Top 5 fun yet sensible cars for young professionals

You’ve graduated uni, settled into a job, have no kids and aren’t a true ‘adult’ yet – so now it’s time to have some fun. What car should you buy? Here are our top 5 fun yet sensible cars for young professionals.

Your twenties and early thirties are generally a time before shit gets real, but you’re not totally a baby. You can go to the bottle-o and not get ID’d every time, and you might have settled into a fairly well-paying job while not having many other financial responsibilities such as a mortgage or kids to feed.

From high school to now, you’ve longed after a fun car. No longer are you straddled by your parents’ Subaru Forester or some bomb you bought for yourself while still studying. But at the same time you don’t want a total impractical nightmare – both in the insurance stakes and in maintenance terms. So, what cars fit the bill? These are our top picks at the moment, in no particular order. For the sake of sticking to this specific market we’re focusing on this side of around $60,000.

NB: This may or may not serve as catharsis or as this author’s own wishlist.

The Warm Hatch

For 2020, the new ‘WG’ Ford Fiesta ST has shed a cylinder. Yes, that’s right, it has gone down to three cylinders. Now, other three-cylinder cars have historically been a bit laughable, but the Fiesta retains much of the displacement of the old model – 1.5L vs 1.6L – and has a respectable power-to-weight ratio of about 120kW/tonne. It has a tested 0-100km/h run of around seven seconds and peak torque doesn’t come on until 4000rpm. It is quite frugal, consuming around high 6s per 100km combined, but it does demand 95 fuel.

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New, it can be had for much less than 40 grand including on-roads, plus think of the three cylinders as a saving on rego, if you’re in a backwards state like Queensland that still charges by the cylinder.

Used value is a tough question, because it’s a new model and has BIG interior upgrades over the outgoing WZ model. However, as a demo or near new model they could represent a good buy a year from now.

Fast Facts – 2020 Ford Fiesta ST
Engine: 1.5-litre turbo three-cylinder
Output: 147kW@6000rpm / 290Nm@4000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Drive type: Front-wheel drive
ANCAP: Not tested
Kerb weight: 1217kg
Official fuel economy: 6.3L/100km
Starting price: $31,990


The Hot Hatch

That powder blue is – in this author’s opinion – one of the most interesting and attractive car colours to hit the market for some time. Yes, it’s the Hyundai i30 N.

This car is one of the best ‘bang for buck’ performance vehicles new on the market, without sacrificing many of the creature comforts or practicalities the i30 is known for. New it can be had for less than $50,000, and it boasts 202kW and 353Nm, with a kerb weight of around 1500kg.

While it is front-wheel drive, and you are likely to burn through the 19-inch tyres while filling up with minimum 95 fuel, the i30 N Performance has general Hyundai reliability, backed by a five year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

Used they are yet to plateau on the depreciation curve, being only a couple years old, but looking around it’s safe to assume a two year old model will have lost a quarter or more of its value off the initial drive-away price.

Fast Facts – 2020 Hyundai i30 N hatch
Engine: 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder
Output: 202kW@6000rpm / 353Nm@14500-4700rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Drive type: Front-wheel drive
ANCAP: Not tested (regular i30 is 5 stars)
Kerb weight: 1509kg
Official fuel economy: 8.0L/100km
Starting price: $41,400


The Fun Roadster

M.I.A.T.A. – Miata Is Always The Answer. Yes, the Mazda MX-5. No dog, no kids, not much shopping, no worries. This is the true sensible bachelor car… okay maybe you have a steady partner.

The MX-5 is one of the last ‘pure’ roadsters out there, meaning they don’t try to skirt around anything by including two piddly back seats that can’t even fit a child (cough cough Subaru BRZ). The boot is enough for two people’s groceries or a couple of weekender bags and that’s about it.

The ND model comes in quite a few trims and engine sizes. The newest 2.0L model from 2019 onwards is arguably the pick of the bunch, as it has a power-to-weight ratio of nearly 130kW/tonne, while also getting a reverse camera and other items deemed essential nowadays. Pick your flavour – convertible or coupe, auto or manual.

As it’s a Mazda you get general Mazda reliability, with a five year/unlimited kilometre warranty. New, ND 2.0L models with the power upgrade can be had for just a tick under $50,000, while used they can be found for less than $40,000. The lesser 1.5L engine can be found new for around $40,000, too.

Fast Facts – 2020 Mazda MX-5 2.0L
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder
Output: 135kW@7000rpm / 205Nm@4000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Drive type: Rear-wheel drive
ANCAP: Five stars
Kerb weight: 1087kg
Official fuel economy: 6.9L/100km
Starting price: $41,200


The Weekend Warrior

If you want something that can go on the less-trodden path or that can tow something, without feeling like you’re resigning yourself to a lifetime of ferrying kids to soccer practice, the Ford Ranger Wildtrak is tough to beat. A dual-cab ute with a 2.0L twin-turbo diesel and a 10-speed auto, the Wildtrak has dual-range 4×4 and a 3500kg braked towing capacity, with a strong 500Nm of torque.

While it doesn’t look as menacing as the Ranger Raptor, the Wildtrak’s towing capacity is a full tonne more and has a higher payload, while also offering a lower load height. It can also be bought new for around $15,000 less than the Raptor.

Used, they depreciate fairly quickly, but it’s important to note the significant transmission and engine upgrades over the years.

Fast Facts – 2020 Ford Ranger Wildtrak 2.0TTD auto
Engine: 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel four-cylinder
Output: 157kW@3750rpm / 500Nm@1750-2000rpm
Transmission: 10-speed auto
Drive type: Part-time RWD/4WD
ANCAP: Five stars
Kerb weight: 2246kg
Official fuel economy: 7.4L/100km
Starting price: $65,390


The Practical Performance All Rounder

What does an all-rounder look like to you? Perhaps it needs to have adequate power, all-wheel drive, good cargo and cabin space, good handling yet comfortable, while still being sensible?

In recent years it’s hard to look past the Kia Stinger. While yes, it doesn’t have the badge appeal or overall polish of a BMW or Benz, the Kia ticks a lot of other boxes. The twin-turbo V6 does 0-100km/h in less than 5.0 seconds, while if you’re on a budget the four-cylinder turbo manages it in about six.

One of the most practical features of the Stinger is its hatch designed to look like a sedan. And to appease your sensibilities, Kia has one of the most extensive warranties in all of car-land, at seven years/unlimited kilometres.

Despite all the hype, they have struggled to get decent sales volume, meaning strong negotiation skills could go a long way. New V6 models can be driven off the lot for about $60,000, however there could be room for negotiation. Four-cylinder models are also a little cheaper. But go on, you want the six.

Used, the Stingers are also a deal, having lost about a third of their value in as little as 2-3 years, while still retaining much of the warranty. Still, newer models have received upgraded entertainment screens, a 360-degree safety view, and the like. A big facelift is also expected to arrive within 12 months.

Fast Facts – 2020 Kia Stinger 330S
Engine: 3.3-litre twin-turbo V6
Output: 272kW@6000rpm / 510Nm@1300-4500rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed auto
Drive type: Rear-wheel drive
ANCAP: Five stars
Tare weight: 1780kg
Official fuel economy: 10.2L/100km
Starting price: $50,390

Harrison is a finance journalist with a keen interest in cars, the car loan market, and industry rumours. He loves 1980s BMWs, and persists with driving a manual even while living in inner-city Brisbane.