Although we enjoy some absurdly expensive modes of transportation, the kind of cheddar it costs to get your hands on a high-end luxury ride isn’t always easy to come by. But that’s ok, because – as it turns out – you don’t actually need to be a millionaire to get your hands on a vehicle worth driving. In fact, you can find one you like in just about any format for less than it would cost you attend a year of public college in most states.
Whether you’re a hard-working outdoorsman on a budget who needs a big bedded truck to haul loads of logs or you’re a penny-pinching city-dweller who likes to hit the highway in a sporty coupe, you can get your hands on a decent mode of transportation that won’t put you in the poor house. That’s right: you can get a well-designed automobile that suits your needs for $50,000 or less. Just keep in mind that these are base model prices. While they make the cut at their starting price, they’re going to cost a bit more if you want to add on additional options or go for any of the various upgraded versions. The following cars, trucks, and SUVs are our picks for the best vehicles you can get brand new under that price point today.
Starting At: $25,185
The Mustang is a classic American Muscle Car and has been wildly popular since its inception for a reason. Even the lowest-end of the base models comes with an 3.7-liter V6 engine that pumps out 300 horsepower and 280 foot-pounds of torque. And it just goes up from there. They also all come equipped with an integral link independent rear suspension, as well as aluminum-alloy rear knuckles and H-arms to reduce body movement and give the driver the utmost in precision control whether you’re braking into a tight turn or slamming down on the accelerator.
Pro Tip: Opt for the slightly pricier GT Premium Fastback, which starts at just $37,195, and you’ll get a much larger 5.0-liter Ti-VCT V8 engine with a 6-speed manual transmission. It’s a hell of a punch for such a relatively small jump in price.
Starting At: $27,190
When they retooled the Challenger for a modern release in 2008, it stuck out to us both because the styling was a hard nod to Challengers of the past, but also because it looked meaner and more like a muscle car than either the Camaro or the Mustang. And they’ve stayed true to that angry silhouette since. The standard version of this vehicle comes equipped with a 305-horsepower Pentastar V6 engine that’s reported to do up to 25 miles per gallon. That’s a bit better than the Mustang, but the higher price point puts them on a relatively even playing field.
Pro Tip: The Challenger R/T Plus – starting at $35,890 – comes preloaded with a bunch of goodies, included a fan-favorite 375-horsepower 5.7-liter HEMI V8 that automatically pares down to a fuel-saving 4-cylinders when you don’t need all that power… Like during your daily commute.
Starting At: $37,595
Cadillac’s ATS isn’t going to give you the same angry growl of the Ford or the Dodge, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Not everyone wants a big hulking beast. Some of us have a bit more of a refined taste. But the luxury styling of this car isn’t in lieu of performance, either. The base model comes with a 2.0-liter Turbo engine. And while that initial number might seem small, it still can produce an impressive 272 horsepower and 295 foot-pounds of torque. That’s more than enough for your average daily driver and it won’t disappoint if you want to let loose every so often.
Pro Tip: If you want the luxury, but you simply can’t sacrifice those few ponies, the standard engine can be upgraded to a 3.6-liter V6 that bumps up the horsepower up to 335. And it will still come with five-link independent rear suspension, magnetic ride control, and Brembo front brakes.
Starting At: $41,200
While Audi is hardly a new player in the space, they’ve really set themselves apart in the last decade or so. And their A5 is a pretty good example as to why that’s the case. Sure, it doesn’t have as much power as the other cars on this list (it comes standard with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder 220-hp engine), but it’s still tremendously nimble and offers up a whopping amount of luxury. The plus side of the smaller engine: it boasts 30 miles to the gallon on the highway.
Pro Tip: The biggest highlights of this vehicle are on the inside. For example, the standard sound system – which even comes in the base model – is made by Bang & Olufsen and boasts a whopping 505-watt output and 14-speakers.
BMW 4 Series
Starting At: $42,150
Born from the iconic 3 Series, this version is a stand-out all on its own. Though it could technically qualify as a luxury vehicle, it still has all the hallmarks of something a bit sportier. In fact, the TwinPower Turbo engine pumps out up to 320 horsepower (with an upgrade) and has a 0-60 time of 4.6 seconds. BMW is also incredibly proud of their “nearly perfect” weight distribution. What that means to you is that this vehicle feels balanced whether you’re stuck in traffic or pushing the limits on the open highway.
Pro Tip: For barely more than $4,000, you can upgrade from a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine to BMW’s 3.0-liter inline 6, giving you a jump of 72 horsepower, as well as a better sound system and some other interior perks.
Starting At: $16,775
The base model of the Ford Focus might not seem like anything to write home about, but it still has some notable aspects. For starters, it’s the most budget-friendly car on this list. Not only does it cost so little starting, but it also has a fuel efficiency rating of up to 34 miles per gallon. But, things get much more exciting when you make the jump up to the RS model. Sure, the fuel efficiency drops by 5 MPG and the price jumps to $36,120 starting, but we posit that the 350 horsepower and all-wheel drive (amongst a litany of other things) more than makes up the difference.
Pro Tip: If you’re a fan of drift racing or you have seen any of the Gymkhana videos made by Ken Block, the latest entry – number 9 – featured a souped up version of the RS pictured here. And while even the most upgraded version isn’t going to be capable of that kind of madness, it’s still an incredibly fun hatchback.
Starting At: $19,095
While you’re not going to be winning any races behind the wheel, the Mazda3 5-Door is still a very comfortable and reliable vehicle. And the 2.0-liter DOHC 4-cylinder engine gets a shockingly good 37 MPG on the highway. And while most inexpensive vehicles skimp on features like onboard electronics, this one comes standard with a 7-inch full-color touchscreen display and their Mazda Connect system.
Pro Tip: If you live anywhere that suffers from inclement weather, this car comes standard with all-wheel drive. So, even on icy roads up in the frozen north, this budget-friendly 5-door is a safe bet.
Honda Civic Hatchback
Starting At: $19,700
The Civic Hatchback isn’t going to break any records. By nearly all means, it’s a pretty middling vehicle. But it does have one massive benefit: it’s a member of a line of cars that are some of the most reliable of all time. And the repair costs are laughable compared to numerous competitors. With 174 horsepower in a 1.5-liter turbocharged 6-speed, this is a vehicle that will get you there every single time. And it’ll do it with 39 miles per gallon on the highway.
Pro Tip: An upgrade from the base model to the sport version (which bumps the horsepower nominally from 174 to 180) will cost you $1600. But, in the grand scheme of things, you likely won’t notice the difference.
Starting At: $19,895
The VW Golf is, arguably, the most tried-and-true hatchback. In fact, the very idea of a “hot hatch” stems from it. Standard, it comes with a 1.8-Liter I4 engine with a 5-speed manual transmission, but in a vehicle this small, it’s still got plenty of get-up-and-go. Still, if it’s a real peppy little guy that you’re looking for, you’ll want to spring for a GTI. The upgrade will still get you 34 MPG highway, but it also comes with 220 horsepower and a 0-60 time of 5.8 seconds.
Pro Tip: There’s also a sport model of the GTI that’ll get you 10 more ponies, as well as upgrades to the brakes and a torque-sensing limited-slip differential.
BMW 3 Series Sports Wagon
Starting At: $42,950
Though the name might seem a little oxymoronic (what, exactly, is a sports wagon?), the fact remains: this is a 3 Series BMW. That means it comes standard with 248 horsepower and 280 foot-pounds of torque. All in a package that still gets up to 33 miles-per-gallon. Though it’s got plenty of room in the back for your luggage and/or groceries, this is certainly a gargantuan step above the ol’ family wagon.
Pro Tip: Stick with the base model on this one. An upgrade to diesel will cost you a little under $2k, but the downsides are a massive drop in horsepower from 248 down to 181.
Starting At: $26,695
The Subaru WRX was to sedans what the Golf was to Hatchbacks. Namely, it was a game-changer. Reasonably priced Sedans were, for the most part, boring commuter vehicles. Then the WRX changed all that. This one comes standard with Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive and something called Vehicle Dynamics Control with Active Torque Vectoring – which just means it reduces understeer for better cornering. It also has a 268 horsepower turbocharged boxer engine.
Pro Tip: The STI version is still king of the Subarus. This model-year gets a performance upgrade to 305 horsepower and comes equipped with a Brembo high-performance braking system – all for just $35,195 starting.
Starting At: $27,100
A Prius is a Prius is a Prius. But this one makes the cut and here’s why: 133 MPG. That’s right, though you would have to plug it in in order to achieve it, this car is estimated to go up to one hundred thirty miles on a single gallon of gas. More than just for Toyota, this car is the most advanced hybrid in the world. And because it’s a hybrid, you can get up to $4,500 in tax incentives if you buy one new.
Pro Tip: There’s no such thing as a reasonably priced non-plug-in hybrid line with a better overall fuel economy than the Prius, especially now that this one is a part of the conversation. If you’re considering one, make this it.
Starting At: $34,900
Audi’s A4 isn’t just a superior low-starting-cost luxury sedan, it’s also got some impressive gear beneath the hood. For starters, it boasts a 252 horsepower turbocharged TFSI engine with your choice of a 6-speed manual with quattro all-wheel drive or a seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch automatic. And while you could take it for a doozy of a spin on the highway, it will still look and feel just as good headed to a suit-and-tie luncheon.
Pro Tip: All three of the trims come with the same engine beneath the hood, so if you’re looking for an upgrade, you’re mainly choosing between 2- and 4-wheel drive and interior accessories.
Starting At: $37,825
The Lexus IS has a surprisingly aggressive looking front-end for a luxury vehicle. But that makes sense when you look at the specs. The Turbo, which is the starting model, comes with an in-house designed turbocharger that, when mated to the engine, gives this car 241 horsepower in an 8-speed automatic. And it still gets 32 miles per gallon on the highway and is going to look superb while doing it.
Pro Tip: If you can hack it, the IS 350 F Sport is going to run you around $10k more, but it also gets a boost up to 306 horsepower.
Starting At: $32,400
Mercedes-Benz is kind of in a class of their own. It’s almost like someone told them a secret about engineering a vehicle and didn’t share it with the rest of the class. The CLA is pretty small in terms of sedans, but it’s got a handful of entry-level benefits that make it stand out against its bigger peers. For starters, the baseline engine is an inline 4-cylinder turbo, but it still manages 208 horsepower. It’s also going to save you fuel when you come to a full stop via the onboard ECO system. And if you want to let loose, the Dynamic Select will let you dial in performance specifics for your driving style.
Pro Tip: Starting just barely beneath the $50k mark, the AMG version of this 4-Door hosts a whopping 375 horsepower and 26.1 psi of turbo boost. And it’s still a 4-cylinder, which is unheard of elsewhere.
Starting At: $23,995
Jeep has been the gold standard of off-road capable SUVs for decades. And that’s impressive considering that the original SUV was a version of the Jeep (the Willys CJ). It still stands apart from its competitors both for its overall styling and for its capabilities. For the starting price, you’ll get 285 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque in a beast that Four Wheeler magazine calls “the 4×4 of the Decade.” And while you might be able to get something with comparable specs on the cheap, as soon as you hit the rocks it’ll shake apart. Jeeps are amongst the toughest civilian vehicles in the world.
Pro Tip: If you like the styling of classic Jeeps, but you want modern technology under the hood, Jeep offers a Willy’s Wheeler Limited Edition goes for just $28,295 starting.
Starting At: $25,645
The Subaru Outback might look like your typical city-dwelling SUV, but don’t be fooled. It has some real capability beneath those curves. For starters, it comes equipped with Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive – a system that ensures you get the utmost in traction, stability, efficiency, and response regardless of the terrain. And while the base model comes with a 175 horsepower 4-cylinder engine, a modest upgrade will get you Subaru’s 6-cylinder boxer engine that produces 256 ponies.
Pro Tip: Roof rails and crossbars come standard on all Outbacks. So, if you’re a frequent camper or big on adventuresome getaways, this vehicle has more than enough cargo space for all your gear.
Starting At: $47,125
Ford’s Expedition is, first and foremost, massive. Not only does it boast seating for 8 (that means full-grown adults), it also still has a rear cargo space for anything you might be bringing along with your squad – like camping gear or a bbq setup. This version also boasts the most powerful engine that this model has ever had: a twin turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6. And if safety is a concern of yours, this SUV has a 5-star NHTSA safety rating – the highest possible.
Pro Tip: If you want an Expedition, but you can’t break the bank, only two options fall below the $50,000 mark. Luckily they both come fairly well-loaded with features, so you shouldn’t be wanting for much, if anything.
Starting At: $47,500
Over the course of recent history, Porsche has stepped into the world of SUVs to both panning and praise. In that short time, they’ve also taken both quite seriously, – as you might expect from one of the most lauded manufacturers around. Now they offer a compact SUV in the form of the Macan. And it’s certainly a vehicle that only Porsche could have imagined. While the starting price is fairly high, you get what you pay for with a 252 horsepower all-wheel drive ride that has a 0-60 time of 6.3 seconds. If you want a Porsche badge, but you can’t get away with a coupe, there’s absolutely no shame in this lovely vehicle.
Pro Tip: It may look like a compact SUV, but this vehicle performs better than many sports cars that fall under the same price umbrella. It’s sleek and fast, but still has cargo space for your getaway gear – so it’s almost better than a sports car.
Starting At: $49,000
As you can tell from looking at it, the Q7 is amongst the most gorgeous SUVs ever created. In fact, it might hold the top spot. But it’s not all looks, either. It comes with standard quattro all-wheel drive, a turbocharged 252 horsepower TFSI engine, and a litany of other available options. That includes Audi’s range of driver-assist technologies, like their collision avoidance, pedestrian detection, and something called “traffic jam assist.” It also boasts a number of drive select modes that range from off-road to comfort and everything in-between.
Pro-Tip: If you’re considering this SUV as your pick, just keep in mind that the starting price is the only version of this vehicle that falls under the $50k mark. And the jump up to the next tier or adding nearly any optional upgrades will take you well over that mark.
Starting At: $24,320
In regards to sheer dependability, it’s hard to do better than a Tacoma. Simply put, these vehicles are workhorses. Sure, it might not be the biggest and baddest pickup around, but it also isn’t going to break down on you like others might. The basest model comes fitted with a 2.7-liter 4-cylinder, but in this case you’ll want to spring for at least a model above, as the SR is really a bottom-barrel budget performer by contrast.
Pro Tip: The TRD Off Road version of this truck, which comes with optional 4WD, is the best bet of the bunch if you ever like to tool around off-the-beaten-path and it still costs well below the $50k mark, starting at $31,740.
Starting At: $26,145
The ram has something to offer that the other trucks don’t: it’s the only half-ton pickup that comes with the option of a diesel engine. So, if you’re looking for a big capable truck, but you also want to squeeze every ounce of fuel economy out of it, this is your best bet. Without that upgrade, the baseline model comes with a 3.6-liter V6 Pentastar engine that gives you maximum towing of 10,650 pounds and 28 highway miles to the gallon. And that’s not half bad either.
Pro Tip: A baseline upgrade to a 5.7-liter V8 HEMI is only $1,150. You may not need that kind of power every day, but you’ll thank us when you do.
Starting At: $26,730
The F-150 isn’t just a recognizably popular pickup; it’s actually the most sold vehicle in the United States over four decades. And the margin is in the hundreds of thousands yearly. While you may have your own opinions about it, that’s an endorsement we trust. As they say: the people have spoken. In any case, the standard model comes equipped with a twin turbocharged 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 engine that has a maximum towing capacity of 8,500 pounds – but that can be upgraded to a massive 6.7-liter V8 Turbo Diesel.
Pro Tip: The Raptor, pictured here, is one of the featured vehicles at Ford’s Performance Racing School. So, if you wan’t to take this beast off-roading in some extreme environments before you buy, sign up for the Raptor Assault program.
Starting At: $27,585
Coming in as the second most-sold vehicle in the United States is nothing to scoff at. Especially when that number is backed up by figures like 285 horsepower and 305 foot-pounds of torque, standard. And, for a full-sized truck, 24 MPG highway is pretty damn impressive. If you’re looking for an American-made truck, but you don’t want to back Ford, this truck is definitely a contender.
Pro Tip: Upgrade to the 6.2-liter V8 and you’ll get a best-in-class 12,500 pounds of towing with 420 horsepower and 460 foot-pounds of torque. It will still do the same miles per gallon.
Starting At: $29,580
This year’s Nissan Titan won Truck Trend’s award for Best Pickup. And whether you take much stock in that or not, it counts for something. Especially when you find out that, in a side-by-side test, the Titan outperformed the Ford F-150 across the board in acceleration, handling, and braking. Plus, the starting model comes with a 5.6-liter V8 capable of 390 horsepower and 394 foot-pounds of torque.
Pro Tip: This is another case where paying for an upgrade doesn’t give you a better engine option. As far as baseline models go, this one might be the best of the bunch. But, it has a price to match.
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