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2021 VW Golf GTI

Best Cars Between $30k To $50k for 2021

Everything From Family Cars To SUVs & Trucks, We Rank The Best!

As Prices Inch Up Across Every Segment, You Can Find Good Value in These 6 Vehicles

Despite the affordable small car sector being quite prominent, it surprises many to know that the $30k to $50k price range is where the biggest amount of cars have historically been sold.

This is mostly as the family sedan, van, CUV, SUV, or such is usually in this price range. A mixture of comfort, some premium features, reliability, useability, and efficiency rules here.

While we based our under $30,000 list more on the economy and cargo-carrying capacity, this market segment is much more competitive about offering some premium options at reasonable prices. On the other hand, some luxury cars and CUVs also fall into this category, with many of the big luxury brands bringing strong competitors to the battle, at decent prices to win that all important brand loyalty for future purchases.

Without further ado, we present the six best cars, trucks, SUVs, and other vehicles in the $30,000 to $50,000 range for 2021!

2021 Volkswagen GTI

1. 2021 Volkswagen GTI

Important Info

  • Base Price: $28,595-$36,495
  • Updates: Minor
  • 0-60 mph: 5.8 sec
  • Fuel Economy: City 23-26 mpg / Hwy 31-34 mpg
  • Basic Warranty: 3 years / 36,000 miles
  • Our Rating: 9.2/10

Our Thoughts: Pros & Cons

Summary: The original hot hatchback, a city and highway runabout that can embarass some full on sports cars

Pros: Unassuming exterior, powerful and gutsy turbo engine, VW remembers that some people like manual transmissions for their sporty hatchbacks

Cons: Replacement parts if needed are expensive, VW as a brand has taken some flak over the past few years,

The Volkswagen Golf is a car with a storied history, with a variety of model types throughout the years. However, the most famous of them all is the Golf GTI, the original hot hatchback that started runabout fever in Europe in the later 1970s.

Following on from the superb Mk 7 GTI, the Mk 8 GTI launched to much fanfare in 2019. That model has been mildly revised for 2021, with the addition of optional mild-hybrid-assist expected to be implement in mid-2021.

However, for now, the GTI comes in three specs, from the GTI S at $28,959 to the Autobahn at $36,495. All are powered by a new version of the VW 2.0L turbo inline-four pumping out 242 HP and near-as-makes-no-difference 280 lbs-ft of torque, mated standard to a snappy and positive 6-speed manual, or optionally to an excellent 7-speed DCT.

The Golf GTI is the perfect small car for the small family. It has great cargo space, is packed to the absolute brim with all the latest and greatest safety equipment, is stable at freeway speeds with a confident, weighty feel in the steering wheel, and has enough grunt to get out of most situations.

Add to that the Audi-level quality of the interior (as VW owns Audi, this is not too far unexpected) at a price point possibly tens of thousands below an Audi. It makes the VW Golf GTI a genuinely pleasant place to be, and a whole slew of options to suit your specific needs let you make this powerful road rocket your own.

2021 Honda Odyssey

2. 2021 Honda Odyssey

Important Info

  • Base Price: $31,790-$47,820
  • Updates: Moderate
  • 0-60 mph: 6.5+ sec
  • Fuel Economy: City 22-24 mpg / Hwy 28-30 mpg
  • Basic Warranty: 3 years / 36,000 miles
  • Our Rating: 9.0/10

Our Thoughts: Pros & Cons

Summary: The Odyssey sets the bar extremely high for vans with the 2021 redesign and updates, throwing down a challenge to everyone else

Pros: Extremely practical interior, well-engineered and thought out technology, both second and third-row seats fully adjustable

Cons: With all seats full the suspension can be a bit firm, third-row removable seats are somewhat awkward and heavy to remove

Yes, you are seeing things right. We’ve put a family van in second place. Now let us explain why.

The Honda Odyssey took a break in 2020, only being sold in 2019 spec throughout 2020, as the team at Honda HQ reworked the van into a masterpiece of family transport and utility.

The technology has been improved inside, with multiple connectivity options for smartphones and tablets, with an optional 4G wi-fi LTE access point. As well, the infotainment screen has been enlarged, and interior cameras have been added to the roof lining so that the screen can show the second and third rows, leaving the rearview mirror for the actual purpose of viewing behind the van.

In terms of power, the engine has received a huge boost over its predecessors. Instead of the 210 HP V6 that was present through almost two decades, the new 3.5l V6 now has 280 HP and 262 lbs-ft of torque, mated to a 10-speed automatic. This lets the massive van get up and go without much preamble and a well-set suspension and 19-inch wheels give the van excellent handling dynamics.

And if you need to transport stuff, the Odyssey can fit from 32 cubic feet with all seating rows installed, to a massive 158 cubic feet with all but the front seats removed.

And, on the top-spec Elite model at $47,820, the quirkiest of all technology additions makes its long-awaited return to the Odyssey: the built-in HondaVAC vacuum!

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4Matic

3. 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA CUV

Important Info

  • Base Price: $36,230-$47,550
  • Updates: Major
  • 0-60 mph: 5.0-6.2 sec
  • Fuel Economy: City 24-28 mpg / Hwy 29-31 mpg
  • Basic Warranty: 4 years / 50,000 miles
  • Our Rating: 8.5/10

Our Thoughts: Pros & Cons

Summary: A ground-up redesign of the tiniest CUV that Mercedes offers, the GLA allows for the average consumer to own a luxury CUV

Pros: Slick design language in line with 2019 and 2020 redesigned SUVs, AMG GLA 35 is a monster of a CUV, standard equipment quite generous, interior spacious and reworked to feature one of the nicest instrument cluster/infotainment screen combinations on the road

Cons: AMG GLA 35 is quite stiff on the suspension, not as much cargo space as rivals in the compact CUV segment.

For 2021, Mercedes-Benz decided to listen to customer feedback about their smallest CUV offering and took the cramped, uncomfortable, and somewhat overpriced car back to the drawing board.

From the contact patches of the tires on the pavement on up, this is a completely new vehicle. Using the proven chassis of the A-Class, the interior was stretched and reshaped, the exterior was given the muscular stance of the most modern redesigns of the larger SUVs, and an all new engine has been wedged into the front of the car.

That engine is a variable-vane turbocharged 2.0L inline-four that produces 221 HP and 258 lbs-ft of torque, driving either the front wheels, or optionally all four with Merc’s excellent 4Matic AWD system in the GLA 250. This engine is mated to a sport-shift 7-speed automatic, and has multiple driving modes for whatever type of road you encounter, from sport through to snow modes.

And for the first time, there are AMG models available, with the AMG GL 35 coming in a few thousand under $50,000.

That beast of a CUV has the 2.0L engine tuned, tweaked, and reinforced to produce an astounding 302 HP, allowing it to leap to 60 MPH in 5 seconds flat with the 8-speed DCT that has intelligent sport-shifting where it preloads the next gear sooner or later depending on how deep the accelerator has been pressed.

This is quite important, as this is realistically the first time an AMG spec model has been available under $50,000 with acceptable standard features from Mercedes-AMG, and that fact alone scores this car way up on our list.
2021 Genesis G70

4. 2021 Genesis G70

Important Info

  • Base Price: $36.000+
  • Updates: Moderate
  • 0-60 mph: 4.7-5.7 sec
  • Fuel Economy: City 17-19 mpg / Hwy 26-28 mpg
  • Basic Warranty: 5 years / 60,000 miles
  • Our Rating: 8.4/10

Our Thoughts: Pros & Cons

Summary: The plucky upstart punching well above its weight class, and landing a lot of knockouts

Pros: Sporty and agile feel, pleasantly upscale cabin, unbeatable value in terms of price-to-features, decent cargo space

Cons: Tight rear seats, infotainment system a bit sluggish, manual shifter not as engaging as hoped, badge recognition not as high as many other luxury brands

Genesis is a brand that is still relatively new to American shores. The luxury arm of Hyundai, the South Korea luxury cars are built well, have many standard features that would cost you an arm and a leg with other brands, and have a surprisingly fun-to-drive feel to them.

Powered by either a turbocharged 2.0L inline-four that puts out 255 HP or a twin-turbocharged 3.3L V6 with 365 HP, the car has plenty of grunt to get it moving in either the RWD or AWD versions. There are two transmissions available, a surprisingly excellent 8-speed sport-shift automatic, or a lackluster 6-speed manual.

The manual is the key disappointment. The clutch has no real feel for the bite point, and the shifter sort of sludges its way into its gates instead of snapping in. In this case, we would recommend going with the 8-speed automatic, as it has near-instant response like a DCT.

Set up much more as a sports sedan than a 4 person luxury car, it still has leather everywhere, is immensely comfortable, and has nice materials everywhere inside. The back seats will fit someone that’s 5’5″ comfortably but are otherwise quite the tight squeeze for large passengers.

2021 Lexus IS

5. 2021 Lexus IS

Important Info

  • Base Price: $39,000-$44,900
  • Updates: Minor interior
  • 0-60 mph: 5.5+ sec
  • Fuel Economy: City 18-23 mpg / Hwy 28-32 mpg
  • Basic Warranty: 4 years / 50,000 miles
  • Our Rating: 7.9/10

Our Thoughts: Pros & Cons

Summary: Toyota’s luxury brand comes out swinging for the small luxury segment, and produces a great car as a result

Pros: Possibly the best iteration of the controversial front grille, the redone interior is still leaps and bounds above other cars, sharp and engaging driving dynamics

Cons: Interior space can be generously called “cozy,” base engine starts to lose steam 1,500 RPM from redline, small trunk

In the base IS300 or IS300 AWD, you get a grunty little turbo 2.0L inline-four that barks out 241 HP. If you go up to the IS350 F Sport, however, you get a howling 311 HP V6. Both are controlled via an 8-speed semi-automatic, and the IS350 F Sport also throws a Torsen limited-slip differential into the mix.

That alone should tell you why this car is important in the $30k to $50k segment. It’s a proper sports sedan, with a decent trunk, comfortable sports seats, and the ability to flatten you back into your seat when you put your foot to the floor. There are better luxury cars, for sure, in this price bracket, but none will get your pulse pounding as much as the IS will.

This is thanks to the work behind the scenes of many technicians and advisors from Gazoo Racing, Toyota’s motorsports arm that has several Le Mans victories and other GT victories in hand. That racing DNA is infused into the chassis and handling of the IS300 and especially the IS 350 F Sport. You will not find a better small luxury sports sedan that handles anywhere near as good as the Lexus.

Where it looses out on this list is with a somewhat subpar fuel efficiency rating, and a back seat that seems to be a partial afterthought for anyone that’s taller than 5’5″. But if you want to have a comfortable ride on the school run, and then tackle the twisties taking “the scenic route” back home or to the office, we won’t blame you for falling in love with the Lexus right away.

2021 Dodge RAM 1500

6. 2021 Dodge Ram 1500

Important Info

  • Base Price: $32,145 – $53,915
  • Updates: Minor engine upgrades
  • 0-60 mph: 4.5 – 8.0 secs
  • Fuel Economy: City 15-24 mpg / Hwy 21-29 mpg depnding on engine
  • Basic Warranty: 3 years / 36,000 miles
  • Our Rating: 7.85/10

Our Thoughts: Pros & Cons

Summary: The RAM 1500 steals the crown from Ford for 2021, with several minor engine upgrades that affect more than just power

Pros: A nearly endless list of features and options, even on the base Tradesman model. Variety of engines to make your truck suit your needs

Cons: Front grille is a bit gaudy, rear legroom, even in the crew models, somewhat tight, largest bed available is only 6’4″ long

The 2021 RAM 1500 steals the pickup crown from Ford and the F-150 for the first time in many years, due to a consistent and constant series of minor upgrades throughout the years. These small refinements have added up to make a solid, workhorse pickup truck that is dependable and rock solid. Read Wade’s ode a la Ram.

What has earned the RAM the top step this time is refinement. The interior is rugged and utilitarian in the Tradesman, through to making Jaguar owners envious in the top of the range Limited and Longhorn models. As well, for 2021, all RAM 1500 trucks will have BlueTooth handsfree audio, and all trims will have some form of touchscreen capable infotainment, up to the massive 12-inch vertical center display in the Limited.

The standard lineup of RAM 1500s, however, is where the meat is. Introduced in 2020 and carried over to 2021, the newly reworked 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 with eTorque brings the mild-hybrid adds nearly 1,100 lbs towing capacity to the already impressive 11,600 lbs of the regular Hemi V-8 with 295 HP and 410 lbs-ft of torque.

The real gem is the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6, which is an available option in all trims. It may only have 260 HP, but it develops a grunty 480 lbs-ft of torque at just 1,250 RPM and can haul 12,560 lbs without draining your wallet from gas bills. A 3.6-liter gas V-6 with eTorque is available in all trims, and is standard in the Tradesman trim, with 305 HP and 269 lbs-ft of torque, with a towing capacity of 7,730 lbs.

Dodge has really worked their magic and listened to their clients to make the RAM 1500 lineup the best it can be. That, and they have caught Ford napping a little, as the blue oval company for now is focusing their attention into the SUV and CUV range, with multiple new versions of the Edge and Explorer vehicles drawing engineering resources away from the trucks department.