Compacts, Convertibles, Coupes and Beyond

The 25 Best Cars Under $50,000 in 2017


Editor’s Note: This list has been updated for 2017.

The number of cars on sale today is mind-numbingly high, and companies like BMW and Mercedes, who are trying to fill up even the smallest gaps in the market, aren’t exactly making your task as a consumer any easier. That said, the average consumer isn’t shopping for an SUV from Bentley or a family hatchback from Ferrari, either. After all, the average MSRP for a car hovers around $33,500.

We raised our search ceiling to $50,000 for some realistic leeway and gathered the best cars on offer within that limit. You can’t go wrong with any choice on this list. No matter what style you’re shopping for, these are the best cars on sale today for under 50 grand.

Compact Cars

Compact Doesn’t Mean Compromised

Volkswagen Golf GTI

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Best Hot Hatch: This legend has been the benchmark for hot hatches since it first rolled off the assembly line in 1976. We may have slim pickings in the U.S. when it comes to hatchbacks in general, but just know that the GTI bests the rest around the world, so the option we do have is the best by far. Low-end torque and a lively 2.0-liter turbo engine translates to a 0-60 time that has the GTI punching well above its weight.

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Horsepower: 210
Torque: 258 lb-ft
Drive: FWD
0-60 mph: 5.8 seconds
Top Speed: 124 mph

Ford Focus RS

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Best Rally-Inspired Hatchback: Developed by Ford Performance with some consulting from Ken Block, the 2016 Ford Focus RS shouldn’t be road legal. And with 350 horsepower, 350 lb-ft and a base price of $35,900, it’s easy to see the bureaucrats were kept away from this one, as though the certified “Drift Mode” weren’t proof enough.

Engine: 2.3-liter turbocharged inline-four
Horsepower: 350
Torque: 350 lb-ft
Drive: AWD
0-60 mph: 4.6 seconds
Top Speed: 165 mph

Audi S3

Best Compact Sedan: Since the A4/S4 has put on some weight over the years, the S3 now slots in under its heavier brother and takes up the mantle has the nimble sport sedan. 292 horsepower and 280 lb-ft combine to make just enough performance to have an incredible amount of fun, while staying out of trouble on the open road.

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Horsepower: 292
Torque: 280 lb-ft
Drive: AWD
0-60 mph: 4.6 seconds
Top Speed: 155 mph

Sedans

It’s the Adult Thing to Do

Lexus IS 350 F Sport RWD

Best 3-Series Fighter: It took a while, but Lexus has finally put forth a car worthy of being in the same conversation as the Germans. Its radical styling actually works for it, separating it from the other cookie-cutter luxury four-doors. But it takes more than styling to compete in one of the most contested segments on the market. The interior’s level of design makes the cockpit a pleasant place to be and the naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 makes it a great place to stay.

Engine: 3.5-liter V6
Horsepower: 306
Torque: 277 lb-ft
Drive: RWD
0-60 mph: 5.6 seconds
Top Speed: 143 mph

Audi A4

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Most Modern Sedan: The Audi A4 went untouched for seven years, but it came back in a big way. Though there were only subtle aesthetic tweaks, Audi made huge changes underneath the hood, carrying crash avoidance and driver assistance systems over from the top-of-the-line Q7 SUV.

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four
Horsepower: 252
Torque: 273 lb-ft
Drive: AWD
0-60 mph: 5.7 seconds
Top Speed: 130 mph

Mazda6

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Best-Looking Family Sedan: In the past few years, Japan, and Mazda especially, have really come into their own in the style and design department. It’s no coincidence that there are four Mazdas on our list. For the price, they’re some of the best-handling cars on the road, and the 6 is no exception. Sharp and flowing design draped over a competent yet efficient chassis, and all for under $25,000.

Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder
Horsepower: 184
Torque: 185 lb-ft
Drive: FWD
0-60 mph: 7.4 seconds
Top Speed: N/A

Cadillac CTS

Best Full-Sized Luxury Sedan: Cadillac has really come into its own with its latest generation. The 2017/2016 CTS wears the new Cadillac design language beautifully, and for the price, it’s hard to beat the level of luxury the CTS provides.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Horsepower: 268
Torque: 295 lb-ft
Drive: RWD
0–60 mph: 5.8 seconds
Top Speed: N/A

Wagons

More Practical Than a Crossover

Volvo V60 Cross Country T5 AWD

Best-Looking Wagon: It was sad to see the V70 wagon depart the U.S. market in 2010, but the tried-and-true Volvo wagon has returned in the lovely and svelte V60 wagon. The squared-off wagon of old is long gone but steers clear of being categorized as a ubiquitous crossover. The creased hood, sloping roofline and swept profile perfectly house the 240 horsepower four-cylinder T5 with all-wheel-drive. Throw in the light off-road capabilities and you have yourself a great little wagon.

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Horsepower: 240
Torque: 258 lb-ft
Drive: AWD
0-60 mph: 6.2 seconds
Top Speed: N/A

BMW 330i xDrive Sports Wagon

Best Family Racer: For the best combination of sport and practicality, look no further. The longer roof line works unbelievably well with the new generation 3-Series styling and has the performance to match with 248 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. Combine the practicality of a wagon, legendary 3-Series handling and the safety of all-wheel-drive and you’ve got one hell of a well-rounded car, no matter the weather. Tick the Dynamic Handling Package option for a grand, and get the fantastic Adaptive M suspension and Variable Sport Steering for even more fun behind the wheel.

Engine: 2.0-liter twin-turbocharged four-cylinder
Horsepower: 248
Torque: 280 lb-ft
Drive: AWD
0-60 mph: 5.7 seconds
Top Speed: 155 mph

Audi A4 Allroad

Best Adventurer: Audi made a name for itself tackling dirt roads with its quattro AWD system, and the new A4 Allroad brings that legendary ability to the average family. The A4 Allroad’s cargo space and off-road ability lends itself beautifully to the family who would rather gather around a campfire under the stars than a flat-screen TV in the living room.

Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder
Horsepower: 252
Torque: 273 lb-ft
Drive: AWD
0-60 mph: 5.9 seconds
Top Speed: 130 mph

Coupes

Half the Doors, Twice the Fun

Cadillac ATS

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Best Nouveau Performance Luxury: In the grand scheme of everyday driving, mountains of horsepower don’t really come into play. So, for as good as the ATS-V is (and it’s really good), it can be overkill. The standard ATS options keep the same great handling and poise as the V, but take a more conservative approach when it comes to power. Choose from a 2.5-liter four, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four (with an excellent six-speed manual) or the potent 3.6-liter V6 with 321 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque. Either way, you won’t be disappointed around town, or when the road opens up outside the city limits.

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder / 3.6-liter V6
Horsepower: 272 / 335
Torque: 295 / 285 lb-ft
Drive: RWD
0-60 mph: 5.6 seconds (V6)
Top Speed: 146 mph (V6)

Lexus RC 350 F Sport

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Most Daring Design: At this price point, the RC is more sporty in its design and intentions than any of the Lexus SC iterations, while still catering to customers who want that Lexus luxury. The exterior is by far the best expression of the new, edgier Lexus design language, and the interior is awash with rich materials like Playa upholstery, aluminum pedals and bucket seats deeper than a barcalounger. The RC 350 F Sport drives incredibly well thanks to its Adaptive Variable Suspension and available Variable Gear Ratio Steering, which gives the driver impressive feedback.

Engine: 3.5-liter V6
Horsepower: 306
Torque: 277 lb-ft
Drive: RWD
0-60 mph: 5.6 seconds
Top Speed: 143 mph

BMW M240i

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Best Autocrosser: You could be forgiven for forgetting about the M235i now that the M2 has landed, but it would be a mistake to dismiss it altogether. The M2’s price point puts it just out of reach for this list, but the M235i wasn’t exactly a letdown when it debuted. It was the spiritual successor to the 1-Series M, and since the M3 has become quite large, it felt like it had more of a connection to the iconic E46 M3 as well. Best of all, it’s still available as the middle ground between the base models and the raucous M2.

Engine: 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six-cylinder
Horsepower: 335
Torque: 369 lb-ft
Drive: RWD
0-60 mph: 4.4 seconds
Top Speed: 155 mph

Convertibles

Go Topless

Mazda Miata RF

Best Bargain Roadster: Ignore the Miata’s incredibly low price just for a second, and focus purely on performance. There’s nothing in its weight class that can compare. And you’d actually have to go pretty far upmarket to find anything that delivers the experience and excitement that the new Miata does. Now factor in the MSRP, and the argument to buy anything else completely dissolves. The new RF’s retractable, targa-style roof only adds the newest Miata’s good looks.

Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder
Horsepower: 155
Torque: 148 lb-ft
Drive: RWD
0-60 mph: 5.8 seconds
Top Speed: 129 mph

BMW 230i Convertible

Best Coastal Cruiser: Now that the 3- and 4-Series have both moved upmarket, the 2-Series has moved into the attainable-sports-car bracket. And with that, the 2-Series convertible has done a standup job as a pretty drop-top than can still handle a curve or two. The 2-Series convertible also eschews a hardtop and goes with a soft top in order to save weight and space. (And the classic convertible look is a nice bonus.)

Engine: 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder
Horsepower: 248
Torque: 258 lb-ft
Drive: RWD
0-60: 5.6 seconds
Top Speed: 130 mph

SUVs/CUVs

No Longer Gas-Guzzling Tanks

Mercedes-Benz GLA 250

Best Pint-Sized CUV: Mercedes has an uncanny ability to provide an incredible level of luxury to every one of its cars, no matter the price range. The GLA is a prime example of that. At $32,850, you’ll find a high-quality interior and design language that has the air of a car that costs $15,000–$20,000 more.

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four
Horsepower: 208
Torque: 258 lb-ft
Drive: AWD
0-60: 6.1 seconds
Top Speed: 130 mph

Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

Sportiest Compact SUV: For as much as we praise Mazda for the handling built into its sedans and coupes, equal praise must be given for the mid-corner poise the brand distills into the CX-5 SUV as well. It’s not often an SUV is applauded for its handling, but somehow Mazda has transferred its signature handling to its higher-riding vehicles.

Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder
Horsepower: 187
Torque: 185 lb-ft
Drive: AWD
0-60: 7.7 seconds
Top Speed: 120 mph

Trucks

When a Workhorse Is Called For

Ford F-150

Best High-Tech, Low-Weight Truck: Ford obviously didn’t need to change its formula for the most successful vehicle of all time, but the company went ahead and made the F-150 even better by using lightweight, rigid aluminum for its bread-and-butter pickup. Two state-of-the-art EcoBoost engines are available as powertrains, including a 2.7-liter V6 and a 3.5-liter V6, maximizing both power and fuel economy. Most importantly, the move towards more advanced materials may just pave the way for generations to come.

Engine: 3.5-liter V6 / 2.7-liter turbo V6 / 3.5-liter turbo V6 / 5.0-liter V8
Horsepower: 282 / 325 / 365 / 385
Torque: 253 / 375 / 420 / 387 lb-ft
Drive: RWD / AWD
0-60: 5.6 seconds (turbo V6 ecoBoost)
Top Speed: 107 mph (turbo V6 ecoBoost)

Chevy Colorado

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Best Mid-Size Hauler: The Colorado gets Chevy back in the mid-sized truck game, dominated by the Toyota Tacoma for far too long. Simplicity is key here. Chevy’s trucks may not be the most technologically advanced options, but if you want a truck that can take a bruising, the Colorado is the best no-frills option. And in 4×4 guise with a V6 with an optional 7,000-pound towing capacity, it won’t mind putting in the work.

Engine: 2.8-liter Turbo Diesel / 3.6-liter V6
Horsepower: 181 / 305
Torque: 369 / 269 lb-ft
Drive: RWD / AWD
0-60: 7.6 seconds (V6)
Top Speed: 98 mph (V6)

Ram 1500 Rebel

Best Muscle Truck: Now that “performance-orientated” SUVs are geared for track use (for whatever reason), it would seem that muscle-truck designers are taking the opportunity to make use of all those knobby tires and lifted suspension kits manufacturers have lying around. The Ram 1500 Rebel is Dodge’s hat in the ring, striking a perfect balance between a standard pickup and the balls-out insanity of the Ford F-150 Raptor.

Engine: 5.7-liter Hemi V8
Horsepower: 395
Torque: 410 lb-ft
Drive: 4×4
0-60: 6.6 seconds (V8)
Top Speed: 106 mph

Sports Cars

Completely Impractical, Absolutely Necessary

Subaru WRX STi

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Best AWD Track Car: Despite the disappearance of the tasty hatchback, the STi lives on in a rally sedan that’s more refined and better looking than the outgoing car. It gets a new platform, increased chassis rigidity with more capable suspension than ever. Thankfully, the WRX keeps its six-speed manual, gets limited-slip diffs and torque vectoring to keep things planted when roads get messy, but it lets you have a little fun when that unplowed parking lot is calling your name (and your e-brake).

Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged flat four-cylinder
Horsepower: 305
Torque: 290 lb-ft
Drive: AWD
0-60: 4.7 seconds
Top Speed: 159 mph

Audi TT

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Best Mini Supercar: There’s a reason Audi is synonymous with legendary handling, and cars like the Audi TT are a shining example of it. With all four wheels pushed far to the corners of the car, and with its low-slung architecture, the TT feels like a go kart through the corners. Through design and performance the TT is just one of those cars nearly anyone can set decent lap times in.

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four
Horsepower: 220
Torque: 258 lb-ft
Drive: AWD
0-60: 5.3 seconds
Top Speed: 130 mph

Ford Mustang GT

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Best Pony Car: Ford ditched the old car’s solid rear axle and reworked the Mustang into a real sports car, instead of just a potent muscle car. The fully independent front and rear suspension, along with a more rigid body structure, makes for a rewarding driving experience, rather than an opportunity to soil yourself out of pure fear. And, as great as the EcoBoost 2.3-liter four-cylinder is, the V8 is still the one to buy. The new Mustang is a car the world covets and respects, not just for its heritage, but because it has arrived in a fresh and exhilarating way.

Engine: 5.0-liter V8
Horsepower: 435
Torque: 400 lb-ft
Drive: RWD
0-60: 4.3 seconds
Top Speed: 155 mph