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Older Luxury or Newer Economy?

My wife and I are debating a potential replacement for my 02 Blazer. We would like an inexpensive sedan (~$10k) that will serve as the 0.5 of the 1.5 cars we need. She drives a new Escape while this will be my first car as I have always owned trucks, SUVs and Jeeps - Ideally I’d like something that is not completely emasculating.

I am campaigning for a 2003ish Lexus or Infiniti (a G35 would be sweet). In order to be in our price range, it’d obviously have around 100k miles, but my argument is that would be the half life of a car like that. It would be reliable and last a long time while providing a certain image (I sound very superficial, don’t I?)

My wife thinks it would be better to get a newer American made economy car for about the same money - like a Focus. Her argument is that there is no substitute for a newer car in terms of reliability.

Thoughts? Suggestions? Recommendations?


I’m on your side here, a $10k Lexus ES300/330/350 would be very reliable (not that I’m biased, I have a very reliable '96 ES300), certainly as reliable as a somewhat newer, but still used Focus. Just avoid the '05, they seem to have had some tranny problems. Infinitis are fun, and the G35 has also been reliable. Drive them both, they’re quite different. That’s assuming you can get the complete maintenance history, and that it’s been maintained ‘by the book’.

Thanks! We’ve been reviewing Consumer Reports and the older luxury certainly scores very high compared to a newer lesser car.

Please keep in mind that even a good used Lexus will be expensive to maintain because it is…a luxury car. A $10,000 Lexus in mint condition with low mileage will serve your need to park at the country club with some respect. My choice would be a mint condition Hyundai Elantra with all the equipment I need on it. Such a car would only be a few years old and have a very long and economical life left in it.

As others suggest, buy the Consumer Reports Used Car Guide and see for yourself.

The ES is not too bad, it’s a very nice Camry, so most parts are no different.

Have you test driven a Ford Focus? They are nice cars. If you get a Lexus or Infinity with 100,000 miles, be prepared for some expensive repairs.

If you feel emasculated in a Ford Focus, I think that says more about you than it says about the car. If this car purchase is about machismo, see a psychologist about boosting your self esteem in other ways.

Yes, you are better off buying a car you like than one you don’t like. You come across as someone with an adult-level emotional IQ. You should be able to find something that you like without burdening yourself with a high mileage luxury car.


You did not mention what type of driving you do – short round town commutes or long road trips? My inexpensive round town car would be a gently used Honda, Nissan or Toyota (Subaru if it snows). A Lexus, Infiniti or Acura would be a better road car. Keep in mind that they were $50,000 new and now $10,000 used, but they are still a $50k car to maintain and repair.


Thanks! The cost of repairs is certainly a good consideration. Ideally it would be nice to find a car that wouldn’t need many repairs to begin with. Most of the driving would be around town stuff, but an occasional road trip might be thrown in for good measure.

Then buy a small, fuel efficient economy car – you will be driving it around town 90% of the time. When you need a larger more comfortable car for a road trip – rent one. It will be much cheaper in the long term. Plus, the road trip car will be less than a year old and covered for brake downs.


Keep in mind in reading my response that I am cheap–back in the late 1950’s I thought that the Studebaker Scotsman was a wonderful car. My vote would be for a Ford Focus type vehicle. Some years back, I shared rides to a weekly (and sometimes weakly) band rehearsal with a couple other people. One woman had a Cadillac DeVille and one woman had a Ford Escort. The trip was 12 miles each way on an open highway. I preferred to ride in the Escort. The Cadillac ride was too mushy for me. Perhaps the Cadillac may have needed new struts–I don’t know, but I do know that I felt more comfortable in the Escort.

For me, a sporty Ford Focus would be more fun than a luxury car for the type of driving you say that you do.

An '03 Lexus and/or Infinity are pretty good cars, but you’ll be buying a 7 year old car with 100K or more miles. You can’t expect to have minimal repair bills on cars with these miles and years on them. Timing belts, water pumps, fuel pumps, and check engine lights will all be issues if you keep the cars for 5 or more years. You have to figure on some pretty pricey repairs.

If you can buy a new “econo” car and stay in your budget that’s my play. It will be much less to maintain and operate the econo car over the years to come. Current Honda Civics are bigger than Honda Accords were 10 years ago. Some of these econo cars, both Japanese and domestic, are surprisingly roomy. Perhaps not luxury, but it you try them on for size you should something very comfortable.

If you’re trying to decide which option will deliver the lower cost transportation, then I vote with your wife. Maintenance on a 2003ish Lexus or Infiniti will be far more frequent than on a relatively new car, and it will not be cheap.

If you are looking at the Lexus ES series, keep in mind these are pretty much just gussied up Toyota Camrys. Save a few grand and buy a high end Camry(XLE?) instead.

If you’re thinking of going to a shoeconomy box, be sure to take it for an extended test drive to make sure the cars feels comfortable to you compared to the “round the block” test drive most salesmen want you to do. You may find that, while they give good mileage, you’re cramped inside it.

“The ES is not too bad, it’s a very nice Camry, so most parts are no different.”

I heard something similar about my Porsche 914 - It’s a VW. The prices won’t be that bad. Oh, but they were awful. I don’t think that Lexus parts will be comparably priced with Toyota parts. And I think that Ford or Chevy parts prices will be lower than Toyota prices, too.

I think you are more likely looking at a 2002 Lexus ES 350; older if a different model. You could get a 2007 Cobalt LT with 35,000 miles for the same price. The Lexus will have about 100,000 miles. At 12,000 miles per year, you are 5 years ahead in mileage with the Cobalt. Or the Focus if you prefer. An old Lexus is a good way to have decent reliability - for a 7 year old car.


I think we may try to compromise and might try to look for a used Fusion or Milan. that’ll keep me out of an econobox and will keep my wallet from getting drained by a repair shop.

You might find a 2006 Fusion at $10,000 but it will probably have high mileage. That was the first year for the Fusion and Milan. A manual transmmision will only save you $300 to $400.

Thanks! I think we may also add a Mazda 3 to our list of potential candidates.

I am building a master spreadsheet with data from Consumer Report’s Online Used Car Guide in order to help narrow the list. Repair costs associated with an older luxury car may preclude the Lexus/Infiniti, but I still hope to stay out of the econobox.

The 3 is comparable to the Focus. If you’re looking for the large one, the Mazda 6 will be the one to look for.

You can get a 2006 Chevy Malibu for about $10,000 with either the 4-cyl or 6-cyl. It’s a mid-size car with rather bland styling. But you make out by saving a bundle over a comparable but popular car. MSN Autos gives it top reliability ratings.