Photo: Honda

Ashwin is in his 20s and has some disposable income to spend on a fun car that can handle road trips and track days alike. It doesn’t need to be super practical, but he does want it to be somewhat reliable. With a budget of up to $25,000, what car should he buy?

(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars.)

Here’s the scenario:

I’m a 20 something that finally has the disposable income to make a financially irresponsible decision. My current car is a Mk6 GTI that has seen 160k miles of rough loving, and has been coopted by my girlfriend for daily commuting (I work from home). I would like to purchase a vehicle that I can begin to take to HPDE events and track days, but also won’t bleed my wallet dry. I also do road trips around once or twice a month from DC to NC or Chicago. I have been trying to nail down an AP2 S2000 but the prices on those things have been skyrocketing. While I don’t mind a classic, reliability is a concern so a newer model wouldn’t be a bad idea. I am looking to spend up to $25k

Quick Facts:

Budget: Up to $25,000

Daily Driver: Sort of

Location: Washington D.C.

Wants: Fun, trackable, somewhat reliable

Doesn’t want: Hight maintenance costs

Expert 1: Tom McParland – It Doesn’t Get Any More Obvious


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Ashwin, you are a younger dude looking for a fun ride without that pesky need for practicality, and the S2000 market is too challenging. My friend, you need the cliche answer of automotive cliche answers: a Mazda Miata. It’s suitable for track days and road trips as long as you pack light, and nothing in this price bracket will touch the Mazda in terms of durability.

The only real hiccup is you need to search far and wide for an example with reasonable miles at a reasonable price. Here is an RF Grand Touring with all the goodies for $26,000. But this one is, unfortunately, an automatic, so you may want to hold out for one with three pedals. If you don’t need many fancy options, a brand-new Miata starts around $28,000, and you’ll get the more powerful motor that was introduced a few years into the ND generation. I’ve encountered Mazda dealers willing to order new Miatas without a markup, so if you’re patient, that could be worth waiting for.

Expert 2: Bob Sorokanich – The Answer Is Always C6


Ashwin, you live in America’s capital, and so I implore you: Do it for America. Your situation is ideal for a Corvette. In fact, your situation demands a Corvette.

Your budget puts you right on the cusp between C5 and C6, and honestly, either one would be great. Any generation of Corvette will be a totally pleasant highway cruiser, while still embarrassing newer and more expensive machines at the track or autocross. A nice hardtop ‘Vette will be roomy enough for you and your partner to road-trip in total comfort, and the hatchback trunk will give you plenty of space for a weekend’s worth of luggage.

Here’s a nice-looking 2005 C6 in New York State with a manual and just over 62,000 miles, priced exactly one dollar below your budget cap. If you wanna save a few bucks for maintenance (or mods), there are literally tons of C5s available in the low-$20,000 range, and most of them show less than 50,000 miles. I prefer the styling of the C6 myself — I think it’s the handsomest of all Corvettes — but you really can’t go wrong either way. Your neighbor, noted Corvette guy Joe Biden, will approve.

Expert 3: Lawrence Hodge – Get a Little Crazy

I want to apologize. I know you said you didn’t want high maintenance costs. But as car enthusiasts (which I assume you are) sometimes you just have to do something crazy and fun so you can enjoy yourself. Within reason of course. So my suggestion is this 2009 Mercedes SLK 55 AMG.

You can’t go wrong with something like this if you want to track it: 5.4-liter 355 horsepower V8 paired to a seven speed auto and rear-wheel drive. It’s an AMG so, of course it’s quick too, with the ability to hit 60 mph in under five seconds, all day long. While I won’t guarantee that some of the maintenance on this thing might be costly, it’s a slight trade-off considering the example I found for you. Brand new this thing started at over $66,000. But I found a clean 13-year-old example for exactly $25,000. What’s better is that whoever had this thing didn’t drive it much, as it has just under 86,000 miles on it.

So, do yourself a favor. Buy this thing, don’t over think the costs (if you can afford to) and go have some serious fun.

Expert 4: Andy Kalmowitz – Get a Car That Cool People Drive

Photo: Landen Motors

Ashwin, my man. You know what’s a lot of fun? A 330 horsepower inline-6 engine. You know what isn’t fun? Reliability. It’s boring. It’s predictable. Who needs it? Not me, and not you either. That’s why the perfect car for what you’re looking for in the E85 BMW Z4M convertible.

Just look at it. It’s gorgeous. This generation of Z4 has aged so well, and I’m not biased at all. You get the engine and transmission from the E46 M3 mated to a beautiful convertible body. It’s a Miata with balls, and a C6 Corvette with grace.

This particular car I’ve found for you is a peach within your price range. Black on black on black with no accidents. That’s rare in a BMW M car of this vintage. All-in-all it looks rather well taken care of. It’s even got the dumb pop up navigation screen you’ll never use! On top of all that, it’s well within your budget. That means you’ll have money left over for when it shits the bed on a busy highway.

You’re looking for something fun, Ashwin. Look no further than the E85 BMW Z4M. It may leave you stranded on the side of the road once in a while, but you’ll be smiling ear to ear every second before that happens.

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