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Cars for 30,000 Euros: 6 candidates in the fight against boredom

The almost innumerable selection of vehicles within this price category would have been reason enough to write this piece. The fact that it includes six different types makes the subject all the more exciting, don't you agree?

If ifs and buts... every Wednesday and Saturday the use of the word 'if' increases dramatically in Germany, as the lottery numbers are about to be drawn. However, you don't need to guess all six numbers and the bonus ball to have 30,000 Euros in your account. A saving contract with a building society, a forgotten money box or the right choice of partner could suffice.

The Land Rover Defender feels at home on rough terrain

And then? A car? Yes? A Porsche perhaps? Of course, with a bit of luck an early 911 Carrera from the 997 range will turn up. Or a brand new turbo – just the engine, of course. But for this amount there are complete new cars available, including real gems such as the Land Rover Defender 90. Ever since 1948, its long legs have been carving furrows through the planet's topsoil, subduing various people groups, and always it driver. Crouching flat like a gecko on the wall of a house, tight to the door, you will probably struggle to find an additional, externally-mounted clutch pedal in any other vehicle. But at some point you shrink into the sparse interior, grab hold of the rudder disguised as a steering wheel – with no airbag, of course – and, if possible, set the course for the uneven terrain.

It is there that the Land Rover Defender with its optional robust all-terrain tyres, really flourishes. Ultra-short overhangs, bold axial articulation and a reduction gearbox that is already included in the base price. The only problem is that the paved roads in these parts are viewed by the legislator as an appropriate place of refuge for cars of all kinds. But there too the Defender wants to be loved, offering exceptional all-round vision and, at just 3.90 metres long, it bravely struggles through the concrete wilderness between H&M, Starbucks, Specsavers and Currys – and so on.

Of course it does seem a little stiff, and nobody asks for comfortable suspension in the savannah. However, wherever you are you will need torque, and the only available engine, a 2.2-litre diesel, produces 360 newton metres of it. The sharp four-cylinder engine doesn't have to pretend in the Defender - here it is free to behave like a machine as it juggles its 1.9-tonne mass briskly along. There is sufficient power to overtake a lorry. But anything else? Artificial SUV dynamics? Yeah, right.

The VW Golf GTI produces 227 HP

Agile handling belongs elsewhere, in the VW Golf GTI for example. Even in the form of the 227 HP Performance variant, it really is an object of desire. Of course there isn't much room left for the numerous options, which would only be regrettable in the case of the practical rear doors. Otherwise there is actually nothing missing except a country road that is as winding and long as possible. Here the Golf throws itself into every corner with the athletic ease of a gymnast, drives more or less neutrally into the corner and, with a little sensitivity on the accelerator, exits again very quickly and without slipping. Oops, forgot to shift down a gear? Don't worry, at just 1,500 rpm the TFSI drive system produces a maximum torque of 350 Newton metres.

In any case, as a GTI the Golf proves its complete suitability for everyday use, brings the family plus some luggage safely to its destination, and without everyone complaining of back pain. Of course the suspension is a little taught, but it won't destroy your intervertebral discs, sounds robust but doesn't scream out in a rage. No, the Golf doesn't have it in itself to be a rebel, which then again is part of the concept. First it lures you in with its slightly sharpened appearance and an attractive price-performance ratio, which is likely to resolve any family debate without a problem. Then it sails in, with its low sitting position, powerful engine and direct steering, but always sticking to this side of the threshold from which point everything would become too sharp, twitchy or even angry.

Low seat shells in the Caterham Seven 165

Now the Caterham Seven 165 really cannot stand up to all of this. Which it doesn't actually want to do. No - it likes things hard, wild and boisterous. We have dressed it up a bit, as the base price is actually 23,795 Euros. However, new discoveries such as wind shields and a convertible soft-top including doors are among the features that make the daily use of the Seven somewhat simpler, without being labelled obscene luxuries. Although, the soft-top ... perhaps yes.

Very practical on the other hand: the lower seat shells, for these make the Seven a possible option for interested buyers who refused to stop growing at 1.75 metres tall. Although even now it would be presumptuous to talk about a sense of spaciousness. But at some point you hop in, press the start button, grab the steering wheel, the diameter of which is less than that of a standard saucer, and with the first touch of the accelerator your head is thrown backwards. The narrow rear wheels struggle for traction, even though the driver and passenger are practically sitting between them.

Grumbling, the charged three-cylinder engine slogs away, shoves the two-seater up to speed, the wind flies past – it is fantastic. Freed from all of the constraints of modern safety and assistance systems (caution: this of course also applies to ABS), the driver must know what he is doing, and this is easy as the little Brit is happy to tell you. Everything around you seems huge and stagnant, with the car reported to reach a speed of 100 km/h in 6.9 seconds – although it feels about half that time. The 658 cm³ engine is hungry for revs, easily reaching 7,000 rpm, the five gears click from one to the other along narrow streets with such short spacing that even Mazda MX 5 drivers (incidentally the roadster is also available for 30,000 Euros) weep bitterly.

The Nissan 370Z is a true sports car

And then you climb into the Nissan 370Z and inevitably ask yourself if you have acquired a lorry driver's licence. Stop. Take a moment to recalibrate your senses. Once again from the top. Yes, that's us now. 3.7-litre V6 naturally aspirated engine, 324 HP, six-speed transmission, rear-wheel drive – you don't get much more sports car than this, at least not in this price category. Granted, the Nissan is not a delicate technician, speaking up coarsely and ruggedly, wants to be trodden on and revved. The V6 trots along, somewhat restrained, before, at around 4,500 rpm or more, it really reveals its power with a hot metallic sound.

At 7,000 rpm it needs the next gear, which the optional automatic transmission in the test car selects – but please forget this immediately. With the manual transmission the Nissan 370Z is much more lively, making its presence felt freely and often, including with regard to the rear of the vehicle. Fast reflexes are then required – the Nissan also comes with steering with sufficient feedback and a maximum steering angle that is suitable for drifting. And if you wish to proCee’d with a little less excitement, the suspension comfort and the space inside the vehicle aren't bad either (for a sports car anyway).

The gigantic VW T5

While we're on the topic: if your sole priority is that you have sufficient space, there can only be one option – the VW T5. Similarly to the Caterham, the figures have to be glossed over to a certain extent, but this isn't a problem thanks to the so-called Original Transporter Bonus of 4,750 Euros that VW currently offers. This even leaves space for air conditioning within the budget, allowing a ten percent margin. Of course with 83 HP, the Caravelle has a much more conservative engine, but has no shortage of furniture with its seven seats. Without the kitsch quality of a multivan, driving fun gives way to the presence of almost unlimited space, and some T5 owners will be asking themselves how many friends they actually have that neither want to move house nor organise small group trips. Here no-one will be bothered by the washable equipment, in fact quite the opposite - this means that the clean-up operation following the use of the Caravelle is fairly manageable.

The Mercedes CLA is the most sophisticated test car

In contrast, you really won't want to mess up the Mercedes CLA, although aside from the engine, the elegantly fitted out test car is a far cry from the base price. But please, it is a Mercedes, and a custom-made one to boot.

The charged four-cylinder engine with 120 HP gets to the business quickly, but with restraint. True, the 1.6-litre assembly is hardly tearing black holes in the universe, but there was once a time when a Mercedes was not defined by speed. The Mercedes CLA 180 would quite happily be defined by speed, but steers almost erratically, suggesting a high level of agility with direct steering and taught suspension. For good measure, the Swabians pile in an extensive range of safety equipment, but do not always finish the high-quality plastics seamlessly.

All well and good, but is this sufficiently Mercedes? The alternative: at some branches, E-Class T-Models are used as very well equipped semi-new company cars, albeit with a basic engine. Granted, the comparison of new and used cars is pointless, but it is fun. As an alternative, for just under 30,000 Euros you could have a Ferrari 456, twelve-cylinder, 436 HP, with just over 50,000 kilometres on the clock. Or failing that a new Caterham? Welcome to the infinite loop.

So you can only buy boring cars for 30 large? No way!

With this selection hopefully no-one will be expecting that we have selected the best car within this price category. The six candidates merely represent the most individual ways to get on the road. And then there are also saloons, vans, coupés and even convertibles – it really should be possible to find your dream car amongst this lot.



Achim Hartmann


2 March 2015
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