Although used car prices are expected to drop, especially with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s not like every single one will be universally affordable. True, a used Porsche Cayman or Audi S4 is a great deal, especially compared to a new model. However, they’ll never be truly cheap. Trying to find a car under $5000 is tricky; it’s easier to find new motorcycles at that price point. But, after some careful digging, we’ve found a list of recommended cars at bargain prices.
Comfortable commuters under $5000
If you’re looking for a reliable commuter car under $5000, it’s tough to beat a Honda Civic. The 2009-2011 8th-gen models are remembered fondly, offering better handling, ride, and interior quality than the later 9th-gen cars. The earlier 2006-2008 Civics, though, are known to suffer several quality issues, even cracked engine blocks.
Autotrader recommends the 2006-2011 Civic, and it’s possible to get one in either sedan, hatchback, or coupe form. The 8th-gen Si models are a bit outside the $5000 price range. However, the older 2002-2005 7th-gen Honda Civic Si hatchback is an excellent practical but sporty commuter.
Speaking of sporty, a used reasonable-mileage Volkswagen GTI is outside the $5000 limit. However, it is possible to find a Mk6 Volkswagen Golf within our budget. Car Buyer reports it’s more reliable than the previous-gen car, though the DSG did have some software-related recalls. And pre-2012 models had a timing chain pre-tensioner issue, Auto Guide reports, though by now almost all have had it replaced.
But apart from the diesel models, the 2010-2014 Golf represents an excellent budget commuter car. The Mk6 Volkswagen Golf had 4-wheel independent suspension, AutoEvolution reports. Autotrader reports the interior is “almost Audi-like in its execution and quality.” And Car and Driver was extremely impressed with the Golf’s interior quality, comfort, and lack of noise in its review.
Finally, if you want a bit of extra ride height, a used Kia Soul is a great commuter car for under $5000. While not-quite-crossover/not-quite hatchback, the Soul has stood out from the start with its design. Kelley Blue Book describes it as “a well-equipped, surprisingly roomy hauler that offers good fuel economy and fits just about anywhere.” As long as you avoid the 2012-2015 models, the Kia Soul is a great choice for a budget used car.
Sports cars under $5000
Although newer sports cars, or even hot hatches like the Civic Type R, are outside our budget, there are some under-$5000 sports cars out there.
It might be cliché at this point, but an NA or NB Mazda MX-5 Miata is perhaps the definitive entry-level sports car. True, a Miata might not have the S2000’s engine or a Toyota 86’s rear seats. But it’s reliable, easy to maintain, and has an extensive fan and aftermarket community. I’m not kidding when I say Miata owners genuinely flash and pop-up their headlights at each other.
Although $5000 examples will likely have close to 100,000 miles on them, with proper maintenance the MX-5 can last for years. It’s also a great car for learning stick and the convertible roof drops in seconds.
YouTube team Throttle House also recommends the Mazda RX8 as a good sports car for under $5000. Until Mazda’s rotary hybrid is actually built, the RX8 represents the last rotary-engine production car ever made.
True, the RX8’s rotary engine was flawed in many ways compared to its predecessor, the RX7. However, at least some of its reliability issues were due to owners not understanding the rotary engine’s quirks. Rotary-expert shop Derwin Performance reports, with proper maintenance, an RX8’s engine can easily last over 150,000 miles before a major service.
Plus, for a sports car, the Mazda RX8 is actually fairly practical. It has 4 doors and can seat 4 adults comfortably on long-distance trips. It also handles better than the RX7, and its 1.3-liter engine puts out 232 hp. The RX7 needed two turbos to put out 252 hp.
Sports-luxury cars under $5000
One Throttle House recommendation is the Saab 9-2X Aero. Think of it as a more luxurious Subaru WRX. It uses the contemporary WRX’s turbocharged four-cylinder engine, AWD system, and transmission. But Saab gave it more sound insulation, a better interior, retuned suspension, and the sportier STI’s steering rack. So, not only does the 9-2X Aero ride and handle better than the WRX, it’s comfier to sit in, too.
Saab only sold the 9-2X Aero in 2005 and 2006, with the latter getting a more powerful engine. On top of rarity, used 9-2X Aeros often have over 100,000 miles on them. But, considering many contemporary Subarus are running around with even more miles, that shouldn’t be an issue.
Finally, it’s even possible to find a reliable used BMW for under $5k. Throttle House specifically mentions the 1997-2006 E46 3-Series. This particular generation is considered to be one of the best-handling cars BMW ever made. These cars are also very plentiful, though many of the cheapest versions are understandably high-mileage examples. That can be an issue, as the automatic-equipped models often never had their fluid changed, which can cause transmission failure. And pre-2003 models are known to have cracked rear sub-frames.
However, the successive generation, the 2007-2011 BMW E90 3-Series, can also be occasionally found for under $5000. As long as you avoid the turbocharged versions, these are fairly reliable cars and offer excellent handling, as well as many modern features. Just check to make sure the VANOS solenoids and hydraulic lifters have been serviced.
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