If you're looking for a fast, cheap car, you could do worse than these ten.
Hellcats, Mustang GTs, and even Corvettes get routine praise from the motoring media for offering big power and big performance at a fraction of the cost of some of their competitors. But let’s face it, new cars are still really expensive. Yeah, 707 horsepower for under $70,000 is almost unbelievably good deal when you think what we used to pay for 400-horsepower supercars, but it’s still a bottom line beyond most of our monthly take-home pay.
Every real gearhead knows that there’s one major performance enhancer that won’t even get your fingernails dirty: depreciation.
And, let’s face it, even for a new car, 300 horsepower is still a pretty solid output. Consider that, according to the EPA, the average car sold in the U.S. in 2016 had just 229 hp. So finding a vehicle that offers 300 or more, for a four-figure price tag, would seem to offer up a lot of interesting motoring possibilities – at least until your scratch-off habit pays off and you get your 911 Turbo order in.
What follows then, is a list of cheap fun. Your local prices might vary, but we used the authoritative NADA Guide, in “very good” condition and with 80,000 miles on the odo, as a standard for finding our price. Is every vehicle here (ordered by age) a perfect sporting machine? Far from it. But each offers great power for the thinnest wallets amongst us. Give it a read, and be sure to tell us after in comments which cars would make your personal 300-hp, $10K list.
2000 Mercedes-Benz C43 AMG
302 HP / 302 LB-FT
The first car on our list also sets the recipe for just about every car you’ll see as you read on: V8 power, 2000s vintage. The C43 AMG was one of the very early efforts by Mercedes’ tuning arm to be sold in the U.S. Just cresting the 300-hp barrier, it offered really thrilling performance for such a staid-looking sedan, too. The NADA guide pegs this one at only a few hundred bucks under our target price, and I’d expect that value to go up, not down, in the next few years – even when it’s a weird one, everyone likes a sporty Benz.
2000 Jaguar XJ8 Vanden Plas Supercharged
370 HP / 387 LB-FT
Jaguars in general suffer from tough depreciation numbers. And the cars from the late '90s and early '00s are especially prone. We went for the supercharged version of the XJ8 here, as its timeless styling and powerful V8 could still keep us entertained today. But, if you tastes run even more eclectic, a newer 2003 Jaguar S-Type R would be more powerful for just a little bit more cash (though you’d have to look at that front clip every day…).
310 HP / 340 LB-FT
The fourth generation of the Chevy Camaro might be the most unloved, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t deliver some real bang for the buck. Actually, there are several iterations of this pony car that would merit inclusion on this list, but we like the LS1-engined version: That’s a great big 5.7-liter V8 for under eight grand. For that price you’ll probably be able to afford the seat covers the car will inevitably need, too.
300 HP / 295 LB-FT
A list littered with lusty luxury cars wouldn’t be complete without a Cadillac, now would it? Sure, with its four-speed automatic and boat-like dimensions, this Seville wasn’t exactly a sports car. But the 300-hp tune of its 4.6-liter Northstar V8 made it gutsy, and its current-day asking price makes it affordable to just about anyone. Oh, and that price is hardly optimistic: an exact version of this car is on sale in Detroit right now, for half that NADA price.
302 HP / 318 LB-FT
You either love the Mercury Marauder, or you don’t get it even a little bit. Ford’s erstwhile brand had some truly awful moments during the years leading up to its demise, but we stand by this one. The Crown Vic-turned-bad-boy may have seemed too tame for its sinister looks when new, but as a cheap second car we’d have a hard time clicking to the next Craigslist page.
340 HP / 302 LB-FT
Some of us love this era of Audi styling more than any other. That classic, boxy sedan shape, with lovely big wheels, is all that it takes to fall in love with the S4, and that’s before you remember that there’s a glorious, 340-hp V8 under the hood. What’s that? It can be had with a manual gearbox, and as a wagon? Joy!
Of course, there’s a monumentally expensive “other shoe” waiting to drop, even though the purchase price seems so reasonable. The timing chain on the back (yes, back) of this engine is notoriously difficult, expensive, and necessary to replace. Buy the car wrong, and you could double your investment with one repair. Remember those service records, Sport.
300 HP / 320 LB-FT
The fifth-generation Mustang debuted in 2005 with sharp styling and greatly improved output for the 4.6-liter V8 in the GT. The 300-hp figure was a big deal, considering previous-gen Mustangs needed to wear a Cobra badge or aftermarket mods to top it. For under ten grand, this is a high-performance car that’s very civil to live with day to day, too.
340 HP / 390 LB-FT
The torqueiest car in this grouping is also the most obviously massive, which works out to easier possible shenanigans. No, the 300C is not a sporty car, but that huge hemispherically chambered (kind of) 5.7-liter V8 does ensure that thrills exist in the driving profile. Spacious rear seats and a big ol’ trunk make this Chrysler functional, too, to go along with cheap and fast.
300 HP / 295 LB-FT
On a list of cars powered by honking V8 engines, the S60 R stands out with a turbocharged inline-five, and that boxy, Swedish styling that’s so hard not to love. The boost required to make the lofty 300-hp output is not insubstantial... back in 2005 Car and Driver said of the 2.5-liter engine, “These five lungs don't sing so much as moan at full throttle.” But hey, under nine grand these days makes a little turbo lag easier to live with.
2008 Pontiac Grand Prix GXP
303 HP / 323 LB-FT
Yes, this 303-hp Pontiac directs all of that power to the front wheels. No, that doesn’t sound ideal. But from the factory the car came with wider rubber up front to account for the thrust of that big V8, so straight-line performance should still be rather hilarious. We also like the GXP because, at least near the Motor1 offices in Detroit, Grand Prix still roam the streets in pretty significant numbers, and this hi-po version gets to be a bit of a sleeper. Oh, and that near $9,000 price seems pretty high, too.