A friend of mine recently asked which car I would suggest for a friend of his. While my friends know that I’m always happen to give an opinion, whether or not I know of what I speak, I am the resident car guy. I just love cars.
He gave me the parameters of a person in their mid-20s, strong income relative to where they live, sports car that will be a daily driver, and a budget of up to $40,000. Naturally, I thought that I should turn this into the blog post because a central theme in my life is to make things infinitely more difficult than they have to be. After much scouring of the intertubes to validate used car prices, here’s how I decided that I’d spend my own money if this were me. I’m definitely looking at used cars first, because I would prefer for some other fool suffer the monstrous depreciation of buying a new car, and learning what all of the kinks are through their pocket book instead of mine. When buying a used car, always make sure to get it inspected but a knowledgeable mechanic, and maintenance records are worth their weight in gold.
1. 2008-2012 BMW M3
This one is a no-brainer for me. I’ve always loved BMWs, though I don’t really know why. I think they look really good, and I know that they drive well. Not that I’ve owned one, but through luck or social engineering of unsuspecting dealers, I make a point to sit my buttocks in Bavarian leather as frequently as I’m able. My friend Glenn currently owns a 2014 M5, and it’s terrifying. But terrifying like going home with a one night stand who blindfolds you, cuffs you to the bed, and then teaches you things. You leave both situations with shaky knees, PTSD, and a general soiled feeling, but inside you know that you want to do that again as soon as possible. You’ll get this from the 2008-2012 BMW M3. Internally dubbed the E90 or E92 (sedan and coupe), the engine in this thing is astonishing. All configurations and model years are going to give you over 400hp and a 0-60 time south of 4.5 seconds, possibly under 4.0 depending on how good you are. Knowing that central Nebraskans are all about their red light specials, this thing will shame anybody not driving an exotic. Should their happen to be a bendy road, the only skid marks you’ll leave will be in your underpants as this thing has grip for days. This is more car than anybody without a serious, formal racing background will never be able to use to it’s full potential, but it would be really fun to try.
The biggest low is going to be ongoing maintenance, but that’s going to be a theme here. Oil changes will run a couple of hundred dollars due to the synthetic oil in the insanely high revving 8 cylinder engine. Tires will be a couple thousand because they’re huge. Brakes and rotors will also likely set you back a couple grand unless you can find somebody who has wrapped their car around a pole and is parting it out. This happens more often than you would imagine. Aside from that, the car will be on the loud side, it will be useless in winter without winter tires, the ride will be stiff, and the centralized entertainment/navigation/control system in this version still sucked. AND it will eat every penny of the budget for an example with 35,000-40,000 miles. But when you step on the gas pedal, you won’t care. At all.
2. 2009-2011 Porsche Cayman
I’ve never driven a Porsche, but everybody who has becomes an instant convert to the cult of “Porsche handling.” Apparently, driving any Porsche is like driving a go kart that is wired directly into your brain. If you’re driving and you get hungry, all of a sudden you’re at Runza because the car just took you there. They’re also consistently ranked as some of the best daily driving sports cars. They’re not overly stiff in their suspension tuning, and Porsche engineers are known for being able to have cars that feel equally at home puttering around parking lots as they are thrashing through corners. A lot of other sports cars, including the M3 mentioned above, can frequently feel like muzzled pit bulls that are always in attack mode, pulling hard at the leash. They are angry unless they’re killing speed limits at a felonious rate, and they make you suffer for holding back on that leash. When you do stretch the legs of the Cayman, you won’t be disappointed. There’s a few variants that are more powerful than the base model, but all of them are going to have at least 290hp, and most are 300 or over. Even that slowest model will scoot you to 60mph in under 6.0 seconds, with the fastest variants getting you there around 5.0. This is obviously slower than the BMW, but what the Cayman lacks in straight line speed it makes up for in the corners. Race track lap times aren’t usually a useful translation into actual feel for most people, so suffice it to say that you’ll be able to go around nearly all corners faster in the Porsche than you would in any of the other cars that I’ll list. Again, think go kart. A $40,000 go kart.
On that note, depending on which model year, variant, and mileage, this car will have a big price range, likely meaning that you won’t have to spend every penny of your $40,000 to get a car with decent mileage like you do with the BMW. Maintenance will cost you about the same, if ever so slightly cheaper. The biggest downside here is that Porsche is owned by Volkswagen, and if you’re familiar with Volkswagen, you’ll know that nearly all of their cars are notoriously unreliable. Specific to this run of Cayman’s, apparently they like shitting out their engines like their motor oil is Mexican food. If you go this route, do your homework on the specifics of the issue and the maintenance history of the car, and visiting a qualified Porsche mechanic to look over the car prior to purchase is mandatory. The issue was supposed to be largely fixed starting in 2009, but other nagging things like failed motor mounts still exist. Other, smaller niggles will be that this car will feel cramped and it will be just as loud as the BMW inside.
3. 2007-2012 Maserati GranTurismo
This purchase won’t make any sense at all. You may be wondering “Can I really afford a Maserati for $40,000? Aren’t they way over $100,000 new?” Yes, yes they are. The used cars are cheap for this reason: Maserati’s are entry-level supercars, so people who can barely afford a $135,000 car buy this one. And then they take it in for its first scheduled maintenance and poop in their pants, and the pants of the service manager, when they go in for fluid changes and get handed a $2700 bill. What people don’t realize about these types of cars is that they’re effectively street legal race cars. Race cars don’t get built to go 125,000+ miles with no problems. In a race car, nearly everything will need replaced regularly. Brakes, clutch, motor mounts, suspension, all of it. The assumption with these cars is that if you can afford it in the first place, you won’t be bothered much when you’re shelling out $10,000-$12,000/year in maintenance. So Daryl gets all excited when he gets a promotion and sees that first check of his new $100,000 annual salary and goes to get a new Maserati. After 6000-7000 miles he takes it in for his first service, and leaves with about $800 less money in his bank account, he realizes that driving this car will lead him to bankruptcy and he’ll do anything he can to get rid of it. The fun part of the supply and demand pricing for Maserati’s is that the owners demand that the car get the fuck away from them before it ruins their life.
So why would I even think of buying one? Because with some excellent haggling and an immense amount of patience, you can get into one of these with 40,000ish miles for around $35,000. That leaves you $5000 to buy some other reasonable, reliable daily driver, and put this thing in your garage. I would drive it as much as I wanted, but I’d shelf it when it was near service time until I saved up the cash to pay for said service, and then I’d start the process over again. Why would that be worth it? For starters, look at it. That’s an 8 year old car and it will still turn heads today. People will definitely think it’s new. Oh, and if they ask to see under the hood? Ferrari engine. Bitch. Now, it doesn’t SAY Ferrari on the engine, but it is. Maybe don’t say “bitch” when you tell people that, because stuff you have to explain is less cool than stuff that you don’t. “You see, Ferrari owns Maserati, so while older Maserati cars had engines that said Ferrari right on them, Ferrari wanted to better distinguish their brands so they started branding it as Maserati even though it’s nearly identical to the engines in the Ferrari California, F430, and 458.” Yeah, that doesn’t sound cool at all when you explain it. But it IS cool. But you and the other Maserati owners will be the only ones that know that it’s cool, which kind of negates the whole cool factor of the Ferrari engine. But they may not even ask about the engine because they’ll look at it for 4 seconds and then ask to sit in it, probably to hide their boner. The inside is equally gorgeous, and then you can ask them if they want to go for a drive. This thing will effortlessly cost you all of the points on your driver’s license if you whip it around town, because, as mentioned above, it’s basically just a race car that isn’t on a track.
4. Subaru BR-Z
None of the new cars available at this price point really interest me. If you’re going to spend a chunk of change on a sports car, there should be a certain “wow” factor that you get along with it, and most new cars in this realm are widely attainable. Of the many offerings of sub-$40,000 sports cars that exist, the BR-Z is the most intriguing one. Biggest advantages: It’s super fun to drive according to pretty much everybody, it’s cheap (base of around $26,000), maintenance will be cheap, subjectively fast, and it won’t really stand out in a crowd. The downsides: It won’t really stand out in a crowd, everybody will think that you’re a 20 year old, objectively slow, and you’ll see at least 5 other BR-Zs and/or Scion FR-Ss (they are nearly identical cars jointly developed by Subaru and Scion/Toyota). Still, the fun to drive factor is off the charts. This thing was developed with the same mindset as the Mazda Miata: Make it super fun to drive. I know I mentioned the visceral thrill of driving an M5 above, but the fun of driving a Miata or the BR-Z is a different animal. The M5 is fun because it pushes you to your extreme and you realize that there was a very real chance that you could’ve killed yourself doing the thing that you just did, because if you aren’t careful, that car will eat you. A normal guy like me driving that car is like me boxing Sergey Kovalev and winning. Somehow I pulled it off, but next time I get in the ring, he’s going to try to kill me again. The BR-Z isn’t like that. It’s like a puppy. Every now and then it might nip your finger if you do something it doesn’t like, but it’s going to drop it’s front paws to the ground and wag it’s whole butt letting you know that it ain’t mad, it just wants to keep playing. The BR-Z doesn’t have enough power for you to really get yourself into trouble, but it has just as much as the car itself can handle.
So why the BR-Z instead of the FR-S? And why so many rhetorical questions? The answer to the second one is that I get a fad stuck in my head and don’t realize how much I’m doing it. The answer to the first one is that the suspension has better tuning than the FR-S. This is easy to explain: The sportiest car that Toyota/Scion makes, aside from the FR-S, is the Camry. You could maybe argue the Yaris. Subaru makes the WRX STI, which wins rally races. The Camry wins nothing that you actually want to win. I’m also apparently using colons a lot in this post.
Unicorn – 1993-2002 Toyota Supra Turbo
Yes, I know that I just made fun of Toyota for making boring cars like the Camry, but Japanese automakers can build incredible cars when they put their minds to it. If you don’t believe me, Google the Nissan GT-R and prepare to be impressed. Toyota USED TO keep a sports car in their lineup, and much as they’ve done with their Camry’s and Corolla’s, they wanted it to be the best in its segment, so enter the Supra. Other Supra’s are equally as fun to drive, but this run was the most powerful and the best looking. The twin turbo engine puts out 320hp, but they’re seemingly magical horsepowers that each act like they’re twice as strong as a normal horsepower. The car would do 0-60 in 4.6 seconds in the mid 1990s. Those were supercar numbers that bested some Lamborghini’s and Ferrari’s at the time. These cars are obviously old, and the market is all over the map. Used examples will range from $20,000 on the low end to as high as $80,000 on the top end. Mileage is equally all over the map. But if you can somehow find this car, you will be the envy of car guys everywhere.
Please Don’t – Mustang, Charger, Camaro
I have a healthy suspicion that the question I was really being asked is which one of these I would buy new. There’s really nothing wrong with any of them, aside from the fact that there are just much, much better cars available for the money. Aside from drawing the admiration of people who still put stickers of Calvin pissing on things on their trucks, none of these cars would be “best” at anything for the money. There are cars with more horsepower, that look better, that sound better, that go faster, and on, and on, and on. Gun to my head, I’d choose the Chevrolet Camaro SS. Reasons? The Charger is the most powerful of the group with 485hp, but you have to get the Scat Pack edition to get all of those ponies, and there’s just something…off-putting…about having a trunk badge that says a synonym for shit on your car. Furthermore, Chevy has made serious advances in their suspension tuning. The SS’s bigger brother actually shames some of the modern siblings of the cars I mentioned near the top around really impressive race tracks. So you get your 455hp cake, and you get to eat it around corners as well. I’m not sure that metaphor worked. Whatever. As for the Mustang, the worst part about Mustangs are the people that like Mustangs, so I don’t know that I could ever recommend anybody owning any Mustang that isn’t Eleanor from Gone in 60 Seconds. The new movie, not the old one. That Eleanor was ugly as shit. I do like the looks of the Mustang GT slightly better than the Camaro, but my dollars would purchase the SS over the GT ten times out of ten.