Fast cars don’t have to break your bank account

Most of us have the dream of one day owning a car that can satisfy our need for speed. But not every one of us can afford a car that can quench that thirst. That’s why, in the absence of the capacity to spend big bucks on fast, powerful, and expensive cars, we instead look to the used-car market to find cheap cars that also happen to be fast.

There’s no shortage of options in this ecosystem. You can buy any car you want for a fraction of the cost of buying a brand-new model. You’re going to have to spend a little extra restoring some of these affordable fast cars, but that’s part of the challenge — and excitement — of diving deep into this pond. You spend a little and spend a little more until you have the car of your dreams, one that’s fast, powerful, and cheap, all rolled into one. Take a look at these 10 cheap fast cars to get you started.

What are some cheap cars that are fast?

Top 10 Cheap Cars That Are Really Fast
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There are plenty of cheap, fast cars in the used car market. Sports cars from the last two to three decades populate this segment of the industry, and depending on their condition and all-around wear-and-tear, you can buy a cheap fast car for as little as $5,000. What you do after purchasing a model like the 1995 Nissan 300ZX is entirely up to you.

What cars are fast and cheap?

2007 Honda S2000
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In addition to the 300ZX, a lot of Japanese sports cars from the 1990s count as fast and cheap cars. The Mitsubishi 3000GT, Honda S2000, and even the Toyota MR2 are all considered fast and cheap.

What fast cars are cheap in 2020?

2016 Mazda MX-5 High Resolution Exterior
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The automotive landscape has changed, but there are still cheap fast cars in 2020. Models like the Mazda MX-5 Miata, Toyota 86, and Subaru BRZ count as fast cheap cars in 2020. Hot hatchbacks like the Ford Focus RS, Volkswagen Golf R, and Honda Civic Type R all qualify as affordable fast cars in our current year.

Nissan 300ZX

Top 10 Cheap Cars That Are Really Fast
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Arguably one of the sleekest Japanese sports cars ever made, the Nissan 300ZX Z32 looked the part of a new era sports car when it hit the market in 1989.

It carried the integrated headlamp design really well to go with its dramatic sloping body that hammers home its sports car design. Don’t sleep on its T-top roof, too. That layout came standard on the Z32, adding yet another dramatic styling cue to the sports car’s overall aesthetic package.

Looks aside, the 300ZX Z32 could move. Opt for the twin-turbocharged variant of its 3.0-liter VG30 V-6 engine and you benefit from that unit’s output of 300 horsepower and 283 pound-feet of torque. Yes, the 300ZX TT Z32 had as much power as the Ferraris of that time. It’s easy to forget, too, that Nissan built the sports car specifically to compete against models like the Chevrolet Corvette C4 and the Porsche 944. Do you want a fast but cheap car? Go look at the 300ZX.

Top 10 Cheap Cars That Are Really Fast
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Nissan 300ZX specifications
Engine: 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 engine
Horsepower: 300 horsepower
Torque: 283 pound-feet of torque
0 to 60 MPH: 6.0 seconds
Top Speed: 155 mph
Quarter-Mile Time: 14.5 seconds at 105 mph (best)
Curb Weight: 3,518 pounds (1,596 kilos)
Power-to-Weight Ratio (US Tonne): 171

Read our full review on the Nissan 300ZX

Mitsubishi 3000GT VR4

Top 10 Cheap Cars That Are Really Fast
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Speaking of desirable 90s-era sports car, the Mitsubishi 3000GT — it’s also known as the GTO in Japan and the Dodge Stealth in America — was a grand tourer that didn’t look the part of one. It was better described as a sports car because it performed like one despite carrying a bulky 3,737-pound frame.

The 3000GT is similar in a lot of ways to the Nissan 300ZX. It’s best remembered for a lot of things, none more significant than its timeless sports car looks.

You can drop the 3000GT in 2020 and it’ll still look as fresh as it did back in 1990. Opt for the VR4 variant and now you’re really taking it to a whole new level. The performance-spec 3000GT VR4 came with a slew of aerodynamic add-ons, including an inverted airfoil spoiler. More importantly, it featured a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 engine that produced 320 horsepower and 315 pound-feet of torque. It only took 5.7 seconds for the sports car to hit 60 mph from a standstill position and it peaked at a top speed of 165 mph, faster than a lot of today’s sports cars. If you have somewhere around $20,000 to spare, you can score a used 3000GT and still have enough change in your pocket after your purchase.

Top 10 Cheap Cars That Are Really Fast
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Mitsubishi 3000GT VR4 specifications
Engine: 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 engine
Horsepower: 320 horsepower
Torque: 315 pound-feet of torque
0 to 60 MPH: 5.7 seconds
Top Speed: 165 mph
Quarter-Mile Time: 15 seconds at 105 mph (est)
Curb Weight: 3,737 pounds (1,695 kilos)
Power-to-Weight Ratio (US Tonne): 171

Chevrolet Corvette C4 ZR1

Top 10 Cheap Cars That Are Really Fast
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A lot of Corvette enthusiasts cried foul when the Chevrolet Corvette C4 arrived in 1983, but the rancor has subsided to a great degree.

The Corvette C4 is regarded as the first time that Chevrolet embraced the nameplate’s modern sports car identity. Its polarizing debut was largely due to its dramatic departure from its predecessors, at least as far as its design was concerned.

Despite the mixed reactions to its looks, nobody could deny that the Corvette C4, particularly the ZR1 variant, could destroy a lot of exotics of its time. The Corvette C4 ZR1 boasted a 5.7-liter LT5 engine that could produce as much as 405 horsepower and 385 pound-feet of torque. It could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and hit a top speed of 180 mph. It’s even done quarter-mile times in the 13-second mark at 110 mph! These days, used versions of the Corvette C4 ZR1 are available for as little as $25,000 while standard Corvette C4 models can be bought anywhere from $12,000 to $18,000.

Top 10 Cheap Cars That Are Really Fast
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Chevrolet Corvette C4 ZR1 specifications
Engine: 5.7-liter LT5 engine
Horsepower: 405 horsepower
Torque: 385 pound-feet of torque
0 to 60 MPH: 4.4 seconds
Top Speed: 180 mph
Quarter-Mile Time: 13 seconds at 110 mph
Curb Weight: 3,463 pounds (1,571 kilos)
Power-to-Weight Ratio (US Tonne): 234

Audi S8 D3

2007 Audi S8
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The second-generation Audi S8, known internally as the D3, was a heavy car. It weighed a staggering 4,277 pounds (1,940 kilos) on the shoulders of also looking the part of a meat eater.

Despite weighing more than two tons, the S8 D3 can slap you senseless with a sprint-to-6-mph time of just 5.1 seconds on its way to maxing out at an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph. A big part of the credit goes to what’s sitting underneath that sheet metal called a front hood.

Pop that open and you’ll see a 5.2-liter V-10 engine that’s considered a cousin of the 5.0-liter Lamborghini V-10 engine that powered the Gallardo supercar. It’s no surprise that the S8 D3’s V-10 unit could produce 444 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque. The S8 D3 looks like a stately car, and it fits the bill of one. Underneath all that, though, is a sports car that’s waiting to be unleashed, and if you’re in the market for one, used versions of the S8 D3 can be yours for as low as $6,000. It’s one of the fastest cheap cars out there.

2007 Audi S8
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Audi S8 D3 specifications
Engine: 5.2-liter V-10 engine
Horsepower: 444 horsepower
Torque: 398 pound-feet of torque
0 to 60 MPH: 4.6 seconds
Top Speed: 155 mph
Quarter-Mile Time: 13.7 seconds at 115 mph
Curb Weight: 4,277 pounds (1,940 kilos)
Power-to-Weight Ratio (US Tonne): 208

Read our full review on the Audi S8 D3

Dodge Neon SRT4

Top 10 Cheap Cars That Are Really Fast
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The Dodge Neon wasn’t a particularly inspiring car, but it was a fast car. Produced from 1995 to 2005 spanning two different generations, the Neon was a front-engine, front-wheel-drive compact sedan that didn’t do much beyond getting owners from point A to point B.

Despite these shortcomings, the Neon had a trump card. It was called the Neon SRT4. The high-powered Neon SRT4 was the turbocharged variant of the Neon that was developed by Performance Vehicle Operations, the in-house tuning arm of what was then Daimler Chrysler.

The Neon SRT4 packed a wallop. It was powered by a 2.4-liter turbocharged inline-four-cylinder engine that produced 215 horsepower and 245 pound-feet of torque. It doesn’t sound like much by today’s standards, but the Neon SRT4 was created to surprise a lot of people. It was capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.6 seconds and hit a quarter-mile time of just 14.1 seconds before maxing out at a top speed of 153 mph. Perhaps the stink of the “Neon” nameplate has kept demand low for the SRT-4. There are used models of the turbocharged Neon for sale for under $10,000. Point blank, the Neon SRT-4 was a fast car.

Top 10 Cheap Cars That Are Really Fast
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Dodge Neon SRT4 specifications
Engine: 2.4-liter turbocharged inline-four-cylinder engine
Horsepower: 215 horsepower
Torque: 245 pound-feet of torque
0 to 60 MPH: 5.6 seconds
Top Speed: 153 mph
Quarter-Mile Time: 14.1 seconds at 108 mph (best)
Curb Weight: 2,900 pounds (1,300 kilos)
Power-to-Weight Ratio (US Tonne): 148

Read our full review on the Dodge Neon SRT4

Chevrolet C5 Corvette

2001 - 2004 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 (C5)
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From one generation to another, Chevrolet has shown that it could reinvent the Corvette in ways that will elicit a reaction from the Corvette faithful. It happened when the Corvette C4 arrived in 1989, and it certainly happened when its successor, the Corvette C5, arrived in 1997.

On the surface, the Corvette C5 looked more like an evolved version of the C4. But peak through the curtains and you’ll see just how dramatically different the C5 was.

Among many changes, Chevrolet completely re-engineered the Corvette C5’s chassis, making it tougher and more durable than the one its predecessor wore. Chevy also created a near-perfect weight distribution, aided in part by moving the transmission to the differential housing. Then there’s the Corvette C5’s 5.7-liter LS1 V-8 engine. This engine produced 339 horsepower and 356 pound-feet of torque. That output propelled the ‘Vette C5 to 60 mph from an idle position in just 5.3 seconds on its way to a quarter-mile time of 14.6 seconds at 110 mph and an impressive top speed of 174 mph.

Top 10 Cheap Cars That Are Really Fast
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Chevrolet Corvette C5 specifications
Engine: 5.7-liter LS1 V-8 engine
Horsepower: 339 horsepower
Torque: 356 pound-feet of torque
0 to 60 MPH: 5.3 seconds
Top Speed: 174 mph
Quarter-Mile Time: 14.6 seconds at 110 mph
Curb Weight: 3,245 pounds (1,472 kilos)
Power-to-Weight Ratio (US Tonne): 209

Read our full review on the Chevrolet C5 Corvette

Jaguar XJR

Top 10 Cheap Cars That Are Really Fast
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The second-generation Jaguar XJ was in the market for 17 years, and to be fair, the XJ X308 wasn’t that great of a car. It had a faulty engine that could set you back in the red if it conked out at the most inopportune of times. It also had a dated look, a product of laziness from Jaguar’s part.

But the XJ X308 was a quick car. If you’re in the market for a used XJ X308, go for the XJR variant with the 4.0-liter supercharged V-8 mill sitting under its hood.

You probably won’t enjoy peak use of that engine due to its age and all-around wear-and-tear, but back then, the V-8 could summon 370 horsepower and 387 pound-feet of torque, allowing for a 0-to-60-mph time of just 5.6 seconds to go with an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph.

Used versions of the XJR X308 are dirt cheap, underscoring the myriad of issues the model faced when it was in the market. Still, if you want to take a stab at one and restore it back to prominence, you can buy a used model for as low as $7,000.

Find one for sale on Autolist.com

2003 Jaguar XJR
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Jaguar XJR specifications
Engine: 4.0-liter supercharged V-8 engine
Horsepower: 370 horsepower
Torque: 387 pound-feet of torque
0 to 60 MPH: 5.6 seconds
Top Speed: 155 mph
Quarter-Mile Time: 15.0 seconds at 100 mph (est.)
Curb Weight: 3,968 pounds (1,800 kilos)
Power-to-Weight Ratio (US Tonne): 186

Read our full review on the Jaguar XJR

BMW 540i

Top 10 Cheap Cars That Are Really Fast
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The BMW 5 Series E39 was the first 5 Series to use aluminum components in the front suspension, a tactic BMW employed to help reduce the sedan’s weight.

Knowing what we know now, the 5 Series E39 is probably one of the most underrated versions of the 5 Series. On the surface, the BMW 540i is a top-end spec of the 5 Series E39. But inside, it’s basically an M5, even if it wasn’t as powerful as that generation’s actual M5. There’s a lot to like about the 540i’s capabilities. It was powered by a 4.4-liter V-8 engine that produced 282 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. That output helped the 540i sprint from 0 to 60 mph in 6.0 seconds and post a quarter-mile time of 15.8 seconds at 104 mph.

Like most models, the 540i’s top speed was limited to 155 mph. Used versions of the BMW 540i E39 sell for as low as $6,000. These models are some of the best used cars under $10,000. If you’re looking for an M5 that you can build back up to prominence — and maybe throw in a bigger engine — the 540i E39 is a good way to go.

Top 10 Cheap Cars That Are Really Fast
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BMW 540i specifications
Engine: 4.4-liter V-8 engine
Horsepower: 282 horsepower
Torque: 310 pound-feet of torque
0 to 60 MPH: 6.0 seconds
Top Speed: 155 mph
Quarter-Mile Time: 15.8 seconds at 104 mph
Curb Weight: 3,660 pounds (1,660 kilos)
Power-to-Weight Ratio (US Tonne): 154

Chevrolet Z28 Camaro

Top 10 Cheap Cars That Are Really Fast
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The fourth-generation Camaro holds the distinction of being the last Camaro that Chevrolet built before the nameplate took an eight-year hiatus. Despite that stain in its name, the gem-four Camaro was still something else. The top-spec Z28, in particular, was a barnburner. It featured a 5.7-liter LT1 V-8 unit that had 275 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque at its disposal.

A sprint-to-60-mph took only 6.4 seconds, and while the muscle car’s top speed was locked at 155 mph, it was capable of a lot more when that limiter was removed.

Here’s the challenging news about the Camaro MkIV Z28. Only 633 units were made during the fourth-gem Camaro’s entire production run. Scoring one on the cheap is tricky, but if you look hard enough, you could get a deal anywhere from $8,000 to $20,000 depending on its condition. It has all the hallmarks of a cheap fast car.

Top 10 Cheap Cars That Are Really Fast
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Chevrolet Z28 Camaro specifications
Engine: 5.7-liter LT1 V-8 engine
Horsepower: 275 horsepower
Torque: 325 pound-feet of torque
0 to 60 MPH: 6.4 seconds
Top Speed: 155 mph
Quarter-Mile Time: 15.8 seconds at 104 mph
Curb Weight: 3,373 pounds (1,530 kilos)
Power-to-Weight Ratio (US Tonne): 163

Porsche 944 Turbo

Top 10 Cheap Cars That Are Really Fast
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Front-engine Porsche 911s don’t get nearly the same amount of love from Porsche snobs as their rear-engine counterparts. The Porsche 944 is a good example of that.

It was a hot ticket item when it first came out, and it’s popularity sustained throughout its nine-year run, culminating in a production run approaching 160,000 units. Together with its front-engine layout, the sheer production volume has contributed to the car’s affordable status despite boasting a 2.5-liter turbocharged inline-four cylinder engine that produced 217 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque.

You won’t get to maximize its full power and performance potential given its age, but early-production models of the 944 Turbo with around 50,000 to 60,000 miles on its odometer can still be bought for around $12,000. Best be quick, though. Prices for the 944 Turbo models are going up; the days of the 944 carrying the label of an affordable sports car are coming to an end.

Top 10 Cheap Cars That Are Really Fast
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Porsche 944 Turbo specifications
Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged inline-four-cylinder engine
Horsepower: 217 horsepower
Torque: 243 pound-feet of torque
0 to 60 MPH: 5.9 seconds
Top Speed: 162 mph
Quarter-Mile Time: 15.6 seconds at 106 mph
Curb Weight: 3,122 pounds (1,416 kilos)
Power-to-Weight Ratio (US Tonne): 70

Read our full review on the Porsche 944 Turbo

Kirby Garlitos
Automotive Aftermarket Expert - kirby@topspeed.com
Kirby’s first exposure into the world of automobiles happened when he caught Knight Rider on television as a five-year old boy. David Hasselhoff didn’t leave much of an impression on him (that happened later on in Baywatch), but KITT certainly did. To this day, Kirby remains convinced that he will one day own a car with the same ‘spirit’ as the original KITT (not the 2008 monstrosity). He doesn't know when that will be, but until then, he’s committed to expressing his love for KITT, and all cars for that matter, here at TopSpeed.  Read More
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