Best Cars for $30,000
What's the best car for $30,000? Well, that really depends on what you're looking for. Sedans, SUVs, coupes, wagons and minivans are all available in this price range, as are hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric cars. Because of this, we've sampled a little bit of them all to put together this list of diverse choices that should provide you with a good place to start when shopping for a new car.
Certainly, there are other good choices as well -- especially those in our best cars for $25,000 list that with options get bumped up in the 30 range. However, these are the cars we think are the most compelling for $30,000. And we didn't just look at MSRP, either. We considered trim levels and at what price these cars become desirable (or too expensive) and also looked at the asking prices of real cars at dealerships using Autoblog's new car inventory pages.
Research the 2018 Subaru Outback
2018 Honda Accord
This would be the all-new, completely redesigned Honda Accord. In our first drive, we declared it the "best Accord Honda has ever built" and after back-to-back test drives with several competitors, found it to be the most well-rounded choice of the bunch. Although the base LX dips below $25,000, you should find a choice of diverse trim levels for less than $30,000, including the well-equipped EX, the more engaging Sport (with a manual if you want!) and the luxurious EX-L. We also like that Honda now opens up the latter two trim levels to either of its new, more efficient turbocharged engines.
Research the 2018 Honda Accord
Much like the new Accord, it's hard to find areas where the new Honda CR-V doesn't address the needs of its intended audience. And with annual sales figures topping 350,000 units, its intended audience is enormous. The CR-V's appeal starts with its packaging wizardry, squeezing a huge amount of passenger and cargo space out of relatively small exterior dimensions. It then expands with a responsive and efficient turbocharged engine (on all but the base LX trim), a more refined driving experience, a high-quality cabin and improved tech controls. It pretty much checks off every box and for $30,000, you should be able to find a well-equipped EX-L, though you'd certainly be happy with an EX.
Research the 2018 Honda CR-V
Like the CR-V, the CX-5 is all-new for 2018 and builds upon the successful formula established by its predecessor. And while Mazda's compact SUV can't match the CR-V's interior space and versatility (nothing does), it instead focusses on providing a more engaging and refined driving experience, a cabin that challenges some luxury models and an overall style arguably unmatched in the class. People will think you paid a lot more than you did for a CX-5. As we wrote of the CR-V and CX-5 in a comparison test, "Two crossover SUVs, both class leaders, but in completely different ways. Which is better? That really depends on you."
Research the 2018 Mazda CX-5
Volkswagen Golf GTI
Let's take a break from the cavalcade of family-friendly automobiles to have a little fun. Actually, come to think of it, part of the Volkswagen Golf GTI's appeal is that it allows you to have fun while still being plenty practical. And comfortable. And well-equipped. And efficient. This is a car that gearheads often dub "the only car you need," and there's a good reason it's so often recommended to listeners who write into the Spend Your Money segment of the Autoblog Podcast. We absolutely love the GTI, and for $30,000, we think you would too.
Research the Volkswagen Golf GTI
This one really surprised us. Not that we like the Pacifica — it's a top minivan choice regardless of price — it's that you can get one so cheap. Although Chrysler's excellent reinvention of the segment it created starts at around $27,000 for a base L model, we found a multitude of very well-equipped 2018 Pacifica Touring Plus trim levels at dealerships all over the country with asking prices of less than $30,000. We even found some Touring L trim levels — which packs on leather, heated seats and other luxuries — and if there are still 2017 models years left when you read this, there may even be a luxury-lined Touring L Plus available. Even if you think you prefer a different van, you'd have to be silly to not consider the Pacifica when it costs so much under MSRP.
Research the 2018 Chrysler Pacifica
2018 Subaru Outback
We certainly can't say that families lack great choices for $30,000. We've given you a sedan, a pair of crossovers, a minivan and now here's a wagon. The Subaru Outback is the original "crossover," adding SUV elements of extra ground clearance, standard all-wheel drive and more rugged styling to a wagon body style. The formula continues to this day, and although the Outback has lost the sporting bent it once possessed, it still manages to be more refined and car-like to drive than most compact SUVs. Its lower roof height also makes loading whatever you'd like onto the roof that much easier (some sort of rack is a virtual must for any Outback owner), as do the trick roof rails that swing inward to be crossbars when needed. It's a versatile, safe and efficient alternative to everyone else's SUV.
Research the 2018 Subaru Outback
Although there are plenty of hybrid cars available in this price range, we think that having some amount of all-electric range is a must these days. That means a plug-in hybrid and among them, the Chevrolet Volt reigns supreme with its estimated 53 miles of all-electric range (the Toyota Prius Prime manages only 25). That's more than enough for the there-and-back commutes of most Americans, meaning gas station fill-ups will be an absolute rarity. At the same time, its gasoline engine allows it to act as a regular hybrid on longer journeys -- no need to wait for a half hour at a Chili's as your Tesla recharges -- while its plug-in capability opens the door to lucrative tax rebates that shave its price well below $30,000. The Volt is also attractive, packed with standard infotainment tech and can be surprisingly fun to drive.
Research the Chevrolet Volt
It's shockingly easy to elevate a Mini Cooper above $30,000 — being such a customizable car does that. However, there's also no shortage of Coopers available for under that price threshold in the same variety that makes this characterful and grin-inducing little car so desirable. There are base Coopers with plenty of equipment and more powerful Cooper S models with less. We found two- and four-door models available. You may even be able to find a convertible. It just depends on where your priorities are, and for $30,000, there aren't many cars (if any) that deliver this much style and fun.