I Live in California and Don't Want to Be Basic! What Car Should I Buy?

What Car Should You BuyThe experts at Jalopnik answer your car-buying questions.

Grace has a problem with being “basic” and she no longer wants to be an Orange County stereotype with her white Range Rover. She is looking for something less expensive, but still nice. What car should she buy?

(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )

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Here is the scenario:

Help, I’ve become Basic. I drive a white luxury SUV and live in Orange County... and I’m blonde.

After a life spent wandering the globe and moving every few years living as an artist and yogi, I came home to California and looked for a place to put down some roots. My husband and I found this quiet, clean and beautiful beach town and bought a home by the beach after growing tired of LA.

It’s a long story how I ended up in a white Range Rover but I’m selling it and looking for something less pretentious that is smaller and less expensive.

While I’d still like a new, stylish car that has luxury features and feels good to drive, I know my car will essentially be a statement of who I am. And it needs to say: yes I can fit in here but no, I’m not a carbon copy and I don’t need your approval.

Here are some things that I want - Apple CarPlay! New features like hands-free tailgate lift and smart sensors etc...

As I said I want to buy something that is a bit cheaper than the Rover and I can spend up to $35,000.

Quick Facts:

Budget: up to $35,000

Daily Driver: Yes

Location: Orange County, CA

Wants: Luxury, Tech, Style

Doesn’t want: Something ostentatious

Expert 1: Tom McParland - I’ve Been Down This Road A Few Times

Image: Andrew Collins/Jalopnik
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Grace, I love this topic because it is one of the most common scenarios for some of my clients. They want luxury car feel and features without the luxury car baggage and price. Right now there is one brand that hits those beats the best, and that’s Mazda.

Japan’s scrappy little automaker has been on an “upmarket push” recently and while that sounds a bit silly, generally it’s been working. I’ve worked with a lot of folks who had a new or used Audi or Volvo in their sights but opted for a Mazda instead. While some of Mazda’s dealers could use some better training on catering to a luxury crowd, the products are on point.

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I would strongly suggest a drive in the new 2019 CX-5. This is a car that could easily pass for a luxury ride and it has all the luxury and tech features you are looking for, especially with the recent addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

A well-equipped Grand Touring model tops out around $32,500 for an AWD version and a bit less if you only need front-wheel-drive. If you think you may miss some of the power of your Range Rover, you can step up to the turbocharged Grand Reserve that stickers for $36,000, though I’m sure with a bit of negotiation you can get that within budget.

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Expert 2: Erin Marquis - Roll All Over Your Quiet Beach Community in Style

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I have a not-so-secret love for two things: California and Volvos. This seems like a perfect way to meld the two. You have a hard request: a new, technologically advanced car for under $35,000. But you also don’t want it to basic. Friend, the Volvo XC40 is for you.

The Momentum trim is Volvo’s base XC40, and comes in at a comfy $33,700, but don’t worry as the base model is anything but basic. You get gorgeous firm leather seats, a minimalist space-age interior, large touch screen and a suite of safety and entertainment features.

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And if you bump up to the next trim, for only slightly above your $35,000 price cap, you can get the XC40 R-Design with even nicer leather seats and sportier interior with various unique color options, like the Lava Carpet, which looks like this:

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How low-key bitchin’ is that? No matter what trim you get, you’re gonna get it with the standard 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine capable of producing 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. And with 31 mpg and Eco mode you’ll be living up to your environmentally friendly responsibilities. Also standard is the enormous 12.3 inches diagonal screen which works pretty much exactly like a phone. Also also, all the tech features you could ever want in a car, Apple Car Play, lane assist, the works. Volvos are nothing if not incredibly safe gadgets disguised as cars.

We at Jalopnik have mixed reviews of the XC40, there’s one thing we all agree on: It’s a beautifully designed car that doesn’t look like every other crossover out there. Not only is it full of Scandinavian charm inside and out, it’s also a very low volume seller in the U.S. for now. Volvo only sold a little more than 1,800 XC40s last month, meaning you should stand out in one.

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Expert 3: David Tracy - Screw New, Focus on Different

Image: Toyota
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Finding a new car that’s truly “different” at 35 large won’t be easy. If your focus is on having new tech, consider the XC40 and CX-5 that my colleagues recommended, but if you care more about having an inexpensive, sweet machine that stands out a bit, let’s stretch that “new” requirement so you can get behind the wheel of a Toyota FJ Cruiser.

They stopped making them in 2014, so the FJ won’t have the fanciest gadgets inside, but what you get here is a wacky but great looking machine that’s big and truck-ish, but still significantly smaller than your Range Rover and much less pretentious. It’s just a Toyota, after all—a brand for the everyperson.

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You can find them for sale at around 15 large, which is a solid deal considering these vehicles have a good track record for reliability, and also, they come with suicide doors.

Image: Toyota
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’Nuff said.

Expert 4: Patrick George - The Wagon Life Beckons

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You want something different, practical, well-equipped, fun and unpretentious? I think I have a nice way to transition away from Range Rover ownership that will still let you have fun at the beach. How about a Volkswagen Golf Alltrack?

This thing has emerged as a kind of staff favorite and it’s not hard to see why. It’s practical, looks pretty good, has a punchy turbo four-cylinder engine and has the capability of all-wheel drive. You definitely probably don’t need that in California, but it’s nice to have for those beach visits and camping excursions. Plus, nobody will judge you in one of those. You won’t look like an asshole. You’ll look like a cool wagon person who reads good blogs, like Jalopnik.com.

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Here is a nice metallic gray one near you for $31,810. Under budget, too! Give this thing a try. You might really like it.

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About the author

Tom McParland

Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (Facebook.com/AutomatchConsulting)