5 Fun Daily Drivers for Under $10,000

If you’re like most of us, you can count your car “collection” on one finger, so whatever you drive needs to do a lot of things well. It needs to get you back and forth to work without fail. It needs to keep your maintenance and upkeep costs to a minimum. And of course it needs to be fun.

Fortunately, you don’t have to take out a big loan or be Jay Leno to buy a fun set of wheels that can double as a practical daily driver. Indeed, there are some very entertaining choices out there to be found in nice shape with low mileage for less than $10,000 — whether you need something that seats the whole family, or you can make do with just room for two.

Here, in no particular order, are five cars we think deserve consideration from anyone looking for serious bang for their daily driver buck.

Mazda MX-5 Miata

Light, agile, peppy, and communicative, the Miata is as eager to please and fun to play with as a Golden Retriever puppy. A Miata also happens to be cheap to keep thanks to minimal maintenance costs and a reliability record that would rival man’s best friend.

First- (NA), Second- (NB) and Third- (NC) generation Miatas, which span from 1990 all the way to 2015, can be found for under ten grand. But with good NA values on the rise, and with low-mile NCs often exceeding our price cap, the NB Miata (1999-2005) strikes us as the sweet spot for value.

That said, if you live somewhere with formidable winters, an NC with the available power-retractable hardtop (PRHT) could be a wise investment. It turns your droptop into a coupe at the touch of a button, making those Winter blues melt away as quickly as ice from the rear defroster.

Check out our article “Which Miata Should I Buy? MX-5 Generations NA vs. NB vs. NC” for more details on Mazda’s thrill ride.

Ford Mustang GT

If a rumbling V8 is more your taste, then Ford’s sport coupe (and convertible) is ready to satisfy that craving. Compared to its chief rivals, GM’s Camaro and Firebird platform mates, the Mustang may not look as sleek, but it does provide better outward visibility, making it easier to place on a winding road, and to park. It also offers a more upright seating position that will likely appeal to shorter folks or to those with sensitive backs.

Now that Fox body Mustangs (1979-1993) have gotten rather pricey, we’d set our sights on the more refined “SN95” generation, available from 1994-2004. It’s the sweet spot for value right now, with low-mile, well-kept examples readily available under our ten grand price cap. We’re especially partial to the early body style of that generation versus the bloated “New Edge” styling found in 1999 and later years.

You could also consider a GT from the following “S197” generation, but you’ll likely need to stick to the earlier years of its 2005-2014 run. Newer ones with low miles are still selling for five figures. An alternate would be a V6 version of the S197. Ford upped the ante on the V6 compared to previous generations, giving it respectable performance to go with (to our eyes) the very attractive, retro-themed looks of that generation.

Check out our Buying Guide for the early SN95 Mustang for more information on those under-the-radar ‘Stangs.

Chevrolet Camaro / Pontiac Firebird

Compared to Ford’s pony car, the Camaro and Firebird both go a bit heavier on style and performance, if a bit lighter on comfort and practicality. Long, low, and wide, they certainly have nailed the looks. We’d stick with the performance variants — Chevrolet’s Camaro Z28 or Camaro SS, and Pontiac’s Trans Am or Firebird Formula. Their stout 5.7-liter V8s crank out 275 and more horsepower, making the right sounds and setting you back in the seat anytime you need to justify your purchase to your Euro car friends.

These fourth generation (1993-2002) cars are essentially comprised of two sub-generations – those powered by GM’s LT1 V8, offered from 1993-1997, and those powered by the later LS1 V8, offered from 1998-2002. Within the LT1 span, we’d focus on 1995 to 1997, which saw a revised “Optispark” ignition system that proved less sensitive to water compared to earlier versions. But if maximum performance is your goal, go for one of the LS1 versions. They pack even more power, and the LS1 is famously reliable.

Choosing between a Camaro or Firebird comes down to your styling preference. Performance and features are essentially the same.

Check out our article “Which ‘90s Muscle Car Should I Buy?” for more details on this pair.

BMW 3 Series

With considerably more rear passenger room, easier ingress/egress, and a more compliant ride, a BMW 3 Series is inherently more practical than any of the choices above. Yet a 3 Series — especially one with the slick-shifting manual gearbox — is still fully capable of generating grins from behind the wheel. Even the smaller-engine versions demonstrate plenty of pep, typically punching above their weight. That laudable quality, along with the Bimmer’s agile handling, can make a trip to the store into your own personal autocross.

For our price cap, we’re partial to the “E46” generation (1999-2006). Its combination of cleanly-chiseled shape and engaging, communicative nature still appeal over two decades after its debut. You can also find clean examples from the earlier years of the following “E90” generation (2006-2012) for less than ten Gs, though to us its Chris Bangle era styling doesn’t hold up as well.

Check out our E46 Buying Guide for more details on this well-rounded ride.

VW Jetta SportWagen

Similar to the BMW above, Volkswagen’s Jetta wagon is a practical, yet enjoyable choice with that certain “solid-as-a-rock” build quality and confident on-the-road demeanor that German cars tend to exhibit. We’d spec ours out in “TDI” (turbodiesel) form with the six-speed manual gearbox. That torquey powertrain provides both satisfying acceleration and ample passing power, along with truly impressive fuel economy. The latter typically rates in the low-to-mid 40 mpg range in real world driving.

In light of “Dieselgate”, some clarification is warranted. In short, VW was accused (and found guilty) of modifying its TDI-powered cars in order to meet government emissions requirements. Once that was found out, VW had to tweak them to meet the standards and then pay the owners a settlement fee, or offer to buy back the affected car if the owner so chose. The upshot of this is that it hurt the resale value of the TDI-powered V dubs, making them into great bargains for used car buffs like us.

Check out our article “Why Volkswagen TDI Models Are Used Car Bargains” for more details on this fuel-sipping favorite.

The Bottom Line

Daily drivers don’t have to be dull. So why not opt for something that makes you look forward to heading off to work or school each day? Our picks may not be as practical as an Accord or a Camry, but they’ll more than make up for that by delivering a daily supply of smiles.

As always, if you’re on the hunt for a great used car, be sure to check out our Find of the Day. Or post your search criteria in our Community, where your fellow Klipsters will be eager to lend a hand.

Photos courtesy BMW, Ford, GM, Mazda, Volkswagen, and Wikimedia Commons


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