If You Had Dieselgate Buy-Back Money to Spend, What Car Would You Get?

Volkswagen is buying back my dad's Dieselgate-afflicted Golf. We're at a loss for what comes next. 

Mallory Short/The Drive

Like most owners of newer diesel Volkswagens, my dad was shocked when news of the Dieselgate scandal broke in the summer of 2015—especially since he had just bought himself a new Golf TDI a few months prior. He wasn't demonstrably angry like some TDI owners; instead, he seemed more disappointed than anything else. He knew the German automaker he once trusted could do better than this. It didn't need to cheat to make great cars. 

When the options for affected owners came out—a fix or a buyback—my dad was torn. He didn't want to part with his beloved Golf; he loves its efficiency and its slick six-speed gearbox. And he certainly didn't want a fix that might diminish the car's performance. In the end, though, he's decided take the buyback option. Given that his Golf has less than 15,000 miles on the odometer and is a newer model (2014), it looks like he'll get back a decent chunk of the money he initially spent on it, which was around $25,000.

What comes next is the question. On one hand, my dad loves the economy of the Golf; on the other, despite being a septugenarian, he's a bit of a hot rodder at heart. (If it's any indication, he owns a 993-powered 1972 Porsche 911.) He has an affinity for all German cars—he's owned E28 BMWs, Volkswagens, and Porsches—and now wants something relatively practical that he doesn't mind getting dirty when he hauls lumber and tools on the rare occasion. Whatever it is, it needs a manual. In addition to the buyback money he'll recoup, he says he'd be willing to spend an additional $15,000 to $20,000. So, let's say a total of $35-40K, all in.

My first thought was a new Golf R or a GTI, but after that, I'm a bit stumped. The more I look at the used market, the further down the rabbit hole I fall. So, I'm tapping out and asking for help. If you had $35-$40K to spend and needed a somewhat practical car that's not too precious, has performance chops, and comes with a manual transmission, what would you get?

My dad sends his thanks in advance.