What is a cool car? For some, it could be a classic muscle car; for others, a brand-new Ferrari. It could be a heavy-duty pickup rolling coal or a Prius sipping gas to save the planet. In other words, this is a 100 percent subjective list of cars.
To determine our list of cool used cars for $22,000, we started with the average retail price of a used vehicle: just under $19,000, according to Edmunds research. Then we defined the set as vehicles that eschew many aspects of practicality — and therefore mass-market popularity — for performance, style and, simply, being cool. It's no coincidence that virtually all our choices have two doors and impeccable fun-to-drive credentials. We also tried to make selections that are of a reasonable age (no classic cars) and won't bankrupt you with endless pricey repairs (i.e., no big-depreciation ultra-luxury cars).
After hours of online searching for such cars at $19K, we determined that the price wasn't yielding enough candidates, so we raised the ceiling to $22,000 and found the sweet spot. Basically, these are cool used cars within reason.
Edmunds has lots of tools to help in your cool-used quest, including used-car inventory search, used-car appraisal (so you'll know what that car should be selling for) and tips on how to be a smart used-car shopper. Let's see what cars suit you.
1. Ford Mustang
Suggested Years: 2011-2014
With the exception of some unfortunateness in the 1970s, the Ford Mustang has always been cool. It's also always been relatively affordable. The Mustang you'd get for $22,000 depends on its year, mileage, engine and body style (coupe or convertible). We'd happily get an older V8-powered GT coupe with fewer miles, as opposed to a newer model with the V6. The 2011-2014 model years are key here, thanks to serious V6 and V8 engine upgrades that began in 2011. This was especially important for the V6, which went from a must-avoid rental car engine to one that nearly made as much horsepower as the outgoing V8. But the V8 got a big-time bump, too. In fact, the same basic engine continues to power the current Mustang GT.
2. Mini Cooper
Suggested Years: 2013-2015
Since its reintroduction more than a decade ago, the Mini Cooper has possessed the unique ability to be cool to a variety of different buyers. Men, women, young, old — it doesn't matter. It's a great choice if you're attracted to its wildly fun "go kart" driving experience or if you love its cute retro looks and nearly endless customization possibilities. The 2013-2015 model years are best because cars in that age range are likely to be certified pre-owned cars. That means extra warranty coverage and Mini-certified vehicle inspection (both very important given Mini's less-than-stellar reliability record). Note, too, that these dates cross two different generations. The older generation Mini is arguably better looking and sharper to drive, while the newer one is more efficient and refined.
3. Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ
Suggested Years: Any (2013-current model year)
Scion and Subaru's twin coupes represent one of the easiest ways to have a lot of fun behind the wheel for not a lot of money. Credit their small size, light weight and power sent to the rear wheels. Then you can throw in an easy-to-drive nature that will amuse and reward expert and novice drivers alike. The FR-S and BRZ look pretty cool and, unlike most sporting cars, they don't cost a fortune to fill. Given their reasonable price even when new, you should be able to get an FR-S or BRZ with relatively low miles for $22,000. Just beware of any aftermarket modifications that may have been done.
4. Honda S2000
Suggested Years: Any during its production (2000-2009)
Like the Scion/Subaru twins, the Honda S2000 is an enthusiast's darling: small, rear-drive and an absolute riot to pilot. Unlike the twins, though, the S2000 has a thrilling, high-strung engine that represents Honda at its absolute best. (It comes in two versions, the second debuting for 2004.) Obviously, an S2000 is an older used car, meaning you're more likely to deal with maintenance issues. By reputation, though, the S2000 is one of the most reliable sports cars ever built, so if you look for one with lower mileage and minimal modifications, you could have a perfectly dependable roadster for $22,000.
5. Porsche Boxster
Suggested Years: 2008 or earlier
This one probably won't be cheap to maintain or to fix. But a Boxster shouldn't be that bad if it was well cared for by its previous owner (or owners). Besides, the Porsche Boxster is unquestionably cool and one of the best cars to drive, period. Since many Boxsters have been used as weekend cars, you won't have too hard a time finding plenty in seemingly great condition and with reasonable miles for $22,000. Note that Porsche introduced a new generation Boxster for 2005, so the 2005-'08 models will feel fresher and more capable. But the earlier cars are certainly still desirable.
6. Jeep Wrangler
Suggested Years: 2012 or later
If there's a poster child for shunning practicality in order to be cool, it's got to be the Jeep Wrangler. This is an SUV with removable doors, windshield and roof. It has an ancient suspension and steering design that does a great job navigating rocks and trails, but is totally lousy on pavement. It is loud, rough-riding and not especially nice inside. But, oh boy, is it cool. All model years have that cachet, but we recommend one produced for 2012 or later when Jeep radically upgraded its engine in terms of both power and fuel economy. Note, however, that Wranglers don't depreciate much, so there's a decent chance a new one won't be much more expensive than a used model. This is one case where stretching a bit beyond $22K in order to get a new car could be a sound financial decision.
7. Toyota FJ Cruiser
Suggested Years: Any during its production (2007-2014)
The FJ Cruiser has a lot in common with the Wrangler: unapologetically retro, great off-road and not especially practical for an SUV, all of which contribute to its coolness. Unlike the Jeep, though, the FJ has sterling reliability ratings, is much better to drive on road and is generally more refined. FJ Cruisers have held onto their value extremely well, so at our $22,000 price point, there's a good chance you'll be dealing with an older model or a newer one with higher mileage. Either way, its seven years of production and its Toyota heritage should assuage most fears regarding older used cars.
8. BMW 3 Series Coupe and Convertible
Suggested Years: 2007 or later
Some would argue that the so-called E90 generation was the last great BMW 3 Series, produced before the company tried to appeal to a broader audience by putting greater emphasis on luxury and fuel economy. It is also literally the last 3 Series coupe and convertible. The two-door 3 Series is now known as the 4 Series. These cars are brilliant to drive and easy on the eyes, possessing a beautifully proportioned sleekness that contrasts with its boxier predecessors. Even the convertible's trick retractable hardtop doesn't result in the typical bulbous rear end. That hardtop may cause some repair headaches, and indeed, any BMW is likely to be pricier to maintain than most of the cars on this list. But if you're looking for a classically cool German car at a modest price, a two-door 3 Series may be for you.Check out a used BMW 3 Series near you
9. Chevrolet Corvette
Suggested Years: 1997-2004
If you want a classically cool American car rather than a German one, there's no better place to turn than to Corvette. Really, any Corvette of any age would be cool, but since the older ones can get rather expensive, let's go for a more recent suggestion. For $22K, you could probably get a sixth-generation Corvette (C6, in Corvette parlance), but it would have higher miles and perhaps less TLC than a Corvette deserves. Our advice is to look for a low-mileage car from the fifth generation (C5) that's been affectionately maintained. If you want C6-matching performance, you can even find a C5 Corvette Z06 for $22,000 or thereabouts. Edmunds had a long-term Z06 test car and we loved it.
10. Dodge Challenger
Suggested Years: 2014-2015 (SXT); any production year (2008-current model year) for V8 models
No discussion of classically cool American cars would be complete without mentioning the Dodge Challenger. If you want a cool car that's still plenty useful, this retro muscle coupe is a fantastic choice with its adult-sized backseat and relatively enormous trunk. Available in a variety of models, the Challenger can look cool in a stealthy sort of way (black) or in a brash, "look at me!" sort of way (Plum Crazy purple). We recommend one of the V8-powered models, but should you be more into the Challenger's look than its performance, a V6-powered one from 2014 or later should work just fine. The earlier V6 Challengers were underpowered and barely more efficient than the V8. The updated V6, on the other hand, is a satisfying choice.
11. Jaguar XF
Suggested Years: The newer the better (2009-current model year)
There are objectively better used luxury sedans — a Mercedes-Benz E-Class, for instance — that you can pick up for $22,000. However, as nice as the E-Class is, it isn't necessarily cool. But the Jaguar XF is a different sort of luxury sedan. Not only does its sleek styling stand out from the conservative crowd, but its distinctively styled cabin features unique details, such as a power-retracting rotary shifter and rotating air vents, that make each journey just a little more special. And if you really want special, seek out an XF with the silky smooth and gloriously quick supercharged V8 engine. A word of warning, however: Although Jaguar's reliability is exponentially better than in the past (Edmunds' long-term XF was trouble-free), it's still a complicated luxury sedan. Grab the newest one you can find.