12 Cars With the Best Driving Experience for the Price
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Some individuals appreciate a vehicle as more than a way to get from here to there. However, not everyone is willing or able to spend six figures for the privilege.
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Fortunately, not all exceptional driving experiences come with a hefty cost. The following 12 cars provide the best driving experience for the price — all without breaking the bank. They made the GOBankingRates cut not only for the relatively affordable manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) but also for their reasonable fuel and maintenance/insurance costs.
1. Genesis G70
Starting MSRP: $39,400
Genesis is Hyundai’s luxury brand and it has made significant strides in offering a luxurious driving experience — without the luxury price tag. The G70, a compact sports sedan, stands out for its sleek design, a choice of two potent V-6 engines (2.0T and 3.3T) and agile handling. It combines the refinement of a premium vehicle with an engaging driving experience.
2. Dodge Charger
Starting MSRP: $33,200
The Dodge Charger is a testament to the American muscle car spirit. With a variety of powerful engines, including the legendary Hemi V8, the Charger delivers robust acceleration and a commanding presence on the road. It combines the space and practicality of a full-sized sedan with the excitement of a muscle car.
Even if you choose to go for the racier Scat Pack version, you’re still looking at an MSRP of under $60,000, making the Charger an enticing option for those who seek a thrilling driving experience.
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3. Lexus IS 300
Starting MSRP: $40,085
Lexus is well known for building stylish, comfortable and reliable luxury cars. The Lexus IS, a compact luxury sedan, is no exception. Its distinct, striking grill and unique lines make the model a head-turner. Plus, the IS 300 offers more features than some of its German competitors.
With a choice of all-wheel and rear-wheel drive, the IS delivers a smooth, responsive and quiet ride. It combines luxury features with sharp handling, offering an enjoyable driving experience without the typical luxury car price premium.
4. Volvo S60
Starting MSRP: $41,300
Volvo has long been associated with safety and practical comfort, but the S60 also brings an element of driving excitement. The S60 offers a combination of Scandinavian elegance and spirited driving dynamics thanks to its advanced driving-aid tech. Volvo offers engine options, but the potent T8 plug-in hybrid stands out. With an MSRP of $52,345, the $10,000 difference may be partially offset with fuel savings.
The S60 delivers impressive performance while maintaining Volvo’s renowned focus on safety. It’s a sedan that caters to drivers looking for both style and an enjoyable time behind the wheel.
5. Tesla Model 3
Starting MSRP: $40,240
Tesla’s Model 3 is an environmentally friendly vehicle with a well-appointed interior and plenty of high-end features such as a large, generous touch screen and powerful sound system. It offers an entirely different driving experience because of its innovative electric car concept. Anyone who’s test-driven one may be particularly impressed with the EV’s acceleration, which is as fast as 3.1 seconds. As for range, Tesla reports an EPA estimate of 333 miles between charges.
With a low center of gravity, instant electric torque and cutting-edge technology, the Model 3 offers an exceptional driving experience and a smooth, quiet ride.
6. Volkswagen Golf GTI
Starting MSRP: $30,530
A favorite in Europe for its fuel economy and sporty drive, the Volkswagen Golf GTI is a pioneer in the hot hatchback category and remains one of the best options for drivers seeking a versatile, sporty compact car. The GTI boasts a peppy turbocharged engine, responsive steering and a comfortable ride.
Its compact size, practicality and interior quality are also noteworthy, making it an excellent choice for those who need a car for both daily use and spirited drives — especially if you live in a metro area where parking a larger vehicle or SUV may be more of a challenge.
7. Mazda MX-5
Starting MSRP: $40,085
The Mazda MX-5, or Miata, has long been an icon of affordable sports car driving. This two-seat, lightweight roadster emphasizes driving pleasure above all else. With a well-balanced chassis, precise steering and a snappy six-speed manual transmission as an option, the MX-5 delivers an unadulterated driving experience. It’s not the most powerful car on the road, but it’s nimble, providing a perfect example of how less can be more in terms of driving enjoyment.
8. Ford Mustang
Starting MSRP: $27,770
Much like the Dodge Charger, the Ford Mustang has been a symbol of American muscle cars for decades, and it continues to offer an exhilarating driving experience at a reasonable price. With a range of engine options, including a potent V8, the Mustang provides a powerful and engaging ride. Its sharp handling and iconic design make it a top choice for those looking for an accessible taste of classic American performance.
While the base model offers enjoyable driving performance, the Mustang GT Premium trim package is the most popular. For an MSRP of $44,760, you’ll get closer to the brand’s racing pedigree, with a 5.0L V8 engine, delivering 460 horsepower.
9. Honda Civic Type R
Starting MSRP: $43,295
Who says reliability has to be boring? For those who desire the combination of practicality and thrilling driving dynamics, the Honda Civic Type R is an exceptional choice. It’s a hot hatchback known for its turbocharged engine, sharp handling and striking, compact appearance.
With a focus on front-wheel-drive performance, the Civic Type R sets the benchmark for affordable, high-performance hatchbacks. It’s a car that can effortlessly transition from the racetrack to daily commuting and errands — you can drop the rear seats when you need to load up on extra shopping or simply need extra interior cabin space.
10. Subaru WRX
Starting MSRP: $30,605
Subaru is well-known for its all-wheel-drive vehicles and the Subaru WRX is no exception. The model has a more exciting look than the company’s better-known models, such as the Outback — the WRX is a rally-inspired sports sedan that offers an outstanding driving experience for the price. Equipped with all-wheel drive and a turbocharged engine, the WRX provides quick acceleration and sharp handling.
Thanks to the manufacturer’s legendary AWD tech, the WRX’s grip and stability in various weather conditions make it a practical choice for those who live in areas with unpredictable climates. The WRX is a performance-oriented vehicle that remains within the reach of many driving enthusiasts.
11. Hyundai Veloster N
Starting MSRP: $33,595
Hyundai’s Veloster achieved a cult following for its styling and performance. Sadly, Hyundai chose to end the Veloster’s run this year. However, if you can find a 2022 model, you may get one of the most reliable hatchback vehicles around.
When looking at the preowned market, keep an eye out for the Veloster N trim. It’s affordable without sacrificing exceptional performance. Powered by a turbocharged engine and equipped with a sport-tuned suspension, the Veloster N is designed to offer engaging driving dynamics. It’s a car that stands out for its value in the high-performance compact segment.
12. Kia Stinger
Starting MSRP: $36,690
The Kia Stinger is a remarkable example of a sedan offering a luxurious driving experience at a competitive price. This sporty four-door combines a comfortable and stylish interior with strong performance capabilities.
The Stinger is available with a choice of turbocharged engines, and it offers rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The GT version ($37,865 MSRP), particularly, is a unique blend of performance, practicality and value.
What To Look For When Buying an Affordable Luxury Car
Buying an affordable luxury car is an investment that requires thorough research and careful consideration. After all, there is more to the price of a car than its sales price. Regardless of whether you opt for a new car or used, here are some items to consider to ensure your vehicle falls in line with your budget needs and overall expectations.
Always schedule a test drive to get a feel for the car’s handling, comfort and performance. Even if the reviews are great, each driver’s needs is different. Pay attention to how the vehicle drives, how it handles on turns, what types of noises are prevalent and whether the vehicle meets your expectations.
Research Ownership Costs
Ownership costs like insurance, taxes, maintenance and registration fees can add up well beyond the initial purchase price. Even affordable performance cars often come with higher insurance premiums due to their value, horsepower output or amount of driving tech.
Consider the fuel efficiency of the luxury car, as some models (especially V8 versions) can be gas guzzlers. Opt for a more fuel-efficient model or an EV if you’re concerned about operating costs or factor the cost of fuel into your car budget.
Research the vehicle’s reliability by reading reviews, checking reliability ratings and consulting user experiences in vehicle-model forums. A reliable luxury car will save you money in the long run by reducing repair costs.
Related to reliability, a car with a good warranty can save you thousands of dollars. Pay attention to the warranty coverage, including the duration and mileage it covers. An extensive warranty can offer additional protection against unexpected repair expenses.
Specific luxury features and add-ons can add up, costing you far more than you expected to pay. Some features that add to the driving experience but often cost a significant premium include leather seats, premium audio systems and advanced infotainment systems or navigation.
Certified Preowned (CPO) Vehicles:
CPO vehicles are typically more affordable than brand-new ones. These vehicles have already taken the depreciation hit and have been inspected and refurbished by the manufacturer or dealer. In many cases, they come with extended warranties to provide peace of mind.
Evaluate financing options before you buy, including lease deals and loan terms, to determine the best way to pay for your affordable luxury car. Take special note of the interest rate (APR) and how much in interest you’re paying each month. A vehicle with an affordable MSRP could cost you thousands more over the life of the loan if you don’t read the financing fine print.
GOBankingRates’ 12 cars with the best driving experience for the price demonstrate that an exceptional drive doesn’t have to come with a premium price tag. From lightweight roadsters like the Mazda MX-5 to powerful muscle cars like the Dodge Charger, there is a wide range of options for drivers who want to experience the joy of the open road without emptying their wallets.
Whether you prefer a compact hatchback, a hybrid or electric vehicle, a sporty sedan or a classic American muscle car, there’s a budget-friendly option that can satisfy your desire for an engaging driving experience. So, for those who appreciate the thrill of driving, these cars provide the perfect balance of performance, affordability and fun behind the wheel.
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