Cars are getting more expensive, there is no doubt about it. Finding a cheap fast car is getting tougher by the year. The good news is that the muscle car is still hanging on despite increased pressure from the fuel economy lobby. Cars like the Dodge Challenger, Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang and the Chevrolet Corvette are -- or will be -- on the market, but these cars come at a hefty premium. As awesome as those cars are, there are less-expensive alternatives that will provide plenty of get-up-and-go on a budget. Additionally, there are aftermarket performance parts available for these cheap fast cars that can make them even faster than they are off the showroom floor.
The End of V-8 Power?
Our cheap fast cars list shares a few models with last year's list. Once again, the Ford Mustang finds itself on top by offering the most bang for the buck. An introductory MSRP of $27,020 (based off 2008 MSRP) gets you a V-8 car capable of zero-to-sixty in a mere 5.2-seconds. As a sign of the times, the Ford Mustang is the only V-8 car on the list. All other listed cars make due with some very potent inline 4-cylinder and V-6 engines. Just a few weeks before we compiled this list of top 10 cheap fast cars, General Motors announced it was canceling its V-8 engine development program, Chrysler is going to hybridize the HEMI and Ford will begin replacing some V-8 powered vehicles with EcoBoost technology on smaller engines. The bottom line is that horsepower speaks, and buyers of these cheap fast cars are less concerned about number of cylinders and more concerned about tuning, personalization and cost-of-ownership.
Computing the Rankings
We compared 10 high-performance cars and ranked them based primarily on elapsed 0-60 time and MSRP. We capped our price at $28,500; the current average selling price across all passenger cars. Last year our soft-cap was $27,400 but we let a few slide in at around $28,000. This year, $28,500 was it. No cheating. As with all things, if you want the best you have to be willing to climb the price ladder. The least expensive car on the list is the Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec-V with a 0-60 time of 6.4 seconds. The Spec-V Sentra will set you back just $20,180. The fastest, but second most expensive, car on the list is the Ford Mustang GT with a 0-60 of 5.2-seconds and a starting MSRP of $27,020. The spread between the Spec-V and the GT is $6,840 and 1.2-seconds. If you want to hit 0-60 times below 5-seconds you have a couple of options. The first is aftermarket performance accessories which could cost you a couple grand. The second option is to buy a $60,000 sports car. We know which way we would go.
Top 10 Best Cheap Fast Cars List:2008 Ford Mustang (Ford Mustang GT)
MSRP From: $27,020
Engine: 4.6L V-8 300-hp
0-60 Time: 5.2-seconds
For the second year in a row V-8 power wins the day. The numbers speak for themselves with the 2008 Ford Mustang GT. Mustang buyers get history, speed, 300-horsepower and mileage numbers that will ensure you have enough cash in the bank to drive it the way it was meant to be driven. As an added bonus, the Ford Mustang has truly massive aftermarket support. This aftermarket support is not likely to ever dry up, even if Ford were to stop making the Mustang tomorrow.
20008 Dodge Caliber (Dodge Caliber SRT4)
MSRP From: $22,435
Engine: 2.4L I4 285-hp
0-60 Time: 6.4-seconds
The Dodge Caliber (slips a few notches this year with a 0-60 time of 6.4-seconds. Horsepower has actually slipped 15 ponies from the previous year, which really hurt the 0-60 elapsed time. However, the 2008 Dodge Caliber SRT4 offers an outstanding value buy and actually does quite well in several of our top 10 lists. Buyers can get a quick car with wagon utility, good looks and the fabled SRT badge all for a price that is too good to pass up. If speed isn't of the utmost concern, you can always opt for the lower-priced R/T AWD trim.
2008 Subaru Impreza (Subaru Impreza WRX)
MSRP From: $24,350
Engine: 2.5L I4 224-hp
0-60 Time: 5.9-seconds
The all-wheel-drive Subaru moves up to the #2 spot for 2008. There are faster WRX trims on the market, but after the standard Subaru Impreza WRX Sedan the price starts to climb quickly, but so do the performance numbers. But again, the value of the WRX Sedan is hard to argue with. Buyers get all-wheel-drive, Subaru reliability and a 0-60 time of under 6-seconds. The 2008 model features the same potent horizontally aligned 4-cylinder producing 224-horsepower. The 2.5L engine also provides good fuel economy in the high-20's while on the highway. Not bad at all.
2008 Nissan Sentra (Nissan Sentra SR-E Spec-V)
MSRP From: $20,180
Engine: 2.5L I4 200-hp
0-60 Time: 6.4-seconds
The Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec-V is the fastest off-the-shelf Sentra available. The car has a 2.5L inline 4-cylinder producing 200-hp. This peak horsepower comes at a relatively high 6,600 RPM. Unlike many of the other cars on this list, the 2008 Sentra is classed as a mid-size sedan with over 40-inches of front headroom. This gives the car a bit more of a family sedan feel rather than a 'go-kart' feel. This will be appreciated by those who want a quick car, but do not want to give up a interior room and family friendliness. It's just another example of how automakers are trying to appeal to a wide variety of buyers.
2008 Mazda Mazda3 (Mazda MAZDASPEED3)
MSRP From: $22,340
Engine: 2.3L I4 263-hp
0-60 Time: 6.0-seconds
The Mazda MAZDASPEED3 is another one of those 'total package' cars that offers up a little bit of everything for everybody. The 2008 Mazda MAZDASPEED3 is available either as the Sport or the Grand Touring. The Sport comes in at $22,340 and the Grand Touring at $24,055. Both feature the turbo 2.3L inline 4-cylinder producing 263-hp and a 6-speed manual transmission with overdrive. Couple this with mileage figures that hit 26 on the highway and a 0-60 of 6-seconds and you have a great car for not a great amount of money. The MAZDASPEED3 shares a very similar body style to the Volkswagen GTI, and buyers may want to check them both out before making the plunge.
2008 Honda Civic (Honda Civic Si)
MSRP From: $21,110
Engine: 2.0 I4 197-hp
0-60 Time: 6.5-seconds
The Honda Civic Si is destined to become a tuner-favorite both when new and in the future on the aftermarket. There are a few things going for the Civic in general and the Si in particular. The car appeals to a very wide swath of the market. The car is plenty fast for everyday driving. The car looks better than ever. And finally, the aftermarket support for the 2008 Honda Civic line is rivaled only by that of the Ford Mustang. If there is a chip, mod, kit, part or piece that can be bolted, welded, glued or tied to the car, chances are at least a few vendors will offer it.
2008 Nissan 350Z
MSRP From: $27,980
Engine: 3.5L V-6 306-hp
0-60 Time: 6.0-seconds
The 2008 Nissan 350Z can get expensive in a hurry, but two things remains the same. All 350Z's have the same 306-hp 3.5L V-6 engine and 6-speed manual transmission with overdrive. All of them. From the Base to the NISMO. Now, we're not saying a Base will blow the doors of a NISMO, but if you like the look of the car and want the horsepower you can get the Base for roughly $10,000 cheaper than its top-of-the-line counterpart. Regardless, even the Base is a 6-second car that manages 25-mpg on the highway. Couple that with a sexy look that alone has sold thousands of these things and you have a winner all the way around. A bonus for the Z-car is a long history and good aftermarket support.
2008 MINI Cooper (MINI Cooper S)
MSRP From: $21,200
Engine: 1.6L I4 172-hp
0-60 Time: 6.5-seconds
The Cooper is another venerable performance name. The 2008 MINI Cooper S features the smallest engine in the top 10 at 1.6L. This small engine still manages to produce 172-hp and get upwards of 34-mpg on the highway. Helping the Cooper S achieve a 6.5-second 0-60 time is a standard 6-speed manual transmission with overdrive. The 6-speed was long reserved for high-end cars like the Chevrolet Corvette, but we are starting to see these performance perks filtering down to the sub-$25,000 market. Even if it wasn't so quick, the Cooper S would be a fun car to own. It's quirky nature and classic look have won over thousands of buyers over the past few years, and with recent additions such as the MINI Cooper Clubman we think the MINI will stick around to find itself on more of our top 10s.
2008 Toyota Camry (Toyota Camry XLE)
MSRP From: $28,120
Engine: 3.5L V-6 268-hp
0-60 Time: 6.2-seconds
A Camry? On a top 10 cheap fast cars list? You bet. The top-of-the-line 2008 Toyota Camry XLE V-6 may look like a family sedan, but it has it where it counts. The car is equipped with a 3.5L V-6 producing 268-horsepower. To put that into perspective, that is more horse than Dodge was putting out with its 5.9L V-8 engines just a few years ago. And instead of getting 15-mpg like the 360-cid engine would, the Camry comes in at 19-mpg city and 28-mpg highway. The only downside on the Camry is that it is the most expensive car on our list at over $28,000. But, it's awful fun to be driving a 6.2-second family sedan. Therefore, the Camry beats the rest of the list as the best sleeper car in the line-up.
2008 Volkswagen GTI
MSRP From: $22,720
Engine: 2.0L I4 200-hp
0-60 Time: 6.7-seconds
The Volkswagen GTI almost didn't make it into the list. Thanks to the Chevrolet Impala SS tipping in above the price cut-off, the 2008 Volkswagen GTI was spared for at least one more year. There are two GTIs available for 2008, both with the same hatchback-like body style. The Coupe, at $22,730 is a two-door model, with the Sedan being a four-door coming in at $23,230. Both are equipped with the same engine and both manage 21-mpg city and 29-mpg highway. The GTI shares a lot in common with the 2008 Mazda MAZDASPEED3, so buyers should check out both before buying.
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