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

July 1, 2013
By Scott Lewis

Last month I showed you the cars I would consider if I had the equity from the house my ex-wife and I own... if I could get her to sell it. This month I am going to look at the used cars I would consider.

I know, I do this all the time, and this is not much different from my annual Cars Worth Waiting For. That column looks for cars to get below $20,000. This month is a little different. Like last month I am targeting a price range of $25,000 - $32,000. The idea here is if I had that money... that $35,000 equity from the house... what could I just go out and buy... and have money to cover tax, title, license, etc.

Also... I want to find a car still under factory warrantee. This is the biggest departure from some of my previous searches. Basically this is a list of cars that are alternatives to new cars... if you were in the market for a new car in this price range.

So, I plugged the following into AutoTrader:

Price: $25,000 - $32,000
Distance: 100 miles from My Zip Code
Mileage: Under 30,000
Years: 2010-2012

The reason for the mileage is to insure that I get a car still under factory warrantee. I might be able to put in "Under 45,000" miles in the search, because some cars do have 4 year/50k mile warrantees, and I will do that as I drill down for specific cars.

With the search entered above I got 1,423 listings. Ouch. I restricted that to coupes, hatchbacks, convertibles and sedans. This eliminates trucks, SUVs and minivans. Now we are down to 510. If I specifically specify used cars we get down to 471.

A quick scan of those 400+ cars found these makes & models I found interesting:

Two Doors: Golf R, Nissan 370Z, BMW 135i Coupe, BMW 3-Series Coupe/Conv, Miata, G37 Coupe, Accord Coupe, Ford Mustang (2011+ only), Dodge Challenger,
Chevrolet Camaro.

Sedans: Dodge Charger, Cadillac CTS Sedan (& Coupe), Buick Regal GS, Audi A4 2.0T Quattro.

As time went I I specifically added these to look for: Audi TT, Audi A5, Cadillac ATS.

Now to start digging in and finding the actual cars i would consider.

2012 Volkswagen Golf R, 18,294 mi., $29,777

This car would make a perfect replacement for my Mini Cooper S. The four doors and larger back seat would work well if/when I have to schlep my kids around. My only concern with this car is the all-wheel drive system. I thought I heard it is an "on-demand" all wheel drive. Meaning... most of the time this car is trudging along in front wheel drive. A quick test drive on a winding road should be enough to determine if this car is good enough. This car has a real 6 speed manual. No paddle shifter here.

2009 BMW 135i Convertible, 21,872 mi., $28,488

I don't know why I picked a convertible version of this car. I did specifically look for a manual transmission. Why? Glad you asked. I used to own a 2007 BMW 335i sedan. Same engine. That car had an automatic and it was very annoying. The car would try to start off in second gear which was a bit too lethargic before the turbo(s) spool up. So you push the pedal a little more and you get an abrupt downshift into first gear and then the turbo kicks in and it drives off fast. All this is NOT smooth, especially for a luxury branded car. If you put the transmission into Sport mode it would launch perfectly, since it launched in first gear and had just the right amount of launch speed to be sporty and smooth. However, then you had to switch out of Sport mode or the transmission would stay one gear too low when you reach a cruising speed. I hated this. I never really enjoyed that car because of its Jekyll/Hyde transmission. However, that engine with a manual transmission would be amazing. So, back to why I picked a convertible. Well, this car's interior, specifically the back seat, is going to be smaller than my Mini Cooper. As long as I am going smaller... I might as well go smallest and get the convertible.

2011 BMW 335i Coupe, 38,292 mi., $31,899

It took some doing to find just the right 3-Series. I looked only at coupes and convertibles. And I had to LOOK at each one because I HAVE to have the Sport Seats. I found a few 328i coupes and convertibles that fit my criteria. But when I found this one... a 335i with the sport seats and a MANUAL transmission... this was it. I have no trouble getting a 328i with an automatic. I drove enough loaner 328i cars when my 335i sedan was in for maintenance to know that the combination of 328i and automatic are very nice. I liked them better than my own 335i even though my car had more power.

2010 BMW 328i Convertible, 31,132mi., $30,992

Just to show you I would look at a non-turbo BMW, I included this 328i convertible. It has the Sport seats and an automatic. Very nice overall. I really like the sport seats... and this would make a great cruiser.

2011 Infiniti G37 Sport Coupe, 25,893 mi., $31,995

I don't know about this car. Yes, the model caught my eye during the broad search, but I don't know if I really like it that much. I think I would rather stick with the 3-Series coupe instead. But a test drive couldn't hurt.

2011 Ford Mustang GT Coupe, 20,704 mi., $28,950

I wanted to look at two Mustangs... a 6 cylinder with a manual transmission as well as a 5.0 V-8 regardless of transmission. Unfortunately, all the V-6 Mustangs where under my $25,000 price range. I had hoped to see something special, but it was not meant to be. And nothing truly impressed me much. Clearly used V-6 Mustangs belong on another list. As for this car... it was hard to get excited about one Mustang over another. In the end this one caught my eye with a less common maroon color of a GT/CS. This car did have an automatic, but having driven my 93 Camaro with a V-8 and automatic... I can tell you from first hand experience... torquey V-8s go great with a good automatic.

2010 Dodge Challenger SRT8, 16,564 mi., $31,500

I did not expect to find an SRT-8 Edition Challenger in this price range. I saw a couple of nice R/T models I liked, with manual transmissions. But ultimately I decided on this car for this article. One thing I was looking for was SRT seats in an R/T (I have seen this before, if rarely). The seats in the R/T are nothing special. And as long as we are talking about that... the entire interior of this car is nothing special. Dodge may have nailed the retro look on the outside, but the parts bin interior is terrible. I came across one SRT-8 with a manual, but the mileage was a good deal more so I passed on it in favor of this car.

2012 Chevrolet Camaro LT Convertible, 5,930 mi., $30,920

If you are going to go for a manual transmission Camaro with a V-6.... why not a convertible. This one is Inferno Orange with the Inferno Orange stitching on the leather interior. Add in the 20 inch wheels and this car is a knock out in the looks department. I could totally see myself cruising in this... and taking it on the Hot Rod Pour Tour.

2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS, 7,946 mi., $30,277

I almost listed a V-8 in a convertible, but I could not find one with a manual transmission. So I decided to stick with the Inferno Orange theme. I kind of like the hood treatment on this car. It also has leather interior and it is a certified car, which should provide some kind of extended warrantee. Plus the miles are less than 10K and the car is just a tick over $30k. This is a great alternative to a new car. though I might price around longer. There were lots of V-8 Camaros to look at, though the majority have automatics. And prices and mileage were all over the map. So shop around, as a better deal has to be out there.

2011 Dodge Charger R/T, 9,349 mi., $29,981

I love the bright blue offset strip on a Black Charger. So this was a natural. I could not find any manuals for the Charger. I don't know if they offer a manual. I did find one SRT8, but it was a 2010, before the redesign. I really like the change for 2011, especially the interior. If they could just hurry up and put the updated interior from this car into the Challenger. Anyway... I love the look of this car, especially if you like a big, brawny, V-8 powered sedan. Like the V-8 Camaro, shop around, you can find better prices if you are willing to have a few more miles on the clock.

2011 Cadillac CTS Luxury, 9,181 mi., $26,881

This was the second car to come up in my search. Hey, under 10K miles and under $27K. Sounds great to me. Even a little digging and this was still the best combination of price/mileage/color. I like it. I saw several cars that said Performance instead of Luxury. I might want to do some research and find out what that gives you. I assume a better (tighter) suspension. But that level of research comes when I have the cash.

2011 Cadillac CTS Performance Coupe, 25,398 mi., $31,995

I managed to find a coupe of CTS Coupes that fit my criteria. I love this car. This is the car I want to drive when I grow up (and don't really need back seat room, since this car's back seat is smaller than my Mini Cooper's). What else is there to say... get the ex-wife to sell the house. I want this car!!! This car was also listed with a manual transmission. Hmmm. I kind of like that. And I kind of don't. I mean this is the same basic engine/trans in the V-6 Camaro above. With the luxury of a Cadillac do I want a manual transmission? After all this is not a CTS-V (of which I could find none in my price range).

2012 Buick Regal GS, 6,028 mi., $28,999

This car is a huge maybe. I have heard some good and not so good about them. But they intrigue me. And I really need to test drive it with the manual. This was the first and seemingly best combination of price/mileage/color. Not bad.

2011 Audi A4 2.0T Premium Quattro, 18,486 mi., $26,482

I did not look for a BMW 3-Series sedan in this price range. Mainly because I already had one. I do like the A4 sedan, and decided I should look at the Quattro version. This one seems the best combination of price and mileage.

2010 Audi TT 2.0T Premium Plus, 43,111 mi., $29,980

Although the Audi TT did not come up in my initial, broad search, I was determined to find one. I found two. One coupe and one convertible. The convertible was bright red and was also Quattro. It was $30,492 with 15,536 mi. However, I have always thought the coupe looked a good deal better than the convertible in this car.

2010 Audi A5 3.2 Premium Plus Quattro, 29,565 mi., $31,980

Another car that I did not see in my broad search was the Audi A5. When I expanded the search I found that mostly this was due to mileage. Most cars in my price range had over 30K miles, and most were in the upper 40K range or higher. However, this one did show up and seemed like a great car. I did not expect to find a Quattro, no less a V6, in my price range. I put this car toe-to-toe with the Cadillac CTS Coupe, and I like both better than the 3-Series coupe form BMW... mainly for looks.

2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T, 4,178 mi., $32,302

OK, I cheated with this one. This is the only car on this list that went over budget... by a small $302. However, I did find an ATS with 14K miles for $29,900. I think it had the base 4 cylinder engine. Now... as for the ATS itself. I really, really like this car. However, I am slightly concerned with a couple of things. First, the turbo 4 with an automatic. I have heard nothing good about the manual transmission Cadillac is using in the ATS. So I would pass on it. However, that being said... I would also probably move up to a V-6 in the ATS with the automatic. Whether any of this is an actual concern can be dispelled with a road test. What can't is the CUE system. Cadillac's interface for the ATS is getting a lot of criticism in the automotive press. I do not know if I can spend a few minutes with a car to determine how much I hate, or not, its infotainment system. Granted, the ATS just came out. I expect the two gripes here to be worked out in a year or two by Cadillac. I expect they will improve the manual trans for the people looking for Sport in their Luxury/Sport sedan, and I am sure they are working on a way to improve CUE, even to the point you might be able to upgrade the software on an existing car. Remember, it took BMW a while to get the iDrive right. It is too soon to tell for the ATS, so I am listing this car he because I am hoping the car will get better. Considering the car is so good already, with just a very short list of problems (though big problems) I have high hopes for the ATS.

What's missing... if you notice... although I listed the Nissan 370Z above as having caught my interest, I didn't actually find any that I would consider buying. I can't put my finger on it. I just wasn't impressed.

Also missing is the Miata. Yes, it showed up in the initial broad search, but when I started going deeper I found very few over $25,000... and none that would get me to look away from buying a new car. So, the Miata just falls off because it is better below this price point in the used market.

Similarly... I could not get exited about a used Accord Coupe. Yes, it initially intrigues me. But more as a car that I would have as a daily driver and a backup to having other cars that were more fun. I think for this round I want to stick with the "more fun" cars that can handle daily driving as well.


If I could just get my ex-wife to sell the house.

After I complied this list I realized... my Mini Cooper is paid off, so if I did have that $35K I do not really need to worry about a car with a warrantee... my Mini Cooper will act as a backup if a car needs to go into the shop. So next month I am going to look at used cars that are more like expensive toys.

Stay tuned.