Let’s face it, we all don’t start out life as millionaires able to drive whatever we would like, whenever we’d like it. At Secret we feature plenty of vehicles that are on the top of our readers’ lists of cars to own “someday”- but what if you want a car that makes a statement and satisfies your desire for performance without breaking the bank?
In no particular order, we bring you our favorite used cars, that look good and perform better, for under $30,000.
The E39 M5 is one of the best M cars to date in our opinion. Individual throttle bodies supply air to a monster 5-Liter V8 producing 400 horsepower to the rear wheels. Paired with good looks and the BMW name, for around $20,000 a pristine example of performance and luxury could be yours. The best part? BMW produced nearly 22,000 of them, so if you’re in the market and know where to look there should be a very good selection to choose from.
The Porsche Cayman is one of the best handling cars on the road today – plain and simple. It’s so good, in fact, that Porsche deliberately planted a slower motor in it to prevent the car from outperforming the flagship 911. A base model 5 speed in great condition can be had in the mid 20’s, and if you search patiently you can even find an 06-07 S model under 30k!
In case you didn’t see the super bowl commercial with Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno, Acura is coming out with an all-new NSX. This has brought some extra attention to the previous generations, which at over 20 years old are still works of art. The mid-mounted 3-Liter Honda V6 churns out up to 270 horsepower and screams up to 8,000 RPM. As with any classic, desirable, collector car, prices for the NSX can get very high. However, we have seen some clean one and two owner cars with around 60k miles sell in the $28,000 range.
Similar to the E39 M5, the M3 is the little brother in the BMW performance family. The E46 M3 featured a tuned straight 6 cylinder, pumping out a rather impressive 333hp. BMW offered the option of a 6 speed manual (which we suggest) or a SMG transmission which was their version of paddle shifting. As with all BMW ///M cars, the M3 is known for its razor sharp handling, which coupled with its 333hp engine, provides a rather fun driving experience. The E46 era of BMW 3 series is arguably the best looking of all generations and you can pick up a used E46 M3 for under $25,000 and it will still fit in with its modern design.
When BMW released their M5, Mercedes declared a horsepower war and released their E55 AMG with an astounding 470 HP and a monster 500 ft lbs of torque. This power was produced from a supercharged V8 mated to a 5 speed automatic transmission. While more of a luxury cruiser than sports car, the E55 AMG has remained a favorite car to modify among tuners thanks to its engine responds well to modifications. This is your chance to own an 11 sec car from the factory that you can take your parents to dinner in for a less than $30,000.
When you think of automakers, they’re all known for one thing: Honda is reliable, Ferrari is exotic, Subaru is all wheel drive, and Lotus is light weight. Lotus emerged in the United States finally and brought over the Lotus Elise, a sub 2,000 lb go kart for the street. The American Elise came fitted with a Toyota engine producing 160hp. While that may not seem like a lot of power, keep in mind the Elise is around 2,000 lbs, which is lighter than a Miata by several hundred pounds. The Elise provides a raw driving experience with a minimalist interior and lack of any driver aids. If you have $30,000 to burn on a weekend toy, this should be at the top of your list.
An automotive icon that was previously almost impossible to attain in the US, the 2007-2008 Audi S8 are not only some of the best V10 Sedans out there sporting a Lamborghini based motor, but also offer all the bells and whistles you can imagine. Originally over $100K for a new one but now low mileage examples can be bought right at the 30K mark.
The older M5 is a bargain but a V10 M5 fully loaded for under 30K is unheard of. One of the most fun sedans to drive also sports a V10 that growls like a muscle car. Featuring all the creature comforts you want and available as a 6 speed as well as with an SMG transmission. Low maintenance coupled with 10/10 fun factor means you should be looking for a 2006-2008 car as a daily driver.
We featured Project Silver bullet back when the E63 M6 was still selling in the 60K range but thanks to some of today’s best car buying strategies, you can now buy a well loaded low miles M6 with a V10 for less than a new Honda accord. Much sportier than the M5, still seats 4 and the drop top is an option.
The iconic M3 is back in the last generation before turning into a 4 door only. The E92 M3 coupe and convertible can be found in the high 20’s and low 30’s. Specifically look for 2008-2009 model years. We prefer the 6 speed with this car and can say that if you are looking for a fun V8, it doesn’t get more fun than this. Great ride quality and great fun factor, with a very attractive design.
A car many don’t even know exists due to its limited production but by far our favorite car under 30K. Alpina adds unique body styling, interior upgrades and colors and of course a supercharged V8 to BMW’s 7 series giving you a very fresh car despite now being two generation old. Finding the right one will be difficult but rather rewarding, as it was available only in 2007. Be patient, as the right car is out there.
The 4S is one of our favorite porsches, and the 2002-2004 versions have fallen below 30K even with very low mileage on the clock. It’s not the fastest and doesn’t have the most options based on the list of cars here, but there is no substitute for a Porsche and those that have driven one know why. Timeless design coupled with an unmatched driving experience and perhaps the most famous 3 numbers on your back bumper 911.
While the E55 is a great car for the money, the CLS55 is probably the nicest benz for the money. We have owned one back when they cost upwards of 70K used. Today, some of the lowest mileage examples are in the 20’s and well worth every penny. In case you are not familiar with the CLS55, it is one of the most well put together benzes on the planet, even to this date and should never be taken for granted due to its age. The 450HP,500lbs TRQ also helps convince you when looks just aren’t enough.
While the early model Qp was known for its share of issues, they were plenty of cars that didn’t have any issue sin 06-07 and many of those today sell for mid 20’s. It still remains one of the most beautiful designs from Ferrari on the road and timeless if in great condition. 400HP+ from a Ferrari V8 for under 30K? What else can you ask for?
Don’t like the 4 door Quattroporte, how about the 2 door version, in its best form yet. The predecessor to the gran turismo is now selling under 30K all day. Don’t be fooled by dealers asking 35-45K for their 05-06 cars, use our system to get the prices the cars should sell for which is about 28 K for an average mileage one. Make sure to do an inspection but this could be one of the nicest maseratis to date and now available at such an affordable price. SCARY.
Our latest project car was one of the best budget supercars we have ever owned. The SL55 is splendid and offers perfect fun and drivability in one, without mentioning the hard top comes down under 20 seconds. Featuring the famous 5.4L supercharged V8 that makes over 500TRQ but now a in a smaller package full of fun and beauty.
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