2006 Honda Accord EX 2dr Coupe w/Leather (2.4L 4cyl 5A)
This is the single best bang for your buck in the $26K and under category. Easily. Ride quality, style, comfort are all incredible. Sporty looking car (the V6 has enough power to back it up but the I-4 is a few ponies short). Everyone I've had in the car has complimented it.
Great standard stereo, telescopic wheel, design of rear-end of car. So many options for not that much money.
Add 20 HP. Car is very sluggish after 65 mph. Wipers need a faster setting (just a little bit faster). Headlights need to be a bit brighter. Auto-locking doors needed. No major improvements, just minor tweaks.