-BMW 3 series E46 preferably the 330i with the sport pack.
-Lexus IS250 manual. You won't be disappointed by the quality of the finish.
-Infiniti G35 coupe / Nissan Skyline 3500GT manual. A softer version of the Z33 350Z if you are looking for a daily driver.
Then, if there are money left, get some nice coilovers and a set of Rays. Then you'll be set for some quality hot girls hunting.
Oh. And people that tell you that accidents are more likely going happen with your first car: rubbish.
-My first car was an Acura/ Honda 3.2RL One massive car to drive when you live in downtown Montreal and park you park in an indoor parking lot daily. Never had any accidents.
-Then it was a E34 BMW 525i manual. Never had accidents with a manual RWD car in winter ( ice/ snow/ and everything in between)
- I now drive a 2006 545i few times a week. And I switch between a EK4 Civic. Never had any accidents.
For a first car, that's a good start, they all say that because they can't financially sustain the risk.
welcome to 1990. Americans cars are still rubbish. So what that it beat the M5 back then? Let's see a Taurus 2008 beat a 2008 M5. Oh wait... it's got a SMG mated with a V10.
I will openly admit: I hate American cars. I don't hate Americans, but simply hate American cars. Let's bring this discussion a bit more upscale.
Against my will, my father bought a brand new 2005 300C back in 2005. We paid a whole 47k $ with all the option, sat nav, etc. For 47k, we get a 1970 Hemi. It is great yes 340hp rear wheel drive monster for 47k. We paid 47k for half leather seats, rubber dashboard, loads of plastic, and a sat nav that wasn't working after a week. The manual mode of the transmission was all wrong, and the brakes, well, they are probably good to stop a Civic, but not a 300C. Good thing we sold it after 6 months.
With about the same money, we got a 545i, much better build quality, a real 4.5L DOHC V8, not some prehistoric pushrod V8. It was real leather seats, and awesome build quality. The iConfuse system is rubbish but at least BMW got 99.5% of the car right. My aunt drives a 323i, never had a problem, ever. Uncle drives a 330i, no problems either.
My OTHER uncle drives a Ford Fusion. Tacky, slow, slushy handling, and infested with small problems every month. A friend drives a Malibu, rubbish. The new G5, crap, i've never been in such a boring and unresponsive car. The Aveo, would struggle to get off the line with 4 people. And not to mention the Taurus. A coworker kindly borrowed me his car to do some errands. shocks, what shocks?!!! floats like a boat. On the exit ramp of the highway, the car rolled so bad. And you know what's the best example: the American's best sports car the Corvette ZR1: leaf springs. nuff said.
Just imagine cheap American cars... For all I care, even if the SHO beat the M5 in 1990, I would ( and did) still buy an 18 year old BMW over a Ford.
Now go get drunk and soap in this idea that there are other things other then American cars.
You will find a decent S14 on Zilvia with an SR dropped in it already or maybe the KA-turboed. The S14 is such a marvelous machine and track potential. All that shouldn't cost you more then 9k. Look for coilovers, no rust, a nice body and a clean swap. I don't even want to start with how this is an awesome car.
2. Honda Civic EK9 hatchback with a K20
I have a Civic at the moment. It is VERY cheap on gas. I can do 6L/100km on smooth traffic days. I don't have the K20 but K20's are going for about 3-4k US$ nowadays, 1k to drop it in, and a base EK9 costs about 3k. You still have money for coilovers, subframe braces, a 4 big brake upgrade, and some nice lightweight rims. With your budget, don't waste money to get those B16 or B18 swaps, the B-series are old and the 21st century tuning will be focused on the K20. If anything ever do break on the K20, visit your local Acura or Honda dealer and get the parts.
3. BMW 323i E46
They are close to 10k in the US nowadays. BMW's have been around me all my life and if it breaks, it will cost you an arm and your left nut. Bimmers are marvelous to drive, great handling, great response, very interior. I had a E34 525i 5spd and this thing still drove like day 1. ( I had Bilstein/H&R shocks, springs though, the ultimate E34 upgrade) If you can afford something bigger like the 545i, don't get the iConfuse system. I had to go to the dealer twice (even under warranty) to get that stupid computer fixed. back on topic, don't get the 320i, it's such a rubbish, 2.0L inline 6 with no torque. 323i, or 325i are some good choices. Make sure all electrical stuff works, I mean ALL. Sorting out an electrical issue on a BMW is very expensive. But if you pick a very clean E46, the feeling is rewarding.
4. Volkswagen Passat B5
A friend has one. The B5 is based on the Audi A4. Those cars does feel like an Audi and unlike the usual belief that VW catches on fire, those are very reliable, and most important, very good build quality. Make sure the timing belt is changed before you buy one. Just like its cousin A4, the Passat is a pain in the ass to change the timing belt. For a 10k budget, you can a decent one for 6k and slap some springs/shocks ( Bilstein/H&R combo) or coilovers and some nice rims, and you're set.
5. Subaru Impreza type RS
Not the newer generation with round headlighs, the one before. They are cheaper, generally reliable and more suited for winter then the above 4 choices. It also sips more fuel then the other 4. I'd check if the transmission is in good condition. They tend to go caca after 10 years.
-fix any rust or dings.
-get the five lug conversion ( get the Z32 brakes while you are at it)
-get a decent set of coilovers.
-don't bother with a RB, my experience is they are a pain.
-if money is left, rebuild your KA24DE and turbo that thing.
You'll be close to 350whp on pump gas.
Might want to slip in a new Kouki front bumper + tailights+ nice set of rims somewhere in those steps.
I suggest 16", personal opinion ( but R33 GTR rims works like a charm )