What Should I Buy? Making a Statement for $30,000 or Less

Three $30,000 Statement Machines


  • 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250

    2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250

    There's some CL-Class in the CLA250's shape. | April 01, 2014

15 Photos

The Situation: You've got a $30,000 budget and want to make a statement. Here are three undeniable ways to do so.

The Obvious Choice: 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA
Pros: Stunning styling, premium interior, prestigious nameplate
Cons: Firm ride quality, limited passenger headroom

Mercedes' CLA250 sedan began turning heads when it debuted in a 2013 Super Bowl commercial starring the devil. No harm was done. When it hit dealers last fall it quickly became one of the most attention-grabbing cars of the year. The little Benz is among the most attractive offerings in the burgeoning premium compact segment for several reasons. It offers a 208-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder linked to the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission: a combo that yields 30 mpg combined, according to the EPA.

Ever better, the CLA is every bit a premium vehicle inside. It comes standard with MBTex seating, which is the best leather knock-off in the business. Other standard features include 17-inch wheels, eight-way power-adjustable front seats, automatic wipers and lights and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity. Options include bigger wheels, navigation, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and a blind-spot warning. But let's face it: You're buying the CLA for its premium look and driving experience at a reasonable price — and that's what you'll get.

Downsides are few. The CLA's sloping rear roof line compromises rear-seat headroom, making that seat less than ideal for tall passengers. And its automated-manual transmission isn't always as quick or as decisive as we'd like. Still, at this price, it doesn't get much nicer.

The Essentials
Starting Price: $30,825 (CLA250 sedan)
Configuration: Front-engine, front-drive, five-passenger sedan
Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder: 208 hp, 258 pound-feet of torque; seven-speed automated manual
EPA Fuel Economy: 30 mpg combined (26 city/38 highway)

See Edmunds' rating of the 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLA250 sedan here.

The Unlikely Contender: 2014 Jeep Wrangler
Pros: Go-anywhere utility, equally fun around town, standard soft top
Cons: Rough ride, tight rear seats, standard soft top

There's no denying the Jeep Wrangler's ability to make a statement. Though it's one of the most capable stock off-roaders you can buy today, it's also a relatively versatile machine in the city thanks to a tight turning radius and good visibility. Sure, the Wrangler isn't as comfortable as your standard crossover SUV, but how many of those let you drop the roof, doors and windshield?

Despite being genuinely modernized in many ways, the Spartan ethos of the original remains. Under the hood is a 3.6-liter, 285-hp V6 paired with a standard six-speed manual transmission. Four-wheel drive is standard. It's also available as a four-door, though that will press our $30,000 limit a bit.

Don't expect an abundance of amenities. Crank windows are standard on the base model, but you do get a CD player with six speakers, an auxiliary audio jack and steering wheel controls for the audio system. You'll need to add the Connectivity Group to any trim to get Bluetooth, however.

There are downsides. Both ride quality and fuel economy fall dramatically short of most current crossover SUVs in this price range. Side-impact crash test ratings are poor and braking distances are longer than average. This isn't an SUV for softies, but no one will say it doesn't make a statement.

The Essentials
Starting Price: $23,390 (Sport)
Configuration: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, four-passenger SUV
Powertrain: 3.6-liter V6: 285 hp, 260 lb-ft; six-speed manual transmission
EPA Fuel Economy: 18 mpg combined (17 city/21 highway)

The Value Option: 2014 Nissan Juke
Pros: Can't-ignore-it styling, sharp handling, ample power
Cons: Sacrifices utility for style, less space than other compact crossovers, thirsty when driven hard

We remember being pleasantly surprised the first time we got behind the wheel of our long-term Juke back in 2011. Here was a small crossover that had both style and personality. The base Juke's 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder pumps out 188 hp, which (in all-wheel-drive models) is routed to the ground through a continuously variable transmission (CVT). A six-speed manual is available only in front-drive Jukes.

Though its styling inside and out is polarizing, we like it. And it's more fun to drive — with some more unusual handling tricks up its sleeve — than anything else in the segment. Apparently we aren't alone, because Nissan recently introduced two higher-performance models: the 197-hp Juke Nismo and the 211-hp Juke Nismo RS.

Standard options on base Jukes include 17-inch wheels, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, keyless entry and full power accessories. Opt up to the SV model and you'll get tunable throttle, steering and transmission response. Navigation, leather and heated seats are also available.

Nitpicks include the fact that the Juke simply isn't as usable as some compact SUVs, but that's the price you pay for personality, and we'd argue that the Juke is still practical for those with needs satisfied by a sedan. Also, if you drive it hard, fuel economy suffers. The EPA says the Juke is good for 27 mpg combined. We averaged 22.4 mpg over 18,000 hard-charging miles.

The Essentials
Starting Price: $21,800 (S AWD)
Configuration: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, five-passenger compact SUV
Powertrain: 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder: 188 hp, 177 lb-ft; CVT; all-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy: 27 mpg combined (25 city/30 highway)

See Edmunds' rating of the 2014 Nissan Juke Nismo here.

Comments

  • skw0123 skw0123 Posts:

    Weird article. Was this supposed to go up yesterday? (This article is dated 4/2). How many people, upon learning that it is almost impossible to find a CLA for less than say $36K, let alone $30K, would decide to buy a Juke instead?

  • emajor emajor Posts:

    Sat in a $28.5K Juke at the dealership recently. I hope this thing drives like a GT-R, because it has all of the interior polish of a Versa and absolutely no passenger or cargo room. Cheap, nasty, and expensive. You'd have to possess a curious sense of value to drop anywhere near that kind of money on one.

  • wackford wackford Posts:

    What has happened to edmunds.com. Not that long ago, it was the place to come for up-to-date, interesting news on cars, etc. Now, they rarely have anything interesting and their updates are infrequent. It used to be my first port of call, but now there are other sites that do a much better job. Come on Edmunds, pull your socks up!!!!

  • darthbimmer darthbimmer Posts:

    Want to spend $30k the smart way on an entry luxury car? Forget buying a brand-new CLA -- if you can even find one optioned that close to base price. Buy a slightly more upscale car as a CPO or good-condition used vehicle.

  • Interesting article - If you find a CLA at or 'under' 30K you better buy it. Those things come loaded from the factory and sticker in the "HIGH" 30's (mosy likely a special order for the 30K version @ No options, fake leather, no S/F, No nav etc). That Jeep for a starting price $23K - Um, dunno - I could be wrong? But is that the 2WD with small 4 banger engine? Get the 4WD, V6, and add some options you will be at 30K real quick! Just say'in...

  • skw0123, I think they are just 3 widely varied ways to 'get noticed'; not comparable ways. Although I do agree with the silliness of theme. I would love it if they'd actually compare and contrast some of their long term cars and have asked in several posts how the Mazda3 and CX5 compare for handling, ride, noise and room and if the different tradeoffs are worth it. Since that would be something that people that regularly drove both should be able to comment on I'd find posts like that much more interesting and helpful.

  • I'm wondering how long it will be before Edmunds pulls the plug on InsideLine and "what's hot". IL used to be great years ago. Now the editors who are knowledgeable like Dan Edmunds hardly ever post anymore. The other editors are continuously corrected by readers. Real issues are never addressed. Most of the entries are terribly written fluff pieces. The quality of tests and photography are laughable compared to sites like roadandtrack, caranddriver etc. The site Edmunds is still relevant. IL is not.

  • oxmead oxmead Posts:

    Another stupid article. Since when is $30,825 30k or less. And good luck finding one close to that!

  • evodad evodad Posts:

    I think you'll get more notice than the three cars you posted combined in a frs/brz, or any number of used cars that can be had for <$30K

  • mnorm1_ mnorm1_ Posts:

    wackford, couldn't agree more. Seems to me Edmunds has been sliding since Karl B. left. Edmunds needs to bring him back, or find someone similar.

  • greenpony greenpony Posts:

    To get noticed under $30k, you need standout styling and a sticker price under $30k. The CLA doesn't qualify on either account. There are Wranglers everywhere, so it doesn't really stand out. The Juke is the only one that belongs on this list. I'd also put the BRZ/FRS on this list because it's rare enough to still turn my head when I see one. Then, maybe a Focus ST or a Volt to round out the three.

  • nh6 nh6 Posts:

    You guys forgot the Veloster Turbo. Even the Fiat 500 and a couple Minis should be on this list. The CLA has no place here whatsoever. It's a glorified sardine can for poseurs and idiots who can't see it as a way to screw people over.

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