I get a lot of questions. Sometimes, they end up being a game of 20 questions. Sure, I'll comply. I'm not complaining, but I'll comply and provide you what I know. That is until I hit a wall of frustration to say "that's enough."
One line of questioning that comes up from time-to-time is what I would buy if given a certain amount of money. Some of more realistic amounts than others. Yet, my brain has been wired to look at certain budgetary levels as impossible. There are many reasons why.
One, I feel that you cannot get a reliable vehicle for $5,000 unless you have a budget of half that amount to spend on repairs, maintenance and insurance. Also, more power to those who spend six figures on a vehicle knowing full well that it has be treated like an investment rather than regular car ownership. Everything seems to fair game in-between…supposedly.
That's all fine and dandy. So, how do I answer these peppered questions to determine what I should buy at a certain price points? In other words: what would I buy if I had a certain budget for a vehicle?
Let me tackle this, then. Remember these are questions asked of me, so it has to come from my supposed knowledge of the automobile. Yeah…and a little research on what's out there.
$5000: It used to be that you can get a real good used car for that kind of money. However, dollar valuations, relative inflation and a rise in prices in the used car market has forced a lot of high mileage. Well-worn vehicles to end up at this price juncture. Yet, I need to be sure that I could get a decent car for $5,000 without seeing it break down on a daily basis. I went to Cars.com – several colleagues work for this great site, BTW – to see what I could come up with. Well, quite a few of them caught my eye. There was a yellow BMW M3 convertible with 101,000 miles on the clock for $4,995. There was a C4 Corvette – a 1988 model – with 124,000 on the clock for the same money. There were quite a few other desirable cars that I found through my search, yet I have to take several considerations. If I am looking at a BMW or Mercedes-Benz, I better know some mechanics that are affordable. Servicing high end cars are definitely not cheap. Meanwhile, looking at "mundane" cars may mean more servicing though one might think I have given up this business for buying one. I could take the approach of finding a “winter beater” at this price. I have found one: A 2002 Subaru Outback Limited sedan with 159,000 miles on the clock for $4,750. Yes, a sedan…great for winter, I suppose. Then, I found a wagon…a 2005 Mazda6 wagon with a V6 for $4,499 with 155,000 on the clock. Yet, I fear that the mechanicals might start going out in a year…or less. That’s the problem when you do not have a lot of money to spend and you end up getting anything remotely good to drive with hopes of some reliability for maybe a couple of years. At this point, I better find some more money to spend…
$10,000: Again, the rise in used car prices has affected the market enough that $10,000 would get a vehicle with average annual mileage that is perhaps a few years old. I must admit that once I raised the price threshold, the Cars.com listings got more interesting. Right off the bat, there was a 2006 BMW 325xi Touring…an all-wheel drive wagon…for sales with close to 100,000 miles on the clock for $9,999. Again, something like this would be terrific, but I would have to consider the cost of servicing a BMW before I drive into this one. My search continued with a 2004 Infiniti G35 and a 2005 Mercedes-Benz E350 popping up in the same price range. I better skip the prestigious cars for now. Again, I saw tons of "mundane" choices pop up in my search. It caused to ask whether I was an automotive journalist, an enthusiast or someone who hates cars. I'm trying very hard to avoid the latter. There was a 2005 Subaru Outback for sale with 81,000 miles and a price of $9,688. I stopped looking to ask myself if I was doing this all wrong. I'm sure that I’ll find something in this price range, but my automotive ADD would probably hate the thing after two months. Now you know why I do not own a car…but the search continues…
$17,500: This where you can start looking at new cars at this price range. It will be a low-to-mid trim level model of a subcompact, but a new car nonetheless. There are still some good pre-owned cars at this price point with average mileage and a few years old. First, if I must have a new car, I have found that I may have to spend a bit more over this budget to get what I really want. For example, a well-equipped 2015 Nissan Versa Note SV would end up being $17,845. Yet, if I am OK with a pre-owned vehicle, then I certainly have choices. In my search through Cars.com, a few gems popped up. There was a 2012 Scion tC for just under $15,000. I did find a bunch of 2013/14 Hyundai Elantras worth looking at from $12,000 and up. Mileage did vary, but perhaps selecting the lowest possible mileage would be advantageous. I'll admit that I am not exactly a good pre-owned car shopper, but I try.
$25,000: This is still considered "below average" in price. There are two kinds of vehicles are available at $25,000 – a new mid-sized car or a pre-owned premium branded vehicle. Compacts with high equipment content are also found in this range. I can think of a few ideas for this kind of money. For new vehicles, one such car came up in a recent media trip that I actually enjoyed. The 2016 Scion iM may be a Corolla hatchback, but it trumps the sedan with a few details. The hatchback space is convenient, the engine has a bit more punch with its Valvetronic system – 137 horses, BTW. I love shagging this car. For $21,370 , I get a well-equipped car with room to do a few things to make it sportier. That means raiding the TRD parts bin to accomplish this. Yet, I am certain I could find something a bit more fun than the iM. That means diving into the pre-owned inventories at the finer brands. Upon a search via Cars.com, I found a few gems. I did find a bunch of 2012/13 Infiniti G37x examples between $22,000-25,000. That might get me in with the Minnesota Nissan Infiniti (MNNI) crew. I also found a couple of 2011 BMW 328i xDrive models – the E90, that is – for $22,000-23,000. A good example of never knowing what you might find.
$35,000: I used to think that this price is on the high side. However, this is considered just above the average price of a new car or crossover/SUV. At this point, there has to be an agreement meeting my basic needs and wants. This is where it gets critical for a vehicle to accommodate four adults. If you know me, then you know which size of adults I want to accommodate – tall and on the large framed side. Most importantly, we all have to be comfortable for short and long rides. There are some vehicles to choose from, all new ones – every one of them I have driven and felt good about where they reside to meet my needs and wants. The 2016 Mazda6 is a good car, but I fear that the back seat would not accommodate plenty of my friends. The same problem actually persists in the 2016 Mazda CX-5. This where the 2016 Hyundai Tucson might come in. A first-year model is risky if the quality does not hold up. Yet, I would consider a Tucson all-wheel drive Limited model with the 1.6 liter turbocharged engine and the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission because it does meet my criteria in terms of space, comfort, long-distance enjoyment, fuel economy, and capability. It is really a nice crossover for the money ($34,945). A more proven model would be the 2015/16 Nissan Rogue SL. It is actually a better value at $32,505 – lower than the Tucson, but equipped with more active safety features. It is also more spacious inside. Or, I could default back to a sedan. As much as one would admonish me for considering one, there is a lot to be said about the best-selling passenger car in America – the Toyota Camry. I would have to get one that fits my personality best, which is the XSE sedan. Having tested one with the 3.5 liter V6, it would suffice for being spacious enough for my friends with some entertaining details around. Equipped the way I want it would have a sticker price of $34,250. In all, you cannot go wrong with one. That is why Toyota sells tens of thousands per month on a regular basis.
$50,000: Now, we're getting expensive…at least in my eyes. However, the price of a vehicle should really be on par with my needs and wants. At this price, I expect an attainable vehicle that will satisfy my needs, wants and desires. One such point to be met is to have an accommodating vehicle for four adults. Yet, there's more I want from a $50,000 vehicle: great audio, navigation, superior connectivity, comfortable seats, high quality inside and out and performance that delivers good fuel economy, a smooth ride and fantastic handling. I have a few ideas in this price range…some might not deliver on fuel economy, but they would also meet my want of great performance. I could think of two cars that would fit the bill – the 2015/16 Dodge Charger R/T Scat Pack and the 2015/16 Chevrolet SS. The Charger is a fun car and adding the 6.4 liter "392" V8 to the mix would amp up the fun factor. For $47,365, I get a well-equipped Charger R/T Scat Pack that will satisfy my need for niceties and performance. The SS may be less in power, but not short on desire, want…c'mon, it's a Holden! I'm a fan of Holdens and found the SS thoroughly enjoyable to drive. It better be, for $49,440. Both the Charger and SS offer the same kind of experience in a four-door sedan, though I have a feeling I may want to add an option of something SUV/crossover-ish. I could only think of one that would fit in my want of performance – the 2016 Ford Explorer Sport. The power comes from a 3.5 liter twin-turbocharged V6, which is damn fine to drive! Not to mention, it has all-wheel drive to become an all-year rock-n-roller. Even with 365 horsepower, I got enough space to carry friends, things…more things! And, I can get one with a sticker price of $49,140. I would have no problem with either of these vehicles. My insurance company could have a problem.
$75,000: At this price point, any car better be damn good. Excellent, to be exact. A vehicle in this price range has to be special. It should not be a daily driver, but it could be. It could also be an investment, yet we know that even at this price point, depreciation is never equitable to the special feeling of a vehicle. But if it was my money, I would indulge. Based on what I have driven over the past four years, one car does come in mind – the 2015/16 Lexus RC F. Obviously, this would not be a year-round vehicle. It would be stored, cared for and taken out in the spring to provide a lifetime of experiences. All of this for at least $73,604. The only thing this is missing is the Torque Vectoring Differential, which is tied to a package with a lot of things I really do not want. Yet, for the kind of money I would spend – this is all the performance I would need for a spring-to-fall bruiser. Frankly, anything else that would rival the joy and thrill I get from an RC F (the car I call the best one I ever driven in my life) would cost more. That is, unless I cannot find the right RC F to satisfy me. My fallback would be to get a 2015/16 Lexus RC 350 F Sport. Sure, I’ll save money – $58,034 as stickered – and lose the drama of the F’s V8. Yet, my rear-drive model will be satisfying nonetheless as both a sweet highway cruiser and a road carver when it is called for. The money I'll save would go for a second set of tires/wheels for the winter.
I guess I'll stop here…lottery be damned…
All photos by Randy Stern