To qualify for our annual 10Best award evaluation, a car must have a base price that does not exceed $90,000. We set the price here because it’s roughly 2.5 times the average transaction price of a new vehicle. Every year, we spend two weeks driving all the returning winners, as well as any new or significantly modified vehicles that fall under the price cap, around a dedicated loop near Ann Arbor, Michigan. The winning cars offer good relative value, are fun to drive, and fulfill their mission (we don't ding a sports car because it can't carry as much as a minivan does, for example).
But what would we actually park in our driveways if we had $90,000 burning a hole in our pockets? We're getting into some attainable-dream-car territory here.
Connor Hoffman's $77,625 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R
If any of my non-car-enthusiast friends could tell you any two facts about cars, it's that a Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 has a naturally aspirated 5.2-liter flat-plane-crank V-8 that revs to 8250 rpm with a six-speed manual transmission and that a 991.2 Porsche 911 GT3 has a naturally aspirated 4.0-liter flat-six that revs to 9000 rpm with a six-speed manual. I won't shut up about them. I love high-revving, natural-breathing engines and manual transmissions. The GT350 and GT3 are my two favorite new cars. But the Porsche exceeds the $90K price limit, and the 4.0-liter 718 Cayman GTS isn't on sale yet. So I'm going with the GT350, and I'm going to put an R at the end of it just because I can. Using the configurator, my favorite spec for the GT350R is Shadow Black with the matte-black-and-red racing stripe, a $495 option. I'm going to tick the $2000 Technology package so I get things like a Bang & Olufsen sound system and touchscreen navigation. Other than that, I'm going with the exposed-carbon-fiber instrument panel, a $500 option. All in all, one of my dream cars comes out at $77,625. — Connor Hoffman
Tony Quiroga's $78,515 2020 Mercedes-AMG C63 S Sedan
Many choices emerge with such a large chunk of cash. Mercedes-Benz yielded the most options, but I put the E450 wagon and the E53 sedan aside in favor of the Mercedes-AMG C63 S. At a starting price of $76,695, the C63 S has a glorious twin-turbo V-8 that offers 503 horsepower, up from the regular C63's 469. Benz's color palette is limited to black, blue, white, and shades of silver. Looking at the configurator, I'd step up to the $720 Iridium Silver Metallic and strongly consider the 20-inch forged cross-spoke wheels, but my desire not to be abused by the ride means sticking with the standard 19-inch wheels. Inside, I’d go with the black nappa leather with gray accents and the $1100 HUD. Black interiors bore me to tears, but the choices are limited to black with small accents or black with red or white seat inserts. To offset the coal pit, I'd go for the natural-grain walnut trim. I'd forgo all the annoying driver-assistance packages and ceramic front brakes and have a lovely, if basic, C63 S for $78,515. This Benz would be my first car with an automatic transmission, so I'm already thinking of trading it in for a manual Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing when that car arrives—that is, if the Cadillac is as good as it sounds. — Tony Quiroga
Maxwell Mortimer's $65,885 2020 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Every day I fantasize about buying a fifth-gen Dodge Viper (just ask my colleagues), the equivalent to my automotive spirit animal, but then reality kicks in and I come to the realization that I'll probably never be able to afford one. However, that’s okay, because cars like the Chevy Camaro ZL1 exist to make you forget about the cars you can't afford. Hell, it might even be a better performance car altogether than those other cars. Don’t let the sub-$70K price fool you. I chose the ZL1 because, at $65,885, it represents a greater performance value than any other vehicle my C/D colleagues could choose. With 650 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque, a six-speed manual transmission, and rear-wheel drive, the ZL1 has the perfect combination of traits that I'd look for in a daily driver. Looking at the configurator for this hypothetical ZL1, I decided to go with Shadow Gray Metallic because it's different and doesn't attract too much attention—that's what the exhaust is for. Due to the drab interior of the Camaro, that's the only place I decided to spend extra cash. I opted for the $495 Infotainment 3 Premium package with navigation, the $500 carbon-fiber instrument panel molding to contrast with all of the flat-black surfaces, and the $195 red seatbelts because why not. It's not without its compromises, but at roughly two-thirds of the price cap, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better performance value than the ZL1. — Maxwell Mortimer
Eric Stafford's $78,840 2020 Audi TT RS
If I were easily influenced by peer pressure or pure pleasure, this passage would be detailing my ideal Porsche Cayman S. But, although it has won multiple 10Best awards and remains one of the most engaging cars I've ever driven, I'm more fascinated by another German-bred sports car. Like a hormonal schoolboy, I feel my heart flutter when I hear the unmistakable warble of the Audi TT RS's five-cylinder engine or gaze upon its utterly gorgeous interior. Its standard Quattro all-wheel-drive system is especially useful during the long winter seasons where I live, and it has ample cargo space thanks to the folding backrests pretending to be rear seats. The TT RS starts at $68,595, but mine stickers for $78,840 after options chosen on the configurator. The $595 Glacier White paint looks classy and sporty, especially with the Black Optic package (gloss-black exterior bits and 20-inch wheels on summer rubber). The $2000 Dynamic package adds a sport exhaust that enhances the RS's aural character. Black nappa leather seats with diamond-stitched inserts are standard, but I'd get mine with blue accents and add the $600 carbon-fiber inlays. The Blue Design Selection Interior ($1150) highlights the air vents, center console, and seatbacks with the hue. While the RS Fixed Sport Suspension costs nothing, it makes the ride overly harsh. Finally, I'd choose the $2800 Technology package—mainly for the Bang & Olufsen stereo—and the $1600 OLED taillights because they're too cool to pass up. — Eric Stafford
K.C. Colwell's $83,720 2020 Mercedes-Benz E450 Wagon
Seeing as the Porsche 718 Cayman GTS 4.0 is not yet on sale, my $90K goes to the former 10Best-winning Mercedes-Benz E450 wagon. Its 362 horsepower is enough, and there is plenty of room for my family to enjoy it, too. The Benz starts at $67,095, and I drive it up to $83,720 on the configurator, showing little restraint. The Premium package nets satellite radio, inductive phone charging, the Burmester hi-fi, and a pair of screens on the dash for $2800. I like white cars, and I know the $1515 Designo Diamond White paint contrasting with the dark accents of the Night package ($400) and 18-inch AMG Exterior Line ($400) wheels will bring me joy. I would also choose the black-and-brown leather ($1620) interior trimmed with burl walnut and finished off with the multi-contour seats ($1320), sunshades ($380), all-weather floor mats ($120), and all the surface heating—all seats, front armrests, steering wheel—and cooling—front seats—Mercedes offers ($2080 in total). Air springs for $1900, soft-close doors ($550), and the special-order Acoustic Comfort package ($1350, including a special-order charge) should keep me extra comfortable. I would even option the $800 LED headlights, despite the requisite automatic high-beams, and the surround-view camera and parking sensors ($1290) for their boon to situational awareness. A panoramic sunroof and the driver-assistance package—I'm a Luddite and prefer my cruise control be dumb—are about the only big tickets I leave off. But if you really wanted those in your E-class, you could have them too for under $90,000. — K.C. Colwell
You Might Also Like