Consumers in the market for the best new cars under $30,000 have several choices in the small and midsize categories. Best of all, they’re not all base models – although that will be the case for the upscale entry-level compact cars. Still, there’s something that should appeal to just about everyone who wants or needs to stretch their car-buying budget.

Here, then, are our top picks for best new cars under $30,000. Check them out and see if one is right for you.

Upscale Small

  • Volkswagen GTI Many reviewers consider the Volkswagen GTI, a performance version of the Golf, to be the most fun-per-dollar car in the market. With manufacturer’s suggested retail prices ranging from $23,465 to $25,170, GTI falls well under the $30,000 price ceiling. Car and Driver named GTI one of its 2010 10Best Cars, saying: “It’s relatively inexpensive and supremely practical yet is an immensely entertaining vehicle that’s as happy meandering around mall parking lots as it is being flogged along a great back road.”
  • Audi A3Offering sports car-like performance in a sleek hatchback design, the 2010 Audi A3 entry-level luxury small car is unique in its class. It’s also fairly expensive, with a base MSRPs ranging $27,270 to $30,850. The optional diesel engine is rated for 30/42 mpg city/highway – fuel economy numbers that blow away non-hybrid small car competition. Consumer Guide hails A3’s “handsome cabin, excellent versatility, and high level of driving enjoyment” and calls it a “premium compact that deserves serious consideration.”
  • BMW 1-Series There’s no question that the 2010 BMW 1-Series has the dynamic road personality and strong build quality that have long been associated with BMW offerings.  But the rear seat is cramped, fuel economy is so-so, and the price is relatively expensive. Base MSRP is $29,150, and quickly escalates. New Car Test Drive remarks: “The BMW 1-Series cars have all the style, performance, and features a driver could want in a compact package. It’s built around one of the best chassis in the segment, and the only one with rear-wheel drive.
  • Acura TSXSporty, fun-to-drive, and upscale at an affordable base MSRP of $29,310, the 2010 Acura TSX hits all fronts easily. Edmunds comments: “The TSX…is a solid choice for daily use given its competent driving characteristics, high quality interior and generous level of standard features.” Excellent crash test scores and Acura’s reputation for above-average reliability are other plusses.

Affordable Midsize

  • Ford FusionTalk about a two-fer, you can buy the 2010 Ford Fusion or Fusion Hybrid for under $30,000. Fusion in both forms was named the 2010 North American Car of the Year, due, in large part, to its new looks, spacious cabin, and responsive driving dynamics. MSRP on the 2010 Hybrid is $27,924, while the non-hybrid Fusion ranges from $19,695 to $28,355. Fusion’s all-new refresh, says Edmunds, addressed the car’s few missing elements, “elevating the Fusion to elite status among midsize family sedans.”
  • Buick LaCrosseWith MSRPs ranging from $27 grand and change to top-level of a hair over $33,000, the 2010 Buick LaCrosse has got more than a few heads turning. Besides its elegant exterior, Lexus-like interior, and sportier drive than any Buick’s had in years, the midsize sedan stands virtually neck-and-neck with the Cadillac CTS as General Motors’ best sedan. Auto reviewers were shocked, to say the least. Witness this comment from L.A. Times’ Dan Neil: “Buick’s 2010 LaCrosse – a near-luxury, mid-size-to-large sedan – was built to put the cross-hairs on a single bogie, the Lexus ES350, and I’ll tell you right now, it blows the Lexus out of the sky. Pow. Parachute. Smoking crater.”

Other best new cars under 30000 to consider include the Chevrolet Malibu and Volkswagen CC, both midsize cars with base MSRPs under the target. Also check out two models with a starting MSRP just over the $30,000 price ceiling (but invoice prices under): the midsize Audi A4 and BMW 3-Series.

To see all cars under $30,000, click here.

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