Article by Rick Jensen (Turboguy).
The modern high performance vehicle era started at the turn of the millennium. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, automakers’ supercomputers finally had the advanced brains to create revolutionary engine designs for the masses. Over the next decade these powerful, reliable and efficient engines were further refined, and they helped usher in a new performance era not seen since the 1960s.
Now that 2015 is here, some of those machines are more than 10 years old. Which means that we no longer have to buy new to score one helluva performance bargain! So we dug through the archives and came up with the 9 best used performance cars that can be bought for under 30 grand.
This article assumes that our chosen rides are in very good condition, and it features performance numbers and testing times from street-surface launches in major-publication tests.
Regarding pricing, we’re factoring in 9,000 miles a year for their Kelley Blue Book private party values, calculated in late December 2014. So obviously, each vehicle’s mileage will vary depending on its age. And we’re also cross-referencing those estimated prices with forum sales and Autotrader.com, as sometimes the estimates come in a little low.
Finally, as some vehicles cost more or less in certain areas, we used the 80915 zip code of Revvolution’s Colorado Springs headquarters for consistent pricing. Let’s get to it.
2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8
The Challenger SRT8 is a big, dumb, powerful and highly amusing American bruiser. Think sledgehammer not scalpel, and don’t expect it to be light on its feet. In fact, if you’re a fan of pointing the nose, smacking the gas and holding on while the damn thing goes all tail happy, this machine is for you. It’s also a low-production, first-year 425-hp Hemi car that’ll only get more valuable as the other 6,999 owners park theirs in either a garage, or the nearest tree. Bonus: this Challenger is a hella-comfy cruiser for those long road trips.
Power/Torque: 425 hp, 420 lb-ft
Weight: 4,100 lbs
Mileage Range: around 54,000
Performance: 4.7 seconds 0-60, 13.3 @ 108 mph 1/4-mile
Price: $25,500 to $29,999
2009-2012 Nissan 370Z NISMO
The 370Z is the sleeker, more powerful version of the 350Z. And the NISMO adds a bunch of go-fast goodies on top of that: a firmer, tuned suspension, aero aids, and an extra 18 horses and 6 foot-pounds. While it’s a little heavier than what we’re used to with JDMs, 350 ponies is more than enough to launch this thing to impressive speeds. The tuned chassis will pull nearly 1g in the corners, and the brakes will quickly scrub off big speed quickly. It may ride a little firm, but at this price, the payoff is definitely worth it.
Power/Torque: 350 hp, 276 lb-ft
Weight: 3,300 lbs
Mileage Range: around 18,000-45,000
Performance: 5.0 seconds 0-60, 13.5 @ 105 mph 1/4-mile
Price: $23,000 to $28,000
2002-2004 Corvette Z06
With supercar-level acceleration, handling and braking, the 2002-2004 Z06 is the king of budget domestic performance cars. Its LS6 mill is a roided-out version of GM’s LS1 V-8: a high-revving, naturally aspirated pushrod monster that revs to 6,500 in the blink of an eye. Incredibly, 11-second ETs are possible bone stock! And because the barely 3,000-pound Vette has a strong drivetrain and durable components, it’s one of the most reliable and affordable supercars in the world.
Power/Torque: 405 hp, 400 lb-ft
Weight: 3,100 lbs
Mileage Range: around 70,000-90,000
Performance: 4.0 seconds 0-60, 12.4 @114 mph 1/4-mile
Price: $16,000 to $28,000
2007-2008 Subaru WRX STi
When it comes to the turbocharged, AWD rocket named STi, most model years were amazing. But after we whittled them down to the best performers in our price range, we were left with a few options. While the ’04s are super light and super quick, the 2007-2008 models are more refined, and quick in both a straight line and around a race course. With traction and torque everywhere on the tach, and a ton of rally-spec goodies to play with, this is one of the most entertaining automobiles on earth.
Power/Torque: 305 hp, 290 lb-ft
Weight: 3,400 lbs
Mileage Range: around 54,000
Performance: 5.0 seconds 0-60, 13.5 @ 102 mph 1/4-mile
Price: $22,000 to $29,999
2003 Ford SVT Cobra
Like the Z06, this hot Mustang is one of the best performance bargains on the planet. Powered by an underrated supercharged V-8, actual power and torque is well into the 400 range. This Ford is a bit porky, but SVT upgraded the suspension and brakes so it can be thrown around nicely. However, it does understeer like a bastard at the limit, as we found out at IMPA test day at the Poconos… cut the grass, baby! Anyway, best of all, because it only cost $35,000 new, today you can find ‘em for as little as $21,000!
Power/Torque: 390 hp, 390 lb-ft
Weight: 3,700 lbs
Mileage Range: around 99,000
Performance: 4.6 seconds 0-60, 12.8 @ 110 mph 1/4-mile
Price: $21,000 to $28,000
2002-2004 Porsche 911
The 996 911 is one of the greatest driver’s cars out there—power comes from a 300-plus-horse, 3.6-liter flat-6, handling is razor sharp and it furthers Porsche’s rep as a serious sports car that can be driven everyday. One catch: the only reason these things are below 30 grand is because of a faulty intermediate shaft bearing in the engine. If it’s not changed it will destroy said engine, leaving you with a really expensive paperweight. Our advice to you is to buy a low-mile 996 911 in the $20,000 to $30,000 range, then shell out around $1,000 for an aftermarket ceramic bearing that’ll fix this issue for good. And then drive the hell out of it.
Power/Torque: 316 hp, 273 lb-ft
Weight: 2,950 lbs
Mileage Range: as low as possible
Performance: 4.9 0-60, 13.5 @ 104 mph 1/4-mile
Price: $20,000 to $29,999
2009 Pontiac G8 GXP
You 20-somethings might laugh at this big four-door. But see that look in your girl’s eye? The one that says, "You’re not buying another miniscule sports car, cause we got babies to make.”? Now, consider that this is actually a Holden—GM’s higher-quality Australian subsidiary. This GXP was built sturdy for terrible Aussie roads, then mated with the Corvette’s 415-horse LS3 engine and a 6-speed trans. It’s one of the quickest four-doors you’ll ever go WOT in. And it’ll easily fit a baby seat…
Power/Torque: 415 hp, 415 lb-ft
Weight: 3,900 lbs
Mileage Range: around 45,000
Performance: 4.5 seconds 0-60, 13.0 @109 mph 1/4-mile
Price: $25,000 to $29,900
2006 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX
Light, raw and nimble, the final Evo IXs are some of today’s most fun—and most desirable—performance cars. The turbo 4 pushes power to all four wheels, enabling mid-4-second 0 to 60 times, low 13s in the quarter and crazy-amazing handling in the turns. And best of all: they weren’t all that expensive new, so finding low-to-average-mile examples in the $25,000 range is a cinch.
Power/Torque: 286 hp, 289 lb-ft
Weight: 3,300 lbs
Mileage Range: around 60,000-72,000
Performance: 4.6 seconds 0-60, 13.4 @ 104 mph 1/4-mile
Price: $20,000 to $27,000
2011 Ford Mustang GT
In 2011, Ford finally got tired of its 4.6 trying to handle GM’s LS engines, and the new 5.0 was introduced. This high-tech aluminum mill has dual overhead cams, 32 valves, variable-valve timing and 11:1 compression. It’s good for 412 horses and 390 pound-feet, a killer Camaro fighter if we’ve ever seen one. While its solid axle isn’t as sophisticated as an independent rear, this Mustang is built for burnouts, kicking ass and taking names. And it’s a damn affordable way to do it.
Power/Torque: 412 hp, 390 lb-ft
Weight: 3,580 lbs
Mileage Range: around 20,000
Performance: 4.6 seconds 0-60, 13.2 @ 109 1/4-mile
Price: $20,000 to $27,000
Nominate your favorite budget performance cars in the comments below!