Justin is one of the many folks in the workforce who came to the conclusion that a nice paycheck is only as good as what you can enjoy with it. He decided to quit his stressful job in order to spend more time with family, but that transition came with a pay cut so he needs to sell his pricey Tesla and get something a bit more affordable. 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 bought a 2022 Tesla Model 3 Performance in December 2021. My job was stressful and overwhelming, so the Tesla was purchased as a gift to myself. Since the purchase, I’ve started a new job that will allow me to be at home more, see my kids more than an hour a day, and be present in my family’s life. The only draw back is a drastic cut in pay.
That said, the Tesla Model 3 is on the chopping block and I need a four-door sedan that can accommodate my two young kids. My kids really loved the Tesla, but hopefully they like seeing me more!
The going forward budget for the new car is $27,000, and it would be nice to have something that is sporty and fun to drive. Since I would be paying cash for this car, it would also be nice to have something that is reliable so I’m not stuck in auto shops for the foreseeable future.
Budget: up to $27,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Jacksonville, FL
Wants: Four doors, reliable, sporty
Doesn’t want: Something with heavy maintenance costs
Expert 1: Tom McParland - Trade Electrons For Extra Cylinders
Justin, it’s not easy leaving a steady paycheck in order to live a better lifestyle. I made the same choice a few years back and, while the move has its risks, being able to actually enjoy your life is well worth it.
Speaking of joy, it’s clear that the Tesla had its charm and those are certainly in a rocket ship kind of way. I say if you are going to change it up, stay with something that has the horsepower but delivers it in a more “old-fashioned” way with 8 cylinders under the hood and a rumble through your mufflers. The Dodge Charger Hemi might not be able to lay down the quarter-mile times like the Model 3, but it will put a smile on your face when you mash the throttle. Of course, filling these V8s up with the current gas prices isn’t going to be fun, but hopefully, your commute is more reasonable with the new gig.
The Charger is a durable car that is often used by police departments so finding inexpensive parts and service should be easy. With a $27,000 budget, you can score a 2016+ model without an excessive amount of miles.
Expert 2: Steve DaSilva - There’s A Correct Answer Here
The Charger may be very Florida, but it’s big, heavy, and a years-old Chrysler product. Is that really what you want, Justin? Sporty, fun, reliable, and spacious enough to comfortably fit kids in the back, for around $27,000. Man, if only a company made that exact car, for that exact purpose, at that exact price.
Oh, wait, one does! Honda, with the current Civic Si. Yes, technically MSRP on a new one is $27,500, but that $500 jump gets you a full factory warranty — maybe even an oil change or two thrown in to balance out the cost. It also gets you one of the most entertaining cars on the market today, but one that’s still fuel-efficient enough to ease some of the regret that comes with trading in an EV while gas is five bucks a gallon. A raucous drive, a fuel-sipping four-cylinder, and Honda reliability — what more could you want?
Admittedly, finding an Si that actually sells for MSRP is difficult in today’s car market. Here’s one in Leesburg with just a few dealer accessories priced in, but a wider search may find you an even better price. Worst case scenario, you fly out somewhere and drive back in your shiny new Si. Doesn’t sound so bad to me.
Expert 3: José Rodríguez Jr. - Zoom Zoom Back to ICE
Justin, it sounds like you’re making a difficult but sensible decision that’s all about family. Usually, when we talk about the EV transition, it’s going from ICE cars to EVs. Since we’re doing the opposite here, I want to recommend a milder transition back, like with this 2021 Mazda Mazda3 hatchback local to you. You could save on gas and fit a bunch of kid-approved junk in that hatch!
It’s a used car (hardly) with 2,834 miles on the odometer, but costs $24,000 and comes well-equipped. This Mazda3 does not have a turbo, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be fun. It’s got a six-speed in there! And in any case, it’s not like the turbocharged version would’ve knocked your socks off. The current Mazda3 is not as sporty as previous generations, having been tuned more for comfort.
You didn’t specifically request a car with a manual transmission, but anytime someone asks for something fun and sporty(ish), stick-shift cars go to the front of the line for me. They’re just more engaging, even without being particularly fast or performance-oriented. On top of being more fun to drive, they also give you the chance to pass a skill on to your children. It’s all about that quality time.
Expert 4: Adam Ismail — $27K Is the Sweet Spot
I know you said “sedan,” Justin. The thing is I have this funny mental lapse where anytime anyone says “sedan” I hear “hatchback.” It’s something my doctor considers a concern, but frankly I don’t see a problem with it. At any rate, here’s a Focus ST.
Now, $27K happens to be the perfect range to find a WRX, GTI or one of these. The WRX and GTI sure are fun too, but the WRX will be abysmal on gas, and the GTIs I was finding near you were all two-doors. So here we are: a white 2017 ST going for $23K with a smidge under 60K miles on the odometer, one owner and no accidents. That last one’s a biggie, because drivers of these cars don’t have the greatest rap. Take it from someone with first-hand experience.
Interior space should be comparable to the Model 3, and there’s also the potential benefit of a manual here; I say potential because I don’t know if that’s something you’re necessarily looking for. If not, I like this Volvo S60 T5; also apparently in Jacksonville you can walk out of your home blindfolded and stumble into a well-appointed Jetta waiting for a willing buyer.
Expert 5: Andy Kalmowitz — A Great Second Choice
Justin, if it’s fun and reliable you’re after, look no further than the Lexus IS. This 2018 model has less than 50,000 miles on the clock, which is hardly broken in for a Toyota/Lexus product. It’s also quite a looker, isn’t it?
It may not exactly be local to you, but there’s no better way to get to know your new car than with a road trip!
This particular IS300 F-Sport has only had a couple of owners and zero accidents. What more could you ask for? It also comes with Toyota’s beefy-enough 3.5-liter V6 that’ll pump out enough power to get you where you want to go. The F-Sport model also makes it look a fair bit sportier than your run-of-the-mill IS. It’s even a pretty good handler to boot! However, that doesn’t really matter since you live in Florida where there are zero corners. On top of that, this IS300 boasts AWD, in case you ever need that… which you probably won’t.
Anyway, ignore everyone else. This is the correct answer. Okay, to be honest, the Charger is the correct answer, but this is a very good second place!
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