I Want an Affordable Luxury Car for Around $15,000! What Should I Buy?

This week's reader usually dabbles in salvage specials but wants to get his wife something nicer

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Image: Lexus

Andy is in the auto salvage business and his fleet of cars is made up of the values that he comes across in his job. His wife has a 2007 Mazda5 and he wants to get her something nicer with some luxury features. However, he still has a modest budget of about $15,000 what car should he buy?

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Here is the scenario:

I’m in the auto salvage business and over the years my wife has always driven inexpensive (i.e. cheap!) Vehicles that I’ve purchased from tow yards or insurance auctions. She’s finally ready to step up to something newer and nicer than her current 2007 Mazda5. It’s been great but I’d feel better with her in something a little safer. I love the little van and have kept my eyes open for an affordable stick shift one with no luck. My 10 yr old daughter says “no low cars!” I like cars better than SUVs but maybe I can be swayed. My wife is much more flexible however. I would like the car to be fun to drive and if it was a stick, that really would be nice (but not a requirement) my main concern is reliability as I have enough of my own beaters and work trucks I’m forced to work on. My experience with older German cars makes me shy away from anything without a warranty. I don’t want to spend more than $15,000.


Quick Facts:

Budget: up to $15,000

Location: Louisville, Colorado

Daily Driver: Yes

Wants: Luxury, somewhat reliable, safe

Doesn’t want: Anything German

Expert 1: Tom McParland - Cruise With Class and Style

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Image: Autotrader.com

I’m of the opinion that the words cheap, reliable, and luxury don’t really belong in the same sentence, and you toss your preference for three pedals in there and we are really hunting for a unicorn. If you remember, Jalopnik once achieved this feat with a manual Lexus ES300. Granted this was a $600 car, but it did not turn out the way our friend Raphael had planned.

The obvious play here is to stick with an upscale Japanese car, my go-to brand for “cheap luxury” is usually Infiniti since you can avoid the super high miles that you will find on most Lexus cars in this price range. If you do target the fancy Nissans go after the ones with the durable and powerful V6.


Here is a nice FX35 which is one of the earliest coupe-like SUVs to start that trend, but unlike some more recent offerings from Europe, the styling on these have aged fairly well. This example is well-appointed and is on the lower end of the six-figure mileage mark. It has a regular service history and is being sold by a respected dealer because you really need to be careful about the cheap luxury at those corners used car lots.

Expert 2: Collin Woodard - Sorry, Daughter

2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon
Photo: AutoTrader

In a perfect world, I’d be able to recommend an RX F with a manual transmission that you could buy on the cheap. You’d be happy. Your wife would be happy. Your daughter would be happy. Unfortunately for everyone involved here, as well as the handful of other people worldwide who would have actually bought a high-performance stick-shift Lexus crossover, that doesn’t exist. So there are going to have to be some compromises.

Porsche did briefly sell the Cayenne with a manual, but aside from how rare they are, I get the feeling (based on you explicitly saying so) that a used Porsche is not something you’d be interested in. But what does check most of your boxes is the Acura TSX Sport Wagon. It’s a reliable, practical family vehicle that should be fun to drive. And no offense to your wife’s current car, but it will probably feel like a Mercedes S-Class compared to the Mazda5.


The only problem here is that your daughter won’t be happy. Oh well. Sometimes kids don’t get what they want. Personally, I wanted my parents to keep their ‘80s Mercedes, but that got traded for a Mazda MPV when my younger brother came along. Maybe you could throw on a small lift kit as a compromise? A Safari Sport Wagon would be pretty cool.

And even though they’re not super common, you’re in luck. There’s a 2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon for sale in Denver right now for $13,000. It’s got a little less than 100,000 miles on the clock, and the AutoCheck report looks clean. But if you’re interested, you better move fast. It’s the only one currently listed on AutoTrader within 500 miles of you.


Expert 3: Andy Kalmowitz - Your Daughter Will Get Over It


What’s up, Andy? Are you as handsome as I imagine? I’m sure you are, and because of that you need a handsome car to match. I give you: the Lexus IS250 manual. That’s right, for a short time Lexus offered a manual transmission in its IS sports sedan. Good news is that it’s the perfect car for your wife and yourself.

The IS250 nearly gives your family everything you’re asking for. It’s sporty, it’s reliable enough (no 15-year-old car is going to be perfectly reliable), it’s got that manual transmission you’re after, and it’s fairly luxurious. All that being said, you’re going to have to tell your daughter it’s just too damn bad that the car is low. She will get over it, I promise. After all, who needs to take car demands from a 10-year-old?


Now, IS250 manuals aren’t exactly easy to come by. Lexus didn’t make very many of them, so you’ve got to be willing to travel a bit for one. I think I found you the perfect example located in Knoxville, Tennessee. Did someone say road trip?! Anyway, it’s a 2008 model, black on black, and it only has 110,000 miles. You seem to know a thing or two about cars, so it won’t be news for you when I tell you 110,000 miles on a Lexus means it’s barely broken in! This particular car actually comes in about $1,000 under your budget too! Andy. My dear Andy, buy a Lexus IS250 manual. It’s exactly the car you need in your life.

Expert 4: José Rodríguez Jr. - Acura’s Legendary Bargain

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Photo: Cars.com

Andy, a luxury alternative to your wife’s 2007 Mazda5 would be a Mercedes-Benz R-Class, but that’ll be a hard sell given its country of origin. The R-Class is such a distinct car that I love to see on the road, but we’ll stick to most of your requirements: not German, but still luxury, reliable and cheap. That makes the Japanese Honda, Nissan, and Toyota obvious suspects, which are represented by the cars above from Acura, Infiniti and Lexus. Acura is my go-to, but as much as I love wagons, the answer is obviously a former flagship like this 2014 Acura RLX.

The Acura RLX is a literally a Legend (from Honda), and all these years later I still scoff at the reception the RLX had in the U.S. when it was released. Acura was gunning for the Germans with the RLX, but failed to unseat them from their luxury perch. Oh, well. That just means there’s plenty of used RLX models out there with low miles and in different configurations — which is the best kept used luxury car secret, as far as I’m concerned.


Tom is right to sway you towards something with a V6, and the six-cylinder in the Acura has been honed for years. Wrap those six pistons and block in a late aughts Acura, and you have an opulent and decently fun car that aged better than German alternatives of its time. The jump from the Mazda5 to the RLX will feel like a big upgrade that’ll have you competing with your wife to drive.