Top Cars to Must Have

Buy Into the Fun, but it is not possible to measure the depreciation return on investment in many ways. It’s almost always double in cars, though: fun behind the wheel and financial prudence (a.k.a., not to lose your shirt). The first is easy, particularly if you have a real budget. But the second is rare. Getting both in a car is like finding a Detroit unicorn.

But it is possible to do it.

We found cars (OK, there are a couple of trucks) that are definitely cool, hold their value, and are unlikely to depreciate as you enjoy them. Heck, we would even bet that most of you could make money.

There are exceptions, as always. Maintenance costs are the big one and it is difficult to pin down which car could do the least long-term damage to your wallet. A good pre-purchase inspection with a reputable mechanic will make sure you buy the right car a long way. So will some real research. All of these cars are supported by a library of Web-based knowledge, so there’s no excuse. And even though there are no guarantees, there are some pretty solid bets.

So here they are.

1991 Acura NSX
Cost: $28,000-$49,000


Why: It’s been nearly a decade since the last new NSX rolled off the assembly line and early models are now starting to demand higher prices on the used market. The first year (1991) can be found for just over $20,000 if mileage isn’t a concern, but any at-or sub-50,000-mile ’91 NSX is going to start above $30,000. The 1991 NSX holds its own even among contemporary cars; its precise manual steering and snappy gearbox continue to offer supercar performance while it remains incredibly comfortable (docile, even) as an everyday driver.

With development involving Formula 1 icon Ayrton Senna and its “plucky upstart” status versus the Italian and German supercars of the day, the legend of the NSX grows every year. You’ll be hard-pressed to pull up to a Cars and Coffee event in one without drawing a crowd of grinning admirers. As well-maintained early NSXs become rarer, their prices are on the rise: A thorough pre-purchase inspection will help mitigate repair costs of a car that only gets more special with age.

1988 BMW M5
Cost: $9,000-$17,000


Why: The first-generation M5 came to the U.S. in small numbers (around 1,200), but it made a big noise with enthusiasts and the press, beginning a legacy of “super sedans” that continues today. Each successive M5 vies for the Best Car in the World title, but it’s the 1988 original that stands out as the greatest-ever melding of balanced, driver-focused performance and luxurious practicality. And let’s be honest, there’s no questioning the cool factor of a body that was penned in the late ’60s.

Despite their rarity in the U.S., many original M5s are driven daily by outright fanatics. While everything else may fail, the 3.5-liter inline-6 engine tends to be rock solid even with high miles. Featuring individual throttle bodies, the U.S. car pumped out 256 horsepower. Surviving 1988 M5s are rare, but many can be found for less than $10,000 with high mileage and (too often) with questionable modifications. Be prepared to shell out upwards of $15,000 for a lower-mileage example with any kind of service record history, and make sure you know a good BMW specialist.

2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor
Cost: $33,000-$50,000


Why: Merely looking at the Ford SVT Raptor is a visceral experience. It looks as if it just drove out of the Baja 1000, which would be a mere amusement if it didn’t actually deliver. But it does. Off-road, the Raptor can handle just about everything a sane driver will want. And it does it without sacrificing on-road comfort or handling.

The interior is as soft and welcoming as any American cruiser and the 6.2-liter V8 (make sure you get the 6.2-liter) cranks out 411 hp and 434 pound-feet of torque, and makes an unholy racket that will put a smile on your face every time you fire it up. Drop some coin on a low-mile Raptor now, or three times that amount in 20 years at some big auction in the desert: your call.

2005 Honda S2000
Cost: $16,000-$26,000


Why: Honda’s beloved S2000 sports car is no longer in production, but its fandom continues. S2000s can be found throughout various model years at fair prices, but it’s the post-2004 cars that are truly engaging. And if you want the best S2000, look for a 2005 model. Many fans decried the reduction of the original S2000’s 9,000-rpm redline to 8,000 for the 2004 model year, but the shorter 1st through 4th gears along with the increase in usable torque at lower rpm makes the 2005 a more livable car. It simply offers more performance where most drivers actually use it.

With its forward-thinking digital instrument cluster, possibly the best six-speed manual transmission ever made and a naturally aspirated specific output only surpassed when Ferrari released the 458, the S2000 is one of the last great everyman sports cars. Plus, its reliability is exceptional, so feel free to fling a few extra bucks out for a lower-mileage example.

2007 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
Cost: $17,000-$27,000 (X);

$18,000-$33,000 (Sahara);

$24,000-$39,000 (Rubicon)


Why: When the four-door 2007 Wrangler Unlimited made its debut, the naysayers came out in force: Four doors went against the ethos of the ultimate everyday off-roader. The stretched wheelbase made the Wrangler too big. It’s less capable on difficult terrain. On and on they went.

But Jeep pulled it off.

The Wrangler Unlimited is not only a great off-roader worthy of the Wrangler name, but it’s a unique SUV setup that can’t be had with any other brand. On top of all that, the modern Wrangler is among the leaders in resale value: and somewhat surprisingly, nowhere is this more evident than with the 2007 Unlimited. It’s difficult to find a sub-50,000-mile 2007 Wrangler Unlimited for less than $20,000. For a rough-and-ready SUV that can take you where you need to be with rear seats that fit actual humans, it’s hard to argue with a 2007 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited.

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