The $38,000 Question - Part One - Sedans

by   Anthony Fongaro

Take a look at this number: 38,000. While it seems like a random number, it’s actually quite important in the automotive industry. $38,000 is the average price of a new car in 2020. Unsurprisingly, the average price of a new car increases yearly. Looking at the increasing average shows how purchasing power and manufacturer prices influence what we buy. Although we are looking at the new car price average, there are many great vehicles that can be bought for well under $38,000. Since there are many kinds of vehicles on sale, let’s take a look at those four-door cars we call sedans.

Starting off with this series, what can you buy new for $38,000? Let’s take a look at vehicles that start near $38,000 along with cars that can get near or slightly above the average. First, some of the sedans that start near the average price. Looking at the top three luxury German brands, you can build out two vehicles. These are the Audi A3 and the Mercedes-Benz A220. Unfortunately, BMW doesn’t make a sedan for under $40,000 so they don’t qualify at this time. You may be surprised by what you get, or don’t get, for your money with these two.

To get the best bang-for-your-buck, you’ll want to spec out the lowest powered engine for the A3. Audi calls this the 40 TFSI® S tronic®, or their 184-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four. The Mercedes-Benz A220 also has a 2.0-liter inline-four, but with a massive 188-horsepower. Neither of these really need all-wheel-drive, so these are front-wheel-drive. The Audi’s full name is the A3 Sedan Sport Premium Plus 40 TFSI® S tronic® so when you try to brag to your friends that you own an Audi, be prepared to say the entire name. Mercedes decided not to be that complicated and decided to only be the A220. With a few options such as different paint, heated seats, Apple Carplay®, and Android Auto® and upgraded headlights, both of these come out to around $38,000.


Can you get a new luxury German car with decent options for the average price of a new car? Sure. Should you? After we look at some more options, you may say they aren’t. For some more interesting vehicles, let’s look around the world. Although there are obvious choices from Toyota and Honda, they may not be as exciting as you would like. A few new vehicles to look at including the Buick Regal, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda3 and 6, Subaru Legacy, and Volkswagen Jetta. For the price of the Audi and Mercedes listed above, all of these can be had in their highest trim levels. Both the Regal and the Jetta have performance versions with upgraded engines, suspension, wheels, and brakes. All of these minus the Mazda3 have turbocharged engines and the Jetta can be bought with a manual. Excluding the Jetta, the rest of these can be had or have all-wheel-drive as optional or standard. The Sonata has the option of being a hybrid. Finally, technology and comfort come abundant with digital dials, large infotainment systems, adaptive cruise control, and either heated or heated and ventilated seats.

These are all great choices. If it was my choice, I would go with the new Sonata,  Mazda3, and Mazda6.


The thing is, these are new vehicles. Floating around $38,000 in the world of used-cars get you some results. On cars.com, that number is around 650,000. Before we put in some parameters to cut this down, I want to show you some of the most ridiculous sedans you can get. These include some 500+ horsepower monsters, track day stars, and a few smooth V12s. Do I recommend these? Depends. If this is your second vehicle or can afford the maintenance of a V12, go ahead. You’ll have a lot of fun and enjoy opulent luxury.

We will start with some performance machines. The two brands we will be focusing on are Mercedes-Benz and BMW. First up, BMW. They’re known for their performance vehicles under their M division. The M3 is the real track star in terms of performance sedans. The 2016 models I’ve found have BMW’s turbocharged 3.0-liter straight-six producing 425-horsepower and  406 lb-ft. 0-60 is around 4 seconds for both the 6-speed manual and 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual. Mercedes-Benz comes into battle with a car more suited to performance. Their C63 AMG can be found between 2014 and 2015 with their massive 6.2-liter V8 producing 451-horsepower and 443 lb-ft with a 0-60 mph of around 4.5 seconds. Both the M3 and C63 are fun cars. The M3 is a jack-of-all-trades and the C63 is powerful with its beautiful sounding V8.

Want pure luxury with powerful engines? Large sedans are the way to go. The three we are going to look at are the Audi A8, BMW 7-Series, and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. All of these are opulent vehicles with a plethora of technology. Want full safety tech, buttery smooth suspension, powerful engines, massage seats, and rear-seat entertainment? 2012-206 will find you a sedan with over 500-horsepower and either a V8 or V12. The models in question are the Audi S8, BMW 760 Li, and Mercedes-Benz S63/S65. Are these completely unnecessary? Yup. Will these money pits put you into a panic attack due to maintenance? Oh, I wouldn’t doubt it. Having a budget to make sure you can maintain these or having these as a second vehicle would be put you into something with extreme bragging rights. Side note: you can get the ultimate super-sedan, the Bentley Continental Flying Spur. This will be around a 2008 model with the most supply ride but isn’t worth it for the extreme bills associated with it.


I think it’s time to look at vehicles that make more sense. The criteria for this search on cars.com are the following: around $38,000, 50,000 miles max, and from 2015 to current. First up is American muscle. The three cars in question are the Cadillac ATS-V, Chevy SS, and Dodge Charger R/T Scat Pack. The Chevy and Dodge are V8s while the Cadillac is a turbocharged V6. All of these have over 400-horsepower and rear-wheel-drive. While the ATS-V and SS can have an automatic and manual, the Scat Pack is automatically only. Although the SS and Charger aren’t the most refined cars, they will offer owners more smiles per gallon than miles per gallon.

Stepping down for those large German sedans above are midsize and compact sedans. Midsize cars include the Audi A6, BMW 5-Series, and Mercedes E-Class. Engines are between inline-fours, V6, and inline-6. Stepping one level down are the Audi A4/S4, BMW 3-Series, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. This is when you get into more performance-oriented vehicles. Audi’s S4, BMW’s 335/340, and Mercedes’ C450 use smaller engines that produce around 300-350 horsepower. While the BMW can have an automatic or manual, the other two are automatic only.  The smallest German cars once again are the Audi A3 and Mercedes-Benz A220. It’s probably not a surprise that these used cars can be found with upgraded digital dials, heated seats, backup cameras, upgraded engine for the Audi, and full navigation. Audi also has an upgraded version of the A3 called the S3 with 300-horsepower from its turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four.

Finally, we have the more mainstream brands. While there are great vehicles from America, Japan, and Korea, I want to look at more interesting vehicles. We are going to look at American, Japanese, Korean, and Swedish luxury vehicles.  My choices for these are the Lincoln Continental, Lexus ES and ES hybrid, Hyundai Equus, Kia K900, and Volvo V90. The reasons I like all of these are quite simple. Lincoln is focused more on luxury than Cadillac, and the Continental is the pinnacle of Lincoln’s attempt on American the luxury segment. It has seats that adjust 30-way and have the option of a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 with 400-horsepower. Lexus’ ES is a contender for its smooth engine, putting luxury over performance, and the ability to be a hybrid. The Korean Equus and K900 are the best value in this entire segment, offering 8/10 of the luxury from the Germans for almost half the price. Having full rear-seat entertainment and massaging seats are really impressive. Finally, Volvo’s V90 has Swedish elegance, all the safety features on the market, and a comfortable ride.


$38,000 can get you some fantastic sedans. If you want to go new and maintain a warranty, my top choices are the Mazda3, Mazda6, and Hyundai Sonata. They’re fun to drive, have great options, and look good. New German cars aren’t worth it at all but if you absolutely have to have the badge, go with the Mercedes-Benz A220. It’ll make people think you have money and that’s the most important thing in life. As for the used super-sedans that’ll pretty much bankrupt you, you can’t go wrong with any of them. They truly show you have taste, sophistication, and the ability to frequent your local dealership. Stepping down from there are the BMW 5-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and Audi S3. The 5-Series is the best for combining luxury with sporty handling, the C-Class is the most luxurious, and the S3 is a great upgrade for the A3. Last but not least are the mainstream brands. My pick of these are the Hyundai Equus, Kia K900, and Volvo V90. They offer the best bang-for-your-buck with a lot of safety and convenient safety features. So go crazy and find yourself a fun and unique car for the price of a Toyota Camry!

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