Wanna go fast on a budget? Our list of fast cheap cars has it all, from speedy coupes to the swiftest of highway cruisers.
The thrill-seeking teenager, the mid-life crisis afflicted dad, and the back-in-my-day-everything-had-a-V8-whether-it-needed-it-or-not boomer all have the same problem when it comes to shopping for fast used cars: affordability. Those big V8s, the turbochargers and the track-tuned suspensions, they all raise the price of a car. But of course, the expensive fast cars of yesteryear become the cheap fast cars of today, so long as you know where that Venn diagram of fast and cheap overlaps.
And that’s where our list below can help. Given the average used car price has reached more than $33,000, we decided to keep most of our entries in the $20,000 range. Some, like the BMW 3 Series you can find for less than $10,000 while you can spend a lot more on something like the Mitsubishi 3000GT (“cheap” being contextual.)
The Ford Mustang is always a safe bet for affordable speed. With major updates for the 2010 model, the Mustang GT dials things in with a sport-tuned suspension, tight chassis, and a beefy 4.6L V8 making 315 horsepower and paired with a five-speed Tremec manual transmission. That set up translates to a zero to sixty time of 5.1 seconds. Updates to the Mustang’s interior sweeten the deal, with less plastic paneling and improved material quality. The classic pony car remains a superb choice for anyone shopping for fast cheap cars.
Speaking of modern muscle cars, the 2010 Dodge Challenger lives up to its legacy and them some. Bulked up and beefy looks perfectly match your choice of the Challenger R/T’s 5.7L V8 with 372 horsepower or the SRT8’s 6.1L V8 with 425 horsepower. Either way, you’ve got more ponies than the Mustang GT (see above). The Challenger is a straight-line specialist with a leap from zero to sixty in 4.8 seconds.
For a vastly different take on the fast cheap car, there’s the 2005 Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG. Prices can vary wildly today depending on mileage and condition, and you can find examples anywhere from less than $20,000 to over $50,000. What you’ll find under the hood of this rear-wheel drive sports sedan is a hand-built 5.4L V8 making 469 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque. That translates to a zero to sixty time of 4.9 seconds. Of course, there’s the smooth-riding suspension and luxury interior to make the E55 AMG the supreme highway cruiser.
Want a cheap fast car with a massive following and loads of aftermarket support to tune to your heart’s content? Look no further than the Nissan 370Z. The previous generation of the venerated Z-car had an eleven-year run for good reason with exceptional balance, confident braking, and a pleasant highway demeanor. And then there’s the 370Z’s 3.7L V6 making 332 horsepower (or 350 horsepower in the NISMO version). The V6 is paired to a SyncroRev Match six-speed manual. In its base form, the 370Z makes its run from zero to sixty mph in 4.7 seconds, and that’s before you start tuning it.
The early aughts redux of the storied Pontiac GTO got a bad wrap as an ugly car (it’s non-descript but by no means ugly) and unworthy of its name. And though it was a reskinned Holden Monaro, the neo-GTO had plenty of muscle with its small-block LS1 V8 making 351 horsepower. And without the need for an LS swap, you’ll have money left over for souping up the highly tune-able engine with a turbo or super charger, new headers, new cam, etc., etc.… so you can make an already fast car even faster.
The Cayman is the coupe version of the Porsche Boxster and the brand’s entry-level car. As such, the Cayman makes one heck of an introduction. With its midengined design, the Cayman offers not just near perfect balance in its handling but a level of confidence that’s been hard to find in the notoriously unruly 911. The Cayman’s 2.7L flat-four produces up to 245 horsepower, while the Cayman S gets a larger 3.4L engine good for 295 horsepower and a zero to sixty time of five seconds.
If you’re looking for a fast cheap car as your next automotive project, there are few better candidates than the E46 generation BMW 3 Series. Used BMWs tend to come with a lower than average asking price due to the level of commitment, both financial and emotional, that they demand from owners. But for the intrepid, the 3 Series is the perfect platform for cheap performance. We recommend the 330i, in coupe or convertible and either all-wheel or rear-wheel drive. This version carries a 3.0L straight-six making 225 horsepower and a six-speed manual. A high-quality interior and classic BMW good looks don’t hurt, either.
There are plenty of fast used Audis you could consider, but if we’re recommending just one, it has to be the V10-equipped Audi S8 circa 2007. The S8 embodies the classic sports sedan formula of cruising comfort, posh luxury, and a massive engine under the hood. Sourced from Lamborghini, the S8’s 5.2L V10 engine makes 450 horsepower and provides a satisfyingly throaty exhaust note. A zero to sixty run of 4.9 seconds and luxury features like a Bang & Olufsen stereo and 20-inch alloy wheels make the Audi S8 an alluring choice for a used car with serious pickup.
The Corvette is the ultimate Dad car, the American two-seat sports car with legions of country club devotees firmly convinced their V8 is best. But what happens when Dad’s old Vette gets passed on to the kids? The venerable Vette proves a potent force for those looking for cheap thrills behind the wheel. The C4 ZR-1 Corvette is a great starting point with its potent 5.7L LT5 V8 and Lotus-tuned steering and braking. The ZR-1 is indeed a fast car, back in 1990 and today, with a zero to sixty run of just 4.4 seconds. And with those signature round quad taillights, you’ll look even faster from behind.
The Mitsubishi 3000GT is a classic JDM tuner dating back to the mid-1990s. Refinement, handling, great looks, the 3000GT has all the ingredients of a legend. Oh, and of course there’s the twin-turbo 3.0L V6 producing 320 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque. A reputation for high reliability helps make the 3000GT an even better used by. Whether you’re a college freshman trying to look cool or the divorcee hoping to impress their younger date, rolling up in a tricked out 3000GT instantly makes you, at minimum, 3000% cooler.