there are not a lot of these out there. Maybe the line between the GLI and the A4 is too small. Considering the number of A4s I found under $20K there is little reason to shop for the "cheaper" GLI. Regardless, I like the looks here, and I actually like this car in white. So I picked a white one on purpose. The car here is a 2009 car with 26K miles that was selling for $17,295. This is a small price increase from the A4 above, and an acceptable trade off for the year and mileage difference.


After 4 columns on cars to wait for... it should be clear. I really like the CTS Coupe and A5, but they are too expensive still. Next up is the BMW 3-Series (E46) and these are in my price range now. There is always the Camaro/Mustang for the Pony/Muscle Car thrill, and an affordable sports car would be nice. If I end up going for a sedan I have a few to choose from.

Don't forget... I really like Mini Coopers... as much for the car itself as the community. I don't know that I will find groups that go out on fun drives with any other brand as much as the Mini.

Next year this list will probably be the cars I actually go shopping for. See you then.