6 Great Cars for around $35,000

by Mike Satterfield

There is a lot to choose from around the $35,000 price point, but we have selected a few must haves for a daily driver. As much as I love our Mini Cooper and Big Block Fairlane, the fact of the matter is I live in the Los Angeles area and that means it takes me hours to go anywhere, mostly at 10mph so an automatic is a must. Being that I travel a lot and have family and friends all over the world, that means I am at LAX pretty often picking up or dropping off someone, so a 4 door with room for a few adults and luggage was a must have. Since it is not a track day car, and its not a sports car it needs to have the modern comforts we have all come to expect in a nice car. 

Now I am not buying any of these cars, I have a nice crossover that accomplishes those tasks for now, but the question came up when a friend and I were discussing the options for $35,000 it seems that in her mind that the only cars worth having were all $50K plus and thus out of reach. So having driven all of the cars and quite a few that did not make the list, all are a great choice, all offer nice leather interiors, great options and pretty amazing fuel economy. Here are the top 6 contenders I like for around $35,000 in no particular order, if I was going to plunk down my hard earned dollars I think I would be torn between the Lexus CT F-Sport or the Mercedes CLA250 Sport Package. 

2014 Kia Optima Limited 
Base MSRP: $35,300
The 2.0 Liter, Turbocharged  4 cylinder engine puts out an impressive 274 hp and still gives you 20 city / 31 hwy MPG. Featuring more premium content than any other car in its price range as standard including a panoramic roof, premium sound system, nappa leather seat trim, and HID self leveling headlamps. The car is fun to drive but I would not call it sporty it is 

The other big advantage that Kia has is their warranty which is one of the best in the business:

10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty
5-year/60,000-mile limited basic warranty
5-year/100,000-mile limited anti-perforation warranty
5-year/60,000-mile roadside assistance plan

2014 Fusion Energy SE
Base MSRP: $34,700
The Fusion Energy is one of the best "Plug-In" hybrids on the market while it has a 2.0 liter 4 cylinder engine, it's plug in electric motor allows an EPA estimated 108 MPG city and 92 MPG highway. Unlike other electric cars the Fusion Energy includes a 120V electric charging cable, so you don't have to install a costly charging system in your garage. The other exciting feature is the 7 hour recharge time, so if you plug in at night you are recharged the next morning. The car also comes standard with a number of great premium features like standard leather trimmed heated seats, premium sound system with SYNC, while other items like voice activated navigation are still optional. The MPG and cool features like Ford's mytouch app that let your monitor the cars charging system on your smartphone don't really add to the driving experience. 

Bumper to Bumper: 3 years / 36,000 miles
Powertrain: 5 years / 60,000 miles
Corrosion (Perforation only): 5 years / Unlimited miles
Roadside Assistance Program: 5 years / 60,000 miles

2014 Lexus CT F-Sport Hybrid
Base MSRP: $33,230
The CT is a bit smaller than the Mid-Sized Sedans above, but it is a great car to get you into the premium market, provide you with great MPG and its actually fun to drive. We road tested a CT with the F-Sport package with Nuluxe interior. It bumps the price up to $34,690 but you get a number of upgrades, inlcuding the Leather Wrapped F-Sport Steering Wheel, Shift Knob, Aluminum Sports Pedals, 17 Inch Wheels, Sports Suspension, and the F-Sport style package that includes a rear spoiler, different grills, and F-Sport badges. The 43 City/ 40 Highway is not as high as the Fusion Energy which is almost the same price as the CT with the F-Sport Package but it is much more fun to drive. 

The Basic Warranty of 48 months or 50,000 miles, is more than offered by Ford and less than offered by Kia, but still better than most in the industry. As an added bonus your first year of  Wheel alignment and balancing are included at the dealer. Plus you are getting a car backed by the legendary reliability of Toyota. As a Lexus owner I can tell you they have a first class service department (at least at our local dealer) with loaner cars available for long term service issues and a friendly and professional staff.  

2014 Audi A4 all-wheel drive
Base MSRP: $35,900
The Audi is the best value in the German Mid-Size Marketplace a comparably equipped BMW 3 Series with xDrive will set you back just over $43,000, mainly because each minor change (like the color of the body or interior) is an upcharge. While on the Audi you can get the S-Line Package for just $1,600 more, that gets you the 18" wheels, LED running lights, and a host of other upgrades. The A4 Premium package already includes leather interior, Tiptronic® transmission Audi quattro® all-wheel drive, and all the comforts you would come to expect in a luxury Sedan. The 10 Speaker sound system is amazing considering it is not an upgrade and the car feels solid and sporty to drive. The 24 city 32 highway is surprisingly better than the Kia Optima but the Kia does have more party tricks like the Glass Roof. 

Warranty is on par with Lexus with the 48 Months or 50,000 miles Audi includes your first maintenance.

 2014 Cadillac ATS 2.5L 
Base MSRP: $33,990
It is no secret that I have not been a big fan of Cadillac, but the new ATS caught my attention since it was rear wheel drive, and that is a rarity today. The only rear wheel drive car that made the list. The thing I don't like is the added options are all pricy, want a "premium color" thats $995, polished wheels (still 17") thats $800, Premium sound... that'll be $1,350. In fact to get the Cadillac on par with the Lexus CT (its smaller I know) or the Audi A4 you need to spend a whopping $38,925. Thats to get such radical luxuries like sports pedals, heated seats, a sunroof, in fact bumping up to the more gas friendly 2.0 Turbo engine bumps your base price by nearly over $2,000 alone.  MPG with the base 2.5 engine comes in at  22 city 33 highway, still not as bad as the Kia, but again it does not offer as much equipment or warranty coverage as the Kia. 

2014 Mercedes Benz CLA 250 Sport
Base MSRP $35,325
The new baby Mercedes has been getting a lot of attention since it is the same price point as cars from Ford, Kia, and Hyundai. I have never been overly impressed with Mercedes as far as dollar to value ratio goes, here in the USA the Mercedes badge makes everyone giddy, but from my travels I seen too many Mercedes Taxis, Buses, and Tractor-Trailers to consider them just another automaker. They do build amazing supercars but their daily selection has just never really struck me as a good value. The CLA has shifted my opinion slightly because here in the US market the car has a great perceived value and was a smart move for Mercedes to attract more young first time buyers. The car great looking and barrows from its older/more expensive brothers for it's styling. I test drove one with the optional $2,200 sport package (included in the base MSRP above) it get you 18" AMG wheels, painted brake calipers with cross drilled rotors, chrome grill, and a sports body package. It's turbocharged 2.0 liter engine with start/stop technology gets an impressive 26 MPG City and 38 on the highway. 

As with the other luxury brands the car offers a 4 year/ 50,000 mile warranty.