Finding a roomy car with a bit of grunt for under $25,000 that isn’t an SUV can be tough, but our expert is up for the challenge.
I drive a Ford Focus RS but am looking for something comfier with a bit of punch as I’m relocating to a country town. I’m 6ft 5in so need room, but don’t want an SUV. I have about $25,000 to spend on something used, how about a Toyota Camry V6? Alternatives?
Comfier than a Focus RS? Luckily for you, that’s basically any other car ever made. A shame you can’t take the Focus with you for the tree change. It may have a stiff ride, but what a brilliant backroad plaything. A medium or large sedan will give you comfort and space, although without the rawness or dynamics of your hot Ford. But driving joy can still be found. Here’s how.
2015/16 SKODA OCTAVIA RS 162TSI, FROM $22,000
An oft-overlooked performance sedan and wagon. The Skoda badge puts off some buyers, but more fool them. Resale values used to count against them, but no longer as more become wise to the brand’s quality and, in particular, the Octavia RS’s talents. It shares the VW Golf GTI’s platform and 162kW/350Nm turbo engine, so in wagon guise combines cracking performance with a mighty 588L boot space. Goodies include partial leather seats, auto emergency braking, radar cruise control, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and adaptive suspension. Manual or DSG auto gearboxes are available (both have their merits) – while the car’s RS mode reveals superb steering and handling talents. Revert to Normal mode and it’s a comfy everyday cruiser. Very optimistic 6.6L/100km economy, it demands pricey 98 fuel and Skodas of this age are out of factory warranty. Expect services to cost about $500 per visit.
2017/18 HOLDEN ZB COMMODORE 2.0T, FROM $20,000
No ‘Made in Australia’ sticker on these Commodores, so die-hards reject these rebadged Opels without considering their merits. Spacious, comfy and Holden-tuned for our conditions, it’s a solid if not thrilling package. The 2.0-litre turbo engine’s a decent unit with 191kW and 350Nm, so would serve you well on long highway trips and the backroads. I’d pick it over the Commodore’s V6. Your budget buys a higher-spec RS model with sports body kit, power sports seats, ambient lighting, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and strong active safety. It’s practical as a liftback sedan (490L boot), or go the wagon version for even more (560L) space. Holden capped price services are good value at either $259 or $359 for the first seven years, while fuel use (95 RON) is 7.6L/100km. A cheap way into a car designed and made in Germany.
2018 TOYOTA CAMRY ASCENT SPORT, FROM $25,000
Sellers want $30,000 for V6 Camrys, but your $25k can just about buy a Camry Ascent Sport with 133kW/231Nm 2.5-litre four-cylinder. Nothing to get excited about, but the Camry’s style, comfort and all-round excellence make it worthy of consideration. Forget Camry preconceptions, this is a surprisingly satisfying and talented thing through corners or cruising highways. Active safety and niceties such as a sports body kit, 8-inch screen, sat nav and power seat are included. You’ll still have three-years warranty remaining, servicing is a mere $200 per visit (although it’s $763 after six years) and fuel use is a thirsty 8.3L/100km. You could consider a Hybrid version, but they’re a few grand more and work best in urban environments.
2011 BMW 535i, FROM $20,000
Okay, ten-year-old German cars can be bags of expensive trouble, but find a low-ish kilometre, pampered and perfectly serviced BMW 535i and you have a hugely satisfying sports sedan. Its power (225kW/400Nm from a silky six-cylinder turbo petrol), 0-100km/h time of six seconds and lavish comfort will help you rebound from your Focus RS in no time. I’d seek one optioned with M Sport or adaptive suspension as you’re probably the more enthusiastic driver type. You miss the active safety and smartphone mirroring tech of the others, but the leathery cabin and prestige badge compensate. BMW specialists help keep service costs down, while fuel use is a claimed 8.4L/100km – good luck achieving that. A risky choice, but find a good ’un and you’ll be smitten.
I think the leap from a Focus RS to the Camry or Commodore is too great – you’ll miss the thrill of driving. The big BMW is a tempter if you’re brave, but the Octavia RS is the best middle ground. The wagon’s ideal for a practical yet performance-packed rural life.