You don't have to spend a lot of money to drive home from the dealership in a cool car. Although we are often sold an image that dictates luxury and premium branding are the be-all and end-all of automotive excitement, there are a number of intangibles associated with whether a car is 'cool' or not that simply can't be wrapped in leather and high-tech features and then auctioned off to the highest bidder. Sometimes, cool comes in an affordable package, and almost all of the time, cool is in the eye of the beholder.
With that in mind, let's take a quick look at 10 cool cars under $30,000.
The 2013 MINI Cooper represents 'cool Britannia,' that call-back to the glory days of mid-20th century hipness when England's swing was represented by its cultural contributions to music, movies, and literature. The MINI Cooper reminds us of that era by aping the looks of the original Mini while also providing important updates in the realm of handling and fuel efficiency. The tiny two-door hatchback is also far more practical than it looks, which gives it a useful side to go with its cool personality, and the availability of high performance S and John Cooper Works editions of the subcompact further flesh out the MINI Cooper lineup.
Cool Cars Under $30,000 - 02 - 2013 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
The 2013 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited derives its cool by adding a new dimension to an off-road icon. The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited is the four-door edition of the popular Wrangler SUV, a model which routinely takes home the title as the best trail-ready vehicle off of the showroom floor. By adding legitimate passenger room for up to five adults, as well as improving interior storage space - while still preserving the vehicle's convertible top - the four-wheel drive Wrangler Unlimited allows you to bring all of your friends and family with you during your all terrain adventures. It also helps justify the purchase of the Jeep as a daily driver that can pull weekend duty far from the beaten path.
Cool Cars Under $30,000 - 03 - 2013 Dodge Challenger
The 2013 Dodge Challenger makes this list thanks to its faithful reboot of the classic American muscle car trope. Sure, there are plenty of cars out there today that are quicker than the Dodge Challenger, but there are few that are anywhere close to as 'cool' when it comes to cutting a gorgeous, buff profile in the parking lot of your local ice cream spot. The Challenger's beefy lines are remarkably true to the original 1970's model that it pays tribute to, and for those who want to move up from the entry-level V-6 model, the Hemi V-8-powered R/T edition packs 376 horses for under $30,000.
Cool Cars Under $30,000 - 04 - 2013 Ford Focus ST
The 2013 Ford Focus ST has burst onto the scene as one of the most potent hot hatches in recent memory. The compact Ford Focus ST has been imported from Europe, where the two little letters appended to its name have long terrorized boulevards and highways with high horsepower shenanigans. Ford has blessed the Focus ST with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that is good for 252 ponies and 272 lb-ft of torque, and it also comes with a number of advanced technological features such as an anti-torque steer system that are designed to get that grunt from the front wheels to the pavement with as little drama as possible. Even better: the Ford Focus ST starts at a wallet-friendly MSRP of $23,700.
Cool Cars Under $30,000 - 05 - 2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser
The 2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser is another retro model on our list of cool cars under $30,000, but it stands out because it's a truck, not a car. Throwing flashback duds on an SUV is a rare occurrence in the automotive world, but the FJ name is one that comes with substantial history for Toyota in the global off-road and safari scene. The Toyota FJ Cruiser is sold in a single trim level that can be optioned with four-wheel drive, and it also offers a rugged suspension system, skid plate under-armor, and several electronic systems designed to get the SUV through the rough stuff without breaking a sweat.
Cool Cars Under $30,000 - 06 - 2013 Honda Fit
The 2013 Honda Fit checks in way below the $30,000 cool cars price limit, but it's deserving of a spot nonetheless. In part, this is because few other vehicles embody their name quite like the Honda 'Fit.' The tiny subcompact hatchback's interior can be configured to haul a gargantuan 57.3 cubic feet of cargo, which is more than several crossovers and SUVs costing significantly more. The secret is the Fit's Magic Seat feature, which makes it simple to play musical chairs inside the vehicle's cabin and free up a ton of useful storage space. It also doesn't hurt that the Fit is fun to throw through the corners thanks to its engaging chassis design.
Cool Cars Under $30,000 - 07 - 2013 Subaru BRZ
The 2013 Subaru BRZ is the purest sports coupe experience that can be had for less than $30,000. Developed in partnership with Toyota, the Subaru BRZ offers 200 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque from a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine. That doesn't sound like much to get excited about, but when paired with the lightweight platform and well-tuned suspension system that lie underneath the BRZ's sleek exterior there's no question that this inexpensive automobile offers one of the most exciting drives around. Although a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters can be had with the BRZ, make sure to sample it with its six-speed manual gearbox to get the most out of your time with the car.
Cool Cars Under $30,000 - 08 - 2013 Nissan Juke
The 2013 Nissan Juke is perhaps the quirkiest SUV to have been built since the Subaru Brat. The Nissan Juke looks like nothing else on the market, with its straight-from-Tokyo looks providing a funky, edgy take on how a small crossover should present itself. Designed primarily as a useful runabout for a pair of people, the Juke can be had with optional all-wheel drive to help harness the peppy power of its turbocharged, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. Transmission choices include a six-speed manual and a continuously-variable automatic, with the latter helping to keep the small mill in boost as long as possible and flog the 188 ponies that it produces mercilessly down the highway.
Cool Cars Under $30,000 - 09 - 2013 Fiat 500
The 2013 FIAT 500 - like the MINI - attempts to evoke the glory days of its home country's automotive design. Unlike the MINI, however, the Fiat 500 doesn't try too hard to touch all of the handling bases or load the interior with premium features. Instead, the 500 is positioned as a great-looking affordable urban commuter, a small car that does its best work with two passengers and maybe a suitcase loaded within its small environs. It's also an efficient daily driver thanks to its base 101 horsepower, 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that returns up to 31-mpg in stop and go driving and 40-mpg on the highway when equipped with its standard five-speed manual transmission.
Cool Cars Under $30,000 - 10 - 2013 Volkswagen GTI
The 2013 Volkswagen GTI might at first seem like a direct competitor to the Focus ST, and in many ways it is, but those in the know recognize the distinct personality differences between these two automobiles. Where the Ford is extroverted and brash, the Volkswagen GTI is cool and collected, preferring to offer a more complete and comfortable driving experience in the face of its rival's all-in bid on pure performance. The GTI is fun to drive despite 'only' offering 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque from its 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine, as a calm and collected ride, nimble handling, and an upscale cabin help the hatch appeal to a different audience.