The Sentra SE-R was one of the most surprising economy cars from the early 2000s. It featured a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a six-speed manual transmission. The engine delivered 175 HP to the front wheels. From the outside, the Sentra looked as ordinary as any other economy compact. But when the driver pressed the gas, this little sedan could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 6.9 seconds, embarrassing many pricier cars. Since it was affordable when new, it’s inexpensive now. Be sure to look for cars in the 2004 to 2006 model years. Even new, the Nissan Sentra didn’t get much attention on the streets since it looked like other economy sedans. However, today, many people are amazed by its performance.
Since the Sentra is a front-wheel-drive car, it doesn’t provide great handling compared to some other cars on this list. However, the Sentra SE-R still handles well. It also has decent brakes and steering. The Sentra is a relatively modern, high-optioned compact, too. You can get power windows, air conditioning, ABS brakes, and a leather-trimmed interior. The Sentra SE-R has a growing fan base and is bound to be a classic someday, so purchasing one now could be a wise move.
Is there anything more boring in the automotive world than a Volvo station wagon? Probably not. The typical suburban mom car from the ’90s had loads of space for kids and their stuff. It was slow but dependable and boring to drive. Although that’s true for the regular Volvo 850 Wagon, the 1996 “R” version is something completely different. After Volvo’s success with the T5 version in the 850 series featuring a turbocharged engine, they decided to introduce an all-out sleeper machine: the 850R. Under the hood was a 2.3-liter five-cylinder engine with a bigger turbo and an updated intake system and electronics. With a 250-HP output, the 850R Wagon could go from 0 to 60 mph in just 6.5 seconds with a top speed of almost 160 mph.
That was sports car territory for the mid-90s. There must have been many confused Porsche owners when those boring-looking Volvo wagons passed them on the highway. After the 850R, many manufacturers like Audi started offering powerful, fast wagons. However, Volvo was the first with the 850R. Today, those performance numbers still demand respect. Fortunately, the 850R is quite affordable on the used car market. Also, you can find various power upgrades for this model, so consider buying this ultimate wagon.
If you think behind this funny name is an ordinary Mazda 6 family sedan from 10 years ago, think again. Emerging in 2006, the Mazdaspeed6 is an affordable performance car they disguised as an economy family four-door. However, Mazda designed this car to be the perfect driver’s machine in sheep’s clothing. Under the hood is a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 270 HP. The motor sends its power to all four wheels over an intelligent AWD system and six-speed manual transmission. Mazda cleverly hid the Mazdaspeed6’s advanced hardware under their regular body style. The only difference is the grille and a few subtle modifications. That means even the most experienced car aficionados have trouble telling the regular Mazda 6 from the crazy Mazdaspeed6.
The performance numbers of the Madzaspeed6 are outstanding, even by today’s standards. The Mazdaspeed6 is capable of going from 0 to 60 in just 5.5 seconds with top speeds of 150 mph. Thanks to the all-wheel drive, it’s surefooted even in difficult driving conditions. Despite being over 10 years old, the Mazdaspeed6 can still surprise many current performance cars. It delivers real-life usability at an affordable price.
For years, Buick produced pale, boring cars, especially during the ’60s and ’70s. In fact, people considered the company to be just a shadow of its former self. However, in the last decade or so, Buick has experienced a renaissance with its new lineup. They use innovative designs to make interesting cars, turning the market focus on this forgotten brand. One of the cars that helped Buick re-emerge is the Regal. It’s a family sedan Opel in Europe designed. They sold it as the Opel Insignia. However, for the American market, they turned the Insignia into a Regal by adding a few design items, a different grille, and some new interior appointments.
Aside from the regular Regals with front-wheel drive, Buick produced the Regal GS. It’s one of the best affordable performance sedans on the market. The GS comes with unassuming looks and compact dimensions but has a highly-capable powertrain. The Regal GS was the first true performance car in the Buick lineup since the GNX of the mid-’80s. The secret of the Regal GS is its engine, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that delivers 270 HP. The power goes to all four wheels over an advanced AWD system. But it’s the six-speed manual transmission that makes driving fun and engaging. Due to its compact dimensions and relatively low weight, the Regal GS can reach 60 mph in around six seconds. Since this is Buick, you can be sure the interior is luxurious.
Chevrolet resurrected the Impala SS nameplate in 1994 as an option on the seventh generation of this legendary model. Since the early ’90s marked the return to performance for most American manufacturers, Chevrolet installed the famous 5.7-liter LT1 V8 engine in the full-size rear-wheel-drive sedan. Then they equipped it with a heavy-duty suspension and components, creating a modern muscle legend.
For two years, Chevrolet produced almost 70,000 Impala SS models in several colors, with dark purple being the most popular and sought-after. The engine delivered 260 HP, propelling the big sedan from 0 to 60 mph in just seven seconds. Those aren’t exactly spectacular numbers, but for the mid-90s, they were great results.
The Chrysler 300C is an interesting car because it is one of the last, if not the last, true American box sedans. It comes with big V8 power and a chrome grille. To some people, it looks like your typical rental car and is nothing to be excited about. But then there’s the 300C SRT-8.
The SRT-8 comes with a 6.1-liter V8 Hemi engine that pumps out 425 HP, sending a glorious soundtrack through its twin tailpipes. The SRT-8 is fast, as getting from 0 to 60 mph takes around 4.9 seconds. The top speed was over 170 mph.
The Spirit was a Dodge economy model they presented in the late ’80s. But when Dodge presented the R/T version, things got interesting. The base 2.2-liter four-cylinder that developed only 90 HP got a turbo upgrade, producing an impressive 224 HP and 218 lb-ft of torque.
For the 1991 model year, that was a hefty power level coming from an economy car. The newfound power raised the performance to a whole new level. The Spirit R/T could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than six seconds, and that was Corvette territory back in 1991.
The Chevrolet engineers knew the C4 chassis had enormous potential. So, they always looked for ways to improve power and performance. But finally, they got the green light from management to introduce the best Corvette model in years. They wanted to show the sports car world what Corvette was capable of.
So, in 1990, they presented the mighty ZR-1 with 400 HP and performance numbers that could beat any Ferrari at the moment. Chevrolet named it the “King of the Hill,” and the Corvette ZR1 was exactly that. It was the king of all Corvettes in 1990 when they revealed the ZR1. And soon, it was obvious that Chevrolet had hit a home run. Under the hood, there was the LT4, a Lotus-engineered V8 engine delivering 375 HP and later 400 HP. Also, it came with quad-cam heads and 32 valves. The engine was an engineering marvel and performed exceptionally well. With a beefed-up suspension, gearbox, and a pair of extra-wide rear tires, the Corvette ZR1 could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. And that is what made it one of the fastest cars of the era and a true modern classic today.
When the 996 generation of 911 debuted in 1998, most Porsche purists were shocked. Their beloved car lost one of its defining characteristics: air cooling. The reason was simple, air cooling wasn’t interesting since it could no longer cope with the rising power of the engines and demanding engineering of Porsche cars. The engines had to go to regular water cooling, which is far more efficient.
It was so good, they used water cooling throughout history. Some say the 911s lost some appeal, but it was a smart move because it allowed Porsche to develop the car even further. Whatever the truth, the reality is the 996 is still a great car you can buy for just a fraction of the original sticker price. But if you like the flat-six engine and unmistakable 911 shape, you should look for one right now.
20. Porsche Boxster
The Porsche Boxster is one of the best used sports cars drivers can buy on a budget. For less than $20,000, and in some cases even closer to $10,000, you can get this open-top, two-seater roadster with over 200 hp, a flat-six engine, lively performance and unmistakable Porsche style. It has a nearly flawless weight distribution, thanks to its mid-engine layout, which translates into engaging and dynamic handling and driving feel.
The maintenance costs could be a bit more expensive than those of domestic sports models, but it is worth the premium since only a few cars can offer this level of driving excitement for such a low price. Since the Boxster is a common model, you will have no problem finding the right car for your tastes and your budget.
Available as a coupe or a roadster, the Nissan Z is a sports car legend in an affordable package. The handsome front-engine rear-wheel-drive car has a potent V6 engine and limited-slip differential as standard equipment. This feature makes it safe to drive hard and a favorite drift car. There are plenty of models to choose from with average prices in the $10,000 to $15,000 range.
There is enormous aftermarket support for this model, which means that you can easily tune and customize your 350 Z in any way you want. In 2008, Nissan introduced the 370Z, a restyled and slightly more powerful version with updated mechanics and an improved interior. It is still in production and it is more expensive on the used car market.
The RX-8 is an interesting model that was in production from 2002 to 2012. It is a pure sports coupe with four doors and four seats, making it a practical car great for daily transport. Another intriguing feature is the famous Wankel rotary engine that is light, compact and high-revving, but also quite powerful.
The RX-8 is affordable, so even later models cost under $20,000. Be advised that the Wankel engine can be hard to maintain, but it has sharp handling, great looks, and exceptional performance makes it well worth the price.
BMW is famous for its compact sports sedans with powerful engines. But ever since 1995, it has also produced some sporty roadsters in the form of the Z3 and Z4. There’s a wide arrange of models and the early ones are affordable. But the later ones could go over $20,000 limit.
Look for the six-cylinder versions since they deliver lively performance along with a charming, open-air driving feel. The Z3 and Z4 are light and compact and most drivers view them as the perfect summer cruiser. They also produced the Z3 as the Z3 M with a 255 HP straight six engine. So if you find one that is for sale and it fits your budget, go ahead and buy it.
If you want the maximum power for your money, the Corvette C5 is the car for you. You are probably familiar with the Corvette and its fifth generation. It is a V8-powered, fiberglass-bodied, two-seater sports car with fantastic performance, great design and everyday usability. In base trim, the C5 Corvette has a 345 HP motor, which is more than enough for a thrilling ride.
Add great handling and driving dynamics to that, and you will have a clear winner for the best sports car under $20,000. There are many C5s to choose from, so maintenance shouldn’t be a problem.
The Fiat 500 Abarth is a small, screaming, front-wheel drive hot hatch with loads of charm and race car handling. They based it on the subcompact Fiat 500. But the 500 Abarth is a performance version with a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine and 160 HP. That may not sound like much.
But in this lightweight car, it is more than enough for a lively performance and neck-snapping acceleration. Fiat introduced the Abarth as a 2009 model. It is still in production, so there are many models to choose from today. The prices range from $15,000 to $18,000 for top used models.
This famous muscle car from the early ’70s got a new lease on life for the 21st century. It returned in perfect retro form with the legendary Hemi engine. They built it on a Chrysler 300 platform, so Challengers are relatively common and affordable. You can get a decent V8 powered model for less than $20,000.
However, the SRT and Hellcat versions are considerably more expensive. This big muscle coupe will provide plenty of excitement, strong acceleration and effortless cruising. For muscle car fans, this is the perfect solution, because the Challenger has a respectable performance. Also, it has the fantastic retro look that guarantees you will be noticed on the street.
Another muscle car icon is the Ford Mustang. It has captivated the imagination of millions of enthusiasts since 1964. The Mustang has always been a performance bargain, especially with a V8 engine. You can buy a model from between 2010 and 2013 with a 5.0 V8, 411 HP engine that delivers great performance. With its cool design, reasonably comfortable interior and updated equipment, the Mustang GT gives you a pleasant ride.
And it can smoke the competition in stoplight racing. Available as a coupe or a convertible, the Mustang is also a stylish ride with enormous aftermarket parts support. In case your 5.0 GT is not powerful enough, you can always find numerous performance components and modify your Mustang to be lightning fast.
Available only as a convertible, the S2000 is Honda’s power roadster. They produced it from 1999 to 2009, but although they discontinued it, drivers consider this model to be one of the best performance models to buy on a budget. The main reason for such high praise is its naturally aspirated 2.0 or 2.2-liter, four-cylinder engine with 239 HP.
This high-revving unit, lightweight car delivers sharp handling and a great performance. The S2000 was popular in tuner circles, so you can find a lot of modified examples. However, you should search for stock models without any engine modifications. So, for $20,000, you can find some perfectly maintained models with a full-service history.
Most people think the Subaru Impreza is not a sports car. It has five doors, room for five passengers and a big trunk. But it also has a turbocharged flat-six engine with over 300 HP and intelligent four-wheel drive that brings an amazing performance. This car belongs on this list because of its mind-blowing acceleration figures.
So, WRX STi drivers can own those stoplight drag races. The 2009 to 2014 model years are plentiful and relatively inexpensive, too. If you can spend $20,000, you can buy a fantastic model with not too many miles on the clock and a full service history.
In addition to that, if you want to modify your Impreza, you will be glad to know there is an enormous amount of aftermarket components and performance bolt-ons that can double its formidable stock horsepower rating.
The Mustang was the first model to introduce retro styling and revive the muscle car craze. But Chevrolet re-introduced its Camaro in 2010 with fantastic and aggressive styling, a great chassis and a powerful engine. Despite the existence of a new model, the 2010 to 2015 Camaro still looks cool. Even if you get the base V6 engine, you will have 300 HP and a decent performance.
And should you go for the 6.2-liter V8 engine with 425 HP and a six-speed manual transmission, you could buy it for under $20,000. With that kind of power under the hood, it is the perfect modern muscle car. The Camaro is great for cruising with strong acceleration and almost perfect handling.
Most modern muscle cars are not good at cornering, but the Camaro is an exception. It is a true modern classic in every aspect. And lastly, it is a great buy if you want American performance with a retro design.
The Scion FR-S is still in production, but there are many used models for sale. And some are even below your limit of $20,000. Available only as a coupe with a 200 HP engine, the little FR-S is a basic sports car. They conceived it to be light, nimble and fun, and it achieved all those goals. The performance of this vehicle is not that exceptional.
But the driving feel, steering feedback, and handling are amazing. It just shows that you don’t need a whole lot of horsepower to have a fun, spirited driving experience. You just need a little bit of clever engineering and weight reduction, and you’ll get a great car. Also, this Scion is relatively fuel efficient, so you can use it for daily driving.
Like the Subaru Impreza WRX STi, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is a four-door sedan with a turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive. At first glance, you may mistake it for a regular compact sedan. But its aggressive body kit, big spoiler and bulged fenders indicate this is a true performance car.
With around 300 HP stock, most owners upgrade their Lancer Evolutions to crazy numbers with a wide arrange of performance upgrades. Although they discontinued production in 2016, there are many Lancer Evo models for sale. However, it is hard to find models in stock.
The availability and affordability of aftermarket items inspire almost all owners to personalize their rides. However, $20,000 is more than enough money to find a tastefully modified model, so you can start enjoying the fast acceleration and superb handling of the legendary Lancer Evolution.
Ever since the first Mazda MX-5 saw the light of day, it has found a way into the hearts of sports car enthusiasts in all corners of the world. Even though it’s simple, small and a less powerful roadster, the MX-5 is still one of best cars for spirited driving. It’s easy to modify and race, too.
Also, the MX-5 is the most affordable car if you want to experience the essence of sports car driving. What is the secret of the everlasting appeal of this small convertible? It offers good engineering and just enough power to keep things interesting. Also, it is lightweight and has great steering and handling.
For over 25 years, the Mazda MX-5 has been a bestseller in its class. They produced it in over one million models. This means that there are many different styles you can choose from, and for any budget. So, if you are looking for an affordable and exciting open-air sports car, the MX-5 is a perfect choice.
Somewhat overshadowed by the popularity of the Lancer Evolution, the Mitsubishi Eclipse is still a great sports car for budget-oriented enthusiasts. It is inexpensive, with most models changing hands well below the $20,000 limit. This is a practical sports car with a big trunk and front-wheel drive. The base engine was a bit anemic at 162 HP, so you may want the more powerful 265 HP V6.
The handling is satisfying with precise steering and good brakes. As with other Japanese cars, there are numerous aftermarket offerings, too. So, you can personalize your Eclipse and add extra horsepower for approximately $200.
From the outside, you could mistake the new RS3 Sedan for a regular A3 four-door since this model retains the elegance and proportions as the standard sedan. So, you might think that this is another rather boring compact sedan with nothing to show.
But as soon as you press the gas pedal, you will understand how wrong you were. The 2.5-liter unit delivers 400 HP and 354 lb-ft of torque. This makes it the most powerful car in its class. The power goes to all four wheels over the signature electronically-controlled Quattro AWD system.
This ensures the perfect traction and grip in all driving conditions. All of this translates to incredible performance numbers. In fact, the RS3 Sedan is capable of reaching 60 mph in just 3.9 seconds and topping 174 mph
The Mercedes CLA 45 is a compact executive sedan with an angry 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive. This combination, along with 381 HP, means it produces astonishing acceleration times and brutal driving dynamics.
The small dimensions along with composed handling and sublime performance make this compact sedan the perfect getaway car for bank robbers and similar characters.
The Challenger Hellcat is the ultimate getaway car. This is due to the fact it is one of the most powerful cars Detroit has ever made. And it is still easy to drive.
It’s only when you press the throttle and unleash the fury of those 707 supercharged horses will you feel the brutality of the Hellcat package and power going to the rear wheels. The 0 to 60 mph times are in high three-second range and the car can top 200 mph.
Cadillac introduced the ATS-V in 2016 as the newest American muscle four door car. And the ATS-V is compact but immensely powerful. With this model, Cadillac attacked the likes of the Mercedes C Class and BMW 3 Series with a modern executive sedan bringing recognizable styling and brutal power.
Under the hood is the twin turbo 3.6-liter V6 engine with 464 HP and 445 lb-ft of torque. This is enough to launch the ATS-V from 0 to 60 mph in just 3.7 seconds and top the speed of astonishing 189 mph. Despite the fact that the ATS-V doesn’t have a V8, it is still a proper muscle car and precision machine available in two-door form, as well.
For decades, fast and stealth cars were a European specialty. But with the introduction of the Ford Taurus SHO, Americans had their own muscle sedan. However, the best and the fastest is the current model. It is one of the coolest, most usable performance cars you can buy.
With a 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine that delivers 365 HP to all four wheels over its six-speed automatic transmission, the Taurus SHO is capable of convincing performance and high top speeds.
Scratch your sports car itch with one of these 30 affordable models. If you do your homework and look for one with a great service history, you won’t have many repair bills. Fast and fun, sports cars will always be popular with drivers who want to push the limits.