Take 20K and go for glamour

By David Linklater

Driving an attention-getter is not as costly as you might think

The Mercedes-Benz Sl is the top buy in a used car under $20,000.
The Mercedes-Benz Sl is the top buy in a used car under $20,000.

Twenty thousand dollars: it's a nice round figure and for many years I've always thought of it as the right amount to buy a pretty good car. Well away from banger status but not enough to spark a sense of dread about depreciation.

Case in point: for less than $20k you can buy a 2009 Toyota Corolla with less than 60,000km on the clock. That would be a fantastic little car: decent to drive, utterly reliable and still very modern. But a bit dull.

Here at Driven, that got us thinking. Nobody likes to feel dull, so exactly how much automotive glamour can you acquire with $20k? You might be surprised. We were. The list could go on and on, but we've limited ourselves to five, a good mix of sports and family, luxury and city cars. None too obvious, definitely nothing dull.

Will a $20k glamour car be less reliable and more expensive to maintain than that 2009 Corolla? Almost certainly. But that's not the point. We make just one guarantee: that cars of the make, model and age listed below really exist for $20k, because we found them.

ALFA ROMEO 159 (2008)

There had to be an Alfa Romeo, right? The 159 had its faults but a lack of style certainly wasn't one of them. It ceased production in 2012 after six years but still looks sensational. It certainly made the Audi A4, BMW 3-series and Mercedes-Benz C-class of the day look a bit dowdy.

The 159 punches way above its weight in the price-to-image ratio. Opt for a diesel one - there were also four-cylinder and V6 petrol versions - and you might even end up with something that's easy on the fuel.

FIAT 500 (2009)

Even when you're talking about a brand new one, the 500 offers an outrageous amount of glamour and credibility for the money.

The model hasn't changed greatly since it was launched in 2007, so step back a few years and you'll find our budget here buys a pretty smart retro Fiat that will certainly impress the neighbours. It's a little car with a lot of Italian chic.


SAAB 9-3 SPORTWAGON (2006)

Saab and glamour: okay, they don't always go together. But it has always had a certain timeless style and it's still highly prized among people with fashionable glasses and high IQs. Driving one might actually make you appear smarter.

Our budget buys a pretty decent 9-3 and if you can find one, go for the SportCombi wagon. With the 9-3, Saab made a misguided attempt to take on the luxury establishment by making the car a sedan, but the SportCombi carried plenty of styling cues from the 1970s hatchbacks.

AUDI TT (2004)

Make fun if you must, but the first-generation TT still looks pretty sharp, it's one of those cars that made it from concept form to production without losing its visual impact. It's a pretty cool car for $20k, although those in the know will point out that the TT didn't really become a proper sports car until the second-generation 2006 model.

MERCEDES SL (1991)

Are you feeling lucky? A Mercedes-Benz SL is arguably the ultimate in glamour motoring, so it's got to be here. But that budget limits us to the fourth-generation model. An awesome car (Mercs get cooler with age anyway), but still a 22-year-old luxury car with bills to match.

Would it be worth it? So tempting to say yes, but then it's only pretend money we're spending here. When it comes to actually writing the cheque ... well, do you feel lucky?

Surely the ultimate $20k car anyway.

- NZ Herald

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