A car is different from many other possessions, in that it is the most public status symbol we own. Because it’s a large piece of property that’s mobile, it’s seen by many different people every day when we go to work, or even when we run a quick errand. Our homes, furniture, and belongings within our homes are not as out in the open and in most cases, only people in our inner circle see the insides of our homes.
When we see a person driving a Bentley, most of us think of that person as successful, wealthy, and maybe even proud. This is because most of us see luxury cars as items that are only affordable to certain individuals.
Not every luxury car has a six figure price tag, though. Some luxury (or luxury-looking) cars are even affordable to the average person. We’ve created a list of cars that look expensive, but the average, middle class worker may be able to afford these vehicles. All of the vehicle information (price, specs, and reviews, come from Kelly Blue Book (KBB.com), and when calculating affordability, we used the 20/4/10 method, which utilizes a 20% down payment, 4 years of financing, and 10% of income (after car insurance) to determine an affordable vehicle.
Based on the median household income of $51,939 per year (as of the most recent Census Bureau estimates), or around $4,328 per month, an affordable payment — after deducting an estimated $100 for auto insurance — would be around $425. This should get you a car in the $23,000 to $26,000 range.
What type of luxury car can you buy in the $25,000 to $30,000 range these days? You may be surprised to find out.
1. 2013 BMW X1
- Starting MSRP: $30,800
- Expert rating: 7.7
- Consumer rating: 9.1
If you’re looking for a small, luxury SUV with decent fuel economy, this is a pretty good option. The base version of this vehicle — the sDrive 28i — in pre-owned condition sells for as low as $23,000. The base model comes with features like a leather-wrapped steering wheel, split and fold down rear seats, and even HD Radio.
You can add extra bells and whistles like back-up cameras and a satellite radio with surround sound. Keep in mind that this is a compact SUV, so if you’re looking for something that will fit several people, you may want to go with a larger SUV. Also be careful adding those features, because a $30,000 price can quickly become a $40,000 price.
2. 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class
- Starting MSRP: $29,900
- Expert rating: 7.8
- Consumer rating: 9.2
KBB named this car as one of the best luxury cars for under $40K. It has a sleek, aerodynamic design and the Mercedes name to go along with it. The standard model comes with rain-sensing windshield wipers, cruise control, excellent fuel economy (26 MPG city/38 MPG highway), Bluetooth, and a power driver’s seat. You can upgrade and add options, like heated seats and surround sound if you like.
Overall, you’ll like this car if you’re searching for premium looks at an entry-level price point. “It’s not an elegant, proportional masterpiece like its upmarket sibling the CLS, but this chip off the block is still arguably sexier than virtually all of its competitors,” says the KBB analysis of the CLA. But, if you’re looking for a family vehicle, or you are in need of extra headroom, this car may not be for you. “If you’re serious about using the rear seats, you might want to skip the CLA,” KBB adds, “While there’s enough headroom for most folks under 6-feet tall, getting in and out of the rear quarters – not to mention maneuvering a car seat back there – poses a serious challenge.”
3. 2014 Acura ILX
- Starting MSRP: around $27,000
- Expert rating: 7.0
- Consumer rating: 8.5
A truly stylish vehicle, the Acura ILX comes standard with features like a sunroof, Bluetooth, and a 6-speaker audio system. If you upgrade to the premium package, you’ll get extras like HID low-beam headlights and fog lights and a multi-view rear-view camera. This car also has decent fuel economy, with 24 MPG city and 35 MPG highway, and a reasonable entry-level price point.
This is a very entry-level luxury vehicle, though, and if you’re looking for something larger that you can stretch your legs in, and something that will really impress people driving by, you may want to go a bit fancier.
4. 2015 Buick Verano
- Starting MSRP: around $24,000
- Expert rating: 6.8
- Consumer rating: 8.7
This luxury(ish) vehicle has an enticing entry-level price. It even comes standard with cool technology like a built-in WiFi hot spot (with a 3-month trial period) and a 6-speaker sound system with touch screen.
According to the KBB analysis of the 2015 Verano, you’ll like this car “if luxury features like a quiet ride, a comfortable interior, and plenty of high-tech options are your thing, but you don’t have a lot to spend…The available turbocharged engine adds a little spice without upsetting the luxury balance.” On the other hand it also adds that the vehicle is “sort of like a Buick LaCrosse that got left in the dryer too long.”
5. 2015 Chrysler 200
- Starting MSRP: Around $22,000
- Consumer rating: 8.8
The “next generation midsize sedan” comes standard with keyless entry and start. So you can warm up the car without even getting into it. Safety features, like multistage airbags and brake assist are also standard features. You can upgrade and add extras like park assist, blind spot monitoring, and rain-sensing wind shield wipers.
You’ll like this car if you’re looking for an attractive vehicle with an attractive interior and decent fuel economy. But if you’re looking to add all the extra bells and whistles, like large touch screens and navigation, those will cost you extra.