Buying a car is a tricky business for many a reason, but perhaps one of the most frustrating and intimidating factors is the financial jujitsu the dealer can pull on you. Few of us, of course, have the cold hard cash to buy a brand-new car outright; instead, we finance it, breaking the payments up across several years’ worth of monthly installments that allow us to work it into our household budgets. That, however, gives your foe across the dealership desk more power to confuse you, moving items around to bring down the payments without actually reducing the total amount that you’ll pay.
Recently, however, have brought several trends to a head that help make this a little easier. Expanding loan terms, coupled with dealerships and manufacturers willing to bend over backwards on interest rates to keep that fresh metal moving, have led to lower overall monthly payments for many new car buyers. So — as much as a thought exercise as a practical reality — we thought we’d pull together a guide to what sort of cars you can grab across the spectrum of fun new cars at some nice, round monthly payments.
We chose a 72-month loan at 0.9% APR for our scenario; while neither is quite as favorable as some promotional rates and terms are right now in these coronavirus- and recession-afflicted times (though many of those spectacular deals are winding down), they’re also more forgiving than many people pay, as the average overall 72-month new-car loan rate for people with exceptional credit runs around 3.6%, according to LendingTree. So this 72-month/0.9% APR represents an optimistic, but still realistic, situation for many of us.
(Also, that combination has the handy luck of producing some pretty round numbers, which makes this exercise a little easier to understand.) We also chose to run the numbers assuming no money down, so any cash you drop on the hood will knock the monthly payments down some more.
Consider this a guideline as to what, realistically, you can get for any set monthly car payment. You may wind up paying a bit more or a bit less, depending on how you structure your own loans, but this gives you an idea what you should be looking at first once you set your monthly new car budget. One more thing: we’re playing by The Price Is Right rules; prices can come right up to the line, but not over it.
$300 per month ($21,000)
Toyota Corolla Hatchback SE
It may not be, say, a GR Yaris hot hatch, but Toyota’s two-box Corolla is a surprisingly fun, value-packed ride for less than $21,000 — especially when equipped with the six-speed manual transmission over the CVT. The SE may be the base model, but it’s hardly a stripper; not only does it look as good and go as well as the pricier XSE, but it even offers an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 suite of active safety features for that low, low price.
Fun fact: the average American student loan payment lands here, at $393/mo.
$400 per month ($28,000)
Honda Civic Si sedan
It’s just a fact: no new car on sale can beat the Civic Si on fun-for-your-dollar. The punchy 205-hp turbocharged engine, six-speed manual, limited-slip diff and sport-tuned suspension with adaptive dampers all team up with one of the best compact car chassis ever developed to create a sedan that thrills like a sports car — while still offering a ridiculous amount of room and versatility for an inexpensive sedan. (Oh, and if you find $400 a month a little high but don’t need to own a car at the end of six years, Honda has been offering lease deals of around $200 a month on the Si for ages.)
$500 per month ($35,000)
Hyundai Veloster N Performance Package
This price point makes us regret our Price Is Right rules more than any other — the Subaru WRX STI, Honda Civic Type R and Ford Mustang EcoBoost HPP with Handling Package are just out of reach. Nonetheless, rules are rules, and if we have to keep it to a hard cap of $35,000 as-equipped, we have to go with the Hyundai Veloster N — provided you get it with the Performance Package.
That $2,100 add-on pushes the 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four up 25 horses to 275 lb-ft, and adds on a trick electronic limited-slip diff, beefier brakes, 19-inch wheels wearing Pirelli P Zero performance tires and a rorty performance exhaust. You can even buy it with a new dual-clutch gearbox soon enough…though why you’d skip the stick shift is beyond us. Plus, it’s cheap enough to leave you money for plenty of extra tires.
$600 per month ($42,050)
Ford Mustang GT Performance Package
Believe us, we agonized long and hard between the ‘Stang and the VW Golf R, both of which slide in juuuuust under the line when properly equipped. Still, delightful as the VW is, its aging soon-to-be-replaced status and lack of power next to its rivals made the Mustang the ultimate choice.
Getting it under the line means no leather seats, no bigger infotainment system, no sports exhaust and no fancy stereo. What it does get you: a spectacular 460-hp V8, a six-speed stick with rev matching, spectacular looks and a Performance Package that offers a litany of add-ons (Brembo six-piston front brakes, a sport-tuned suspension, a Torsen limited-slip diff, bigger wheels and tires, additional cooling, etc.) that turn this muscle car into a real sports car.
$700 per month ($49,050)
Cadillac CT5-V RWD
When Cadillac announced the new CT5-V, we weren’t exactly fans of it. What changed? Well, Cadillac revealed that the model was actually a replacement for the lesser CTS Vsport, and that a true CTS-V replacement called the CT5-V Blackwing would still be coming (with a manual gearbox, no less).
Couple that with the great reviews the CT5-V has been receiving and the fact that it offers all its performance tech as standard, and it’s hard not to see it as a sport sedan steal. You basically have to go without any options to slide it under our price line, but hey, a basic Caddy is still a Caddy.
$800 per month ($56,050)
Toyota GR Supra Premium
For just $850 more than our price cap, you could have a Tesla Model 3 Performance — one of the most revolutionary EVs on sale today in sport-tuned form, with a track-tuned suspension and the ability to do 0-60 mph in a claimed 3.2 seconds. Sadly, rules are rules, so we’ll have to settle for the new Supra.
This price cap lets you level up to the Premium version, which brings a 12-speaker JBL stereo, a bigger touchscreen infotainment system, heated leather seats and four-piston ventilated Brembo front brakes, among other details. Still, no matter which Supra you buy, you’ll be grabbing performance that outclasses many sports cars that cost even more.
$900 per month ($63,050)
BMW M2 Competition
With the upgrade from M2 to M2 Competition in 2018, BMW’s smallest M model finally became the car it always deserved to be. A 405-hp twin-turbo inline-six sourced from the M3 and M4 provides a ridiculous amount of grunt, given the car’s small size, but it’s never too wild — just wild enough. Add in some of the best steering and handling found on a modern BMW and its strong, aggressive looks, and you’ve got a modern-day icon of a sports car.
$1,000 per month ($70,050)
Porsche 718 Cayman T
If you can fork over $1,000 a month under our hypothetical scheme, you can finally land your butt in a truly great Porsche. The 718 Cayman T (and slightly more expensive 718 Boxster T) is among the most involving new cars money can buy at any price, even if their turbocharged boxer-four engines aren’t quite as mellifluous as flat-sixes of Caymans past. Just be sure to go light on the options, as Porsche’s notorious pricing structure can send this car’s pricing close to six figures without adding much to the fun.
Fun fact: the average American mortgage payment lands here, at $1,494 per month.
$1,500 per month ($105,100)
Okay, so you have to go without the M5 Competition that makes the absolute most of BMW M’s powers to limbo under our price. Luckily, the regular M5 offers 98.5% of the M5 Comp’s performance, even if you’re stuck with a “stripper” version. That bare-bones M5, by the way, still has all the premium features you’d expect of a six-figure Bimmer — along with acceleration, braking and handling that let it keep up with super sports cars.
$3,150 per month ($220,750)
Lamborghini Huracan Evo RWD
Admittedly, this may seem like an odd monthly payment on which to end this, but it’s one that hits close to home for us at Gear Patrol. $3,150 a month, as it turns out, is the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in New York City.
Now, if we were looking to buy a ride that we could live out of for that sort of money, we’d probably opt for something like a Mercedes-Maybach S650, an Alpina B7 or an Airstream Interstate Lounge. But since this is a list dedicated to fun cars, we think we’d have to go for a rear-wheel-drive Lamborghini Huracan Evo. At a base price of a bit below $210,000, we could even grab a few nice options before we hit that price ceiling.
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