We can all agree that there's something special about a brand new car. They have the latest and greatest technology, everything is fresh and clean, and of course, there's that new car smell. Despite the draw of a brand new set of wheels, most of us can also agree that the used car market is where you can grab the best deal. No matter what kind of car or SUV you're looking for, thousands of examples are out there to choose from. How do you know what to get? Here are a few of our choices for the best cars to buy used.
Volkswagen GTI (Type Mk6, 2010-2014) - The Practical Sporty Hatchback
As a lifelong fan of practical performance hatchbacks, my go-to recommendation for almost anyone looking for something fun, practical, and economical, is the Volkswagen GTI. The best buy going right now is the Mk6 VW GTI, which sold from 2010-2014 in both 2-door and 4-door varieties. Powered by a powerful but efficient 2.0 T turbocharged engine and available with either a slick-shifting 6-speed manual transmission or DSG dual-clutch automatic, the Mk6 GTI provides plenty of performance when you want to have fun behind the wheel. With a large cargo area and fold-down rear seats, you'll find the VW GTI can swallow a surprisingly large amount of cargo. Whether that's supplies for a beach weekend, tools and spares for the track, bringing home boxes from IKEA, the GTI can almost do it all.
The Mk6 GTI was sold between 2010 and 2014. Depending on the year, mileage, and condition, you can expect to pay $6,000-$12,000 on average for a Mk6 GTI. These cars are typically reliable with proper service and care, but we recommend sticking to 2012+ models unless the car has documentation that the timing chain tensioner has been updated. For more, check out our Mk6 GTI buyer's guide, which covers all the key info you need on these great cars.
Mercedes-Benz C450 AMG (Type W205, 2016) - The Performance Luxury Sedan
If you are looking for something a little more refined that can carry family and clients alike, while still delivering excitement behind the wheel, I'd take a look at the 2016 Mercedes C450 AMG. Designed to be a bridge between the tire-burning C63 AMG and more practical and comfortable C300 4MATIC, the C450 AMG is an impressive performance sedan. With a 3.0 L twin-turbocharged V6 engine producing 362 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque, this 7-speed automatic all-wheel-drive Mercedes can sprint to 60mph in less than 4.5 seconds and cover a quarter-mile in 13.0 seconds flat. All this, while providing the driver with the refined luxury you would expect from Mercedes-Benz.
With multiple drive modes such as comfort, eco, sport, and sport +, you can tailor your driving experience to your mood and needs. Perhaps best of all, even with all this performance on tap, the C450 AMG can still deliver up to an EPA-rated 29mpg highway. These factors make this a great performance sedan, with an eye on the practical for your commute. Like most Mercedes cars, the C450 seems to be a pretty robust vehicle without any significant issues when properly cared for. Early examples were said to suffer from timing chain rattles and injector issues, most of which should have been addressed by now. Best of all, you can pick up one of these Autobahn-burners for around $25,000.
Porsche Cayman S (Type 987.2, 2009-2012) - The Sports Car
When it comes to German sports cars, it's hard to really think of anything better than a Porsche. With decades of experience developing and refining its engineering prowess, Porsche always delivers a driving experience second to none. While there are many Porsches to choose from, from the powerful Turbo to the edgy, track-derived GT3 models, the face-lifted Cayman S is one of my favorites. The 987 platform was introduced a few years earlier, and in 2009 the Cayman S received an update to the 9A1 direct-injected flat-six engine, doing away with the notorious and sometimes troublesome M96/M97 engine family. With DFI, the Cayman S gained power, up to 320 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, as well as the option to add the amazing 7-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission for the first time. Performance is solid, with 0-60 in around 4.5 seconds or so, but the Cayman S really isn't about just acceleration, it's about balance and driving pleasure.
On that front, the Cayman S has plenty of both. The chassis is notably balanced, with the mid-engine layout providing even weight distribution and Porsche's unbeatable suspension tuning providing ample control and excellent feedback. And while I will almost always go for the manual transmission, the PDK makes for a very nice option for those who prefer to let the car handle the shifting. Perhaps best of all, if you prefer a convertible, the Cayman's older brother, the Boxster S, comes with the same mechanical improvements but with a retractable roof. Generally, a well-cared-for 2009 and up DFI 9A1 Cayman or Boxster will have very little to look for in the way of a major engine or driveline problems. Examples can vary quite a bit depending on mileage, but you can start shopping around the $25,000 range for a Boxster S, and $35,000 for a Cayman S. Want to spend less? The 2009 and up 2.9 L Cayman base model doesn't have direct injection, but you can find more for sale, starting at $20,000. Heck of a buy.
If you want something a bit larger, and a bit faster, check out the Porsche 997 911. You can read our full Porsche 997 Buyer's Guide here.
Audi Q7 3.0 TDI Quattro (Type 4L Facelift, 2011-2015) - The Do-It-All SUV
Lastly, when it's all said and done, sometimes you need the space and size of proper SUV to make things happen for you and your family. Of the trio of SUVs from the VAG family of Porsche, Audi, and Volkswagen, the 2011-2015 Audi Q7 TDI Quattro is undoubtedly one of the most versatile. Powered by a fuel-efficient 3.0 L turbocharged direct-injected diesel engine producing 225 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque, the Q7 3.0 TDI combines power and efficiency few other SUVs can. With a towing capacity of 6,600 lbs, you know that this SUV is more than capable of handling whatever the weekend can dish out, from towing a race car to the track or piling all the kids and their soccer gear in the back for an early morning game. The Q7 is handsome and refined on the outside, and elegant and well-appointed on the inside. With a focus on clean and efficient design, everything in the Q7 feels right.
Thanks to its proven Quattro drivetrain, the Q7 is also more than capable offroad or in the snow. Combined with the adjustable ride-height suspension, dialing in the Q7 TDI for snowstorms and blizzards will keep you going long after other SUVs have stopped. The Q7 uses Diesel Emissions Fluid (DEF) to help keep the emissions in check, but this is inexpensive and easily found these days, so don't let that deter you from the Q7 TDI. One thing to consider is that the relative heft of the Q7 will typically go through some consumables such as brake pads and rotors faster than smaller SUVs. Of course, FCP Euro has you covered there with our Lifetime Replacement Guarantee. Many Q7s will still be covered under warranty for turbochargers, catalytic converters, and DPF filters and fuel components thanks to the 'diesel gate' settlements. The Q7 3.0 TDI was fairly pricy when new, but you can expect to find these great SUVs starting somewhere in the $15,000 to $25,000 range depending on the specifics.
No matter what you're looking for, there are plenty of great used German cars out there to check out. While you may not ultimately go with one of our list options, it's a great place to start your search. And who knows, maybe you'll have one of these great used cars in your driveway before you know it.
FCP Euro's Event Director by day, writer and contributor by night, and wanna-be race car driver on the weekends. Nathan has been working in the VW and Audi performance aftermarket for nearly two decades, and dabbled with Porsche and BMW. He also used to write under the pen-name of Alex Rogan for magazines like Eurotuner, Performance VW, Total 911, and European Car. He has a Cornflower Blue Rabbit Edition GTI daily driver which is surprisingly still mostly stock, and a Mk5 GTI track car which is mostly not. ••• Instagram: @njbrown55