Cool cars under $40K? Here's what we'd buy
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No one likes boring cars, especially if you’re reading DRIVEN. But not all of us have budgets that reach into the sky. We covered our choices from both the $500k Supercars and Mercedes-Benz/AMG categories recently, and you chose the winners, with the Porsche 911 Turbo and AMG GT R proving most popular, respectively.
But now its time to come crashing back to reality, and while our Expert Car Picks deals with new cars, there’s still the primary concern of available budget to consider. But the second priority is something cool – something you take a second-look back at when blipping the locking remote, or something that takes pride in the carpark or garage, something that you park away from others to avoid door dings, and are extra careful when parallel parking to avoid the dreaded gutter rash on your new wheels.
Of course, it’s easy to find cool cars: but the like of Toyota’s Supra is $100k, Subaru’s WRX STI is $60k, and a Mustang starts at $68k.. for the turbo four-cylinder. Even Mazda’s MX-5 starts at $42k.
Is there still an affordable cool car for under $40k? That’s our question and theme of this week’s Expert Car Parks, as we dive into the showrooms with a decent amount to find out what car we would buy with our own money that’s still, broadly speaking, ‘cool’.
Editor, Dean Evans: Ford Fiesta ST
Truth be told, we first started out at $30k for this cool car theme, and came up with so few options, we bumped it up to $40k, because there isn’t a lot of fun to be had under $30k, and, quite surprisingly, while the options certainly increase, even $40k isn’t the wondrous playground you’d hope for.
However, there are a few gems, and I found one in the Ford dealership. I’d fork out my own money on the Ford Fiesta ST. For a start, it’s $39,990, so $10 under the price cap. It’s a 1.5-litre turbo three-cylinder than runs 0-100s in sixes with launch control, so there’s the excitement factor covered with a very big tick. It’s a manual, so it’s involving and cool, also because there isn’t an auto offered, so you know a driver has chosen is on purpose.
It makes 147kW/290Nm, if those numbers matter, but they don’t really, because it’s also about the sound and feeling while driving it, with the three-cylinder thrum using a sound enhancer pumped into the cabin, and the lightweight agility and superb handing from the lithe 1250kg weight.
And it’s thrifty too, at just 6.3l/100km, though I’d never brag about the factory. To anyone. Ever Because that’s way too uncool. Selectable drive modes with a chequered flag track mode, now that’s something to brag about – among car mates, at least.
It’ll be confused by some people for the bigger brother Focus ST, and that’s no bad thing, and from the five colours, every one’s a winner, but black is best.
Recaro seats, 18-inch wheels, smart keyless entry and starting, 10-speaker B&O audio system, speed-sign recognition, rear-view camera… what more do you need in a cool $40k car? OK, maybe radar cruise control, but I’ll forgive it for that.
And on top of all that, it’s a practical hatch with 311 litre of boot space. But that’s not cool.
The Fiesta ST ‘is’ cool, and for that, it’s got my money.
Deputy Editor, David Linklater: Suzuki Jimny
I reckon the formula to a car being really cool is an oversupply of ability combined with a complete lack of pretension. That’s why there’s still a waiting list out to March 2021 for the Suzuki Jimny.
The Jimny is not a great road car; in fact, some would argue it’s a terrible road car. I might be one of them.
But it’s an absolute legend off-road and that’s where the appeal lies. That’s not to say all those people on the wait-list want to go off-road; in reality probably hardly any of them do. But that reputation for rock-hopping heroics is what gives Jimny its credibility.
But it also doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s ridiculously small, which does help that off-road performance – but it also makes it look unbearably cute, which Suzuki has played on in the new model with lots of styling cues from giant off-road vehicles. Not just the Mercedes-AMG G-Wagen… but also quite a lot of the G-Wagen.
With prices from $25,500 the Jimny is cheap enough that people are willing to take a punt and have a laugh. And probably have enough left in the budget to buy a bunch of accessories (Toyota FJ-alike grille anybody?) so we can all look on and enjoy.
Digital Writer, Andrew Sluys: Abarth 595 Competizione
My pick isn’t fast, nor would it score any points with the kids down on Quay St, but in my eyes, it’s undeniable cool.
Abarth’s little 595 Competizione is in a league of its own in a lot of ways, but the looks and sound are the first two things that will strike you. From the bold colours that it can be had in, to the race car wheels and decals across the side, this thing screams for attention before the engine has even been turned on.
Turning the key ignites a sound that’s like no other. It manages to mimic a turbo diesel tractor at low revs, and a Ferrari V12 further through the range, it’s awesome!
For the $40,000 budget, only the manual-equipped 595 can be had, which is actually the better choice in my eyes. Opting for an auto gets you a single-clutch automated manual transmission that leaves a lot to be desired on the smooth-shifting front.
Beneath the bonnet of this 595 sits a turbocharged 1.4-litre engine - the same one that was in the $80K Abarth 695 Tributo Ferrari all those years ago. This boost-friendly four-pot makes a respectable 132kW and 250Nm, two figures that are more than adequate for a car of this size.
Arguably, the only downside to this tiny beast is the extremely harsh ride you get from the racing suspension system that it sits on. While this may be a dealer-breaker for some, you could also see it as a constant reminder that you’re behind the wheel of a no-frills race car.
All up, this car might not be as fast as some of the other hot hatches that could be had for $40K, but it’s undoubtedly ‘cool’, and I’d love to have one.