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Car Corner
Cars Worth Waiting For (Annual)

May 1, 2014
By Scott Lewis

NOTE: This article has moved to May (it was previously a September annual column). Why the move? Originally I wanted it in September to coincide with when new model year cars tend to come out. That happens less and less in September, and announcements come all the time (like the 2015 Mustang getting its announcement in December of 2013).

I have done most of my own shopping for a car in the spring or summer months. I expect to buy my next car in 2016... and that will happen either late spring or summer that year. So I moved the date of this article up to May so when the time comes I will have done the research for my summer 2016 shopping.

New Direction

At the end of 2013 I was forced to trade in my 2004 Mini Cooper S. It had 126k miles on it and was costing more to repair than it was worth. During 2013 I needed an A/C repair for $2450, a starter for $850, struts and valve cover gasket for $1600 and finally a half-shaft CV joint for $328. I could not live with such an unreliable car anymore. It was taking a toll on my credit card I was close to going bankrupt. I traded it in on a 2012 Ford Focus SEL Sedan, with 30k miles.

Essentially the Ford Focus was cheap, but good enough. My youngest son went with me when I shopped, because it is likely he will get this car in 2016 (unless I buy him something else).

I have no problem handing down the Focus to him. However, I will still be paying child support until that summer. I can't let him have it during the second half of his senior year without getting something else for myself. But with child support payments I don't know what, if anything I will be able to afford.

In the summer of 2016 I will be free of child support and will be able to afford any car payment I want (within reason). So there may be a little juggling during the first half of 2016. But once I get past my son's graduation... I can seriously look at whatever I want (again, within reason).

I will have little restrictions, if any, for the kind of car I want to get. That means this list is really going to be a shopping list for a relatively new car... the "within reason" part. I can't see buying a brand new car. I would just hate the depreciation. And whatever I get must be reliable enough that I don't pay too much for maintenance after any possible warrantee runs out.

My goal for this column is to have interesting cars that are "worth waiting" until they get below $20,000 in the used marketplace. With a mild down payment it would not be difficult to get a car payment under $300/month. I am going to stick to that. However, if a car is special enough I will be willing to go up to $25,000.

That's the the current direction... look for a car that should be available for $20,000 or less in the summer of 2016, with a couple of exception if they are truly special (to me).

Mainstream Cars

Cadillac CTS Coupe - These came out in 2011. I love this car. It is definitely a car that will get me to break the budget and go as high at $25,000. However, this is also a "hold over" car. The ATS Coupe was just announced, and it might be a better fit for me. But being newer the ATS Coupes will take a while to reach the $20-25K range.

Examples: I found a 2011 CTS Coupe on Autotrader with 52K miles for $24,948. It was dark gray and looked perfect. There is a very good chance this is what I want for a daily driver "when I grow up." The CTS Coupe is listed first because I think it will be my first choice for a car in 2016.

Cadillac CTS VSport - The CTS was redesigned for 2014, The VSport is the "middle" child in the CTS sedan line up (no coupe yet). There is the base CTS which gets a 320 hp V-6, and we assume the CTS-V will return with its 556 hp (or more?) Supercharged V-8. The VSport comes with a twin turbo 3.6 V-6 that makes 420 hp. 0-60 is under 5 seconds. This is more than fast enough for me. These cars are going to cost at least $60,000 new, so they won't be affordable (by my standard) for quite a while. But I could see trading my way up to this after driving a CTS Coupe. Of course, we expect a Coupe version of this car as well. Hmmm.

Examples: While waiting for the 3rd gen cars to become affordable... I thought I would see where the 2nd Gen CTS-V was at. They can be had for just under $40K. I don't see them dropping below $25K within the next two years, but I will be checking.

Corvette: Always a hopeful. I have a friend that has owned two Corvettes as daily drivers. A C5 and a C6. I would prefer to restrict my search for 2008 or newer model cars with the full leather interior... including a leather covered dash. This is as upscale as the Corvette gets (in the C6). At least until the C7 works itself way, way down in price. Of course, a Corvette is the second car that will get me to raise the bar to $25,000.

Examples: The first to capture my eye was a 2008 Electric Blue Vette with 72k miles for $25k. I love the color. It did not look to have the leather dash. I did see a black 2009 with 64k miles for $27k and it did show stitching on the dash in one picture. But there were not enough pictures for me to tell if it was truly the full leather interior, and if that stitching was for leather or some faux leather. I expect that even if I look for a Vette... it will be a journey trying to get the interior I want.

BMW 228i - This was announced this year from BMW. It is replacing the 1-Series. I like the refinements they made to it. I could see getting the 228i instead of the 235i. I think that the turbo four will give enough power for the street, and with one of the sportier suspension offerings it should do great on a twist road. I look forward to reading about them in the coming years.

Example: These are not out yet... but I did check the price on the 128i. I found a promising black coupe with 31k miles for $19,995 with a manual transmission. I would not go over $20k for a 1st Gen 128i. We will have to see how the prices go for the 228i when they reach the used car marketplace.

Audi S3 - This is not even out yet (as I wrote this paragraph). I really like the overall size and styling. This car is supposed to get 290 hp (I believe) in a sedan a little smaller than the current A4/S4. I think that will be perfect for me. I don't need a back seat much, but it will be there in a pinch.

Chevrolet Camaro Convertible - I am growing more and more fond of this car. I have a 2012 calendar (I know... old) hanging in my cubicle at work... it is always displaying the 2007 Camaro Convertible Concept car. Nice! I priced a Camaro for an article on new cars between $25-32K. I priced out a convertible with a 6 cylinder engine and 6 speed manual transmission. I will definitely keep my eye on these over the next two years to see if it holds my attraction.

Example: A quick search showed two... one for $18,995 with 31k miles and another for $26,987 with 10k miles. The $19k car did not have the gauges in the console... a must have option for me. I will be tracking the price of these. Wanting a specific version (6 cylinder with manual trans) will limit my choices drastically. But I think that will be sporty enough for me. Or maybe I end up test driving an SS with the V-8 and can't turn it away. Hurst makes a set of wheels for this car that are very much like the wheels in the 07 concept car on my calendar. I will definitely be adding them to this car... and maybe a couple of minor upgrades to make the car even more sporty. You know... a little suspension, Recaro seats, CAT back exhaust. Nothing drastic... and nothing that could not be turned back to stock in a long weekend.

Mustang - I have to say I am initially very impressed with the new Mustang for 2015. I have heard it is going to get much better interior materials. That is a big thing for me. I do not want a Mustang that feels like a cheap rental car. If the new Mustang gets a nice interior (and I mean the materials you touch and feel, not electronic gadgets), then I could see getting one of the turbo 4s (with a little over 300 hp) and a sport suspension. I could see this being a sweet car on a twisty road. Like a common man's BMW (even though BMW is getting further and further from this). I would love to get the 50th Anniversary Mustang. I love the look, but with only 1964 of them being made, I don't suspect I will be able to find one any time soon for the money I will have in 2016.

Example: Having said the above.. I don't know if I would consider a 2011-2014 Mustang. Their interiors really do need an upgrade. Unless... it was a Boss 302. The best deal on AutoTrader I have seen recently was a 2012 Boss 302 with 15k miles for $34,599. These have a long way to go before I can afford one. We'll just have to see how good the new Mustang is for 2015.

Miata: My youngest son has been hounding me that Miatas are terrible cars... and for girls. True enthusiasts know that the Miata is the best "bang for the buck" sports car out there. And there are literally a gazillion of them out there on the market. But I am waiting with baited breath to see the next gen car... due out in 2015 or 2016. Hurry up Mazda!

Examples: I saw a 2010 Hard Top edition with 26K miles for $17.9k. Not bad. There are just too many to choose from for an article like this. If I decide to get a Miata I will look hard for just the right options. I have seen ones with an almost orange leather interior. It looks very good. But there are so many of these out there it should be easy to find something for well under $20K that would make a fun daily driver.

2011+ Dodge Charger R/T: The Charger made it onto this list briefly in the past. When my oldest son liked them, and I thought I could get one and pass it onto him. That never happened so the Charger got removed. I did not like the 1st Gen Chargers. The interiors were terrible. Worse than a Mustang, and unlike a Mustang no real good reason to put up with a sub par interior. Then they redesigned the Charger in 2011. I like them. The exterior styling is nice, and the interior is much improved. I could definitely see getting one of these if... I was in the market for a powerful, full size sedan. For the last few years the Charger has been alone in this segment. It truly is a 4 door Muscle Car. Yes, purists will complain that a real Muscle Car only has 2 doors. If you are being that pure then the Mustang, Camaro & Challenger are Pony Cars, not Muscle Cars. Which also means there are no Muscle Cars since the GTO left the scene. The Charger is the closest thing to a Muscle Car we have today. Sure, you could get a CTS-V, but that is in another league than the Charger. So are the M3. RS4 & C63 AMG. These are not affordable performance sedans. Granted... the new Chevrolet SS (basically an imported Holden) is as good a car (probably better) than the Charger. However, the Charger beats the SS in looks. The SS looks like an update to the bland Malibu or Impala. It has no real street cred, unlike the Charger (can you say H-E-M-I). The Charger looks a lot more muscular than the car from "down under." This car is what I would define as a guilty pleasure. I like it, even though I shouldn't. Where else can you get a V-8, rear wheel drive car that can carry four adults in comfort today? Of course... you can always get even more masculine with an SRT-8 or Bumble Bee edition, but those are going to take too long to become affordable (by this column's definition).

Examples: A quick search turned up a few cars right on the cusp of my price range. I saw plenty with less than 50k miles, but the prices were still in the $20-25k range. The cheapest I found so far was a 2011 with 43k miles for $19,999... right at the magic "affordable" price for this article.

Ford Focus ST: Now that I own a Focus (SEL) I like it enough that I would love to test the ST version. It is highly likely that I will pass my current Focus to my son when he reaches driving age. I could easily see getting a Focus ST as a daily driver. And then get some of the more powerful cars on this list as a second car. If I were to get a Focus ST, it would have to have the Recaro seats. Note: this will make me miss my Mini Cooper less.

Examples: When I was looking I saw a Tangerine Scream ST with only 457 miles for $22k. I have to wonder why someone would trade in a car with less than 1000 miles. Plus I am not sure I want a Boy Racer color like that. I did find a black one with 24k miles for $21k. Next year these will be all over the place for under $20k.

What About Maintenance?

The car below should be perfectly valid cars. However, the cost of maintenance on them has to be a concern if this is going to be a daily driver.

2002-2008 BMW Z4: Yes... a two seater. There is no reason why, when both my sons have cars of their own, I can't get a convertible for my primary transportation. However, now we slip into an issue with maintenance. Having spent $5,000 in 2013 to repair a Mini Cooper, essentially a BMW, I am a little gun-shy about getting a car that could be expensive to maintain. I very much prefer the styling of the E85 version of the Z4 (2002–2008). These are already affordable (by my criteria). So if this is what I want, it's just a matter of finding the lowest mileage car I can. I just have to decide long and hard if I want to risk buying a possible money pit.

Example: I saw a really nice 2003 Z4 3.0i with 25k miles for $16,950. Sweet! It did have an automatic, but for this car I have not decided if that is a bad thing. I would stick with the 3.0 for automatics... which this one was. A nice grand touring car with an automatic. It makes sense. I would only consider the 2.5i version with a manual. I have driven a 325Ci with the auto from the same timeframe, and they are sluggish. But this example, though low in mileage, is even older than my Mini Cooper was, and that scares me a little

BMW E46 M3: The 3-Series has been on this list in one form or another for some time. Like the Z4 above... I am concerned with cost of ownership (maintenance). But I really like these cars. However, I am limited my 3-Series search to the M3. I know.. I am limiting myself to the version with the highest potential repair costs. This car may have to move to another column... of cars that will not be daily transportation.

Examples: In a quick search the best mileage/price compromise I found was a red convertible M3 with 42k miles for $22k. Any M3 under $20k had over 50k miles. The red one was a 2001 model with a manual trans. Nice ride! Another red one with 55k miles was at $19,999 with much better pictures. Sweet!

Audi TT/A5: These cars are so close. Especially the later Mk II TT (2006+) which looks less like a bathtub turned up-side-down. Either of these I could see with the DSG transmission and a chip mod to jack the HP to a higher level. Though I would prefer a CTS Coupe for styling. Cost of ownership might come into play here as well. I have not tracked the reliability of recent Audi cars, but if a repair is needed outside of warrantee, it will be expensive.

Examples: I found a 2008 TT 2.0 Coupe with 48k miles for $20k. Right in line with my target price. It was silver, so kind of dull, IMO. I also saw a much nicer looking one in black (nicer in that I liked the color better) with only 35k miles for $22k. Not bad. As for the A5, I haven't seen any get below $20,000 yet, but I did see a nice 2009 Black A5 with the 3.2 V-6 and Quattro for $24k. Unfortunately it had 80k miles. That is not a lot if you are buying a Camry/Accord/Altima or the like. But a premium car like an Audi or BMW, I want lower mileage than that... just in case.

Porsche Boxster: Maintenance... yea... it's a Porsche. Plus there is the dreaded intermediate shaft-bearing failure (a.k.a. IMS bearing. See here and here). Assuming these two articles are correct, this is not an issue for Porsche models 2006 and newer. But having owned a 1999 911 (I don't think they had this issue) I do know that Porsches are costly cars to maintain. They are wonderful cars, though. I have a friend that traded his Boxster in on another car... and regrets it. So I keep dreaming of one day owning one... 2006 or newer it seems. I just don't see owning a Porsche as my only car. Also... if ever there was a car that makes a great second car... this has to be it.

Examples: Due to my fear of the IMS bearing... I searched for 2006 or newer Boxsters and Cayman. The least expensive Boxster I've seen with reasonable mileage is a 2007 Boxster with 46k miles for $22k. It was Midnight Blue Metallic and looked very sharp. This car could almost get me to forget that Porsches are expensive to maintain. The best compromise between mileage and price for a Cayman I saw recently was a 2007 blue one with 48k miles for $25k. Again... it was so beautiful that it makes you forget these cars are expensive to own, even if the purchase price is affordable.

Lost Appeal or Moving

The remainder of these cars have either lost their appeal (with me), or I think they belong in another list, such as a list of cars that would make great second cars.

Scion FR-S / Subaru BRZ: Wow, these have already lost their appeal on me. The low torque of the engine is definitely the culprit here. I just can't see driving a car that is sluggish at low revs. I could get a GTI and enjoy it more, or another Mini Cooper, or a Focus ST. Sorry.

Audi A4/S4 Sedans: With the latest update to the Cadillac CTS and the ATS, these have dropped off my radar... along with getting a non M3 BMW 3-Series.

2003-2004 Mustang Cobra: This is not a car I want for a daily driver. I think I would drive one more sparingly. besides, I decided before finishing this article that this car was moving to my annual Affordable Future Classics list (in December).

Honda S2000: This car is a conundrum. On the one hand it is a damn fine sports car. One the other hand it is a pretty hard core sports car. On the next hand these are starting to get old. And yet on another hand they are a Honda and should have Honda reliability. Wow.. that's four hands. A real handful. I might want one of these someday, but am 95% sure I don't want one for a daily driver. Granted, I should probably test drive one first. I am sure there are some low mileage ones out there that should put my mind to rest over maintenance costs. But these are old in a sense, so you won't see modern amenities like iPod/iPhone connectors, or even an Aux jack. Finally I worry that the high revving nature of their engines will make them less fun to drive day to day, but more fun on a curvy back road. Unfortunately I do a lot of boring highway miles to and from work.

Examples: I did a quick look and saw a car with only 20k miles for $19k. That sounds pretty good to me. Maybe this car should go into the Affordable Future Classics category, since the low mileage example was a 2002... already 12 years old. Or maybe it should get me to start a column dedicated to "second cars."

Mini Cooper: What?!? Yes, putting over $5,000 into repairs on a car in one year... and then only getting $4,000 for it as a trade has dampened my enthusiasm for the Mini Cooper. In fact, shortly after trading in my Mini Cooper I saw a video review on CNet about the new Mini Cooper Coupe, and they complained about the reliability problems of these cars. That's pretty bad when a tech web site knows about the reliability of a car it is reviewing since they only review new cars, and don't do long term testing. To have CNet point it out in a video is pretty alarming (I don't recall them ever doing that for another car). So... I do not see myself getting another Mini Cooper for daily transportation. That does not mean I don't like the cars. In fact, I love them. I owned two. And I could definitively see getting another one some day. But only as a fun car, not a daily driver. Or maybe if the mileage was super low... and the price was right... and I had another car in mind for a second car.

Chrysler Crossfire SRT-6: I definitely want one of these.... someday. But I don't think I want one for daily transportation in 2016. I think I will be moving this car to another column as a "second" car. Granted... I only want a coupe. The coupe looks much closer to the original concept car. And I would remove the big wing from an SRT-6 and put the standard panel in its place for that sleek look.

Examples: If I do get one of these... I will hold out for one with the lowest mileage I can. The best mileage I have seen in recent months has been a 2005 with 61K miles for $12.9K. I would prefer under 50K miles. If I was willing to go out of state, I saw one in California with under 17k miles for $21k.

Miscellaneous: I would love to put a Mercedes on this list. Preferably a C-Class AMG or something. But Mercedes are a strange breed. See... your new car buyer that buys a Mercedes usually takes very good care of it. They tend to have all the work done at the dealer, especially AMG cars. But then the cars go onto their second owners. This happens because MB is one of the best manufacturers that change up the design of a car so much, that those new car buyers don't like owning a car that looks old. So they get the latest design. This is great for the second owner. And there in lies the problem. You get two kinds of second Benz owners. The ones that like the cars at a more affordable price, and will treat it properly like a first time buyer (regular maintenance by a dealer) and the ones that are bargain shopping and can barely afford even a used Benz. The later will cut corners on maintenance, because he truly couldn't afford the car, just the initial purchase price. And so the car degrades. And gets more and more expensive to maintain because of an increase in repairs. To get to the price level for this article, most AMG cars are on their second or third owners... and maintenance is going to be pricey... even if you do find a nice one owner car. So... I can't put them here.

Chevrolet SS - Here is a car I might like to put on this list. It is the only car that directly competes with the Charger R/T (or SRT-8, if you prefer). However, I believe this is supposed to be a limited production vehicle, only a couple thousand are going to be sold. That means they will take a long time to depreciate in value. As a $45K sedan, I would expect it to reach about 50% of that value in about 5 years, because of the limited supply. I expect most mass produced cars to hit the 50% mark in 3 - 4 years. Granted, I am not an expert an predicting the depreciation of vehicles. But limited number performance vehicles tend to depreciate at a slower rate than their non-performance, mainstream brethren. Plus this car looks boring compared to the Charger.

Conclusion

There are a lot of nice cars on this list. One of them will hopefully be in my driveway in the summer of 2016.

Next year I will remove a lot of the fluff at the end of the article and stick to narrowing down the list to the cars I will really go shopping for.

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