Suppose you’re looking for one car that’ll do it all. Slip into compact spaces with ease. Accelerate and handle with grace. Fit four adults and their luggage in a well-appointed interior with little apparent cost-cutting. Command the road at highway speeds. Let’s throw in 30 MPG fuel economy for good measure.

Now suppose you’re looking to spend $15k or so, and the cheaper the better.

If you’re thinking about new cars, don’t waste your time. Even the cheapest new car on the lot will likely surpass the $15k threshold, and the only boxes it’ll check are the ones pertaining to parking and fuel economy.

But for the same money or quite possibly far less, you could have a sixth-generation (Mk6) Volkswagen Golf. Step up to the 200-horsepower GTI version if you’re feeling frisky; it’s in your price range too. As the final Golf built in Germany before VW shifted to a more global (read: cost-conscious) product strategy, the Mk6 arguably represents the pinnacle of Volkswagen’s small-car engineering.

Thanks to the magic of depreciation, a gently used specimen can now be yours for pennies (okay, quarters) on the dollar, promising years of delightful motoring with hardly any age-related drawbacks.

Continue reading

For the last few decades, Honda’s influence on the auto industry — and its corresponding sales volumes — has been nothing short of revolutionary. Consider that the latest Accord just made Car and Driver’s 10 Best list for a record 32nd time; meanwhile, the Civic recently became the top-selling car in America. This makes the underperformance of Acura, Honda’s luxury division, somewhat puzzling.

Acura was the first premium Japanese marque to launch in the US, with sixty dealerships by 1986, and its early years were heralded by world-class machines like the Legend and the NSX. But since then a mix of uneven investment, marketing, and styling choices has positioned Acura well behind its rival, Lexus, as a credible challenger to long-established luxury marques like Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

Though the Acura brand as a whole underwhelms, looking across its history one can find a handful of machines beyond just the original Legend and NSX that deserve respect and admiration. Judged on cost-to-quality ratio, perhaps none is more deserving than the third-generation Acura TL (UA6 / UA7 chassis), which debuted for the 2004 model year and ran through 2008. Continue reading

Many enthusiasts hold that the E46 3 Series is the pinnacle of the BMW formula: a marvelous combination of sporting character and everyday usability in a timeless design. In fact, we heartily sing its praises in our E46 buying guide, calling it “one of the most enjoyable drives available in an affordable used car.”

But there are downsides. For example, the E46 interior can age poorly. Rubberized plastics on the center console and the door cards tend to scratch and flake; headliners are prone to sagging. And there are a few dogs in the range with sub-200 hp ratings that can feel pretty anemic compared to more modern machines.

Fortunately, the next generation 3 Series, the E90, along with its shortened-wheelbase cousin, the E82 / E88 1 Series, largely rectified these problems. Both are terrific cars. And the latter, with its tidy, E30-sized footprint and significantly lower price point, is possibly the last, best way for a budget-minded enthusiast to experience the purity of BMW’s original engineering magic, which has sadly been diluted in most of the automakers’ more recent models.

Continue reading

Long a favorite of driving enthusiasts, BMW’s 3 Series has nonetheless gotten bigger, heavier and less engaging with each successive generation. Nowadays, even a car buff could easily mistake a newer 3 Series sedan for a 5 Series. Make no mistake, the 3er’s performance is still impressive, but for many who relish time behind the wheel, the less quantifiable “fun to drive” factor has dropped off.

Indeed, many enthusiasts feel that the E46 generation marks the last time the 3 Series was truly engaging and true to its roots — a spry athlete of a car that offered not only quick reflexes but communication through the steering wheel and seat of one’s pants that let you know in no uncertain terms what the tires were doing.

And with cars from this generation now at least ten years old, depreciation has already taken its toll, making good examples as cheap to acquire as they’re ever going to be.

Continue reading

The ever-increasing mania and resulting skyrocketing values of air-cooled Porsche 911s have put those cars way out of reach for most buyers. Meanwhile, prices for the 996 generation, the first 911 with a water-cooled engine, have languished, in part because the prevailing wisdom among Porsche collectors is that the sun rises and sets only on the air-cooled cars.

Values are depressed, too, because of a known design flaw in the standard 996 engine that can, if not attended to, lead to a catastrophic failure, costing tens of thousands to repair. While this understandably gives most buyers pause, the truth is that a preemptive fix is readily available — and, even better, that many 996 examples on the market today have already had it applied.

This is all great news for the more practical enthusiast who wants to get in on the all-around goodness of Porsche’s iconic and entertaining sports car but without breaking the bank.

Continue reading

The noble R129 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class specimen pictured above, a 1998 SL500 (5.0-liter V8, 315 hp), sold for $8300 in early 2016 with 91,000 miles, a thick stack of maintenance receipts going back four years and a clean California history.

As the number of well-kept R129s dwindles, and savvy car-shoppers realize how much craftsmanship went into these cars, there’s nowhere for the prices to go but up. Here’s the Klipnik Practical Buying Guide for this thus-far overlooked generation of Benz’s iconic luxury roadster.

Continue reading

If you are considering the purchase of a gently-used older car — perhaps something like the 51k-mile Mercedes-Benz S-class pictured above, which originally stickered for sixty grand but recently sold on eBay for just $5300, or even just a practical family hauler that you plan to drive until the wheels fall off — congratulations. You are well on your way to eliminating from your budget the costliest of all car ownership expenses.

However, there’s more to buying an older car than just forking over some cash and autographing the title. While you won’t be signing up for staggering new car payments or steep depreciation, you will have to navigate a few other pitfalls inherent to a taking on a second-hand vehicle.

So before you click Buy It Now on that oh-so-tempting auction, take a moment to consider these five important — and perhaps surprising — guidelines. They will help to ensure that you end up with a car which is not only cheap to acquire but also a joy to own and drive for many years to come.

Continue reading

A couple of decades ago, the search for a used vehicle began with hours spent squinting through the classifieds. You’d then head out to get a closer look at each candidate, and this could involve fending off aggressive salespeople at local used car dealerships or mumbling through awkward interactions with private party sellers. Then along came the Internet, an innovation that allowed us to search for used cars online.

In many ways, the Internet has simplified the process of shopping for a used car. But it can also make this task more overwhelming. There’s an almost endless selection of websites offering to help you select your next pre-owned vehicle, and you may find yourself drowning in a sea of information and choices. These sites aren’t all cut from the same cloth, and knowing which ones you can rely on can be tricky.

That’s where we come in. Here at Klipnik, we live and breathe used cars, and we’ve explored pretty much every used car resource available. Below (in alphabetical order), we’ve listed the sites that we find ourselves returning to over and over again and which have earned our stamp of approval. They provide all of the assistance you could ever need to find and buy the used car of your dreams.

Continue reading

While there are some excellent battery-powered vehicles like the new Chevrolet Bolt trickling into our garages, the good, old fashioned, oil pumping, octane swilling, internal combustion engine is still at the heart of the automotive experience. It has been ever since, some 130 years ago, Karl Benz bolted a one banger of his own design onto the back of a three-wheeled cart.

And it’s been a glorious run. Sure, there were low points, like the anemic power plants that wheezed through the 1970s while automakers struggled to cope with strict new emissions and fuel economy regulations. Anyone remember the 1975 Ford Granada? Its 4.1 liter inline six had a California variant that puttered out just 71 horsepower. Folks, that’s less than 20 horsepower per liter.

These days, though, your average minivan throws down 250 ponies and still gets nearly 30 highway MPG. Meanwhile, muscle cars like the Camaro ZL1 routinely deliver 600+ horses, and supercars are converging on the magic 1000 figure. These numbers would have boggled the mind not long ago — and likely would have caused poor Mr. Benz, whose motor wobbled out just two-thirds of a horse, to burst a mental gasket.

It’s clear that we’re in a golden age of engines. And that’s great news. Because who doesn’t want more power? Or more efficiency? Or both? The more great mills that are produced, the greater the chances that one will find its way into a budget-minded enthusiast’s heart… and driveway.

Which got us to thinking, what are the very best engines to be had in cars that most anyone can afford? The Klipnik brain trust gathered recently to hash it out. We gave ourselves just two simple rules: 1) keep the picks from within the last 25 years and 2) make them choices that can easily be attained for less than $25,000 — preferably much less.

Here are the ten exceptional motors that made our list (in alphabetical order by automaker).

Continue reading