Recommendations in the $5,000-7500 range?

I need a backup plan in case I can't lowball a low mileage well-kept W124.

The budget is relatively broad: $5000-7500.

I need a highway DD, to get me to and from work reliably, a commute of about 25 km one way (15.5 miles). As such, the most desirable characteristics are:

- reliability

- highway manners

- fuel efficient at highway speeds

For many drivers, this is easy: Toyota Camry. Or something. But I am not most drivers, and neither are you. So you know what I want. But can you have that, and have the above too? Not to put to fine a point on it, but can one haz ones cake and nomnomnom it too?

I've given this much thought and while the W124 might have fit the bill perfectly its getting on 20-25 years. There's the 1st gen IS, but all I see is a now is an Aletezza with leather and handling, like some super Corolla.

Recommendations in the $5,000-7500 range?

But still a Corolla. The E39 or E46 are low-hanging fruit, as is the A4, but I could run into the similar cost per mile and reliability issues as the mint and sorted W124 of my dreams. New VW's are too unreliable, and oldskool veedubs are too old. The Japanese either rust or its FWD. The 'muricans are either too thirsty, too sofa, or both.

Ugh. Help me Oppo!