You could buy a nice BMW 3 Series for the cost of a new Toyota Corolla

You could buy a nice BMW 3 Series for the cost of a new Toyota Corolla

Yep, we're about to talk about sticker shock. It's a well-worn phrase that most Americans have probably been hearing about all their lives. The premise is simple: If you only buy a new car once every 10 years or so — the average age of all cars on roads in the United States currently sits at 12.5 years, the oldest in history — you're going to be surprised, shocked even, when you look at the window sticker of your intended replacement vehicle.

Thing is, the sticker shock phenomenon is more real today than ever before. The average new-car transaction price in America is over $48,000 in 2023. That's actually down from where it sat a few months prior and is largely driven by hefty prices on wildly popular full-size pickups, but buyers of all vehicles are still being forced to contend with higher prices. It's also led to increasingly long loan terms and higher interest rates.

But that doesn't mean there aren't any affordable options for car buyers in America. The Toyota Corolla — the best-selling global nameplate of all time, for what it's worth — starts around $23,000 in 2023. It's a good, reliable choice. We happily recommend the Corolla to buyers who don't really care too much about the driving experience, focusing their vehicular wishlist more in the direction of efficiency, affordability and reliability. There's nothing wrong with buying a Toyota Corolla for those reasons. There are also Corolla Hybrids aimed at buyers who value efficiency above all else, and sporty-looking SE and XSE models that look and feel a bit less mundane than the base LE model.

But what if you're unimpressed by the Corolla or any of its new compact sedan competitors? They certainly aren't your only option for safe, reliable, efficient or even sporty transport. That's what the used market is for. Here is a variety of options for the same price that are more interesting, sportier and/or luxurious than a perfectly acceptable economy car.


This isn't meant to be a comprehensive list of used cars available for the cost of basic, but brand-new, transportation. Rather, it's a demonstration that a used-car search can be a viable option for buyers who need a new set of wheels but can't or don't want to lose an arm and a leg in the process.

Option 1: 2019-2020 Lexus UX 250h

2019 Lexus UX 250h
2019 Lexus UX 250h

As of the day this was published, there were 62 Lexus UX 250h hybrids available for less than $30,000 and 22 of those are priced less than the $27,945 asking price (including mandatory destination) that Toyota asks for a 2023 Corolla Hybrid XLE. Some of these UX models include the F Sport package, as seen above. The UX is not the sportiest or roomiest subcompact crossover for sale in America, and it's Lexus' smallest model. But it's full of enticing technology, smooth, comfortable, extremely fuel efficient and backed by Lexus' reputation for a premium ownership experience and strong expected long-term reliability. The UX 250h hybrid gets 43/41/42 with FWD and 41/38/39 with AWD, which is a bit short of the Corolla Hybrid that eeks out 50-plus miles per gallon, but still very good.

Here's what we said about it in our review:

"The Lexus UX is a boldly-styled small crossover with impressively smooth and quiet road manners though it's low on power compared with other crossovers, and rear-seat and cargo space is a bit tight. The hybrid offers more power and impressive fuel economy."


Option 2: 2020-2023 Hyundai Sonata

If the Lexus UX isn't big enough for your driving needs, consider the Hyundai Sonata, which, as a large midsize sedan, is significantly larger than our compact Toyota Corolla example. In our review of the 2022 Sonata, we said it 'offers abundant passenger and cargo space, tons of well-executed technology, and a lineup of efficient engines.'

Now, the Sonata's styling certainly isn't for everyone, which we addressed in our review. "Maybe it'll be too out-there for some, but we'll take bold over anonymous any day. The interior isn't quite as unusual, but it's sleek and modern while still providing usable storage, sensible controls and easy-to-use tech. In short, the Sonata delivers function and fashion, and we consider it one of the best cars under $30,000."

Now that it's a couple of years old, a low-mileage Sonata covered by Hyundai's factory-backed certified pre-owned warranty costs exactly the same amount as a new Corolla fresh off the lot. It's a compelling option.


Option 3: 2021-2022 Kia Seltos