DS Challenge – Any Car $40k and Under

The Much Exalted Nismo 370Z Coupe

So when thinking of the perfect challenge to throw at our staff this issue, the question occurred to me…what car would everyone pick for $40,000 or less?  Why $40,000.00 you might ask? Simple, it’s the perfect middle-class benchmark. Sure there are any number of $ix-digit wonder-vehicles we would all love to have in the garage but the reality of the financial situation is the monthly car payment on even the overwhelmingly affordable ’11 Nissan GTR is $1600 when financed over 5 years and a slightly better $1400 over 6 years… In other words a car-payment on par with what is surely a house-payment for most of us. So, this time around we’ll stick to a reasonable $650 p/month cap and see just where the 2011 chips fall.

Ok, so first and foremost let’s establish a little background information about this issue’s four Down Shift Challenge participants:

Name: Ric Quintanilla
Title: Technical Advisor/Race Correspondent
Education: Department of Defense
Location: Corpus Christie, TX
My Garage: Nissan 300ZX, S13 (SR20DET Swap), Nissan Frontier
Name: Laura Seymour
Title: Creative Director/Co-Owner
Education: University of Central Florida
Location: Tampa, FL
My Garage: BMW E46 3-Series
Name: Paul Epperly
Title: Security Analyst/Race Correspondent
Education: University of Central Florida
Location: Orlando, FL
My Garage: Nissan Z32 300ZX, Suburu STi, Ford Ranger
Name: Robert Maddrey
Title: Editor/Co-Owner
Education: University of South Florida
Location: Tampa, FL
My Garage: Z32 Nissan 300ZX, Nissan Z33 350Z, Toyota SW20 MR2

Now that we’ve got that out of the way and everyone knows a little bit about the background, qualifications, biases and geographic location of four participants let’s examine the challenge.

Spring 2011 Down Shift Challenge: Drawing from your personal experiences and unique aptitudes figure out which 2011 model car you would pick if given a budget of $40,000.00 and then pick a 2nd runner up.



The car I have been lusting over is the Twin-Turbo Diesel BMW 335d, I was crushed to find out the base model starts out at $44,150. Upon extensive research, knowing my needs, desires and hot points, I finally settled on a sexy little Japanese model that goes by the name of the Lexus HS 250h. The Premium edition is at $37,420, leaving room for a few upgrades or mods. It happily meets my Hybrid requirements, sipping gas in town and on the highway with a 34/35mpg, just meeting the 335d’s stats on the highway, and cleaning the floor with it in city. This 2.4L in-line 4, offers similar safety ratings and luxury equipment of its other competitors. It comes in lighter than the 335d, but unfortunately lacks in the Horsepower and Torque department of its other competitors.


Well the short list is a BMW 335d, Audi A5, or a Nissan Nismo 370z.  The A5 and 370z both is a coupe which is the goodness, but the 335d is a sedan.  The Audi is out, I’d prefer something rear wheel drive.  Yes there is an all-wheel drive version, but that’s not as much fun.  This leaves the BMW 335 and Nissan 370z.  The BMW does have 425 pound feet of torque which is quite appealing and it does gets better fuel economy (23/36) than the 370z. (18/26).  but one of the requirements is to be priced under $40,000, so I guess that leaves me with the Nismo 370z, not a bad place to be.


So for my pick for a new car less than 40k is sporty, but still practical. I have a turbo 300zx and 240sx so I’m all about Nissans. While I love my cars, their practicality is deeply lacking for things

like picking up associates at the airport.  On Downshifts’ last trip to Sema, I was able to rent a G37 sedan. I really enjoyed it. And Infiniti has both the G37X(AWD w/snow setting for you Yanks) and the RWD 6sp sport with the large 6 in our price range. In my time with the G, it was smooth, powerful, and very enjoyable. And with conservative driving wasn’t a heavy drinker. We fit 4 average sized people, and the 6 footer in the back seats fit fine with pulling up the front seat a tad but still with plenty of room for both. The data/gauge cluster was also easy to read and use. So Infiniti G37 [LIKE] My2nd choise would be a Caddy CTS wagon”


When it comes down to my top (2) 2011-model cars that cost less than $40k, (2) options immediately come to mind; the Nissan 370Z coupe and the Audi A5 coupe. Similar in many ways and yet exactly opposite in others, these two coupes represent some of the best value to be found under $40k and for that matter under $50k. (once you get past the $50k threshold the field starts to widen and opens up for wunderkinds like the E92 M3).
Having had wheel-time in both cars it was a close competition between the A5 and the Z, but in the end I must perhaps unsurprisingly side with the Nissan 370Z as my first choice. The Z while lacking some of the refinement and luxury to found in the A5 delivers performance and handling in spades. Coupled to a terrific stock suspension and the all-important and all-fun RWD drivetrain the Z maintains a balance both in terms of handling and performance that is at once confident and inspiring. In comparison the A5 while aesthetically brilliant delivers a much less lively and relaxed driving experience; overtly comfortable and predictable even in those moments when you don’t want it to be.