I’ve been on the hunt for a vehicle that’s fun to drive. It can be a car, a truck or an SUV.
Something that won’t require taking out a lone to purchase. And that I can work on that won’t be a money pit.
Happily, the automotive industry has built some amazing cars that now, thanks to depreciation are well within arm’s length to acquire.
Don’t let anyone kid you, 5000 dollars is plenty of dinero to find a ride that ticks a lot of boxes.
I focused on the latest models of dope cars under 5K in reasonably good condition.
1. BMW 7-Series
The 7-Series is one of my favorite BMWs of all time. Introduced in 1977, BMW’s biggest car is a good-looking luxury sedan with a stately presence.
And it has some of the best wheels BMW has ever designed. While a budget of 5K can get you a 7-Series as late as 2012.
The third-generation models built between 1995 to 2001 is the quintessential 7-Series for me and would be my focus.
Horsepower numbers are between 282 and 322. You can get one used as a 4.0, 4.4-liter V8 or 5.4-liter V12.
Anyone you choose will come with a rear wheel drivetrain. But you can choose from automatic and 5-speed manual transmissions.
2. Volkswagen GTI
These are fun little pocket rockets. It shares its chassis with the Volkswagen New Beetle and Audi TT.
There isn’t a generation of this car I don’t like.
A 2008 is the latest model you can get with a budget of $5,000 which is from Golf’s 5th gen produced from 2003 to 2008.
Under the hood is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder.
The 2008 model year comes with FSI direct injection and drive-by-wire throttle for maximum efficiency. It was capable of 200 horsepower when new with a 6500 RPM redline.
Transmission options include a dual-clutch DSG gearbox or six-speed manual.
3. Dodge Stealth R/T
But my all-time favorite car is the Mitsubishi 3000GT derived Dodge Stealth. Specifically, the RT Turbo which comes with both all-wheel drive and all-wheel steering.
These were the techiest of all the Japanese high-performance sports cars when it was introduced in 1991.
Production ended in 1996 for the Stealth while the 3000GT went on until 2000.
A budget of $5,000 relegates you to an R/T model which isn’t quite as exciting to drive even though the looks are there.
Horsepower numbers are 222 to 320 and you can get it as either an automatic, a five-speed or a six-speed manual.
4. Jeep Cherokee XJ
While I’m happy for the success of the modern Cherokee. And I can even understand why Chrysler changed the chassis from a body on frame truck to a crossover.
For my money it’s the XJ all the way. This is the benchmark by which all other SUVs were compared in the early 90s.
Built from 1984 to 2001 a $5,000 budget gets you an XJ of any year you want.
Horsepower figures are between 110 and 192 depending on the year. The V6 engine is super easy to work on. You can get one as either a four or five speed manual or an automatic.
These are cool cars and I drive one every time I get the opportunity.
5. Ford Focus
Like the BMW 7-Series you can get a Focus as late as 2012.
But when I think of a Ford Focus that’s fun to drive for under 5K. My mind immediately goes to the ZX3 which ran from 2000 to 2004 in the United States.
Two of my friends bought these cars after we graduated from high school. Focus ZX3s prove you don’t need blistering speed to have fun.
Built for the European market the interiors were quite unique for Ford at the time. Horsepower numbers were 130 to 136.
I keep saying were because as cars get older horsepower numbers start to drop off especially when they’re not that well maintained.
You can get a Focus ZX3 as either a five-speed manual or an automatic.
6. Mazda MX-5 Miata
With $5,000 you can get an NB Miata. It features a more refined interior than the generation before.
But from a purely aesthetic point of view, I prefer the NA Miatas. And for that reason, I would suggest the NC generation if I was after more modern features.
It features styling that in my opinion evolved to closely resemble the first generation. But that would price us out of our budget.
Horsepower for the NA generation is a whopping 116 from the inline four. You can get it as either a manual or automatic transmission.
And with this generation you get pop headlights.
7. Infiniti G35 Coupe
Built on the same chassis as the Nissan 350z, the G35 Coupe is just as much fun to drive with a more grownup appearance.
The G35 coupe delivers the perfect balance between performance and luxury with a maintenance cost that’s a lot more affordable than the European alternatives like the BMW 3-Series.
Produced from 2003 to 2007, the 3.5-liter V6 makes 275 to 306 horsepower depending on which variant you get. Yes, you can get it as an automatic.
But the six-speed manual transmission is way more engaging to drive. And like the 350z, the G35 has a wide array of aftermarket parts.
8. Lexus GS300
You can get a GS300 as late as 2006 with a budget of 5K.
This would be the third generation GS300 which was produced from 2006 to 2011. I like the second generation GS300 very much.
But the third gen offers more usable tech that makes it hard to ignore. GS300s are basically Toyotas so you know they’re solidly built.
The third generation is slightly bigger than the older model and you can get it as either a rear-wheel or all-wheel drive.
It comes with a 3.0-liter DOHC V6 that produced 245 horsepower which was new for GS300s. Also introduced in the third generation is a six speed automatic transmission.
9. Saab 9-3
The Saab 9-3 looks like a fun car in this drop top iteration.
But at his price you’re limited to the GM built second generations which were produced from 2002 to 2012.
Which is why while the convertibles look like they’ll be fun in the sun, it’s the sedan that piques my interest. I particularly like the earlier pre-facelift models where the front end isn’t so pronounced.
The available turbocharged 2.0-liter motor made a fun to drive 220 horsepower. And it was available with a six-speed manual transmission.
Let’s not forget that back in the day this car competed with likes of the BMW 3-Series.
10. Lincoln Town Car
If you’re going luxury, this is a lot of car for your money.
It shares the same Panther platform with the Ford Crown Victoria and Mercury Mesquite which means this is a durable car. At this budget every generation and practically ever trim level is available to you.
While I do like the rounded style of the final generation. I much prefer to go with the second generation which ran from 1990 to 1997.
It shares its drivetrain with many cars in the Ford fleet which means parts a dirt cheap. I would focus my search on the 1991 through 1996 model years since those featured the most horsepower at 210.
The only transmission options is a reliable four speed automatic no matter what year you get.
11. Dodge Neon
People forget but these were hot little cars in their day.
Sadly, the Neon only lasted for two generations ending production in 2005.
Although the second generation offered many refinement upgrades. In large part they only served to strip away all the quirkiness that made the Neon interesting in the first place. At least to me.
The Neon competed against cars like the Pontiac Sunfire which I drove back in high school. I would go with the first gen Neon which was built from 1995 to 1999.
Stylistically, the car looks great as either a notchback or sedan. The SOHC four cylinder made a healthy 132 horsepower.
A DOHC engine comes with the coupe. Transmission options are an automatic or a five speed manual.
12. Chrysler 300
Like the Lincoln Town Car you’re getting a lot of car for your five thousand bucks.
This amount of money gets you a first gen Chrysler 300 produced from 2005 to 2010. And also like the Town Car it’s a full-size family car.
What intrigues me about the Chrysler 300 (besides sharing its chassis with the Dodge Charge) is the prospect of wrenching in the more powerful optional Hemi engine.
The non-Hemi engine is a 3.5-liter V6 that only spits out about 190 horsepower. And finally like the Town Car, it’s only available with a four-speed automatic transmission.
13. Chevrolet Suburban
You can get a 2008 Chevy Suburban LTZ for less than five grand.
But my all-time favorite Suburban is from the 2000 to 2006 model years. The drivetrains on these are bulletproof and with proper care these trucks can go for years and years.
Horsepower numbers were from 285 to 340 depending on the year and trim level. The first major upgrade I would make would be to lift the Suburban.
This would make an excellent vehicle to tour the southwest with my wife which has always been a dream of ours.
Although this generation only came with a four-speed automatic transmission. I’m pretty sure I could bolt in a manual transmission from a Silverado.
14. Ford Expedition
Built to compete against the Suburban, the Expedition also offers third row seating. My favorite is the 2015 through 2017 Expedition in the Limited trim edition.
But that’s beyond the range of our budget. The third generation Expeditions were built from 2007 to 2018. These offer more interior comfort than the Suburban.
Midway through the generation the powerplant was changed from a stout V8 to an even more powerful V6 which sounds weird to say.
Horsepower for the 2007 to 2014 models range from 300 to 310 depending on the year. These Expedition all come with a six-speed automatic transmission.