Ask The Best and Brightest: What's the Best Driver's Car Under 30 Grand?

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
ask the best and brightest what s the best driver s car under 30 grand

So, Best and Brightest, what’s the best car an enthusiast can buy—NEW—for under $30k? All in (discounts count). I’m asking because I just hooked-up (in the non-sexual sense) with a new[ish] website called They’ve offering major linkage in exchange for Automotive “best” lists. So I wrote a “ Best Porsche” list slamming the Cayenne to see if they were made of the write stuff. Yup. So, after that, I offered your services. Here’s my evil plan: I ask you, The Best and Brightest, to name the best fill-in-the-blank. At some point, I put up a poll of your most convincing nominations (chosen by me). You vote for the best whatever, I write it up and submit it to Bestcovery. What’s in for you? C’mon you love this stuff. And I’m looking into providing contributors with goods and services to test. So, let’s get stuck in, again, shall we? If you had 30Gs to spend on a new car, and you wanted to enjoy driving that car, what would it be? [NB: TTAC has no personal or commercial interest in any of the products or services presented for your consideration. And, yes, I deleted all the comments to the previous versions of this post.]

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  • Tedward Tedward on Feb 12, 2009

    "128i owners: could you expand a little on your likes/dislikes of the car?" Haven't driven one, but I spent a day as passenger in Boston in one of these. I can't comment on the steering obviously, but the suspension didn't strike me as unacceptable, just on the hard side (I like). The owner I know bought it b/c he dosen't need adults in the backseat and he wanted a car a little bit faster and cheaper than the 3 series. As for the squirrely handling, I didn't really see that (again, not driving), but I definitely could feel that the car was shorter and quicker to respond than other bmw's I've been in. Honestly, that could have been exagerated by driver inputs though. The bigger wheels are an improvement, but the car also dosen't look anywhere near as good as the 3.

  • Niky Niky on Feb 13, 2009

    If you stick with run-flats, the 1-series has a ride that borders on spine-crushing. Without the run-flats, it's just stiff. The 3-series feels more sorted on runflats, but isn't quite as go-kart like. The 1-series feels more like a go-kart than the current Miata, and, in fact, the 1-series has better electric power steering than the Miata (which can feel a little wooly in the steering department when driven on the limit), but it's a road car. It's designed to understeer on the limit, and makes the pretense of having cargo and passenger space, though it has neither in great quantity. Which is why I'd get a 1-series coupe... maybe... but would never get the hatchback. And I'd still consider the Miata first. It's still a more involving car, despite not being as razor-sharp or as powerful. A Miata can make 60 mph feel like 160. It's epic fun on a twisting road, with the top-down (and no cowl shake, at that) driven at a mere 8/10ths. But for those who think you need a RWD car to feel like you're clawing at the road with your own hands and feet... you've probably never driven a Mazda(speed) Protege... the steering feel is miles better than current electric rack Mazdas and even many rear-wheel drive cars that actually had hydraulic racks. It lacked front-end grip, but everything talked to you... the front tires, the rear tires, the steering wheel... Sadly, it's not available anymore. The closest I feel you can get to that nowadays, in the US is the Honda Fit, which has terrible steering feel, despite having good steering response and a communicative chassis... and likely the MINI, though it's pretty expensive for my tastes.

  • Heartofkafka Heartofkafka on Feb 14, 2009

    I concur with Jack Baruth's definition: "fun to drive" -“a new car that could be run around a racetrack”, and the nomination of Rx-8 based on this definition. Out of the under 30k group, Mx-5 may has better handling than Rx-8 but lack the power(that's why its cheaper too). Mustang has better speed than Rx-8 but too harsh, and it inspire much LESS confidence to drive fast than the Rx-8. The linear torque (not much but still) and high rpm power from the rotary is much more controllable than the burst of torque steer at the turns. Read the Motortrend America's best handling car test and you will see how amazing a sub 30k car can rank up there with the big boys "subjectively" based on handling... Moreover, the 1 series does not even have an LSD (except tii?), and it does hinder you when you are at the limits around the turns. Don't tell me the fake electronic LSD works as well. All BMW M series has a real LSD and there is a reason for that. And ultimately, with all things being equal, a RWD car will ALWAYS be better than a FWD in "fun to drive" factor. That's simple physics. Pushing is better than Pulling when you want to feel the lateral Gs. So, in my opinion, the "Best Driver’s Car Under 30 Grand" is the Mazda Rx-8. As per Cretinx, a “drivers car” that is RWD, light weight, laser sharp steering and, most importantly - not feel like you’re driving a car, but rather, like you’re wearing a second skin that telepathically reacts to your commands.

  • Niky Niky on Feb 14, 2009

    "Pushing" and "Pulling" have nothing to do with lateral Gs. Lightness, grip and balance have everything to do with it. Which is why Europe and Asia are addicted to "hot hatches". The proof is in the pudding. I've driven some FWD and AWD cars as good as RWD cars (Beemers, at that) of the same weight. It's not just RWD you want. You want one purposely designed to neutral-steer, and one that's as light as possible. The only detriment for FWD in terms of fun is in terms of acceleration G's, that is all. Power-understeer? Who doesn't enjoy a wrestling match with the steering wheel every now and then? Isn't that why muscle cars are so popular?