John has gotten tired of his 13-year-old Camry that treated him well, but it’s time for an upgrade. He is looking for something with a bit of excitement, that’s not going to cost a fortune to keep on the road. What car should he buy?
(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )
Here is the scenario:
I’m a 52-year-old looking for a fun daily driver. I’ll be replacing a 12-year-old beat-up Camry that seems to get new mysterious dents and dings weekly. I want to walk out in the driveway and get a little lift for the 20 minutes to work!
I’m still carting kids occasionally so needs to seat four comfortably. I’d like it to be fast but I don’t need flashy. Reliable for sure! And no BMW or Mercedes please, I am not trying to scream midlife crisis! Finally, a hybrid might be cool, but I don’t know of any that are speedy? I really don’t want a wagon or crossover. As for the budget, I can spend up to $30,000.
Budget: up to $30,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Salt Lake City, UT
Wants: Fun, Reliable, Comfortable
Doesn’t want: A German luxury car
Expert 1: Tom McParland - Fast But Not Flashy? I Got Your Number
Alright John, I see what you are after. You want the opposite of your Camry with its merely adequate power and front-wheel-drive, but you still want to maintain some semblance of reliability. Fortunately for you, there was a period of time moment when Chevrolet decided to give us such a car.
What you need is a Chevrolet SS. It has everything you want including a 400-horsepower V8 found in the Corvette and Camaro, Brembo brakes, and rear-wheel drive. It’s also a pretty comfortable place to be for long drives. And because it’s made with tried and true components these muscle sedans are pretty darn durable.
Now the problem with the Chevy SS is twofold, first, they didn’t make that many of them so you will need to cast a wide net, and two, some sellers think they have the next Barret-Jackson collectible on their hands and can be a little ambitious about what they think they can sell it for. However, there are a few quality examples around the $30,000 mark. If you don’t mind pushing the budget a bit, here is a certified pre-owned car with around 37,000 not to far from you in California.
Expert 2: David Tracy - Pure Class With a Stick
If you’re looking for something quick and comfortable, you should track down one of the few manual transmission Genesis G70s sold here in the U.S.
Jalopnik borrowed a stick-shift 2019 G70 to act as a runabout for Detroit Auto Show duties back in January, but we never wrote about the thing. So now’s the time to give the lovely three-pedal luxury sedan the attention it deserves.
First off, just look at it. It’s classy as hell, but also aggressive, while at the same time, not too ostentatious. The inside looks even better, especially with our test car’s tan seats, door trim, and lower dash plastic. Everything from that dash to the center stack, the gauge cluster, the door trim, and the steering wheel looks elegant. It’s not a Mercedes E-Class in there, but it’s still a lovely place to hang out.
Also adding to the car’s allure is the six-speed manual transmission hooked up to a 252 horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four. No, it doesn’t sound that great, and it isn’t that quick. Nor does the manual transmission’s shifter offer the extremely affirmative “clunks” that I love to feel when sliding a stick shift into gear, but I found the G70 to be a joy to drive. It’s reasonably quick, and the transmission is decent enough to be worth opting for if you normally like to participate in the act of gear-changing.
I didn’t drive the car on a racetrack, and really, I only spent a few hours in it overall, but to me, it seemed like less of a sports car, and more of a sporty-yet-comfortable luxury vehicle that just happened to have a manual transmission. That’s not a bad thing, though, especially for a daily driver.
It may be a bit tough finding one under $30 large, and I have no clue how reliable it will be, since it’s new, but the manual G70 is a unique and lovely sedan, and you should consider buying one.
Expert 3: Justin Westbrook - Upgrade That FWD Life
Both of the previous suggestions put you over budget, and for a car you’re only driving for seemingly less than an hour every day, that seems a little silly. And considering we’ve already exhausted two of the better examples of rear-wheel-drive, non-German-luxury sedans in the (over!) $30,000 range, I’m going to be a little controversial and suggest a front-wheel-drive car.
Front-wheel drive can be fun. I’ve owned a lot of front-wheel drive cars in my time, and your Camry is already FWD, so you won’t know any better. That’s why you should get the new VW Jetta GLI.
Yes it has front-wheel drive, but it’s also a little sporty without being shouty, and it can be optioned with a manual transmission, brand-new, in this year of our lord 2019, for less than $26,000. That means a warranty, too, so it will be reliable or cheaply fixable for many years to come.
I would actually advise you, though, to get the 35th Anniversary trim edition, which is $27,890 including destination as I’ve configured it on VW’s site, which gets you the dramatic black wheels with the red rim strips. Still no need to push the budget.
For any haters, John said he wants something fun, and our own Jason Torchinsky liked the Jetta GLI a lot when he drove it, and Jason is one of the funnest people I know.
Expert 4: Raphael Orlove - The V8 S80 Wasn’t Expensive Enough
So what I would do is get a used Volvo S80 with the 4.4-liter V8 from Yamaha, put every IPD suspension part I can find on it, and then get some manic exhaust so you can hear that thing roar.
Of course, that is, I fear, too affordable for you, as a V8 S80 only runs like 10 or 11 grand as it’s weird, old, and not more known than a cult classic.
As such, I would nip over to a used new S90, which you can find around $30,000, and is one of the most life-affirming cars you can possibly buy.
I drove one, briefly, and not only did I instantly feel more valuable as a human being, I also became well-versed in classic literature, music theory and chord progression, and also cricket. Could be you.