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Here’s Proof You Can Drive a Gorgeous Car, Even for Cheap

While your car can be practical, reliable and useful, I submit that you will never really love your car unless it is at least somewhat aesthetically pleasing. To that end, I have this thing I do, and it has become a test of sorts for all of the vehicles I own and test. It’s called the “look-back test.” I park, and as I walk away from the vehicle, I look over my shoulder at whatever I’m driving — and if I don’t go “oh yeah, I like that,” or have some positive feeling, it fails. It’s easy to love something that costs six figures, and yes, looks are subjective — but here are several interesting cars I found here on Autotrader from just about every price bracket that would pass my “look-back test.”

I’ll start at a nicely attainable $5,000 and go up to $33,560, which is the average price of a new car in the U.S. Sure, just because these cars pass the test doesn’t mean they’re reliable. But they look good — and they’re probably pretty fun to drive. Plus, you all know the old adage: cheap, fast and reliable … pick two.


1989 Porsche 944 Coupe

You don’t have to be one of those pundits on Velocity who speculate on vehicle values to understand that used Porsche car values always rise. SUVs… less so. Even the eternally disliked front-engine “transaxle” Porsches like the 924, 968 and this 944 are going to go up in value at some point. I owned a Guards Red 951 (aka, the 944 Turbo), and it was a hoot. It was also fairly unreliable, but I ended up selling it for a bit more than I paid. The more pedestrian 944 is known for being much more reliable, and it still looks the part. This manual transmission example is hanging out at a dealer in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with just over 156,000 miles. The seller notes the car has a new timing belt, tensioners, water pump and drive belts, which covers a lot of the more expensive items you might need to swap. Just make sure you check for rust.


2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Coupe

If the 944 is a bit too practical, or too slow, try this one on for size. Sure, at 189,757 miles, this Corvette Z06 has probably seen some unimaginable things. But if it remains reliable, these are fantastic cars — and this one for sale in Seagoville, Texas, is one of the cheapest Z06 models available nationwide here on Autotrader. If the mileage is too high for you, there are plenty of C5 Z06 models in the lower-100K-mile range for around $15,000.


2000 BMW M5

The BMW M5 is one of the best cars ever made. Period. The E39 M5, produced between 1998 and 2003, is one of the best of the best. Produced at the Dingolfing factory in Germany (which sounds like a silly place), the E39 came with a 4.9-liter S62 V8 putting out a potent 400 horsepower. Like the 944, these cars should hold their value over time because of their place in sports sedan history. This one, for sale in Cincinnati, has 129,386 miles — and it can be yours for a steal at just $10,999. Like a lot of cars this age, the Carfax isn’t perfect: It was originally a Canadian car, and it was stolen back in 2002. But at tad under $11,000, the price is right.


2008 Lexus IS F

The IS F was one of the first hints that Lexus wasn’t just a purveyor of boring, albeit luxuriously appointed, transportation. It predates the bonkers LFA by several years, even though two two cars shared the stage in concept form at the 2007 North American International Auto Show. The IS F’s party piece is its engine, an excellent 5.0 V8, which is what every car should be optioned with. Add in some legendary reliability and a handsome exterior, and you’ve got a sweet, sweet ride at $19,283. This pretty black F car is for sale in Quincy, IL at a Toyota dealer, with 114,406 miles on the clock.


2015 Subaru WRX Limited

In an effort to find a little something for everyone, this should silence the AWD crew. The WRX first landed here in the U.S. nearly two decades ago, and the “Bugeye” front end was a bit polarizing. What wasn’t polarizing was the way it drove, as it was fantastic. The third generation looked like a Corolla, the fourth generation looked like the new Corolla, and it took all the way to the fifth generation seen here to get things back on track. The black 2015 WRX Limited above, on sale now at a dealer in Washington state, does not look like a Corolla and has continued to evolve that AWD witchcraft. Too bad it’s not World Rally Blue.


2018 Ford Mustang GT

Do you want most of the performance that Doug got driving that $53,000 2018 Mustang GT? Well what if I told you that you could get it for a mere $32,595? The 2018 Mustang is a great car, and while this is not the Premium model — it has cloth seats and a tiny LCD screen — it has the all-important Performance Pack. Sure, it doesn’t have the fancy MagneRide system you get in the Performance Pack 2, but it’s no slouch. You get the same Brembo brakes (6-piston front brake calipers with larger rotors), uprated springs, bracing and other suspension bits, plus some gorgeous 19-inch wheels and some aero pieces to complete the look. Or you can pony up the extra $2,500 for Pack 2, but that pushed me beyond my completely artificial $33,560 ceiling. Either way, near-$40,000 Mustang GTs are now $33,595 GTs! You can’t go wrong!

The bottom line: You should love your car — and you don’t have to spend a fortune to do it. If you don’t, you bought the wrong car.

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  1. The Mustang looks pretty awesome in that color. You can find 15-17s in the 20’s now which are still no slouch. 

    I really want a C5 Corvette. They are my favorite of the “modern” Corvettes (C4-C6) that are affordable. Late 90’s GM to me is much better than 80’s and mid 00’s GM. C6’s looked more like fake Ferrari’s and the circle rear lights I never warmed up to. C7s look the best but we are talking 4-5x the cost then. 

    • Yeah, I think a lot of people agree the C5 is aging better than the C6.  I like them both, would happily own a ZO6 from either era.

      And yes, as good as the 2018 GT is, the 15-17 is near as good and getting cheaper.  I will probably have another V8 Mustang as a daily driver in the next 5 years or so. 

      Although I’m watching CTS-V/ATS-V and Hellcat prices too…

  2. I think Doug took out my joke about how the guy with the gas can, in the back of the ZO6 pic, will always pop up at a moments notice to fill it up if you purchase with them! 

    • Probably less so on the 944, that drivetrain is pretty basic in comparison to the turbo version that I had.  That said, any 15+ year old car will require some additional maintenance.  But yeah, Germany as a country of origin may be a multiplier. haha

    • Eh, the M5 is pretty reasonable as far as old German cars go. They’re pretty well built and all of their common issues are well-known and have easy fixes. They’re pretty easy cars to work on, and there’s no shortage of people that know how to work on them for money (like me!).

  3. Great article!  Love these kinds of posts, and would like to see more please.  Completely agree with your selections, and there are probably a lot more out there so keep up the good work.

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