You’ve got money to burn. Say, enough to jump over the roughly $35,000 average transaction price for a new car in America and buy a car, SUV, or truck for less than $45,000. Fortunately, the market is flush with exciting new vehicle options that fit your highly specific budget. If you’re looking to tackle off-road trails (or look like you do), take to the track (again, or look as though you will), or simply to enjoy the day-to-day commute without sacrificing driving engagement or character, then we’ve got you covered with this group of vehicles that come in at less than $45,000. Considering spending less? Then be sure to check out the cars and trucks we deem the least boring for less than $25,000.
In theory, the Dodge Challenger is little more than a Dodge Charger coupe. In practice, though, it’s much more. Credit the two-door model’s standard six-speed manual transmission (an eight-speed automatic is a $1,595 option) that blesses the 375-hp Challenger R/T with additional driving engagement (plus an extra three horsepower compared to the automatic-transmission model). Those in search of even more power can opt for the $5,400 Scat Pack, which notably trades the trim’s standard 5.7-liter V-8 engine for a 485-hp 6.4-liter V-8.
2020 BMW 230i | Base Price: $36,295
The BMW 2-Series is arguably one of the German automaker’s last great cars. That’s not to belittle the rest of the BMW lineup, but in a world (and BMW showroom) that favors technology over driving engagement, the 2-Series is shamelessly driver-focused. Alas, six-cylinder models, such as the M240i and M2 Competition, sell for north of $45,00, but there is no shame in opting for the four-cylinder 230i. While not as powerful as its six-pot siblings, the 230i is anything but slow, and it is available with a six-speed manual transmission, which makes corralling the turbo 2.0-liter engine’s 248 horses that much more fun. The only downside? BMW forgoes the stick in the 230i Convertible and instead limits buyers of the $42,095 model to an eight-speed automatic gearbox—a no-cost option in the coupe.
At $45,675, the 365-hp Genesis G70 3.3T just crosses the $45,000 line for this list. That’s fine, though, because the four-cylinder, $9,200 cheaper G70 2.0T is a fine machine in its own right. Sure, the 2.0T’s 252-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four lacks the 3.3T twin-turbo V-6’s power and refinement, but it also offers an available six-speed manual gearbox. Opting for that feature, however, adds $3,050 to the bottom line. Credit the six-speed model’s additional kit, which includes items such as 19-inch wheels wrapped in summer tires, a limited-slip differential, heated and ventilated front seats, and more. While we respect Genesis for its commitment to the stick shift, we’d argue the transmission’s notchy engagement and additional costs make the cheaper, entry-level G70 2.0T and its eight-speed automatic transmission just as good a choice for buyers interested in this small sports sedan. Regardless, every G70 variant is impressively exciting to wheel about. After all, there’s a reason we named the entry-level Genesis model our 2019 Car of the Year.
Sure, you can get a Ford Mustang for as little as $27,865, but doing so means living with the car‘s standard 310-332-hp turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine. It’s a fine-enough mill, but the boosted four-cylinder is nothing compared to the GT’s burly 460-hp 5.0-liter V-8.
The old-school Toyota 4Runner is among the last of a dying breed: The traditional mid-size SUV. With its truck-like body-on-frame construction, the 4Runner is a formidable off-road companion-although you’ll need to fork over an additional $1,875 to add four-wheel drive to the entry-level SR5 trim. While the 4Runner certainly drives like the ancient SUV it is, the 2020 model adds modern touches such as a standard 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, as well as active safety features such as automatic forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, automatic high-beam headlights, and adaptive cruise control.
The Dodge Charger R/T offers all the old-school charm of its eight-cylinder Chrysler 300 cousin at a $3,300 discount. Sure, it lacks the more stately looks of the 300, but the Charger R/T makes up for that deficiency by offering an extra seven horses from its 5.7-liter V-8 engine. Why settle on the Charger R/T’s 370 horses, though, when you can drop a mere $3,600 for the 485-hp Scat Pack. Those extra ponies come courtesy of the model’s mighty 6.4-liter V-8 engine, which-like the 5.7-liter V-8 of the R/T-pairs exclusively with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Alas, the more menacing Wide Body package pushes the Scat Pack’s price up to $47,490. It’s narrow-body or nothing if you’re trying to keep your Charger Scat Pack’s sticker price below the $45,000 threshold.
If the Mini Clubman John Cooper Works isn’t your style and the Honda Civic Type R’s lack of all-wheel-drive nixes it from your shopping list, then the Subaru WRX STI might just be the hot compact car for you. With 310 horsepower from its turbocharged 2.5-liter flat-four engine and a six-speed manual transmission, the WRX STI is the closest thing to a road-legal rally car you can buy.
The Honda Civic Type R gets better for 2020 thanks to some suspension improvements, upgraded brakes, and additional active safety technology. The core of Honda‘s hot hatch remains the same, though, and power still comes courtesy of a 306-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four that mates to a six-speed manual gearbox, the combination of which took the Type R to 60 mph in 5.0 seconds in our testing. Yet, the whole of the Civic Type R is greater than the sum of its parts, which explains why it took top-spot in a four-way comparison test in 2018 between the now-defunct Ford Focus RS, Volkswagen Golf R, and Subaru WRX STI Type RA.
Yes, the Chevrolet Camaro suffers from large blind spots and an ergonomically questionable cabin, plus it looks almost exactly like the previous-generation model. But look past those flaws and you’ll find the bow-tie brand’s sports car is an absolute gem of a driving machine. Credit the Camaro’s communicative Alpha architecture (shared with Cadillac), which blesses it with docile dynamics. The Camaro SS (as well as the sub-$35,000 LT1) features a powerful 455-hp 6.2-liter V-8 and either a six-speed manual gearbox or a 10-speed automatic (a $1,595 option). For a lot more money ($43,995), Chevy offers the Camaro SS in convertible form. If it were our money on the line, then we’d say stick with the base Camaro SS coupe and add the 1LE performance package; a $7,000 option that brings the total price up to $44,995 and includes a set of sticky Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar 3 rubber, adaptive dampers, and Recaro seats.