Fun And Interesting Used Cars For Under $10,000Looking for a great used car but have a limited budget? If you can manage to stretch your budget to $10,000, there are lots of great cars and trucks to choose from in the used marketplace.
We challenged the Autoblog editors to find a great, versatile used car, truck or SUV for $10,000 or less. As you might expect from a group of auto journalists, there are some oddballs thrown in for fun, too.
Head on through to see what we found. But if your budget is a little bit smaller, check out our top picks for used cars under $5,000.
2005 BMW 325i – Greg Migliore
A decade-old 3 Series hits on a number of levels. It still looks reasonably cool. Friends will notice and nod approvingly at your choice of a Bimmer, while enthusiasts will appreciate your good taste in suspensions and steering. It’s like drinking a Heineken. It’s seldom out of place and conjures class and appeal with a lot of different crowds.
There’s plenty to like in the 325i: rear-wheel drive, an inline six hooked up to a five-speed manual and an interior that’s simple and clean. The outside has a similar vibe. Yes, this is obviously not the latest 3 Series, but it still looks smart and stylish. The car is just old enough that it hearkens back to a time before seemingly every luxury car was dripping in LEDs, fantastic curves and eye-popping nav screens. If you look hard, it’s not difficult to get one well under $10,000.
2008 Honda Fit – Sebastian Blanco
My current car is the eminently practical 2007 Honda Fit. I bought it maybe three years ago and paid a few grand over $10,000 for it. Despite my luck in being able to drive a lot of cool new cars, I haven’t regretted my purchase for a minute. The car is roomy, relatively fuel-efficient and fun to drive.
Fuel economy is the car’s major weak spot, in my eyes. The EPA says the car gets 30 miles per gallon combined (27 city and 35 on the highway) and I’ve been getting about 34-35 mpg on average for the past three years and 20,000-plus miles. That’s not awful, but when I write about plug-in cars and big, 40+ mpg sedans, 35 just feels low.
Anyway, the Fit itself is a damn good car. It’s not fancy, it’s not the prettiest vehicle on the road and it’s not even all that connected (my base version has a $150 aftermarket iPod connector kit, since there was no built-in way to get my tunes onto the stereo system. The Sport Trim from the first-gem model does have an AUX in jack). It may lack eye-grabbing looks, but the Fit has lots of space for two bicycles inside (without the front wheels), and this setup keeps the entire back space open for other travel necessities. The small car feels plenty planted on the road, whether I’m driving in the hot summer or an icy Michigan winter. With plenty of sub-$10,000 2007 and 2008 Fits available throughout the country, if I were to get another car with a $10k budget, you’d have to work pretty hard to convince me to get something other than a Fit. Next time, though, I’ll try harder to find a manual model.
Research the 2008 Honda Fit
2006 Land Rover LR3 – Jeremy Korzeniewski
Let's be honest. There are lots of very good choices when shopping for a used car in the $10,000-range. You could be supremely practical and buy a low-mileage Toyota or Honda. Splurge a bit and get an Acura. Want to buy American? Buick models have proven practically bulletproof when equipped with GM's tried-and-true 3.8-liter V6 engine.
Or, you could look for fun. Buy a Subaru WRX and bask in the glory of a turbocharged engine, manual transmission and all-wheel drive. (No, really. Buy one before all the good ones are gone.)
But you could also go off the beaten path. Quite literally. Take a look at the Land Rover LR3. This is the model that replaced the Discovery in America. While the old Disco was known as one of the most unreliable vehicles of its time, the LR3 righted many of those wrongs. The old Rover V8 was replaced with a modern 4.4-liter V8 sourced from Jaguar (a 4.0L V6 from Ford was also available), the chassis was all-new and built to last, and the air suspension system made sure even the worst obstacles wouldn't stop the Landie. It's even reliable (sort of).
Consider a 2006 model to avoid any potential first-model-year issues with the 2005 LR3. Aim for a V8, with the luxurious HSE package. You think different, LR3 owner, and for that, I salute you.
Research the 2006 Land Rover LR3
2004 Mazda Mazdaspeed MX-5 Miata – Alex Kierstein
MX-5 Miatas, as a general rule, don't need more power. It's not what they're about. And if you do, the aftermarket is happy to help you slip a V8 or a turbo kit under the hood. So if it seems odd that the Mazdaspeed is on our list, after that disclaimer, it's because these factory-turbocharged models are much more than the increased output would have you believe.
For one, they're rare, with an abbreviated two-year model run. It'll be harder to find one, but you'll have a better shot of getting an enthusiast-owned example that's been well taken care of. Secondly, they're noticeably quicker than their non-turbo counterparts, but don't give up much of the basic goodness the second-generation Miatas are known for. It handles as well (or better than) the non-turbo cars, and trades a slight loss in redline for 36 more ponies.
It's not a bad bargain, with book values sitting slightly to either side of $10k. The answer is always Miata, the saying goes, but the Mazdaspeed MX-5 is a better answer if you want to have one of the best special-edition Miatas ever made.
Research the 2004 Mazda Mazdaspeed MX-5 Miata
1999 Mercedes C43 AMG – Dan Roth
It’s a lot easier to find something interesting at $5,000 than it is for $10,000. It’s probably because $10K is pretty serious used car money. You can get a respectably boring vehicle all day long for 10 grand. Or a box truck.
Because we’re talking about real money, I felt obligated to be marginally responsible. I puzzled for a while, trying to come up with something that seems responsible, even conservative, but really isn’t.
How about a Mercedes-Benz C43 AMG? When Mercedes had the chutzpah to introduce this car in the late 1990s, I was impressed. Take the C-Class sedan, stuff in a V8 from the S-Class; it’s a Krautrock take on good old rock n’ roll.
These are pretty rare, so you’ll need to work hard to find one, and it’s not like anyone won’t know that it’s something special, so be prepared to spend all the money. Also be prepared for expensive upkeep. Who cares, though? Toe into that V8 and hilarity will have the propensity to ensue.
2006 Mini Cooper S – Brandon Turkus
For just $10K, you can find a wide array of vehicles from the new Mini’s first (and best) generation. Thanks largely to its 1.6-liter, supercharged four-cylinder, there’s a terrier-like feistiness to the old R53, as this generation was known. While fine on its own, the Mini enjoys a robust aftermarket that can easily increase the standard 170 horsepower to something even more potent. Seriously, a modded Mini is a surprising straight-line performer. Also, a few simple tweaks will unleash the absolutely intoxicating whine from the Roots-type supercharger.
But by far, the best thing about the old Cooper S is the way it drives. The R53, was built before Mini worried about silly things like ride comfort. It’s rough and uncouth on bumpy roads, but is absolutely dynamite on the right piece of pavement. Aside from maybe the Mazda MX-5, there is simply no car on the market that boasts such entertaining behavior at such a low price.
As for why you should go for a 2006, specifically, there are a few reasons. Mini offered to paint the roof in Pure Silver, the only year such an option was available on the standard car, meaning there are a number of rare, standout color schemes (like my personal car’s Chili Red and Pure Silver color scheme). More importantly, though, 2006 was the final year of this generation, meaning the wrench-turners in Oxford should (and I say should) have turned out their best, most reliable work. That’s not to say the R53 is perfect – it’s English after all – but it’s a wildly entertaining, very handsome take on the small performance car.
Research the 2006 Mini Cooper
2013 Nissan Leaf – Michael D. Austin
Electric vehicles have terrible resale values, which makes for cheap entry into battery-powered transportation. And if you're looking to try an EV without locking into a multi-year lease (or want to go all-in for easy money) look no further than the Nissan Leaf. Specifically, look at 2013 and newer models, which list right around our $10,000 limit. This model year brought a number of upgrades to the Leaf, like improved steering and brake feel, a more efficient cabin heater, and better cabin materials. Look for SV and SL models, which come with a 6.6 kWh onboard charger that enables 4-hour charging times on 220-volt power.
That's half the charging time of the Leaf S and previous model year, which vastly increases this EV's practicality. Still an EPA range of 75 miles gives most people range anxiety, even if that distance covers almost every daily driving scenario. It has seatbelts for 5, a comfortable upright seating position, plus EV advantages like quick responses and near-silent cruising. And you never have top stop off at the gas station. If you have another car for road trips, the Leaf is an ideal second vehicle, especially if it's used for local driving and errands.
Research the 2013 Nissan Leaf
Porsche 944 – Chris Bruce
Around a decade ago, the Porsche 944 would have fit into the $5,000 challenge, but as with many fun cars, prices have been on the upswing in recent years. Still with $10,000 to spend, finding a quality driver should be absolutely no problem, perhaps even the higher performance S or S2 models.
Often thought of thought of as an unloved stepchild in the Porsche ranks, the 944 is a sublime handler. Later models bring even more power to the table through increasingly large four-cylinder engines at up to 3.0-liters. They might not be pinnacle performers by modern standards, but these coupes are still fantastic from behind the wheel. Plus, opening the big sunroof and windows provides much of the fun of driving the convertible, and the rear hatch actually offers useful room. You can drive a 944 everyday and still get loads of enjoyment for every cent of that $10,000.