Corner carving capability trumps acceleration and top speed this time

The stereotypical view about driving in the U.S. (propagated by people who’ve never actually been Stateside) is that it’s mostly wide, straight roads that make huge pickups seem small and where people drive their cliché muscle cars mostly straight and occasionally turning to the left. But America has innumerable awesome driving roads scattered across its vast territory, breathtaking roads with great tarmac and scenery, and there are plenty of people in the U.S. who prefer a good handling car over a big, powerful bruiser that resents corners.

This listicle is for them as it tries to concentrate the 12 best handling performance cars that you can buy for under $100,000 (some of which falling well under that figure). You may also be surprised to note that two of the cars in the list below are by all definitions actual muscle cars, yet in their current incarnation they have a lot of sports car DNA and they thoroughly deserve their place on this list.

When first doing research for this list I thought it was going to be tricky to get ten cars that fit the bill without resorting to filling the list with hot hatches. But thankfully, the $100,000 cap proved sufficient to include plenty of cars that may be quite diverse, yet they’re all known for their excellent handling. The fact that some of them are also really fast in a straight line and still come within budget is a bonus.

2019 Alfa Romeo Giulia QV

2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio High Resolution Exterior
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Alfa Romeo surprised a lot of people with how good the 2019 Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan is to drive. It’s the automaker’s first sporty rear-wheel-drive sedan in decades, and it was the model to finally buck the recent trend of very pretty Alfa Romeo models, but ones that had lackluster driving dynamics (I’m still not over them making the awesome looking Brera handle like a soggy dog).

With any new Giulia, though, and especially the fire-breathing QV model, the trend has been reversed - now the car drives with unmatched poise, agility, and control.

But, to my eye, it doesn’t look as hot as it could have given its ingredients.

That said, it thoroughly deserves its place on this list because it’s just so sublime to drive. It has superb steering, a playful yet controllable rear end that slides out when and how much you want it to, plus that unique engine note that is unlike any other car’s. The Giulia QV runs an allegedly Ferrari-developed engine (it is believed to be the same unit as Ferrari’s own V8, but with two fewer cylinders.) The unit in question is an all-aluminum, 2.9-liter, V-6 with twin turbos and 505 horsepower. One small gripe U.S. buyers may have is the lack of the option for a manual gearbox (which, by the way, is available in Europe) - it’s only offered with the eight-speed automatic in the States.

Engine: 2.9-liter twin-turbo V-6
Power/torque: 505 hp
Torque: 600 Nm or 443 lb-ft
Drive: front-engined, rear-wheel drive
0-62 mph 0-100 km/h in 3.9 seconds
Top Speed 307 km/h or 191 mph flat out
Price: from $75,295

Read our full review on the 2019 Alfa Romeo Giulia QV

2019 BMW M2 Competition

Many purists view the 2018 BMW M2 the best current Motorsport-badged BMW to tickle enthusiasts’ fancy. It is the lightest, smallest, true M car and also the one with the shortest wheelbase. The latest M2 is the M2 Competition (which completely replaces the former,) and the big news with it is that it’s been endowed with the same twin-turbo, six-cylinder that powers the M3 and M4.

In this application, it makes an impressive 404 horsepower (some 40 horses more than the previous version of the M2,) and it can be hooked up to either a six-speed manual or a dual-clutch automatic.

Reviewers are really raving on about just how good it is to throw around a twisty bit of tarmac, reminding some more senior motoring journalists of fun, frisky cars from the 1990s (in a good way). The M2 Competition has great steering, a good mix between comfort and body control in the corners, plenty of power to push itself out of said corners, and it’s a small enough vehicle to not feel too big on most roads.

Engine: 3.0-liter twin-turbo straight-six
Power 404 hp
Torque 550 Nm or 405 lb-ft
Drive: front-engined, rear-wheel drive
0-62 mph / 0-100 km/h 4.4 seconds
Top Speed 280 km/h or 174 mph flat out
Price: from $58,900

Read our full review on the 2019 BMW M2 Competition

2019 Cadillac ATS-V

12 Best Handling Cars in America Under $100,000 Exterior
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Get your Cadillac ATS-V while you still can, as the model’s days are numbered. Plus it most likely won’t be succeeded with a direct replacement. What you’ll miss out from is its superb handling that many motoring journalists have been raving about ever since the model was introduced. This is the cherry on top of an accomplished sports sedan (also available as a two-door) that is also quite pleasing to look at, has a great interior, has decent straight-line performance, and is comfortable when you’re not on it.

Its engine is a 3.6-liter, twin-turbo, V-6 that unleashes all its 464 horsepower through either a standard six-speed manual or optional eight-speed automatic.

Magnetic Ride Control also comes as standard and, through controlling damper stiffness, it is able to either make the car surprisingly comfortable or very stiff. The difference is quite noticeable, and the car’s character changes quite dramatically.

Engine 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6
Power 464 hp
Torque 603 Nm or 445 lb-ft
Drive front-engined, rear-wheel drive
0-60 mph / 0-96 km/h 3.8 seconds
Top Speed 304 km/h or 189 mph flat out
Price from $67,790

Read our full review on the 2019 Cadillac ATS-V

2019 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE

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Any 1LE packed Chevy Camaro is good around a track, but the still very new ZL1 with the 1LE treatment is also hugely powerful and very fast in a straight line. The 1LE pack is specifically designed to improve handling, and the car’s behavior on the track through the use of aero bits that actually work, better brakes, sticky tires,freer-flowing two-mode exhausts, Recaro seats inside, and a flat-bottom Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel.

Powering the ZL1 Camaro is a strong 650-horsepower, supercharged, 6.2-liter, V-8 with two transmission options: a six-speed manual or a new ten-speed automatic that Chevrolet says makes the car faster.

Apparently, it shaves “several seconds” off the car’s Nurburgring Nordschleife time. The fact that Chevy even took the car around the fabled German track is proof that the company is quite confident in its product.

Engine 6.2-liter supercharged V-8
Power/torque 650 hp / 881 Nm or 650 lb-ft
Drive front-engined, rear-wheel drive
0-60 mph / 0-96 km/h 3.5 seconds
Top Speed 306 km/h or 190 mph flat out
Price from $62,995 + $7,500 for 1LE pack

Read our full review on the 2019 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE

2019 Chevy Corvette Z06

2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 High Resolution Exterior
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If you want something even more track ready from GM’s sports car stable, then the 2019 Chevy Corvette Z06 is your other great choice. In fact, it’s arguably better than the Camaro ZL1 1LE in every single way considering the fact that it’s lighter, more nimble, and it also looks more like a sports car and not a muscle car.

They do share what is essentially the same engine (dry-sumped in the Corvette) with the exact same output but, since the Z06 is lighter, it’s also quite a bit faster to sprint (especially off the line).

Transmission options are different, though, since in the ‘Vette you can opt for either a seven-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic. Chevrolet also offers three levels of aero package with the most extreme of these providing the most downforce - this is a truly excellent track car, probably even better than the more extreme ZR1 Corvette that sits above it in the range.

Engine 6.2-liter supercharged V-8
Power 650 hp
Torque 650 lb-ft
Drive front-engined, rear-wheel drive
0-60 mph / 0-96 km/h 2.95 seconds
Top Speed 315 km/h or 195 mph flat out
Price: from $80,900

Read our full review on the 2019 Chevy Corvette Z06

2019 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R

2016 Ford Shelby GT350R Mustang High Resolution Exterior
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The last American offering on this list is certainly not the least as it is the glorious Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R. It’s not the most extreme or powerful Mustang that you can buy, but I’m pretty sure it’s the most enthusiast-focused of them all, with its ridiculously high-revving (and amazing sounding) flat-plane-crank, 5.2-liter, V-8 engine that sends its power to the rear wheels through an exclusive, Tremec six-speed manual and a Torsen, limited-slip diff.

You can easily tell the Shelby GT350R apart from other lesser Mustangs through its unique aero bits, badging, and wheels.

Inside it’s also a little bit more special than your average ‘Stang, with Recaro seats, a flat-bottom steering wheel whose rim is just the right thickness and even more badging. But it’s not all show and not really that much go since this is designed as a serious track weapon that really rewards the keen driver in a way not many Mustangs have ever been able to.

Engine 5.2-liter flat-plane-crank V-8
Power 526 hp
Torque 582 Nm or 430 lb-ft
Drive front-engined, rear-wheel drive
0-60 mph / 0-96 km/h 4.2 seconds
Top Speed 271 km/h or 169 mph flat out
Price from $67,135

Read our full review on the 2019 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R

2019 Honda Civic Type-R

2017 Honda Civic Type R High Resolution Exterior
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If pushing a car close to or past its limit safely while also keeping things fun, then something like the latest 2019 Honda Civic Type-R might be right up your alley. In fact, the Civic Type-R is probably the car on this list in which you an lean the most and it won’t really bite you. It just lets go gradually, and you can usually drag yourself out of a sticky situation with minimal drama in this car.

Its main strong point is just its sheer grip and cornering poise (as well as the brakes), but it’s by no means sluggish in a straight line.

It runs a 2.0-liter, turbocharged, four-cylinder that makes 316 horsepower and plenty of torque. The six-speed gearbox has the best shifter feel of any car I’ve ever tried (in any car at any price) too. Driving the Civic Type-R is so much more fun than you may think if you judge it based on the fact that it’s front wheel drive - it is one of the best handling front-wheel-drive cars ever made, if not the best.

Engine 2.0-liter turbocharged I4
Power 306 hp
Torque 295 lb-ft
Drive front-engined, rear-wheel drive
0-60 mph / 0-96 km/h 5.7 seconds
Top Speed 270 km/h or 168 mph flat out
Price from $35,700

Read our full review on the 2019 Honda Civic Type-R.

2019 Jaguar XE S

2017 Jaguar XE High Resolution Exterior
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The Jaguar XE hasn’t proved exceedingly popular in its years on the market, but that definitely didn’t have anything to do with the way it handles. Excluding the Cadillac ATS, which I haven’t actually driven, I can thoroughly say it is better than all its mainstream rivals at tackling corners, maybe tying for first position with the Alfa Romeo Giulia.

The hottest XE, the XE S, also has plenty of poke too, thanks to its supercharged, 3.0-liter, V-6 with 380 horsepower - the same basic unit that powers the 2019 Jaguar F-Type sports car. It sounds really good, a bit like the classic Jag E-Type, and it provides excellent performance too. But it’s still the way the XE goes around corners that will remain the highlight of its driving experience.

Engine 3.0-liter supercharged V-6
Power/torque 380 hp / 450 Nm or 332 lb-ft
Drive front-engined, rear-wheel drive
0-60 mph / 0-96 km/h 5.2 seconds
Top Speed 249 km/h or 155 mph flat out
Price from $35,700

Read our full review on the 2019 Jaguar XE S

2019 Nissan GT-R

2017 Nissan GT-R High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
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You can just about get a Nissan GT-R within the $100,000 budget that qualifies it for this list, although you won’t be able to add any optional extras. But that’s not a bad thing in and of itself because the GT-R already comes with plenty of equipment, and you aren’t really buying it to enjoy classical music on its high-end optional audio system. You buy it to drive it and enjoy its breadth of capabilities, which does include its face-bending cornering capability.

The GT-R is renowned for its clever marriage of mechanical all-wheel-drive grip and clever electronics and software that make it almost unbeatable around a corner, regardless of what opponent you have chosen for it. It also shoots off the line like few cars can, motivated by its highly tunable, 3.8-liter, twin-turbo V-6 that, in the latest version of the car, puts out 565 horsepower. Be warned, though, that the GT-R is the kind of car that pummels corners into submission through brute force, and it’s definitely not a delicate, feelsome sports car like the 2019 Toyota GT86.

Engine 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-6
Power 565 hp
Torque 637 Nm or 469 lb-ft
Drive front-engined, all-wheel drive
0-60 mph / 0-96 km/h 2.8 seconds
Top Speed 315 km/h or 195 mph flat out
Price from $99,900

Read our full review on the 2019 Nissan GT-R

2019 Porsche 718 Cayman GTS

12 Best Handling Cars in America Under $100,000 Exterior Wallpaper quality
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Some say the 2019 Porsche 718 Cayman GTS is one of the single best models on sale today at any price. It boasts excellent chassis balance (between playfulness and sheer grip,) great steering (really good for an electrically-assisted rack,) and plenty of shove to shoot out of corners too. Sure, some will mourn the loss of the screaming, atmospheric, six-cylinder that used to power its predecessor, but the rumbly new four-cylinder unit that replaces it makes the car feel considerably more muscular.

In fact, older Cayman and Boxster models (the current model before it was facelifted in 2017) were criticized for their excessively long gear ratios and lack of torque lower down.

With the latest incarnation of the model, though, these issues are nowhere near as annoying thanks to the extra torque of the turbo engine, and aside from this, everything else about the car is better and more honed than before.

Car handling really doesn’t get much better than this, and you really have to accompany it with the six-speed manual gearbox, even though the PDK automatic makes the car faster and the driving experience a bit easier.

Engine 2.5-liter twin-turbo Flat-four
Power 365 hp
Torque 430 Nm or 317 lb-ft
Drive mid-engined, rear-wheel drive
0-60 mph / 0-96 km/h 4.4 seconds
Top Speed 289 km/h or 180 mph flat out
Price from $80,700

Read our full review on the 2019 Porsche 718 Cayman GTS

2019 Porsche 911 Carrera

12 Best Handling Cars in America Under $100,000
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If you feel like you prefer your Porsche bigger and with its engine sticking out over the rear axle in a way that inexplicably improves handling instead of ruining it, then the base 911 Carrera is definitely worth a look.

It’s a more grown-up car overall, one with more heritage, with seating for four, and a generally more practical take on the whole sports car thing.

Performance-wise, it’s nearly identical to the 718 Cayman GTS, with its 370-horsepower output, top speed, and sprint time. However, unlike the 718 GTS, even the base 911 still has a six-cylinder boxer engine that sounds much better than the four-pot in the 718. It is a better all-rounder that’s more comfortable and easier to live with while still retaining the excellent handling characteristics (hence its higher price).

Engine 3.0-liter twin-turbo Flat-six
Power 365 hp
Torque 450 Nm or 331 lb-ft
Drive rear-engined, rear-wheel drive
0-60 mph / 0-96 km/h 4.4 seconds
Top Speed 294 km/h or 183 mph flat out
Price from $80,700

Read our full review on the 2019 Porsche 911 Carrera

2019 Toyota GT86

12 Best Handling Cars in America Under $100,000
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If you’re not really all that interested in how fast a car goes in a straight line, but you really want it to be fun, tossable, and quite oversteery, then the Toyota GT86 is one of the best choices. It’s not very fast, though. In fact, it will be outrun by most hot hatches, yet few cars give enthusiasts as much joy as this one on a fun, twisty road. The car is deliberately set up to not have huge amounts of grip, with its rear end breaking loose often, requiring the driver to wring it back under control.

The source of its power - or lack thereof - is a non-turbo flat-four that makes 200 horsepower.

It's barely enough to push the car past the benchmark sprint speed in the mid-7 second range.

And, the engine doesn’t sound all that good either, but aside from this, there is little to criticize about the GT86 package, which you can also have with a hint of Subaru flavor, as the almost identical (but much rarer) BRZ.

Engine 2.0-liter Flat-Four
Power 200 hp
Torque 212 Nm or 156 lb-ft
Drive front-engined, rear-wheel drive
0-60 mph / 0-96 km/h 7.6 seconds
Top Speed 225 km/h or 140 mph flat out
Price from $26,505

Read our full review on the 2019 Toyota GT86

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