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Hooniverse Asks: What’s the most car for under $30k?

Jeff Glucker June 13, 2018 Hooniverse Asks 23 Comments

I’ve just spent a week with a very simple yet solid means of transportation; the 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. This was the base model packing a non-turbocharged 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine that cranks out 185 horsepower. That’s a healthy drop compared to the more potent 2.0T also available, which makes 240 horsepower. This front-drive model starts at $24,950 and the as-tested price is $26,310. For that you have a crossover with fine styling, a sharp interior, and plenty of space in the rear. It’s a lot of vehicle for well under $30,000.Does it drive as nice as my Mazda CX-5? No, the steering isn’t as sharp. But Hyundai has greatly improved its steering over the years, and the Santa Fe Sport is nice off center with some mild rubber-banding on it. The interior looks nicer and more interesting though, compared to the Mazda and it feels like there’s a lot more space inside.

Once you swap to the 2.0T though, you cross above the $30k mark. I want to focus on the good on the better side of $30k. What else out there gives you the most vehicle for your dollar?

The Volkswagen Golf SportWagen and Alltrack are excellent answers, surely. A Ford Transit Connect Wagon starts right around $26,000 and is plenty of Euro-style van for most. Even the 2018 F-150 starts below $30k. Subaru has a few models that might also qualify depending on what “most vehicle” means to you.

The Hyundai Santa Fe Sport is a nice break between a slew of more super and expensive (and less useful) vehicles. That fact that it’s $10k below the average new car transaction price is also refreshing, as I believe that pretty much everything I drive lately is overpriced (relatively speaking).

So what new vehicle seems to offer the most, well, vehicle for below $30k?

  • GTI
    CPO Audi S3

  • tonyola

    I assume we’re talking new vehicles here, right? You can get a new base Honda Ridgeline for $29,990. Just don’t expect any options.

  • GTXcellent

    Ecoboost performance pack Mustang (with manual transmission) – $29,150 before any incentives

    • Zentropy

      I’d buy a used V8 before ever considering a new four-cylinder Mustang. The Ecoboost sounds like a rental car.

  • P161911

    New 2017 Cadillac ATS currently has a $8,000 rebate. Saw one for $30,435. Should be able to get them down another $500 easy.
    2018 V-6 Camaro with the 1LE Track package. Easily advertised under $30k.
    Most overall vehicle is probably a full size truck. Here is a Silverado with a 355HP 5.3L V-8, decent options, and 4 doors for under $30k.

  • 0A5599

    A lot of car, for no money.


  • Not a very original answer, but BRZ/Toyota 86.

  • ptschett

    My local CDJR dealer has a JK Wrangler Unlimited Sport listed at $30,366 and a few 2018 Ram 1500 4×4 Quad Cabs for not much more. (Partially a consequence of it being this particular time in those products’ lifecycles, but it happens for everything at some point.)

  • neight428

    There are 139 new Mustang GT’s on Autotrader with a listed price under $30k.

  • I optioned the hell out of the new kia soul turbo and could only get to $28,910.
    Puddle lights ffs…

  • Maymar

    $30k buys 7 seats, nearly 300 horsepower, and a pretty decent amount of features. Hell, $20k buys most of that (if you’re cool with hubcaps and not much beyond A/C and radio, which I am).


    • ptschett

      If someone can’t endure HoW aNtiQuE the Caravan is, I’ve already seen lower trim levels of its successor the Chrysler Pacifica offered at under $30k.

      • Maymar

        For sure – I just figured $30k of Caravan would be better equipped than $30k of Pacifica.

        • Zentropy

          I still think the Caravan (antique or not) looks better than the Pacifica, but mechanically the newer van is obviously more advanced. I despise the non-hybrid Pacifica’s transmission, though. And the standard touchscreen ergonomics. Give me DIALS and BUTTONS, dammit!

    • P161911

      If you are willing to put up with a FWD FCA product and just don’t care, you can get a 7 seat Dodge Journey for under $19k.

      • Maymar

        We’re lucky in Canada, that they make an extreme cheapskate model of the Caravan (big difference is middle bench instead of the stow n go seats) that sometimes sells for the same price as a base Journey (it’s currently $400 more, but that’s still $400 well spent).

      • Zentropy

        Or, you can get root canal surgery. The Journey is a major turd of a car.

        • P161911

          You just described 90% of the non-Wrangler, non-Ram truck FCA lineup.

  • Fresh-Outta-Nissans

    $29,500 gets you a Mazda6 with turbo, lane-keep assist, and radar cruise control, and looks like a million bucks.

    Wrong answer: Miata. Yes, mine was $30k+, and yes it is the way to get the least car for your money. But it’s unbelievably high-end once you start taking things apart, built like a car twice as expensive. I have no clue how they make money.

  • Zentropy

    If you mean objectively “most” as in cargo space, seats, and engine output, it’s hard to argue for anything but a minivan. I think money is most wasted on convertibles, and somewhat less so on pickups (at least they have utility). If you mean $30k worth of value, that’s a different (and much more subjective) issue.

    My subjective preferences are as follows:
    motorcycle < convertible < coupe < 3-door hatch < pickup < sedan < station wagon

    Wagons rule. Period. They handle and ride like sedans, but with a much better use of footprint. I don't value crossovers at all, because they're basically just compromised station wagons. More weight, higher COG, less space. Stupid.

  • AlexG55

    $30k US is currently £22600. That just squeaks you into a Skoda Superb Hatch (effectively a saloon, the estate starts at £23440). The only engine you can get for that money is the 120hp 1.6 diesel with a 6-speed manual, and you can’t afford metallic paint.

    So while it’s incredibly basic, it is a lot of car.