Fun under 25K, Mercedes-Benz CLA vs BMW 3-Series and What about the Fiat 500c Pop? [Ask Nathan]

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In this edition of Ask Nathan:

  • Fun with a stick for about $25,000?
  • Base priced Germans: 3-Series vs CLA?
  • Is the Fiat 500c Pop worth it?

2016 mazda cx-5 vs mazda6 |

Today’s first question comes from a (soon-to-be) college grad who’s looking for a fun machine with a stick for around $25K.

Q: Hey Nathan,

I enjoy visiting the TFLcar site daily. I am planning on graduating college in December and have begun the car search for a better daily driver than my Wrangler which I refuse to sell. Ive checked out the Mazda 6, Civic Si, and even the Corolla S. Im looking for something sporty with a manual transmission around the 25K mark. If you have any free time I’d love some more suggestions or comments on my three choices so far. Thanks in advance!

-Jon from Maryland

2013 Fiat 500 Abarth Convertible First Drive & Review
2013 Fiat 500 Abarth Convertible First Drive & Review

A: Both the Honda Civic Si and the Mazda 6 are superb choices. The Toyota Corolla Sport is a great economy ride, but not very sporty. The Mazda 6 is one of my favorites. Still, I think you missed several possibilities that deliver great bang-for-the-buck within your parameters. Here are a few:

  • The Ford Mustang with the V6: It may be the base model, but it puts pout 300 hp through an excellent 6-speed manual gearbox. Bonus – it’s REAR DRIVE! … By the way, the same goes for the V6 Chevrolet Camaro.
  • Fiat 500 Abarth: It’s too “cute” for some, but it packs a lot of fun in a small package. You can load one up quite a bit and keep it south of $25K.
  • Scion tC: Still one of my favorites as it is quick, affordable, fun and very utilitarian. Scion tC FR-S
  • Mazda MX5 Miata: Emme Hall would kill me if I didn’t mention this little guy. Might be hard to find one at your price, but it’s supposed to be one of the best handling cars out there.
  • Ford Fiesta ST: Kind of like the Fiat 500 Abarth, but with more utility. It feels like a baby Ford Focus ST – and that’s a good thing.
  • Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T Sport: Yes, I know about the VW drama, but this is still a kick to drive and; who knows, it might be discounted soon.
  • Scion FR-S: There are faster cars out there, but few that can handle like the FR-S. It will be hard to find one under $26K.

There you go my friend, a little extra food for thought.

Best of luck!


Personally, I would go for the Mazda 6 or the V6 “Pony” cars.


This next question comes from a viewer that’s looking to step up to a base-model German car.

Q: Salutations TFLcar and Nathan, I am finally ready to step into the German car arena. Now, I know that you (Nathan) like Audi and that Roman prefers Mercedes Benz, but I like BMW and I hate Audi. I have about $37,000.00 to play with and I wanted to know, minus your precious Audi, which German car would you buy with tax and license left over?

By the way, I want to do what you do, but I do not have the ability you have to drive crummy economy cars with enthusiasm. I honestly don’t know how you do it.

Thanks Nathan!



A: Thank you so much for the kind words.

Thanks for the email. I love how you worded my feelings for Audi. Truth be told, I like BMW just as much. In this case, you’re looking at two completely different cars.

The Mercedes-Benz CLA 250 is a front-drive, 4-cylinder with 208 hp and 258 lbs-feet of torque fed through a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. AWD is available, but it will cost you a couple grand and it will slow you down. Still, it IS a Mercedes-Benz and it is a great commuter. The seats are plush and it was an easy car to drive in traffic.

Keep in mind: Mercedes-Benz never sent me a CLA (or a GLA for that matter) and I had to resort to a few private drives to come to this conclusion.

Despite this, I would go with the BMW 3-Series. It’s a tad more expensive, but you get a real rear-wheel drive performer with excellent balance and an eight-speed transmission. Sure, the 4-cylinder turbo makes less horsepower and torque, (180 hp and 200 lb-ft) and there is no manual option for this base model, but it cars corners like a pro AND it is a very pleasant day-to-day driver.

Either car has merits, I recommend you test drive them side-by-side on the same day.

Best of luck!


This last email comes from a sun lover who is conflicted about buying a Fiat 500c Pop.


Q: I love the Fiat 500c Pop and want to buy one. Is there another car in this price range that you would consider? I mean, is it worth it? Is it a good car too? Seriously, I can’t think of anything that can hold four people that’s as inexpensive as the Fiat 500c Pop!



ps – no JEEPS!



A: Thanks for the email!

You’re right, there is nothing in this class that can compete with the Fiat 500c Pop as it is the only four-passenger convertible in that price bracket. You could always get something used for the same price and I would suggest looking at Certified Pre-Owned (CPO) cars.

As for new cars? Nope, nothing comes to mind.

Mustangs and Camaros are too pricey and the rest of the cars out there are two seaters.

Fiat builds good little cars. They are not up there with Toyota quality, but the regular Fiat 500 isn’t too shabby either. It’s a pretty good value too.

So, I guess that’s it, you’re headed to Fiat country!


Speaking of the Fiat 500…

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nathan adlen Easily amused by anything with four wheels, Nathan Adlen reviews vehicles from the cheapest to the most prestigious. Wrecking yards, dealer lots, garages, racetracks, professional automotive testing and automotive journalism – Nathan has experienced a wide range of the automotive spectrum. His words, good humor and videos are enjoyed worldwide.