Cheap Cars That Look Expensive

By Angela Monroe - February 15, 2021

Cheap Cars That Look Expensive

People often judge cars by their looks – manufacturers know this all too well. There are some cheap cars that look expensive.

We take a look at some cars that have the looks, but not the price tags of high-end vehicles.

Sports Car: Nissan 350Z (2003 – 2008)

Price Range: $15 – $18,000
Nissan 350Z

Nissan does a good job of designing ‘timeless’ cars. The 350Z’s predecessor, the 300ZX proves this – it came out in 1989 (when Bob Hawke was PM and Allan Border was captain of the Australian cricket team). It still turns heads today with its smooth, angled looks.

The 350Z shares the same bloodline. Released in 2003, the 350Z appears modern(ish) in 2021 and with its V6 naturally aspirated engine, still packs a punch. Due to the 350Z’s popularity, the aftermarket options are immense so if you’re a backyard mechanic, the ‘Z’ can act as a tinker’s dream.

The 350Z comes as a convertible or hardtop.

Nissan 300ZX

(‘Timeless’ in its time: The 300ZX)

Luxury Sedan: Mercedes-Benz C-Class (2012 – 2015)

Price Range: $16 – $19,000

Mercedes-Benz C-Class


A Mercedes on a ‘cheap car’ list? Yep, the W204 C-Class was sold from 2007 to 2015 but the model we’re talking about is the ‘facelifted’ version which came out in 2012. 

This model features ‘angry’ headlights inline with modern trends. 2012’s facelift also included LED taillights and an updated dashboard. When new, the C-Class commanded a $75,000+ price tag.

Models come in 2-door coupes, 4-door sedans and 5-door wagon versions.

Luxury SUV: BMW X5 (E70) (2007–2013)

Price Range: $19 – $24,000


SUVs are hugely popular, not only in Australia but all over the world. This has kept resale values high. The X5 offers a high-quality interior and relatively modern styling. The brand and SUV shape are a win when it comes to looking expensive. They also make a great car for a road trip.

In 2011, the X5 received a facelift and models from this era look more aggressive and modern. The X5 comes in both petrol and diesel.

There’s a more expensive performance version – the X5 M which is designed to compete with the Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG and the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S so expect to pay more for this variant.

Part ways with over $100k for a new 2021 X5.

Hatch: Kia Cerato (2018 to Present)

Price Range: $22 – $25,000

Kia Cerato

You might be surprised to see a Kia on a list with Mercedes and BMW but the Cerato won’t disappoint. 

The Cerato has evolved from a shopping trolly scratch magnet ‘grocery getter’ when it was launched back in 2003 to a sleek ‘hot hatch’ packed with tech. The BD version, which came out in 2018, has aggressive styling, low-profile tyres and stiffer suspension. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also included.

Wildcard: The Tesla Model S P100D

Price Range: $136,900 (before on-road costs)

Tesla Model S P100D

The Model S P100D isn’t what most people call a cheap car, but it is the 3rd fastest accelerating production car in the world, the first being the Porsche 918 Spyder. The P100D’s 0-60 mph time is a lightning 2.28 seconds. Tesla shows acceleration is a pro of EVs and something traditional ICE (internal combustion engine) cars are struggling to keep up with.

To beat the P100D, you’ll need the Porsche 918 Spyder priced at $1.5 million.

In second place for the ‘fastest accelerating production car’ is another Porsche, the 911 Turbo S – yours for $473,500.

But what about cars that are expensive, but don’t look it?

There’s plenty of ways to spend money in the car world.

2020 Toyota LandCruiser Sahara

Price Range: $140,000+

Unless you know your LandCruisers (which a lot of people do thanks to their popularity), you might not realise that a Toyota SUV could command such huge prices. Expect to pay over $180k for a new, low kms example – that’s 2020 Porsche Macan money. Furthermore, used examples are still bringing in high prices, primarily due to the demand.

1980s VK – VL Holden Commodore

Price Range: $22 – 30,000+

With Holden’s demise and Australia’s love of classic Holdens, prices for ‘nostalgia’ vehicles are soaring. These commodores came with V6 and V8 engines, depending on the model.

Like with all classics, the lower the odometer reading and better the condition (and more original), the higher the price.

Got one under a tarp in the backyard? It might be worth a bit. These cheap cars aren’t so cheap anymore.

1988–1994 Nissan Silvia (S13)

Price Range: $25 – 30,000+ (depending on condition and modifications)

Imagine paying $30,000 for an old ‘80’s Nissan. That’s what these gems are pulling in. The Nissan Silvia, once a P-Plater’s dream and sought after tuner’s car (mainly for drift racing) is a rare find in Australia.

Silvias were once considered cheap cars compared to other Japanese imports, like the Nissan Skyline and Toyota Supra. A huge number were imported into the country back in the late ‘90s and early 2000s but due to heavy modifications attracting police defects, thefts and crashes, S13 Silvias have become a rarity with prices boosted by nostalgia.

Cheap ‘expensive’ cars recap:

The next time you’re shopping for cheap cars or even thinking about it, make sure to look at what’s trending.

For example, cars from the 1990s moved away from the ‘80’s boxy look and are noticeably curvy. Cars from the mid-2010s have aggressive front light arrangements and LED running lights.

Today’s vehicles are sporting large front grilles and unique rear lights.

Angela Monroe
Angela Monroe is the Community Manager at The Positive Group, specialising in giving people the information that they need when they need it, and putting you on the path to a fair financial future. She has 8 years of experience in helping Australians find the right finance solutions, and regularly contributes articles to empower Australians with the knowledge they need to become financially healthy.


No comments yet.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

  • Quick Quote

  • Related Posts