Buying Guides

The 7 Best Cars Under $30,000

It doesn't take big money to buy excellence

Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief

You don't have to drop $40 large to get a great car. Even though the average cost of a new car has well-surpassed the $30K mark, it doesn't mean you can't get a fantastic automobile for much less than that. In fact, the selection of great new cars that don't crest that magic mark is bigger than ever. We've selected five cars that will work for virtually anyone. None of these is a niche car -- no pickup trucks, no sports cars and no hybrids. They're all excellent passenger vehicles that are well-appointed, attractive and most of all far less than you'd expect for what they offer.

2017 Honda Accord Sport

 
  • PROS: Great steering betrays the family sedan norm, rope your own gears like the skilled driver you are, four more horses equal more fun, 34 mpg highway and a 18.2 gallon tank means almost 600 miles of range.
  • CONS: Handsome but not distinct, no available navigation keeps you married to your smartphone, at the end of the day it's still an Accord.

Just to show that Honda still cares about folks who need four doors but still want driving thrills, there's the Accord Sport ($24,415 base MSRP). It comes standard with a slick six-speed manual transmission and four extra horses massaged out of its 2.4-liter inline four cylinder mill via a high flow exhaust (189 hp, compared to the base Accord's 185). You also get sporty aluminum pedals and some pretty sexy 19-inch rims only found on the high-end Accord Touring. The handsome interior is well-executed, and even the well-bolstered cloth seats have a premium texture.

2017 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen S 4Motion

Best

for the new Family

  • PROS: Sporty handling and crisp total-redesign make wagons cool again, ample space for families and gear, base model can be outfitted with a manual transmission, great acceleration from the turbocharged mill, all-wheel drive now available.
  • CONS: Too much piano black trim, no more diesel option, best available seats are covered in pleather, small buttons on the center stack.

This might just be one of the best all-around cars on the planet since being totally redone last year. The SportWagen S 4Motion ($24,930) has nimble manners, good thrust off the line and enough space for a road trip. The fact that the interior is one of the best in the business equates to high levels of comfort and near Audi-like finishes. The 170-hp 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder in the S Motion comes standard with a six-speed automatic and all-wheel drive, without having to upgrade to the more expensive Alltrack. What's more the list of standard features on the S 4 Motion includes a rearview camera, 6.5-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth, heated front seats and heated side mirrors.

2017 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring

Best

for the Adventurer

  • PROS: It's a sports sedan on stilts, looks better than the Porsche Macan at less than half the price, more amenities than a snobby spa, styling tweaks better than Botox.
  • CONS: Lacks ventilated seats and heated steering wheel, no torque vectoring like the Mazda3, could use more rear legroom.

No one else currently builds a mid-size crossover this well-rounded. The CX-5 ($21,795 base MSRP) drives like a sporty car, has the best exterior design in the segment right now and comes optioned out to the nines even if you opt for the $29,870 top trim Grand Touring model with all-wheel drive (our choice). The CX-5 has also been refreshed for a more sophisticated exterior and better interior appointments, including a bigger 7-inch touchscreen, heated seats and side mirrors, a booming upgraded BOSE surround sound system, rear cross-traffic alert, and some sweet new 19" alloy wheels.

2017 Mazda6 Touring

Best

for Driving Enthusiast

  • PROS: Driving dynamics and steering humiliate some sports cars, looks like a Cheetah on wheels, offers space and comfort like a boss, shockingly good vinyl seat quality, interior layout and functionality crush the competition.
  • CONS: Snow-dwellers will hate the absence of a heated steering wheel, Death Valley residents will lament the lack of ventilated seats, no V6 or turbocharging for lusty oomph.

Yep, another Mazda in this illustrious mix and for good reason. The Mazda6 Touring ($25,545 base MSRP) is our pick for sporty family sedan under $30K. Its athletic abilities belie the family sedan segment, and you can get it with a manual transmission at the mid-tier level, not something offered by many manufacturers (though we don't blame Toyota for not offering one in the tepid Camry). Sit inside, and you'll find a fantastic interior with great seats, near-flawless UI controls and standard features like a big 7-inch touchscreen, 6-way power driver's seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, a backup camera, Bluetooth and SMS text message audio delivery and reply. But you can ignore all those things while you're snaking through the twisties with a smile on your face.

2017 Dodge Charger SXT

 
  • PROS: Beefy and muscular like Favio, Baryshnikov precision with Akebono weight, hero exhaust note, rare rear-wheel drive big sedan setup, high level of customization with on-board tech, cavernous trunk, and spacious back seat accommodations.
  • CONS: Throttle response requires calendar planning, somewhat slow-responding 8-speed automatic transmission, expensive trim packages.

Though it's no V8, the SXT has enough oomph from its 3.6-liter V6 engine to scoot all that mass quickly enough. 292 horses on and 252 lb-ft of torque on regular gas means it's no slouch. Even more important than that, it's got to be one of the best-looking, most spacious four-door American sedans. It's also one of the few with rear-wheel drive that provides excellent driving dynamics. We also love the interior, which remains very comfortable and distinctly American in its execution.

2017 Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T

 
  • PROS: A more sophisticated exterior design than Accord or Camry, very tasteful and brilliantly laid out interior, sport-tuned suspension ups the handling quotient, responsive and easy infotainment system, comfortable for all occupants, quiet and lush ride for something so affordable, huge safety scores.
  • CONS: Not as fleet of foot as an Accord Sport, some turbo lag.

The Sonata is a serious contender in the family sedan segment and in turbo trim ($26,660 base MSRP), it's even better to drive. 245 horses up the excitement factor from the base car's 178. You don't have to be an enthusiast to appreciate its better driving dynamics. The new design is also a step up in sophistication despite the lower level of styling drama. In Sport guise, it's also rife with standard features that include leather-trimmed sport seats, a 7-inch color touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a rearview camera, a sport-tuned suspension, heated front seats, and a flat-bottom leather steering wheel.

$30K worth of automobile equals what

  • The average new car price is now just over $34,000.
  • More carmakers are offering trim levels under $30K that are very well outfitted.
  • No good new $30K car should come without Bluetooth, heated seats, a rearview camera and at least one USB port.
  • Don't expect crash avoidance technology or driver assist tech for less than $30K. These are typically options, if they're offered at all.

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