Cheap performance cars can wear a number of disguises. There are of course the entry-level versions of hot brand new models that offer a respectable amount of handling and get-up-and-go at a reasonable price. Then again, there are also older, used cheap performance cars that deliver excellent speed at a price that satisfies even those on a smaller budget. Whether you choose to go new or used is up to you and your comfort level when it comes to secondhand automobiles, but there's no denying that a significant amount of fun can be had when spending between $20,000 and $25,000 on a performance car.
Let's take a quick look at 10 cheap performance cars and see what they bring to the table.
Cheap Performance Cars - 01 - 2013 Chevrolet Camaro 1LS
The 2013 Chevrolet Camaro 1LS retails for an MSRP of $23,345, and before you call it the 'consolation prize' of Camaros due to its entry-level status, check out what the two-door coupe has to offer: a 3.6-liter V-6 engine that generates a very healthy 323 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque.. Match that with the vehicle's standard six-speed manual transmission, and you've got a fairly potent daily driver that manages to turn in better than average acceleration on top of its 30-mpg highway rating. A dual exhaust system helps add to the performance image, and sweetens the aural pot for the six-cylinder Chevrolet Camaro.
Cheap Performance Cars - 02 - 2010 BMW 135i
The 2010 BMW 135i represents a German take on the traditional muscle car philosophy of stuffing an overpowered engine into a tiny, two-door vehicle. In this case, it's a 3.0-liter straight-six that has been turbocharged in order to grind out 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. But wait - there's more. The BMW 135i also comes with a six-speed manual transmission, a stiffer sport suspension system that gives its rear-wheel drive chassis better cornering capability, and its relatively light curb weight and compact proportions serve it well on a race track. The price for all of this fun is roughly $25,000 on the secondhand market.
Cheap Performance Cars - 03 - 2013 Mazda MAZDASPEED3
The 2013 Mazda MAZDASPEED3 is a brutal rush of a compact hatchback, one that pairs a front-wheel drive layout with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that strains and pulls at the steering wheel under heavy acceleration. The grunt that is produced by the vehicle's 2.3-liter mill - checking in at 263 horses and 280 lb-ft of twist - is not to be trifled with, as it allows the Mazda MAZDASPEED3 to leap to 60-mph in just a few ticks over six seconds. A six-speed manual transmission handles all of the shifting duties for the hatch, which wears a window sticker of $24,300, and the car also gains a performance-oriented suspension system and an eye-catching body kit.
Cheap Performance Cars - 04 - 2008 Audi S4
The 2008 Audi S4 is a bit of a gamble for cheap performance car fans who are willing to take a chance on reliability. Although not know for inexpensive maintenance costs, the 2008 Audi S4 does deliver when it comes to luxury, fun, and speed. Based around the A4 sedan, the S4 adds standard all-wheel drive and a 4.2-liter, eight-cylinder engine to the mix. The V-8 is good for 340 horsepower and 302 lb-ft of torque, which combined with the compelling grip of its quattro system enables the Audi S4 to pull hard out of corners as well as launch to 60-mph in only 5.3 seconds. For $25,000, there are few rides out there that meld prestige with power in quite the same way as the Audi, but make sure to get a pre-purchase inspection done first to reduce the chance of potentially pricy repairs down the road.
Cheap Performance Cars - 05 - 2013 Volkswagen GTI
The 2013 Volkswagen GTI is another hot hatch, albeit one that trades more in refined handling and a near-grand touring feel than all-out acceleration. For many buyers, however, that's exactly the combination they are looking for in a quick compact car, making the Volkswagen GTI one of the most popular budget-friendly go-fast options. Under its hood, the VW sports a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that provides drivers with 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is included with the car's $24,200 base price, but for a bit more cash it's possible to have a dual-clutch automated manual unit installed that shifts through its six forward gears faster than a human being ever could.
Cheap Performance Cars - 06 - 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata
The 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata isn't the fastest car on our list, nor is it the most exotic. For $23,720, however, it offers cheap performance car fans with one of the purest driving experiences they are ever going to find. First and foremost, the Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster pleases those behind the wheel with its perfectly balanced chassis, which benefits from an extremely low curb weight and excellent suspension tuning. The ability to brake late and hold speed through the corners gives the Miata excellent road course matters, and keeping its 167 horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine on the boil with the car's standard five-speed manual transmission guarantees a good time on any twisty road.
Cheap Performance Cars - 07 - 2007 Saturn Sky Red Line
The 2007 Saturn Sky Red Line is another blast from the past aimed at those shopping for a used cheap performance car. The last year of production for the Saturn Sky convertible roadster sent the now-departed brand off in style, as the Red Line trim introduced a dollop of fun that had been missing from the car's original incarnation. Credit must be given to the Saturn Sky Red Line's 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which makes use of direct fuel injection to produce 260 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. Known for being highly tunable via aftermarket know-how and parts, the Sky Red Line is shifted via either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. The price of entry for the topless Saturn is a mere $15,000 for an excellent example.
Cheap Performance Cars - 08 - 2013 Ford Focus ST
The 2013 Ford Focus ST is the third turbocharged hatchback on our list of cheap performance cars, and it splits the difference between the MAZDASPEED3 and the GTI in terms of personality. The car's 2.0-liter, four-cylinder mill boosts out 252 horses and 270 lb-ft of torque, giving it an edge over the GTI in acceleration (0-60-mph in just 6.6 seconds), while its more supple suspension system and less frenetic power delivery helps it to out-finesse the Mazda. A six-speed manual transmission is the only gearbox available with the Ford Focus ST, and the car's $24,115 MSRP also includes a limited-slip front differential to help keep the power planted at all times.
Cheap Performance Cars - 09 - 2011 Mazda RX-8 R3
The 2011 Mazda RX-8 R3 was the last hurrah for the Japanese brand's unique rotary-powered sports cars, a drivetrain design done-in by thirsty fuel consumption and upcoming emissions regulations. The used market is replete with $25,000 examples of this fantastic performance car, as the vehicle's excellent weight distribution, low mass philosophy, and engine that revs to 9,000 rpm give it a special character. The Mazda RX-8 R3 was a special edition of the car offers a six-speed manual transmission, the car's most track-friendly suspension settings, and Recaro sport seats up front. 232 horsepower and 152 lb-ft of torque are standard with the RX-8 R3.
Cheap Performance Cars - 10 - 2013 Scion FR-S
The 2013 Scion FR-S is a newcomer to the sport compact scene; the combination of stunning bodylines and a lightweight front engine rear drive chassis should be enough to get any boy racer all revved up to get behind the wheel, but the Japanese automakers no haggle asking price of only $24,500 it also becomes that much more accessible. Rated at a healthy 200 horsepower, the 2.0-liter flat four under the hood helps the FR-S to maintain a sleek profile and is efficient enough to return up to 30-mpg on the highway. Like the Miata, the true beauty of a light weight rear wheel drive sports car is that this is a car that can be driven at 10/10ths all day long. So it's no surprise that the 2013 Scion FR-S along with its Toyobaru twin, the Subaru BRZ, was voted Autobytel's 2013 compact car of the year.