By on April 18, 2008

mikalea.jpgFrom TTAC reader Thomas: I'm looking to buy a new car this summer but I'm stumped on which car I want. I need a car that not only has good gas mileage but has a great looks. I'm looking to spend $24k to $28k. Possibly splurge to $32k. Hopefully not. I'm 21 and this will be my first new vehicle so I need it to be hot. Ha. I love the new Malibu. First off, it's a Chevy which I love and the aggressive new look is amazing. But there's no manual and how does the four-cylinder automatic accelerate? The second car under consideration is the Audi A4. I love the car, the class, but the price is killing. I do prefer the look of the Malibu over the A4. Well, give me some ideas please. Thank you very much.


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102 Comments on “Ask the Best and Brightest: Hot Car for $24 – $28K?...”


  • avatar
    foolish

    MazdaSpeed3.

    Wow.

  • avatar
    Buick61

    If you like the Malibu, get the Malibu. The 4-cylinder/6-speed auto should be plenty quick.

    Other cars: Astra XR, Cobalt SS turbo, HHR SS turbo, Mazda3, MazdaSpeed3, Dodge Charger R/T (with rebates, it’s suprisingly cheap), Caliber SRT4….

  • avatar
    AKM

    Well, let’s start by being sarcastic: watch your grammar.

    Beside that, you seem to gyrate towards sedans, but I think that for this price range, hot hatches are a better option:
    - mini Cooper S
    - Mazda3/Mazdaspeed3
    - VW GTI/ Jetta GLI (if you insist on sedans)

    The Mazda Miata can also be a great option, and it’ll fit your price. So will the Pontiac Solstice and probably the Saturn Sky.

    Also, make sure you don’t end up paying too much. 21 is a great time to put money aside for retirement (as boring as that may sound, you’ll thank yourself for doing it in 10 years).

  • avatar
    geozinger

    If the kid is smart, he will stick himself in a four door sedan of some kind. I think all two doors for people under 26 are considered ‘sports cars’ by the insurance industry these days…

    I think he’d pay just as much in insurance (monthly) as he will for the car payment (monthly).

    He should get the ‘Bu if he truly likes them.

    PS: By the way, I’ll take one of those hood ornaments, too (in the accompanying pic)

  • avatar
    improvement_needed

    21 and wanting to spend 24k on a malibu???

    try:
    GTI, GLI, A3, Jetta Wolfsburg,
    TSX, accord coupe, mazda speed 6, mazda speed 3
    G8, Chrysler 300, used infinity g35, WRX, etc…

    if you’re going up to 32k, there’s tonnes of options…

    I’d suggest trying some fiscal restraint and keeping it under 24k… – lots of nice choices with a stick available at that price…

  • avatar
    Edward Niedermeyer

    The more I drive the girlfriend’s ’08 Impreza wagon, the more impressed (hah!) I become. It’s not as taut as a “true performance car” should be, but it’s grunty, refined, practical and fun. Gas mileage hovers at 25 no matter how/where you drive, there’s plenty of room, and bombing the back roads at 80mph is fun, while remaining smooth and quiet.

    The interior may not be everyone’s pint of lager, but I’d say if you don’t want to plunk down the dough for an A4 (girlfriend couldn’t find a used A3 that wasn’t gone as soon as we found it) you could do a lot worse than a new ‘preza.

    Oh yeah, improvement_needed reminded me of the TSX. Outgoing model could probably be had for $24k, and if you are a fan of manual transmissions, you have to at least try the thing.

  • avatar
    ckgs

    Acura TSX. All the features of the Audi you love, but within the price range.

  • avatar
    threeer

    21 and wanting to saddle himself with a huge car payment?? What’s up with that? Why do people fresh out of school believe they need to have (or deserve to have) what previous generations worked years and years to save up for and then buy outright? Dude, if you’re hellbent on tossing that much money somewhere, take $10,000, go buy one hell of a good used car, and then take the other $250 or so each month you WOULD have spent on the rest of the car payment on dump it into a retirement account. It’ll add up quick! For $10k, you can find any number of fun cars. Miatas can be found by the boatload at that price. With enough searching, even older 3-series sedans can be had, or an Audi A4, if you’re bent on a performance sedan. I’d even go so far as to look at something like a used Mazda Protege5 (which I used to own and miss). Good fuel economy, four doors, practical hatch, excellent handling dynamics. If you run out and buy a new $25k car, the exact second the front tires come off the lot, you’ll have lost 15% of it’s initial value, and you’ll spend the next three years chasing your “over/under” situation.

  • avatar
    ScottMcG

    First off, buy something used. If you get a 2-year-old off-lease car, you’ll expand your choices a lot. Let someone else eat all that depreciation instead.

    With that in mind, an A4 isn’t an unreasonable choice. You should be able to score a G35, TSX, Saab 9-3, maybe a 3-series, C-class, Mazda6, Passat, and probably any domestic at all.

    Of course, if you’ve got to have the new Malibu, go for it. It sucks to realize 2 months later that you didn’t buy the right car. Just speaking as a 40-year-old guy who’s owned 20 cars so far, you’re going to get a lot more car if you don’t buy it brand-new.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    The redesigned 2009 Audi A4 price list is now out. Dealers are taking orders. That being the case, dealers are desperate to dump the 2008 A4 cars. You might be able to make a great deal on whatever the local dealer has on the lot. I recently priced a 2.0T stick with premium and sport suspension for $28k.

  • avatar
    ScottMcG

    Threer: look at something like a used Mazda Protege5 (which I used to own and miss)

    This, too. I had a P5 (the yellow one) and I really miss it too. It could have used a touch more power, but it handles like a go-kart. Easily the fun-est car I’ve had in a long time.

  • avatar
    chinar

    Lease a Mini Cooper S.

    Becasue they hold their value so well, (62.5% after 3yr, 36000 miles) you can get really good lease deals on it

  • avatar
    N85523

    I got a new Rubicon right out of college 2 years ago. It’s now over half paid for. I love that Jeep, but it is not easy or terribly wise to have such a payment hanging over your head when you’re just starting out. It hasn’t broken me and I’m in no other debt besides the car note, but there isn’t always a lot left over.

  • avatar
    sean362880

    Consider a new/lightly used Mustang GT. You say you want looks, and it’s easily the most eye-catching of any in that price bracket. With incentives, you could easily stay on the low end of your price range. Plus, the V8 sounds brilliant.

    As for insurance, prepare to empty your wallet.

  • avatar
    menno

    How about thinking completely outside the box, and at least considering the 2009 Hyundai Sonata Limited, with leather, FOUR CYLINDER, in the color of your choice?

    You might just get one heck of a surprise at what $23,000 can buy. Plus you’ll end up with a superb warrantee, an American built car (Montgomery, Alabama) as well as 175 hp (more than the ‘bu four banger) and five cog automatic.

    The interior on the Sonata makes the Malibu look like a – um – Chrysler product in comparison. The exterior look is pretty nice, too, especially the new grill and jewelled headlamps.

  • avatar
    USAFMech

    With that price range on a used vehicle you could get really creative:

    Phaeton, XJ8, S-series Audi, etc. (And still have room for a good warranty.)

  • avatar
    jaje

    He definitely needs to provide more information. You can somehow argue that an Odyssey (the corner carver of minivans) is what he needs sans manual tranny.

    Try getting this info to better break down what you need / want:
    - Fuel Economy
    - Performance (power / handling / brakes / shenanigans)
    - Manual Tranny
    - Looks / Bragging rights
    - Quality / Reliability
    - Safety
    - Hauling Stuff (like college dorm room)
    - Driving history (do you have a lot of tickets or accidents?)
    - Mechanical Inclanation of Mr. Thomas and want to be able to do some of your own wrenching

    With all things said so far – I’d consider these:
    TSX, A4, GTI, Civic Si sedan, WRX, Matrix/Vibe, etc. (get a hatchback or sedan for lower insurance)

    With all due respect to the Malibu it’s resale will be pretty bad regardless – as GM will eventually sell it to fleets and prop rebates on the hood.

    Threer / ScottMCG: I had a Protege5 and that was a very fun car to drive. The FSDE 2.0 power plant (it was the Mazda 626 2.0 from the early 90′s just with a lot of emissions equipment on it) definitely was lacking so after installation of a t3 turbo that cajoled it to 190whp (better brakes with 4 piston wilwood and koni yellows and hypercoil springs) the car had the brakes/power/handling to be considered an overweight go kart.

  • avatar
    ttac2000

    Mazda3 would be the prudent choice IMO, most bang for the buck.

    At age 21 you really should aim toward the lower end of your price range. No need to burden yourself with a huge payment so early on.

    If the you can get around $28k without killing your budget or resorting to idiot financing (96 months or whatever they have these days), then I’d go with the TSX. Same features as cars that cost $10k more + killer resale value and reliability. Buy an Audi five or six years down the road when you can afford to do it right.

    Used is the prudent way to go, but find me a prudent 21 yr old. Everyone should buy a new car at least once, if for no other reason than to learn about depreciation.

    Disclosure: Current TSX owner ($26.8k with Navi OTD)

  • avatar
    kericf

    You can get a slightly used (less than 15,000 miles) MazdaSpeed 6 for around $20,000. Probably a little less with some good haggling.

    AWD, Turbo, 6 Speed Short Throw, 4 doors and a full size trunk, Xenon headlamps, rain sensing wipers. If you didn’t know it was a Mazda how can you say no to that.

  • avatar
    Ruinedeffigy

    Well, here is my take on the situation.

    I bought an Impreza 2.5RS coupe ’99 for $13,000+ after sales taxes were considered and gap insurance.

    I pay $268/mo for 5 years at around 6% interest. MY insurance rate, however jumped to $330/mo when I was 18 years old. I lived at home but paid more rent than I care to acknowledge. The reason for the insurance hike? I was 18.

    Now, my insurance in lingering at $175 a month, which I feel is okay.

    Also, I’ve NEVER had a speeding ticket or moving violation in my life. FYI.

    Consider a used sedan unless you want to pay more for insurance than a car payment.

  • avatar
    menno

    Sure used semi-exotics like a Phaeton, XJ8 and all manner of Audis look great UNTIL something goes snafu and the “great warrantee” ends up being as worthless as used toilet paper.

    If you don’t want new, I have to tell you that there are some real bargains in near-new out there, and I mean real bargains.

    My local Hyundai dealer has a 2008 Sonata GLS four cylinder (the interior is not as nice as the 2009, the engine has 15 less HP but is about on par with the Malibu and the automatic is 4 speed) which has 4000 miles on it – it’s an ex-loaner car for the dealer – marked at under $15k.

    Times are tough for dealers. Be prepared to have them falling over you once they realize you really truly CAN buy a car…

  • avatar
    mercerandthird

    If you’re 21, you should spend your money on something more productive….education, 401(k)….unless you’re independently wealthy.

    Get a used circa 2000-01 used lux. car if you want some bling….like 2002 A4 for $12-14k

    Ya, it’s that lame cuz no 20-something girl says, “wow your 401(k) allocation makes me wet.” but you’d rather be a successful 30-something w/$$$$$$ (who will have no problems finding women, even if you’re fat and puggish looking) than someone who rolls from debt payment to debt payment every month starting at age 21.

  • avatar
    BulletBob709

    At your age do not buy new. Let someone else eat the depreciation. Buy used. You can find loads of fine cars in the $5-12K range. Some models have
    hot versions that are off the insurance radar being lumped into the overall make. That takes some research but well worth it.

    Look, too, at a used Jeep Wrangler TJ. The hard-top is far more secure than the soft-top. It is sporty, 5 spd, reliable, gets decent economy, a very safe convertible, holds resale well, has a huge after-market and ever-popular–meaning you will have no trouble selling it. It’s also fun to drive.

  • avatar
    mlbrown

    I have to agree with the folks that warn against strapping yourself to a big, new car payment.

    And also agree that you should forget $24K-$32K and look at $10K. You’ll be surprised. Your payments would be small and/or short-term and you really can get a lot of car with a lot of life left for that money.

    Go to any one of a number of search-for-a-car sites and put your max price at, say, $11,500 or $12K with the understanding that you’ll have a bit of a down payment or be able to bargain your way down to $10K…and then also enter that you want a stick shift…check it out.

    Bimmers, Accord coupes, maybe an ’02 or ’03 WRX if your lucky…the possibilities are endless.

    -Matt

  • avatar
    jpc0067

    If you think you need a status vehicle, the Audi I guess. Good luck with the maintenance prices. I like the Acura TSX as a better status car suggestion. But for less $ you should be able to get the Civic SI Sedan/or coupe, at $24000 OTD. If you can live without the torque hit, it will teach you be a better, smoother dirver, IMO (my opinion only—no one jump on my back today, OK?). Of course, this recommendation assumes you can drive a manual.

    There is a premium gas penalty, but for around town driving the penalty is not severe if you’re a smooth driver. Out in the country, where I live, it freakin rocks. All I have to worry about are the Springtime manure trucks. Lov-e-ly.

  • avatar
    B-Rad

    Drive the Malibu (if your dealer ever gets one) and see how you like it. For some reason, though, it seems like a big car for a 4-banger but I have not driven it, so I don’t know for sure.

    And you might score some points with a future wife if you’re driving something practical rather than a two-seat convertible. Not that she won’t think it’s awesome tooling around with the top down but it shows you might be looking ahead to when you may need more than two seats. If you don’t want practicality, though, go with a sports car. Maybe an S2000 or 350Z. Or a Miata, those are a bit cheaper, I think.

  • avatar
    barberoux

    Scion tc. Upgrade to the best audio and still save yourself some bucks. I agree with other commenters. 21 and looking at a Malibu? Are you looking to be celibate? MazdaSpeed 3 is a nice car. Golf GTI is great but assume you will become friendly with the dealer. Reliability still plagues VW.

  • avatar
    incitatus

    nissan altima 08 or 09 sedan or coupe.

    The four cilinder coupe with lethear and everything is around $24k. It’s a smashing looking car, drives better than anything outthere in that price range, good gas mileage, relieble. Case closed.

  • avatar
    BuckD

    Volkswagen GTI (four door)
    Mini Cooper S
    MazdaSpeed 3

    The cars I would get if I were 21, could afford it, and didn’t have kids.

  • avatar
    Sammy Hagar

    A little off topic here, but something I’ve been wondering about for a long time.

    On many auto weblogs (certainly including this one), the Mazda 3′s & 6′s garner almost constant positive reviews…sometimes bordering on fanatical. If these vehicles are so superior to other offerings in their classes and value ranges, why don’t they dominate the market? While I see a fair number of Mazda3′s on the road…and note, a decling number of Mazda6′s (time for redesign?)…they still pale in comparison to low-rent Focii, Civics, Elantras, etc. Why is that? I don’t think the public, as a whole, is “misinformed” or unaware of Mazda’s offerings…it’s not some obscure foreign brand. And it certainly isn’t for lack of press, whether it be print, web or Mazda advertising.

    Really, I think the Mazda 3 is a failure, in one certain regard: If it’s so great (owner-hype aside), why isn’t the nation awash in a sea of 3′s…rather than crap? Is it Mazda’s fault? The dealerships? A completely oblivious buying public [in this day and age?]?

    Any thoughts? Not trying to start a flame war…just wondering why the sales #’s are relatively modest.

  • avatar
    incitatus

    and it got good grades from TTAC… You can get the 6 cyl. for less than 26K. Now that’s a nice car.

  • avatar
    mlbrown

    Not to lead the “conversation” further off-topic, Sammy, but I see absolute hordes of Mazda3 sedans and hatches up here in the New England.

    I really like the 3 and would definitely consider one except for one fact that may keep other folks out of them as well: The interior is really, really small.

    -Matt

  • avatar
    incitatus

  • avatar
    incitatus

    Altima coupe review link.

    sorry for this. my first time inserting a link.

  • avatar
    Gottleib

    call Steve Lang, he always seems to find really good inexpensive cars that are reliable. He is the New Car Consultant link on this web page.

  • avatar
    JJ

    At 21 You are limited to relatively boring cars anyway, so I see no reason to buy a new car.

    There a way cooler cars to be had that are just a couple years old or very very cool cars that are classics for 25-30K.

    I’m 22 myself and apart from the fact that I am unfortunate enough to live in a country whose government thinks that cars are the tools of evil and therefore finds it necessary to make them incredibly expensive (The Netherlands) in this case the situation is pretty much the same when it comes to buying cars.
    Right here, under 24 you won’t get away with names like GTI, GTA, RS, Type-R, Cupra, ST or anything else that remotely sounds like it might be a cool car, unless you pay insanely high insurance rates.

    Still those issues aside, I would say, in the US, used Z4 3.0, classic 80s 911, used WRX (not a tuner version, obviously), used BMW E46 3-series, used Acura TSX, used E39 5 series sedan (yes, I’m a fan of BMWs), used Honda S2000 or Acura RSX (yes, of Honda too). Or a Vette (although in Europe that is frowned upon).

    If you really want the Malibu, I guess you could still buy a very mildly used one of the lot somewhere and save a few grant…

    Only way I would consider a new car right now is if I finished my master’s and got a job at a company that provides me with my own company car (which, given the taxes and all, is really quite common). But that will have to wait for a couple of months minimum…and I might still opt to decline and buy the classic 911 or a used Alfa 147 GTA for about 15-20K Euros.

  • avatar
    danms6

    Sammy Hagar:

    I believe the top reason is the buying public. Many people in the price segment could care less about how the car handles or looks. Mazda’s brand image focuses on Fun and Stylish, whereas Toyota comes across as Reliable and Honda as Efficient. They make some brilliant cars that are designed for people who want practical and fun transportation. Their reliability and resale value are middle of the road but many people couldn’t care less about how it drives and look elsewhere.

    Edit: keep the Megan Fox pictures coming, too.

  • avatar
    solo84

    At your age, BUY USED!!!:

    TSX, A4, G35, Accord/Accord Coupe, Civic/Civic Si, Prelude, Mazda 6/Mazdaspeed 6, Mazda 3/Mazdaspeed 3, WRX/2.5 RS, etc, etc, etc…

    Please don’t buy a new 4-cylinder Malibu. You’re 21, not 51. That car has all the appeal of a tan base-model Camry. You’ll regret it for years to come. Shop around, there are WAY more cars to choose from that don’t scream 21 going on 50.

  • avatar
    seoultrain

    Sammy, IIRC, the Mazda3 is the #2 best-selling car in Canada. Americans are just sheep. “Buy American/Toyota/Honda.”

  • avatar
    solo84

    Sammy Hagar,

    You are basing your percieved “failure” of the Mazda 3 on the fact that not everyone in the US is driving one?

    Congradulations on typing the most ridiculous post on the internet.

    I guess Apple’s iPod is a complete failure (to you) because some people prefer Microsoft’s Zune then?

  • avatar
    detroit1701

    Sammy Hagar –

    Many Mazda dealerships cannot keep 3s in stock. When I bought my 3 hatch, it took alot of searching all over the region to find a manual transmission example. Mazda sends 3s in batches from Japan, and has to supply the rest of the world as well. Have you ever priced out a used one? Some 2005′s will go for 30% under original retail. Amazing.

    The Original Question –

    Unless Daddy is paying for the car (or you are cashing in some trust fund money), I would not buy a new car in that price range at age 21 (I did not own a new car until I leased one at age 27 — and I am a professional).

    I concur with the majority of opinions on finding a nice used car (or better yet, if you are looking to impress — find a cheap lease). Just consider the following:

    (1) Your new 22-24mpg Audi A4 / VW GTI / Subaru / Acura will be useless and depreciate faster when gas is $4-5/gallon

    (2) Most every manufacturer’s lineups and powetrains will be significantly revised in 2009-11, now that there has been enough time to react to fuel prices. Most of the aforementioned cars have circa 2002-04 powertrains, designed for $1.50 gas.

  • avatar
    alex_rashev

    For the budget…

    Volvo C30 if you want rear passenger seats.

    Miata MX-5 if not.

    Anything above that is going to be unused for 99.99% of the time – keep your first car small. When time comes, you’ll need a minivan, not a sedan ;)

    A good point towards C30 (other than immensly practical yet high-quality interior materials and stunning design) is that you can pick it up in Sweden for 7% (?) under MSRP. Great excuse for a Nordic vacation ;)

  • avatar
    Bruce Banner

    E39 BMW M5!!!!!!! Sorry, not new, but c’mon an M5 for about 30K. How can you go wrong?

  • avatar
    Bruce Banner

  • avatar
    dpace32

    Last year I was in a very similar situation. I was 22, just graduating school and just started to receive the big pay checks. I tried to stay frugal while having fun by picking up an 02 Audi A4 3.0Q which was by far the biggest mistake I have made since graduation.

    The car was fun to drive for the first two months and then the repairs started to add up. Check engine lights became the norm and I quick dropped $2,500 to repair a camshaft… not fun. Although the car is now completely paid off (I paid $15k last year for this car) I am still worried about what repair is going to come next.

    Spend the extra money and get the piece of mind of a certified preowned car. At least when something breaks you have someone to point at! Also pick up the Consumer Report’s Guide to Used Cars… if I read this earlier I would have known to stay away from 02 Audis.

  • avatar
    Sanman111

    A lot of good suggestions here. I don’t know what the insurance situation is for you, but that may play a huge factor. I like the TSX idea, the Jetta is not bad either. I will say that the Legacy GT might be a better bet than the WRX for insurance reasons. Also, 2006 RSX might be a good option. Though, like many have already mentioned, I would caution against spending that much at 21. If you buy a 2-3 year old car, as I did at that age, you can knock off some serious depreciation. I bought 3 year old car that was in your price range new and saved $11,000. If you are worried about the ‘image’ of a used car, go for a mazda3, tsx, or anything else that hasn’t really changed in a couple of years. No one will be able to tell except for the odometer reading. Also, the TSX and Mazda 3 are good bets becasue they are due for a redesign and thus will want to get rid of old models.

    Also, a not on certified pre-owned cars. Just because you can point doesn’t mean that they will not try and get out of it. A dealership near me got out of a $500 repair of a power steering pulley (after a long argument) because they said that the bolt holding it in failed and the the pulley (which was covered) did not. Nissan corporate said they had to take the dealership’s word and I needed my car back to get to work. So, if you can’t afford repairs, don’t buy the car.

  • avatar
    william442

    Bargain with the Audi dealer. You may be able to manage it.They have a huge inventory.

  • avatar
    SupaMan

    Thomas

    In that price range, if you’re looking for style, sport and practicality, I’d suggest either a Mazda3/MazdaSpeed3. It’s a very stylish 5 door with, in the Speed3′s case, power to challenge any other car in that price range. Plus it has enough space to haul whatever interests you’re in. On the used side of things, I suggest you give the TL/TSX a very close look. They’re very stylish and luxurious for the price and they have the sport-car reflexes to match the looks; and i’d be going out on a limb to say that you CAN find one of those with a manual tranny. You’ll just have to dig a little deeper.

    Oh yeh…the A4 isn’t a bad buy either (nothing against Audi mind you).

    And why is Farago killing me with that pic? I’m at work damnit!!

  • avatar
    Darth4114

    Another vote for a used TSX. It’s going to be a lot cheaper than you’re willing to spend. Pretty good gas mileage, 6-speed MT, and a really clean interior (well the ones with black leather + brushed aluminum).

  • avatar
    KixStart

    Thomas,

    Buy an inexpensive, reliable used car. Check CR for recommendations and history.

    When you have enough money saved up, buy a house.

    In twenty years, that Malibu you passed up this year will seem about as exciting as a 1988 Ford Taurus does today. However, the house will still have a crapload of value and, if you’re reasonably lucky, instead of asking yourself, “Chevy or Chrysler?” you’ll be asking yourself, “Bentley or Bimmer?”

    Two years ago, my second child was in your situation and chose the used car option. And is buying a house this month.

  • avatar
    John R

    improvement_needed :

    “21 and wanting to spend 24k on a malibu???

    try:
    GTI, GLI, A3, Jetta Wolfsburg,
    TSX, accord coupe, mazda speed 6, mazda speed 3
    G8, Chrysler 300, used infinity g35, WRX, etc…

    if you’re going up to 32k, there’s tonnes of options…”

    My sentiments exactly! I wish I had $24-28k to blow on a car when I was 21! If I were you? WRX or a low Mileage Evo.

    But considering insurance, the Evo may be out if you’re 21. I would get a loaded Mazda 6. Great looks, great driving dynamics, good value for money. Can’t lose with that car.

  • avatar
    hhiranan

    You’re 21, you want a car you can take to the club and bring double the people back. You want a car that won’t kill your wallet all at once, kill you with a loan or saddle you with a huge insurance bill. If i was you i’d keep it below 24k. If you have a steady job, know that job security as a whole is going down (pending recession). Plan yourself an out. If you get a malibu, chances are that if you loose your job, selling your car will still leave you in a hole.

    I am in a somewhat similar situation. I just got a job 6/8 months ago, paying professional salary. I got myself a 2008 Honda Accord – base everything. cost me 21 out the door with the paint and interior sealant. add some options and you’re up to 24k.

    If you’re a ‘gentle’ driver and maintain your cars well, go for a brand new car and treat it better than you’d treat your children. If this is a car you plan on beating into the ground, and putting lots of mileage on, buy used.

  • avatar

    Buy a used older Boxster for about $18K or so. Find a good independent Porsche mechanic and save the rest for the slightly higher repair costs.

  • avatar
    romanjetfighter

    If you don’t have a beard, I’d stay away from a convertible/ragtop ala Boxster/Eos/Z4. You’ll look so girly!

    Try a new 2008 A4. It’s Classy. Manly. Confident. A Gregory Peck in a land of flashy morons like Spencer Pratts and Adnan Ghalib.

    They’ll be so cheap once the 2009′s get on the lot. Sometimes the dealers will discount them more than if you bought a used one. You’re only 21 once! Go splurge! If you do buy a Malibu, you’ll be regretting it for the rest of your life. Sure, it’s the more sensible choice, but you’ll be 50 and thinking to yourself, “I would’ve had so much more fun if I had only bought that sexy A4. I would’ve become a different man.”

    Don’t invest in a 401k either! Money is a resource, not an ends. It doesn’t give you happiness. A sexy car that attracts sexy chicks? That definitely does.

  • avatar
    Jonny Lieberman

    If I may…

    A WRX is a great option for one very over-looked reason.

    They are totally bullet-proof.

    Toyotas are reliable (er, might have once been reliable) if driven like an elementary school librarian. But you’re 21 and into cars. You’re going to hoon it up.

    When I traded in my ’02 WRX every body panel had significant damage due to me smashing into stuff (rocks and trees on dirt roads, mostly) Somehow, even the hood and roof were dinged.

    The car had just over 105,000 miles on it and the only repair it ever needed was a new battery at 70,000 miles.

    It was black and I kept it dirty, so people loved to bang into it. I believe I was rear-ended three times. And side swipped while parked at least twice.

    The final mash up was when a Volvo 950 rear-ended me on Thanksgiving night (drunk 19-year-old — my Mom was in the car). His radiator blew up and his legendary Swedish tank was immobilized.

    Meanwhile, my muffler got pushed into the left rear suspension components. I was able to drive it home.

    And there you have it.

  • avatar
    romanjetfighter

    http://www.autotrader.com/fyc/vdp.jsp?car_id=237636537&dealer_id=54059129&car_year=2007&model=A4&num_records=&systime=&make2=&start_year=2007&keywordsfyc=&keywordsfyc=&keywordsrep=&keywordsrep=&engine=&certified=&body_code=0&fuel=&only_price=1&awsp=false&search_type=both&distance=0&marketZipError=false&search_lang=en&make=AUDI&keywords_display=&color=&page_location=findacar%3A%3Aispsearchform&min_price=&drive=&default_sort=priceASC&max_mileage=&style_flag=1&sort_type=priceASC&address=92683&advanced=y&only_photo=1&end_year=2009&doors=&transmission=Automatic&max_price=&cardist=2441

    23k. 12k miles. Audi. Sport/Prem. It’s silver so it’ll be easy to resell if you change your mind! How can you pick a Malibu over this?

  • avatar
    Sammy Hagar

    “Sammy Hagar,

    You are basing your percieved “failure” of the Mazda 3 on the fact that not everyone in the US is driving one?

    Congradulations on typing the most ridiculous post on the internet.

    I guess Apple’s iPod is a complete failure (to you) because some people prefer Microsoft’s Zune then?”

    What I am saying is that the Mazda 3 consistantly…both in motoring press and internet blah-blah-blah…is held in higher regard than any other vehicle in it’s class. However, it’s the Civics and Elantras and Focii of the world that are the segment leaders. If Mazda is producing the best vehicle, why isn’t it the #1 seller? When you have the best product and yet it’s eschewed for something lesser (many, many other lesser products), it’s a failure. It’s either a failure of marketing, a failure of sales force, a failure of production means or a combination of the three.

    And “congradulations” on being like the zillionth person on the web to not use a spellchecker.

  • avatar
    davey49

    I’d say as far as the Focus, Cobalt, Civic and Corolla out selling the 3 it’s most likely number of dealers and/or familiarity with the brand or model (especially for the Civic and Corolla with regard to model)
    The Elantra doesn’t out sell the 3 by much and is probably due to the lower price.
    I personally don’t think the Mazda 3 is all that spectacular. It feels cramped and depressingly dark on the inside.

  • avatar
    brownie

    Buy a 7-10 year old Honda Prelude (the last generation). Cheap, completely bulletproof, acceptable mileage even with a heavy foot, fun as hell (seriously, it’s waaaaaaay more fun to drive than any FWD car deserves to be), practical enough for someone young (your friends won’t mind stuffing themselves in the back seat for another few years), and as a bonus, many people think it’s a new model since there was no successor and you don’t see very many around (at least not around where I live). I owned one from 2003-2007, and I think it was the perfect vehicle for the youngish car nut with a practical side. As many have said above, take all the money you DON’T spend on it and save, save, save. Trust those of us who are a few years older – cars are fleeting, a nest egg is not.

  • avatar
    beetlebug

    I’ll second the WRX suggestion. Mine has 125k miles on it and has been very reliable and, as Jonny said, bulletproof. Plus you can get billions of aftermarket performance parts for it if you are so inclined.

  • avatar
    RedStapler

    The “which car is best for you” aspect has been beat to death on here so I’ll leave it alone.

    Given the technological changes in the pipeline it would be better to lease right now and keep the obsolescence & depreciation risk off your balance sheet.

    I was in your shoes two years ago and I went for the new car. I did not pull the trigger until I had confidence in the stability of my income stream and a bit of cushion.

    I also financed it on 5 year terms with no prepayment penalty. I’m on track to have it paid off in 3-3.5 years. Whenever I’d have a big paycheck I’d add $200-400+ above the minimum payment. by being that far ahead it now shows a 0 balance due each month; this gave me some financial flexibility a few months back when I was changing jobs and moving into a new place.

    On a somewhat related note when you get your raise crank up your 401k withholding so your take-home stays constant. I’m saving $350-450 per month this way.

  • avatar
    N85523

    Romanjetfighter,

    Don’t invest in a 401k either!

    Do not speak ill of what you do not know. A 401 is one of the easiest ways to let your money work for you rather than the other way around. I bought a new car a little early, but I have never missed a month of putting money into my 401 and after less than 2 years, I am very pleased with the results.

    A sexy car that attracts sexy chicks? That definitely does [give you happiness].

    No, it doesn’t.

    An automobile does not a man make.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    Young Man,

    You’re making time with a hottie in a bar, let’s say. She’s laughing, flipping her hair, play-punching your arm, holding your gaze entirely too long…

    Thingz iz good, dude.

    How can you fail?

    She even accepts your offer for a ride. You step out into the night…wet streets reflecting stoplights, electricity in the air.

    You take her arm — a gentleman — and lead her to your steed.

    She wonders to herself, “Hmmm, wonder what he drives? Hopefully not some 10-year old import with go-fast boyracer wings. Or some jacked-up little weenie monster truck. Or some hand-me down old-man sedan.”

    Choose well, son. Think it through.

    You have to show confidence, maturity, taste, virility, all at once.

    So what’s it gonna be?

    A Malibu? The good: Practical. No-nonsense. The bad: No fun. No vision.

    An A4? The good: Classy. Sporty. Ambitious. The bad: Depreciation. Expense. May be trying too hard.

    Puzzling.

    WOMEN: We need your vote. And suggestions.

    (Guys, you’re just guessing. And looking at this from a hoon point of view. Our young man needs to know what car “says” the right things, not “does” the right things. The former, comes later.)

    So girls, wiegh in. Please.

  • avatar
    Carzzi

    $24 – $28K…
    New: 128i, A3, Hyundai Genesis Coupé :-)
    Used: in your price range… BMW M3 (2001-03), BMW M5 (2000 – 2001, maybe some ’02s)… “practical” sporty alternative: used E90 325i/330i with CPO warranty… excellent buys.

  • avatar
    yankinwaoz

    He is asking the wrong question!!!!

    Unless he has $24k in cash laying around, and is making contributions to a 401K or IRA, then don’t buy a new car.

    Spend half that amount on a good used car, then invest the rest into a Roth IRA.

    Invest in the time to learn how to maintain your car. Buy some good Craftsman tools from Sears and NEVER loan them to anyone. Learn how to use Google to find the best prices on replacement parts.

    Dumb, dumb, dumb. Someone needs to teach him some basic home economics.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    If I was 21 and that was my price range, I’d probably buy a Mini Cooper S, with a stick of course.

    Perhaps a Mazda-3 with a stick, or a Mazda6. There’s a new Mazda6 coming out next year.

    I might try to find a good deal on a Ford Fusion with a 4-cylinder & stickshift – used, or wait for the 2009 model with the upgraded 4-cylinder.

    How about a certified-used Volkswagen Passat 1.8T with a stick? (Make sure you have a good warranty and get it checked out by an independent mechanic though.)

    The new Chevrolet Cobalt SS looks pretty good for $25k (260 hp, 25 mpg) – but first year’s depreciation is likely to be a be-och. Insurance will likely be as high as the Mini-Cooper.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    If you can truly afford that kind of money at your age, I’d recommend something from the Mazda family as well. I’ve really enjoyed my Mazda6s, and my test drives of both the Mazda3 (with the 2.3L, 4 cylinder) and the Mazdaspeed3 lead me to recommend those two for anybody looking for a “hot hatch”. By the way, the Mazdaspeed3 is a “5 door” hatchback and the decaffeinated version can also be had as a hatchback, which may or may not help with insurance.

  • avatar

    “If these vehicles(Mazda3/6) are so superior to other offerings in their classes and value ranges, why don’t they dominate the market?”

    They are superior in handling and shifter/clutch feel, two things 99% of Americans do not care about.

  • avatar
    ToddL

    Lots of good commentary on this thread. I’ll just add that unless you’re an experienced hand at car control, buy something with stability control. Something with a “half-off” mode like BMW’s DTC or GM’s competitive mode is nice so that you can push it more while still having a safety net.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Good answer, Praxis.

    I am actually with the don’t buy it unless you can pay cash crowd, and unless you have a really financially good looking future (trust fund, job waiting at Dad’s company, etc.) then why spend so much on a car?

    I have a hard time picturing what you would like if you like both Chevy and Audi though. Sounds like you are a sedan man. So here is an idea.

    Wait for the G8′s to come down in price and get one for 5k off. I think by winter, you will get one for under 30 with whatever you want. Or, go the civic route. Get a plane looking one, then chip it. You can have your fun, and look like a respectable guy. Won’t spend as much on speeding tickets in a sleeper either.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Don’t buy new – you can get a low mileage 330i for that kind of money and you won’t suffer crushing depreciation like you would with a new car.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    Acura TSX with the delicious 6-speed manual transmission. The most car for the money in that price range IMO.

  • avatar
    davey49

    I’ll vote for the TSX also. It does a bit better in the CR reliability surveys. The A4 does OK when new but older models have a lot of black marks.

  • avatar
    guyincognito

    I have to disagree with the commenters who say to buy some cheap practical car and save your money. Sure you could do that and wait until your kids move out to get the fun car you really want or you can live your life while you are young and enjoy it. If I were you I would buy the most fun car of limited practicality I could afford.

    Oh yeah I did, but I made the mistake of leasing. For the same price I could have bought a used version of my current ride and then I’d have paid it off long ago and it would be a race car by now.

    As has been said ad nauseum there are some fantastic used cars in your price range. How about an E46 M3? There are lots of clean examples sub $30K hitting the market now that the new M is out. Mazdaspeed 3 is another solid choice and not even impractical. Or the Mini Cooper S. Or even a TT, GTI, WRX STI, EVO, G35, and Volvo S40 T5s are cool.

    But whatever you do, for the love of God do not buy a Malibu. That thing will be a dead on the vine rental queen by the time you are done paying it off.

  • avatar
    davey49

    The STI/Evo/Mazdaspeed 3/GTI/Cooper S all seem a bit too harsh/racy for the original story. It seems like he wants a bit of luxury/upper trim level. Honestly answer this, would you really want to drive an STI or Evo in rush hour traffic?

  • avatar
    davey49

    The Malibu is hardly a rental queen if you load it up. Get the LTZ in black or dark red and the ebony/brick leather seats and you’ll have as nice a car as any of the luxury brands sell at the same price.

  • avatar
    Mervich

    carguy :
    Don’t buy new – you can get a low mileage 330i for that kind of money and you won’t suffer crushing depreciation like you would with a new car.

    A BMW 5 years or older would be a seriously bad proposition for a newbie looking for his first car! Let’s not recommend a bavarian money pit!

  • avatar
    srh

    Buy a used car.

    But if you’re going to buy new, MazdaSpeed3 is your best bet. Functional, far more performance than you need, and $22K nicely equipped.

  • avatar
    Claude Dickson

    In new cars, the cool car would be the Mini Cooper S. With all the options, you can really customize the car. There really isn’t anyting quite like it

  • avatar
    thoots

    Well, what can I add to all that has already been said? Well, plenty, I suppose. Perhaps some perspective.

    Yes, spend half as much on a used car, and put the difference towards retirement. Probably won’t impress the young ladies, though. And I’ll presume that you’ve got at least that much of a brain in your head, and can actually afford the kind of dough you’re talking about.

    So, well, let’s have a look at Consumer Reports. Yes, heavily despised by “enthusiasts,” but there =is= some useful information in their stuff. For instance, the April car issue gives you a round number for each car’s fuel mileage over their test loop — good, comparable mileage numbers.

    Also, CR’s reliability ratings =are= generally accurate. Take them with a “general” sense — gosh, just think in terms of going for something around the top of the list, instead of something around the bottom of the list. This =is= a lot of money, and, golly, I just can’t even begin to understand why people will shell out =any= amount of money for the horrifyingly unreliable European imports. You won’t be impressing the ladies by renting a stripper Cobalt because you raided your savings yet again to put your BMW into the shop for the 20th time.

    OK a little hyperbole, but again, take a general look towards getting reliability for your money. DEFINITELY go into online forums for the cars you’re really considering, and see what owners are putting up with, or not. More importantly, get a grip on whether dealers are fixing any problems under warranty, or doing everything they can to avoid fixing anything under warranty.

    As for cars, “I haven’t seen a Mazda I’d ever want to buy, yet.” Sorry. Given the insurance advice to get into a sedan, I’d go along with that, though. Buying new isn’t such a bad idea, if you get into something that you’ll still find useful long after you’re done paying for it, so look past the little boy racers, and think of an uplevel sedan. The whole Accord / Camry / Altima and similar range covers everything from the low 20′s to the high 20′s and a bit beyond, and you =can= get into some style and luxury and performance, if you pick the right models and engines. For instance, the Camry SE V6 has plenty of performance and handling, though no manual. Add your choice of tint, wheels, and such, and you can personalize it plenty. And the same goes for everything else in this range — plenty of power, and most everyone has something that’ll handle better than the cheap, plain-vanilla version.

    (Not that you could get me to touch one of those dog-butt-ugly new Accord sedans with a ten-foot pole, though…. Bleah!)

    Still, a high-end version of anything in this segment can give you plenty of performance, plus luxury, refinement, and all of the other reasons that so many people buy them. Plus, they’re generally around the top of that reliability list, not at the bottom.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    if you are actually thinking of buying the malibu, we have nothing in common. Good luck in the future.

  • avatar
    Mervich

    Let me clarify my earlier advice. I’m not anti-BMW or anti-anything else (within reason). The purchase of almost any used European premium brand is a very an extremely expensive proposition if you intend to drive it beyond factory warranty coverage. Did I say extremely? Try excessively expensive!

    Domestic brands depreciation is harsh, to say the very least.

    Toyota, Honda, Mazda, etc. are the best bets. The Japanese brands all have sedans that have acceptable handling characteristics, good economy, hold a reasonable value and look damn sporty too!

    And I fully agree with the earlier posts recommending against the boy-racer models.

  • avatar
    allythom

    Firstly, don’t saddle yourself with a big/long car payment AND monster insurance bills. You’re 21, a nice car is cool and all, but there’s more to life than that. You want to be able to go out with friends, buy CDs/DVDs, have a nice meal, take in a concert, go on holiday, wear nice clothes and not live with your parents for the next five years. You might also want to consider insulating yourself a little from any potential (?) economic downturn (My folks call it saving for a rainy day). If you can do that AND make a start on your 401k, then great, but don’t fret too much if the 401k doesn’t happen for a couple of years. If you were 25, I’d be giving different advice re: the 401k.

    Secondly, do not, under any circumstances, if you ever want to have sex again, buy the Malibu.

    Now, back to my first point. The idea is to get something that isn’t expensive to buy or own (meaning insure, fuel, maintain or fix). This means used, it also means that names like Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Evo, STI and the like are off the menu (for now). Tempting though they may be, I’d also think carefully about such monikers as WRX, GTI , Cooper S and Mazdaspeed for the same reasons.

    This doesn’t mean you’re restricted to the used automotive vanilla of Camrys, Accords, Civics and Altimas though (and many of these choices have their appeal). You seem to like stylish sedans, that’s OK (I’m more of a dorky hatch / wagon guy myself, but to each their own). What about the following lightly used alternatives to the usual Toyondan suspects:

    Legacy GT – As much fun as a WRX, without the insurance and stoplight aggro, a hooligan with an angelic face. Bulletproof & nice enough inside too. Thirsty though

    Mazda 3 – Inexpensive, reliable, good to drive, looks classy in the right colour. It is an econobox at heart though, so the interior ain’t Lexus-like, but it is likeable.

    Mazda 6 – Much the same attributes as the 3 only bigger and a better used bargain. Reliability isn’t quite as good though.

    Infiniti G35 – A bit pricier, but a nice, mostly reliable car with more than a dash of style. Likes a drink though and some say it’s just a posh Nissan – who cares.

    Acura TSX – Also a bit pricier, but svelte, classy, fun, reliable and economical. Yes, it’s a dressed up Euro Accord, but it is good

    Volvo S60 – A bit different, but a nice car with no real vices. They’re even reasonably reliable, beware the repair bills should they come though.

    Mini Cooper – OK, not a sedan, but such fun, quite frugal and it has a style of it’s own (love it or loathe it). Not terribly good value used and not always terribly reliable either though.

  • avatar
    westhighgoalie

    Chief, if you need a car, but want something fast. Compermize.

    get a used Toyota something or other and then get your self a nice cbr600rr for 6g’s!

    Perfect compromise!!

  • avatar

    Your priorities

    1) Buy dirt cheap used car and save money for upcoming recession. But if you still want to spend then

    2) Buy used, pre-certified with long warranty (no repair bills)

    3) Buy something you WANT to drive, forget about practical, you will hate it and sell it (probably at a loss) first chance you can get.

    4) Look for high miles per gallon, avoid cars that require premium gas only. By 2010 you will thank yourself. By 2010 gas guzzlers will be worth nothing (Prius has the highest resale according to Kelly Blue Book).

    5) Get something the girls like, your 21 man and time to have fun. The Malibu is NOT a babe-magnet.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    “How about an E46 M3? There are lots of clean examples sub $30K hitting the market now that the new M is out.”

    BMWs, Volvos and just about anything European become very, very expensive to keep in good condition after they get in the over 5 years old range. An M3 also is likely to have been driven hard. It might seem “cool”, but I wouldn’t touch a used one.

  • avatar
    Francis

    I’m surprised that noone’s mentioned this already, but here goes: Ford Mustang GT.

    1) It looks awesome. (At least I think so)
    2) It’s 300HP and RWD. Way fun, makes a great noise, huuuge selection of aftermarket mods if that’s your thing.
    3) It’s better fuel economy than you think – I get around 22mpg combined on mine, on regular 87 octane. When you consider that turbo’d engines need more expensive premium gas you’re spending close to the same thing at the pump.
    4) Better handling than you think. The new Mustang’s been cleaning up its class (and every other stock class other than A stock) in SCCA Autocross competition. I think there’s no better measure of tight-course handling that autox.
    5) 5 star crash safety
    6) Above average reliability according to Consumer’s Report. Ford’s been doing good the last little while on CR and JD Power.
    7) You can actually fit 4 adults on short trips. Pretty reasonable luggage capacity too.
    8) It’s in its 4th model year. They’ve ironed out all the bugs, demand has quieted so you can get some good rebates and deals.
    9) It’s a domestic, so lower maintenance costs.
    10) It’s cheap! You can get one for the bottom end of your price range.
    11) The way CAFE and regulations are going, this might be your last chance to own a V8.

    I’ve been very happy with mine – have fun with your new car whatever you pick ! :)

  • avatar
    xantia10000

    I like everyone’s ideas about WRX, Mazda3, GTI, Civic Si, Cooper, etc.

    How about also considering a used Acura TL? Its styling seems to be the inspiration for the Malibu you seem to like, you can get it with a 6MT (though probably hard to find), it has an ‘upmarket’ image, and it should be sturdy and reliable.

    BTW, spending over $20k on a car at your age is one of the dumbest financial ‘investments’ you can make. It’s hard being a car nut :)

    Some fun cheaper used cars:
    Saab 900 turbo/SPG
    Acura Integra GS-R
    Subaru Legacy GT
    Subaru SVX (MT not offered)
    Toyota MR2
    Nissan 240 SX
    Honda Prelude
    Honda CRX
    Mazda Miata
    Ford Focus SVT
    VW Golf GTI MK2
    VW Scirocco/Corrado
    VW Passat
    Audi A4 1.8T MK1
    Audi 80/90
    Audi Quattro
    BMW 3-Series E36
    BMW 5-Series E34
    Alfa 164
    Alfa Spider

    Will we get to hear the decision?

  • avatar
    1981.911.SC

    I’ll just add to the…..USED, USED, USED, USED comments. Buy something you can pay CA$H for. Then you likely only need liability insurance (much cheaper), and don’t forget taxes, where I live, there is an %8+ sales tax ( which is $1600 on a $20,000 car) and I pay property tax yearly.
    Use the rest of the money for a savings account, OR even better in an IRA or your company 401K. You will never regret being frugal.

  • avatar
    Areitu

    allythom : The Legacy GT has the the same maintainence costs as a WRX or STI, as they’re all essentially the same cars, timing belt and all.

    Jonny Lieberman : The only high-cost item with the WRX, and I’m not sure how often it happens, is gearbox failure on non-STI cars.

  • avatar

    Okay… I know I’m repeating some entries from before, but…

    For GOD’S SAKE, do NOT buy a new car! Even if you CAN pay cash, and most especially if you can’t! Are your student loans, credit cards or any other debt you might be carrying paid off? Take care of business first.

    What about all the other stuff you’ll want to have or take care of? A decent place to live, some nice clothes, etc? Don’t wrap up all your money in a car!

    PAYING INTEREST SUCKS. Avoid it as much as possible.

    I nearly soiled myself when I saw that some of you are paying $300 a month on up for insurance… that alone is a good reason for someone just starting out to not to have a new car, paid for or not. That’s at least $3600 a year… damn near $10K over three years. Is it worth it?

    For now, your best move is to get a good, solid used car for around $10K (or even better, less than that) and get basic liability insurance coverage. Up the road, if you’ve saved your $$$, you’ll be able to pay cash (or at least a hefty down payment) on whatever your heart desires.

    This all said, I will support your idea of a 4-door… having a ride that can transport all your pals at once without a fuss is a great thing!

    And a final note… any girl/woman who judges your character on your ownership of something as insignificant as a mass-manufactured consumer product (like a new car) isn’t worth dating and should be avoided like the plague.

    Despite all this, if paying cash and footing the insurance bills is no problem for you… by all means, get whatever you want. I’d go for not working for a few years and doing some traveling, myself… most especially if I was 21 again.

    Good luck and happy shopping!

  • avatar
    KnightRT

    Some general thoughts:

    Domestic Hearse :
    April 18th, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    She wonders to herself, “Hmmm, wonder what he drives? Hopefully not some 10-year old import with go-fast boyracer wings. Or some jacked-up little weenie monster truck. Or some hand-me down old-man sedan.”

    God help you if you date a woman like this. Ideally, your future wife should be more frugal and less materialistic than you. For short term hookups, liquor and a sense of humor will get you farther than any car.

    I’m not about to comment on your finances. Maybe you’re a millionaire that only wants to spend to 32K, or maybe a 24K car will put you 20K into debt. Doesn’t matter. Judgments about fiscal responsibility or lack thereof would be baseless, and assuming debt is a personal decision.

    Anyway, if you like the styling, I’d look at a Mazda3 in sedan or hatchback form. It handles well and the interior quality is really decent. Edmunds loves the car. Otherwise, try the Volvo S40. It looks more expensive than it is, and both handling and interior quality are excellent. Either of these are strong values at ~18-24K new. A third option is a Mustang V6. Not the most sophisticated car, but it’s screwed together well, plenty fast, looks great, and barrels of fun to drive.

    In the used market, beyond the three above, you might also consider some of the forgotten American attempts at sport sedans: Lincoln’s LS, the previous-gen Cadillac CTS, and the Mazda6. Acura’s TSX is a more mainstream option. It’s a bit anonymous relatively speaking, but competent at everything. All of these are 17-21K for a 2006 model. None are quite as entertaining as a BMW, but they’re reasonable facsimiles and drive better than the vast majority of cars on the road.

    There are piles of cars, both used and new, that are perfectly adequate for reliable transportation. Civics, Corollas, and the like. I assume above that you want something that’s a bit less of a conveyance.

    I wouldn’t overly concern yourself with power or RWD. The Mustang is the only recent inexpensive RWD vehicle with both that I’d suggest. The BMWs and Audis of the world can be marvelous if they hold up, but maintenance is luck of the draw. Even small items are expensive to fix. If the car isn’t CPO’d, large items can cost well into the multi-thousands. If you buy a 20K used BMW, you have to have both the ability (and perhaps even the expectation) to drop another 4-5K on the car over the next few years of ownership beyond gas, insurance, and oil changes. If you can’t or don’t want to do that, don’t buy a used Euro.

    There’s also a name premium that tends to drive up resale values, so you get less car for the money. That name premium is what you pay for in a lower-end BMW; most of the driving magic is reserved for higher tiers.

  • avatar
    pb35

    When I was 20 I traded (well, I kept it) my green 1980 4 door Mailbu for a brand new, Scarlet Red Mustang GT. It was just over $13k. I thought it was the best car for me at the time. I paid $3500/yr. for insurance; the monthly insurance payment was higher than the note on the car. Long story short, I had it for 18 months and was involved in 2 rear end collisions. The first one I was stopped at a light. I had the car back for about 6 weeks and someone hit me from behind again. Anyway, insurance paid it off and I got a check back too.

    I met the girl that I eventually married when I had that Mustang. I knew she was ok because I had my Dad’s Dodge 600 (turbo!) on the night we met and she agreed to see me again. We’re still together 20 years later so to me, that car was the best investment of my life!

    After the new car debacle, I bought a used 86 GTI with cash and kept it for about 4 years. My favorite car. I would probably buy a white 4 door GTI if I was 21 again. Good luck.

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    the question is “what hot car for $24k, malibu vs A4″

    There is no reasonable answer to someone choosing between chevrolet and Audi and insisting on 24k. Its a setup designed to make people debate.

    OK. So, buy a new Mazda3 2.0 for 15k, with power windows and doorlocks. Or wait for next gen. 2009. Learn to drive. If you insist on burning more money get a new A3. Off the lot. No automatics. A3 is definitely a faster, sportier, more tossable car than A4.

    This week Autoweek shows a BMW 2002 in mint condition that went for $22k. This is a sweet car.

    Find the most expensive 1991 MR2, low mile original, it will be at least 24k. Women will think its cute. It is and its a great car.

    My CPO 2002 A4 averages 30 mpg city/highway over 45,000 miles now. Yes the CEL glows. Dealer cannot fix, we try again next week.

  • avatar

    johnny ro:

    There is no reasonable answer to someone choosing between chevrolet and Audi and insisting on 24k. Its a setup designed to make people debate.

    We’re The Truth About Cars– not a reality TV show. I simply tidied up an email sent to the ttac address and posted it.

    If you have a question for TTAC’s Best and Brightest, please send it to robert.farago@thetruthaboutcars.com

  • avatar

    I’m with those who counsel frugality (unless you genuinely have money to burn), and who advise avoiding any woman who gives you points for having an expensive car. (Although if you had and loved, say, a Miata, and the woman genuinely appreciated the car for its dynamics, I’d give her points for that.)

    And check out insurance rates for any cars you are interested in before you buy, to avoid unpleasant surprises

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Okay, I’m going to give the answer that is really deserving of this request.

    The answer depends on you, and you alone. Not us.

    We can name over a hundred different models that have given millions of people what they wanted in a car. It’s an easy game to play. But in the end none of these people are you. Overall the best thing you can do is the following…

    1) Make a list of your top five and see if you can rent them for a day.

    There are rental car companies that will gladly rent a vehicle out to someone who is under 25. Many of them offer the latest and greatest of what’s out there. Spend the day driving one and figure out which will be your best fit.

    2) Figure out which options are more important than others.

    Are you willing to get the four cylinder instead of the six if that means you’ll also get the leather interior? There are dozens of variations on this, but it all comes down to what you want in your car.

    3) Look at the ease of maintenance

    You will not only be happier with a car you can perform basic maintenance on (oil changes, air filter, spark plugs and wires), but you’ll also get to know more about cars in general.

    That’s important. All the lowlife’s in the car business prey upon a customer’s ignorance. It can range from bogus repairs to not knowing how to fix a problem that is relatively simple. Doing the basic work yourself will put you at a much stronger position as a visitor to repair shops and dealerships as the decades roll on. By knowing your car’s strengths and foibles, you’ll inevitably find those mechanics who have similar taste and integrity. That ingredient will be far more critical to your long-term happiness than a few hundred dollars difference in the retail price.

    Best of luck…

  • avatar
    P71_CrownVic

    G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT G8 GT

  • avatar
    sylvialegacy

    So I didn’t wade through the entire list of cars people wrote down… but I did notice on the first and last page that no-one mentioned the Subaru Legacy?

    If you’re all about that A4 AWD thing, you could rock a 2.5 turbo legacy and have a nice quick 4-door.

    Other than that, I have nothing to add. Enjoy debt?

  • avatar
    tsgtsfitz

    There are 2005 Acura RL’s in Denver for $25k-28k (290-300hp, Navigation, AWD, bluetooth). Luxury, technology, and reliability, why bother with anything else.

  • avatar
    Sanman111

    I have to disagree with KnightRT on one thing. It seems as if the resale value of Bmws sinks like a stone after the first few years. A 90′s vintage 3 series seems to run about the same as a 90′s vintage civic si.

  • avatar

    Honda Civic SI Sedan

    I picked mine up for a shade over $20,000 and it kicks some serious ass – I can’t get it to understeer!


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