You’re likely familiar with the stereotype of a middle-aged person who impulsively splurges on an expensive new car. But there’s also a similar experience at a different life stage: buying a flashy and fun vehicle right after you get your first well-paying job. You might call it a quarter-life crisis car.
Most financial experts would argue that the last thing these young people need right now is a big loan. But if you’ve got some disposable income, and don’t want to wait until your 40s or 50s to drive a fun car, Edmunds has picked out six vehicles under $30,000 that deliver driving excitement without breaking the bank. All of the listed manufacturer suggested retail prices (MSRP) include destination fees.
2019 FORD MUSTANG
The Mustang has long provided sleek styling. What you might not know is how good the rest of the car has gotten recently. Despite representing the bottom rung of Mustangdom, the EcoBoost is powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes a stout 310 horsepower. This entry-level Mustang also comes standard with a surprising amount of racy hardware, including a limited-slip rear differential for improved traction and an electronic line-lock to facilitate burnouts (at the track only, of course).
Mustang EcoBoost starting MSRP: $27,490
2019 HONDA CIVIC
Honda offers a variety of Civic models, but the Si is the one that will get you through a quarter-life crisis. Available as a coupe or sedan, the Si comes with a 205-horsepower engine that provides quick acceleration. A lot of the enjoyment also comes from shifting your gears via the standard six-speed manual transmission. Compared to a regular Civic, you also get an adaptive suspension that enhances both handling and ride comfort, stronger brakes, a unique rear spoiler, Si-branded sport seats, an upgraded 10-speaker stereo, and a unique instrument panel.
Civic Si sedan starting MSRP: $25,220
2019 HYUNDAI KONA
The Kona is one of the best subcompact crossover SUVs on the market. When equipped with its optional 175-horsepower turbocharged engine, it gets up to speed quicker than just about everything else in the class. It’s also fun to drive around turns thanks to its sporty handling. On top of that, you get a lot for your money. Even a base Kona comes with a decent set of features, including a 7-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. Our pick, the Limited, has the upgraded engine plus extras such as leather upholstery and a premium sound system.
Kona Limited starting MSRP: $26,595
2019 JEEP WRANGLER
Here’s what you don’t get with the Wrangler: a quiet cabin, a cushy ride quality and lots of standard features. But it’s easy to overlook that when you’re getting iconic styling and an SUV that can be a capable off-roader or a rugged-looking boulevard cruiser. It’s still the only SUV available that has a removable roof and doors, too. The base Sport trim fits under our $30K limit, but it’s missing features you might expect from a vehicle made in 2019, such as air conditioning. You’ll need to spend a little more to get them.
Wrangler Two-Door Sport starting MSRP: $29,540
2019 MAZDA MX-5 Miata
The Miata is a two-seat roadster that prioritizes thrills over frills. You won’t find expansive elbow room, high-tech features or generous trunk space here. But the Miata’s small size and nimble handling contributes to the fun. Its simple fabric top that can be lowered in just a few seconds. A bevy of upgrades for 2019 makes the Miata enticing, including a revised 181-horsepower engine that gives the Miata quick acceleration.
Miata Sport starting MSRP: $26,650
2019 VOLKSWAGEN GOLF GTI
The Golf GTI blends a user-friendly interior, practicality and performance for an attainable price. VW’s formula is to take the humble Golf hatchback and transform it with a more powerful engine (228 horsepower for 2019), a sport-tuned suspension, upgraded brakes, and subtle enhancements such as bigger wheels and sport seats. For 2019, the limited-edition Rabbit trim level is an intriguing pick. It slots right above the base S trim and adds extras such as adaptive LED headlights and special exterior paint colors. Golf GTI Rabbit starting MSRP: $29,790
EDMUNDS SAYS: It’s OK to splurge a little and replace your old hand-me-down car with a new ride. The cars on this list should help keep your budget intact. Additionally, many of our picks are available used and are within the same vehicle generation, which means that you’ll retain all the features of their new counterparts but for far less money.