Car Corner
New Cars for $25,000 - $32,000

June 3, 2013
By Scott Lewis

I have been separated from my wife for just over 3 years now. I have been working hard to get myself out of debt. But what if...

My wife can't afford the house we bought. The only reason she can afford the mortgage payment now is because of the child support I pay here. In three years that money will run out as my youngest son graduates high school. At that point she will be forced to sell the house, go bankrupt, or charge someone rent to live with her. I hope she comes to her senses and sells the house.

In fact, I hope she comes to her senses now. I was turned down for a $5,000 loan because of all the debt she has, that I do not pay. This is because my name is still on the house, and on some of her credit cards. She is working to remove me from the credit cards, but there is no way she can remove me from the mortgage without refinancing, and she can't do that alone.

Now, when I moved out there was $70,000 equity in the house, and we decided then that half of that was mine. So even if there is $100,000 equity in the house today, I get that $35,000. So this month I thought I would look at what cars I could buy if I wanted to buy a brand new car for that money. Being as how there are issues like Tax, Title & License, I decided to set a slightly conservative price range of $25,000 - $32,000.

I am going to get the price from the manufacturer's web sites. So negotiating is not part of this. Surely you can get a deal to save a grand or two or three. Regardless, this is supposed to be my shopping list if I had that money today and was determined to get myself a new car.

Subaru BRZ ($28,265 as configured)

The Subie is supposed to be the modern interpretation of the original Datsun 240Z. A simple, sports car that is a lot of fun to drive. And like that 240Z it is a bit down on power. Having only 151 ft/lb of torque. And that is the only thing I can think of for a reason against this car... it might just need more power. But I really want to test drive one to see if it matters.

VV GTI ($28,395/$30,395 as configured)

I would like to have put the Gold R on this list, but it starts at just over $34k. Oops. I have been a fan of the GTI for a very long time. And the one thing it has going for it is that in four door trim it has a much more user friendly back seat than my Mini Cooper. And so... I configured a 4 door. A Wolfsburg Edition. But then you could not get any 4 door with a leather interior. So, the two prices above are for a 4 Door with the Convenience package and the DSG transmission. The second price is for a 2 Door Autobahn edition with leather interior and a manual transmission.

VV Beetle ($31,653 as configured)

Of course... there are times when I feel the calling for a convertible, and I have been really taken with the redesign of the Beetle. Since this car would be more of a cruiser... I went for the Turbo model with the premium sound option, and stuck with the DSG transmission. I did add a coupe of options, including a $500 wind deflector. Why not... I am not shopping, just dreaming. I really liked the overall look of the 70's Edition, but it was not available with the turbo motor. Darn. Granted, the turbo version did not come with leather, because that comes with the navigation package and goes over my $32k limit. The 70's Edition would have been $29,278 configured my way and does include leather.

Mazda MX-5 Miata ($32,085 as configured)

Now this is a CONVERTIBLE. I have always like this car. So there is no surprise to find it on this list. I decided to just go for the gusto here and configure a Grand Touring edition with the Power Retractable Hard Top. I included the Premium & Suspension Packages... which put me over budget by $85. Oops.

Dodge Charger R/T ($31,285 as configured)

The Dodge Charger R/T is the most affordable large car with a V-8 and rear wheel drive. The latest redesign was a big improvement... mostly on the inside. I could not order a Charger R/T in "Phantom Black Tri-Coat Pearl" with the Blacktop Package or the Daytona Edition Group. I was required to drop down to regular black. I went with the Daytona Edition Group on a R/T to get to $30,485, or the Blacktop Package on a R/T Plus to get to $31,285. I would also want the driver side only royal blue stripe I have seen, but I did not see that listed on their web site.

Dodge Challenger R/T ($31,985$ as configured)

While pricing a Challenger... with a HEMI of course... I did notice the Rallye Redline edition. This was a V-6 model that looked great, and appeared to have the suspension and braking performance upgrades that would be on the R/T or better models. So a poor man's R/T with a mere 305 hp, for the price of $29,885 which included a $1,995 Harmon Kardon audio system with 18 speakers. Not a bad thing overall.

But we are here for power... so on with a Hemi. The Challenger R/T Classic caught my eye. It includes:

Includes everything on R/T Plus, with the following differences:

  • Dual Black or White R/T side stripes
  • Functional hood scoop
  • 20-inch polished forged aluminum wheels
  • High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlamps
  • 3.92 rear axle ratio
  • Performance tires
  • Classic Challenger script badging & classic R/T badging

This version priced out at $31,990... with no other options. Or we could just get the R/T Plus with the Harmon Kardon Audio for $31,985.

Mustang ($31,695/$31,180 as configured)

Damn these cars are getting expensive. A base Mustang GT is $31,695, which does not allow for any options in my price range. Good luck getting one stripped like this on a lot. However, this does not include deals and such that might get you into a new GT for under our $32k budget. Since this is so close to the budget... I decided to price a V-6 Mustang. I went with a Mustang Club of America Special Edition package, and added the V-6 Performance Package and the Recaro Leather seats to bring us to $31,180. Wow... I am not sure this is worth it. Maybe I should look at used Mustangs (Hmmm).

Camaro ($31,795 as configured)

The cheapest new Camaro with a V-8 is $33,535 so it does not even make this list. With a V-6, I came up with the 2LT trim and RS package for its 20" wheels. I also went with the Inferno Orange for an extra $395. Of course I also had to add the Inferno Oracle Interior Accent Trim. I was thinking this might be an homage to the Hugger Orange in the late sixties.

NOTE: I saw reference to a Dusk Special Edition, and wanted to see what that included. There was a listing for 21" Dusk Special Edition Tires... but when I selected that it added the Hot Wheels Edition to the configuration, a $6,995 option. However, when reading the details of the Hot Wheels Package it says it cannot be combined with other wheels or some other packages... include, of course, the Dusk Special Edition. So I have no idea what is in the Dusk Special Edition except 21" wheels. When I clicked on the details of the 21" Dusk Special Edition tires it said it would add the Hot Wheels package. Go Figure.

Ford Focus ST ($28,930 as configured)

This was an easy configuration. I just selected the most expensive package, because it included the top end sound system and leather Recaro seats. Perfect right out of the box.

Ford Fusion ($30,995 as configured)

I went straight for the Titanium trim level here. I really like the look of the Fusion in its latest incarnation. But I do not know if it is the sedan for me. But it is worth looking at if I want to try and get as much luxury (and hopefully sport) in a new sedan for under $32k.

Honda Accord Coupe ($31,140 as configured)

This is probably the most boring car on this list. The 2008 redesign looked very good... in coupe form (the sedan was worse than its predecessor). But the Accord has never been a car to get people excited about driving. However, I always could consider this as a daily driver forever... and then only buy fun cars for the rest of my life. I did price this in the EX-L V-6 trim with a manual transmission... just in case it could be fun.

Noticeably Absent

Mini Cooper S - I include a Mini Cooper any chance I get. I am on my second car and I love them. Clearly you can get a nicely equipped Mini Cooper S for under $32k. So why is it off the list. The back seat is too small. I have come to the realization that the Mini is too mini... for me. For all intents and purposes the VW GTI above has taken its place. You can get the GTI in a four door, and in that configuration the rear seat is quite roomy. Large enough that my two, large teenaged boys would have no trouble jumping in it without fighting over who is in back, and how much the seat has to move. I was tempted to put the Mini Cooper Clubman on the list. But I just don't find it appealing. Granted, this is probably the same thinking that should keep cars like the Subaru BR-Z, Challenger, Mustang & Camaro from being considered. But those are new to me... whereas the Mini is old hat now. Besides... if I did just get the check for the equity in the house... I could just keep my Mini as a second car.

Honorable Mentions

Because I set a strict price range above there are a few cars that were oh so close to making this list. Here are a couple of cars that were just outside the price range above, but might make it if you found a kind dealer that gave you a good deal.

Cadillac ATS (starts at $33,095)

Most cars that "start at" any amount means that a nicely optioned one is considerably more. So the ATS is probably outside this price range even with a nice dealer. But I really like the car. It just missed the price cut off.

Golf R (starts at $34,195)

The Golf R is a big step up from the GTI. I have a couple of reservations about the Golf R. In a comparison between it and a Lancer Evo, Motor Trend loved the car, but because there was no way to completely disable the various baby aides (traction control, stability control, etc), they could not push the car on the track. And "R" should mean Race, right? So the Lancer won the competition even though it was lousy on the street. I do not drive on a track, but I could see doing that someday as there is a 1.8 mile road course in San Marcos that I have wanted to check out. Ultimately I do not care about the track ability of a car, but I wonder how much I would like this car. I really need a good test drive, that includes at least one run up a twisty road.

BMW 128i Coupe (starts at $31,200)

This is actually a stretch. This car is pretty small, and not that light for it. I do not know if I would ever really want one, and given that the back seat is smaller than my Mini Cooper's it would be a hard sell. Besides, I think I would rather get a used 135i or 135is.

Nissan 370Z (starts at $33,120)

I have considered these in the past, so I thought I would just check the price. Sure enough it has gotten too expensive. That's a shame. the Z car originally was an affordable, nimble sports car that was a lot of fun to drive. I hope Nissan finds a way back to its roots with this and comes up with a lighter, more nimble, more affordable sports car in the future.

Audi TT Coupe (starts at $38,650)

Not even close.

Buick Regal GS (starts at $35,875)

Again... not even close.


There you have it. The cars I would shop for if I had $35,000 burning a hole in my pocket. Next month... used cars for the same price range.