Best Car Under $30,000 (Used or New)

For those looking to buy a new-to-me (used) car, there are a lot of exciting models to choose from under $30k. I’ve been looking into buying a new car (when am I not?) and with the Abarth still months away, some other cars have come onto my radar.

Namely the 370Z, the Evo X, and the Cadillac CTS-V. Vastly different cars, I know. One is V6 powered drift machine, the other a Rally-bred sedan with a turbo 4-banger, and the last is a granite Jacuzzi with a rocket engine attached. But, if you pick the right years ( 2008-9 for the Evo/Z, 2004-5 for the Caddy), they are actually pretty comparable in terms of price for performance.

Whenever I’m searching for a new vehicle, performance is high on the list of requirements. Of course I have to make some concessions for practicality. It has to have at least two seats, so a motorcycle is out. Backseats would really be useful, but only if doesn’t stretch the car out and ruin its styling (I’m looking at you 2×2 300ZX). High gas mileage would certainly be a good idea, but I can stomach a pretty low number. Even if I had a Civic, I’d still be thrashing the engine and only getting 15mpg. Can I take the car to Costco? Will 24 rolls of toilet paper fit in the back without being squished? These are all important factors in how highly I rank each car I’m considering.

One of my general goals in life is to own a lot of fun, iconic, and interesting cars. Of course the Fiat 500 Abarth is on my list. I’ve already owned a 1991 Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo. Currently I’m driving a 2009 Volkswagen GTI, which I loved at first, but I’m already getting bored with. So while I’m waiting for the Abarth to arrive, I’ve been cross-shopping a few different cars that are in my price range (unfortunately on the high end).

2004/5 Cadillac CTS-V

The MSRP on a 2011 Cadillac CTS-V starts at $62,630 (according to Edmunds). That’s a bit out of my price range, but a used 2004/2005 CTS-V goes for as low as $18k! The older LS6 engine has 156 less horsepower than the newer LS9/LSA. but the newer Caddy also comes with a lot of added weight. For $40k off the price, I’m willing to “settle” for 400 horsepower. Personally I would love to roll with a black on black CTS-V. Swap in a Magnaflow exhaust, a K&N air intake, and perhaps some ECU tuning and you’d have a leather wrapped, luxury, high horsepower, V8-powered Cadillac for well under thirty grand. Short of a Maserati Quattroporte, I can’t think of a luxury sedan I’d rather have.

2008/2010 Mitsubishi Evolution X GSR

I know the older Evos perform just as well, for much cheaper, but I’m a bit obsessed with looks and the Evo X just hits me in the right spot. Something about that big ol’ front grill takes the car from a boring Galant to a GTR-esque monster. I want one in white with black rims, for that full on Stormtrooper look. I actually took a 2010 for a test drive and was very impressed! It handles just as well as everyone says and the acceleration is quick and responsive. The Recaro racing seats also keep you firmly planted in place. Overall I was surprised at the quality of the trim that everyone usually bashes.

2009/2010 Nissan 370z

I’ve owned a 300ZX and loved it. I never much cared for the 350; something about the styling felt very off to me. I always thought it looked like a bloated 911 (not in a good way) or closer to a Beetle than a Z. The new 370 looks much better by comparison and is a Z I would be happy to own. I think they looks great in black, but also pretty good in white, blue, or grey. I’m a huge fan of the Nismo body kit, but I’m not sure I want to pay the premium for it. Eventually though I would definitely throw either a new front fascia or at least a lower lip on it, which just seems to look right to me. Maybe if I really had the money, I’d also through a supercharger on there for an extra 100HP or so.

I also took one of these for a test drive right after the Evo and was less impressed by it. The V6 engine felt slow, the shifting felt clunky, and overall it just felt like a big fat American sports car and less like a trim exotic. Not to mention the blind spot literally covering everything behind your right shoulder. The rear view isn’t much help either, looking surprisingly similar to the view out the back of a Countach. Somehow they managed to take the low visibility of the 300Z and make it 10 times worse.

In terms of price for performance and just straight up power to weight ratio, the Z comes ahead of just about everything but a Mustang. Unfortunately while you’re driving the car, it just doesn’t feel that fast. Not sure if I am just really used to turbocharging or what, but it felt slow and heavy.

Fiat 500 Abarth

This list wouldn’t be complete without the Fiat 500! Although I can’t buy this car yet, when it does get here it should be well under $30,000, but still pack a punch of performance.

Highlights:

  • Tiny, which means great manueverability
  • Italian! This is big item on my bucket list and since I won’t be getting a Ferrari, Lamborghini, or even an Alfa Romeo anytime soon, a Fiat will have to do.
  • Easily the most fuel efficient of the bunch!