In today’s market, $40,000 marks a sort of barrier between “normal” cars and “luxury” cars. You can basically find any sort of car for under $40 grand, so it can be argued that nobody needs to spend more than that unless they’re interested in fluff. It is a realistic budget for many middle class Americans, and that is why we have chosen to kick off our new “Our Picks” segment with it.
We will give our picks for two $40,000 budget scenarios, one as an only car, and the other as a second car. We will also give our second choices for each. Keep in mind, this is how we would spend our own money, with our rather discerning tastes in cars, and not necessarily our recommendations for more average buyers.
Nick’s Picks: Only Car
Certified Pre-Owned 2012 Audi S4: $35,000-$40,000
The Audi S4 is a brilliant combination of luxury and serious performance. It’s a very “nice” car, and it’s 3.0L Supercharged V6 has loads of potential with just basic modifications. All wheel drive helps security in bad weather as well as on-road performance. The S4 is quite simply the full package, and smart buyers know that the best way to buy “luxury” cars is certified pre owned with the full extended warranty. A brand new Audi S4 will run you $45-60 grand, but you can have one certified pre-owned for $35-$40 grand with around 35,000 miles on it. Now that’s what I call value!
2015 Subaru WRX STI: $39,000
I am a Subaru guy through and through, and while I feel the STI needs to have been upgraded a hell of a lot more over the years than it has been, it’s still a killer package for this sort of money. Get the base STI, add on the GPS package and the nicer sound system and the price comes in just under $39,000.
Nick’s Picks: As A Second Car
2008 BMW M6 V10: $30,000-$40,000
This is a proper grand touring car, capable of 200mph with the limiter taken off. Its V10 makes 500hp, and can be brought up to around 550hp with basic mods. Also, who wouldn’t want to fit this thing with straight exhaust pipes and blast through tunnels all day long?! The M6 ran around $100,000 brand new, but now they can be had anywhere between $30-40 grand, you can even have one with a clutch pedal!
2002 Porsche 911 Turbo (996): $35,000-$40,000
I only put this as my second choice because it is a few years older than the BMW, and more wear and tear maintenance will be required sooner. The 996 Turbo is a total monster, though. In stock form, with 415hp, it will hit 60mph in under 4 seconds and reach 193mph flat-out. However, with just an intake, diverter valves, and a tune you can add around 120hp to the mix, and that makes it quite the performer indeed. Prices are in the mid-high $30,000 range, but I’d plan to go right up to the $40,000 mark to get the cleanest one I could find.
Al’s Picks: Only Car
New 2014 Cadillac ATS 2.0T Performance: $39,520
When it comes to value for money, I’m all ears. Having driven a few of these since the ATS launched in late 2012, I’ve found the ATS to be a great driver’s car with plenty of value and a strong midrange 2.0L turbocharged I4. 270hp on tap is more than enough for most people–and although getting AWD isn’t an option at this price range, the midrange Performance model is a perfect choice thanks to an offer of $3,500 cash back for the outgoing 2014 model at this point. This is a “Get them while they’re hot” situation–and that’s always a boon for someone who wants a new car and has their eye on the compact sports sedan market. The ATS brings in great handling characteristics, a willing turbocharged engine, and good build quality. While I’m not as well-versed on tuning characteristics as Nick might be, there are more than a few kits available for the ATS’s engine, and the 270hp can be turned into 300 for not a lot of scratch.
Runner Up: 2015 Infiniti Q50 3.7 AWD: $39,855
The Q50 is a car that I wasn’t counting on for a while. After driving one last summer, I was very impressed with the driving position, ergonomics, and throttle response. Despite not having the looks of its predecessor, the G37, it looks great and has an excellent previous reputation. The last car Infiniti offered in this segment had great reliability ratings and was considered to be close to the E90 BMW 3 Series for handling prowess. The VQ37 V6 engine is still here, and while I’d like a better powerplant with higher gas mileage (it’s why I’m ranking the Cadillac higher at this price point), Infiniti has used this engine for years thanks to its reliable reputation and responsiveness. The other issue with the Q50 is poor value at this price–AWD is the only available option, so no moonroof, universal garage-door opener, or other toys that make this a luxury car more than a sports sedan. However, one turn of the steering wheel can make anyone forget that.
Al’s Picks: As A Second Car
2015 Ford Mustang GT Premium: $39,910
The new Mustang has been getting plenty of press lately–and for good reason. Ford finally saw fit to give it modern suspension, a better interior, and razor-sharp styling with handling to match. The engines were massaged a bit, but other than the new EcoBoost I4, Ford didn’t mess with a good thing. The 5.0L Coyote V8 fits the Mustang well, probably better than any V8 going back to the late 1960s. I optioned this particular car to within the limit and picked up the Performance Package–a big need for anyone who might want to take this to the track, as well as the Security Package and some rubber floor mats, but the reality is that the Mustang falls within this price limit and thanks to a warranty, repairs aren’t going to be a huge issue. Use it every day when the weather is nice, then let it hibernate in the winter.
Runner Up: Porsche Boxster S: $30,000-$40,000
This is the only used car on my list, mainly because reliability is important to me and even if it’s a second car, I’d rather not spend time when I want to drive it waiting for the shop to find out what’s gone wrong. The Boxster has always played second fiddle to the big-brother 911, but I drove the Spyder back in summer 2011 when we started this site and I was utterly blown away by how much fun a mid-engined go-kart could become. The S offers up a great package for not a lot of money on the used market–and even at 40 grand there’s some that fall under the Certified Pre-Owned program. Get one with the six-speed manual, hit the gas, and don’t ever look back–Nick likes the 911 Turbo, but this is still a thrill ride.