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10 Budget-Friendly Speed Demons


Cars that break the 200 mph mark or cost seven figures can be jaw-dropping to both the eye and pocket book, but for most normal folks, a balance of utility and fun must be struck.  Below is a collection of vehicles that prove practicality and performance are not necessarily mutually exclusive concepts.

1. 2009 MazdaSpeed3

2009 Mazdaspeed3

For some reason, the MazdaSpeed3 slips under many people’s radars when thinking about seriously fast and still inexpensive cars.  Depending on who you believe, this hatchback will reach 60 mph in as little as 5.4 seconds, and definitely under 6.   The value of the MazdaSpeed3 starts with its highly-attainable base price of $23,410, and continues with its 2.3-liter engine that produces 263 horses and 280 lbs of torque while still providing 26 mpg on the highway.  Other goodies include a sport-tuned suspension and brakes.

2. 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX Sedan

2009 Subaru WRX

If shopping for a new “Sube” it’s tough not to step up to the WRX STi when it is tempting you with its 300+ horses and Rally-injected credentials.  But for the money, the tamer WRX delivers much of the same performance for a fraction of the cost.  Starting at just a hair over $25-grand, the WRX arrives at 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, about a second faster than last year’s model.  While it lacks 40 horses from the STi, its 2.5 cylinder boxer still creates 265 horses and 244 lbs torque while being $10,000 cheaper.  As with all Subaru’s, the biggest upside with the WRX may be the Symmetrical AWD.

3. 2009 Dodge Caliber SRT-4

2009 Dodge Caliber SRT-4

Those that lament the passing of the Neon from the Dodge landscape need to give the Caliber SRT-4 a chance.  Not only does it get up to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds, but its turbocharged engine produces 285 horsepower.  Plus, unlike the Neon SRT-4, the Caliber has the added utility of a hatchback and available all-wheel-drive.  Starting at $25,470, the Caliber SRT-4 is also the right price.

4. 2009 Volkswagen GTI

2009 Volkswagon GTI

Surely the winner of the longevity award when it comes to pocket rockets, the 2009 Volkswagen GTI’s ability to go from 0 to 60 mph in just 6 seconds is even more impressive given it’s affordability with a price starting at $23,230.  While 200 horsepower may fail to impress in comparison to others in this list, the GTI is famous for providing a large list of standard options, where other companies nickel and dime for every accessory.  Despite its fleetness to 60 mph, fuel economy is still over 30 mpg on the highway.

5. 2009 MINI Cooper S

2009 MINI Cooper S

Although MINI Coopers are becoming a dime a dozen on the road, with a “boot” full of options and customization, any potential owner can tweak their MINI to reflect their individuality.  For less than $23,000 you can get into a MINI that will reward you not only with a stylish and fuel efficient ride that is capable of 34 mpg on the highway, but a decent turbocharged 172 horsepower that will get up to a top speed of 139 mph.  In terms of the fun factor, the MINI Cooper S is about as good as it gets for the money.

6. 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt SS

2009 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Coupe

Chevrolet gets slammed often and thoroughly in automotive circles, mostly for transgressions of the past.  But despite the nagging reluctance to accept the Cobalt as a real contender, in “SS” form and with a sticker of around $24,000 it deserves at least mentioning with the rest of these cars.  It also comes in both coupe and sedan version offering a little more function for those that can’t manage with just two doors.  The turbocharged 2.0 liter engine it shares with the Solstice GXP and Saturn Sky Line is both powerful (260 hp) and fast (0-60 in less than 6 seconds).  It also still provides 30 mpg on the highway.  Now if they can just get people to buy it.

7. 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS CVT

2009 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS

Despite years of struggling to make an impact in America as Japan’s Fifth biggest automaker, Mitsubishi maintained a focus on providing highly technical (and fun) vehicles to the world.  The payoff is cars like the Lancer GTS which shuffles to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds.  No it isn’t a Lancer Ralliart or Evo.  But those two cars start at over 25 and 33-grand.  Even with Variable Valve Timing, stability and traction control, and every other electronic option offered, the Lancer GTS CVT comes in around $23,500.  Plus, it has many of the same angular, aggressive lines of the EVO that should be appealing to many buyers who can’t afford its more expensive siblings.

8. 2009 Volvo C30 T5

2009 Volvo C30

Volvo followers have been faithful to the brand for decades because of its legendary durability and safety that is the hallmark of the Swedish car maker.  With the diminutive C30 they also have an inexpensive model that starts at $24,000 and proof that the companies tank-like toughness can also produce a car that is youthful and a blast to drive.  Powering the small hatchback is a turbocharged five cylinder engine that propels the C30 to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds.  Best of all?  It’s a Volvo.

9. 2009 Honda Civic Si

2009 Honda Civic Si

Arriving in 6.7 seconds (though some report even quicker times), the Honda Civic Si Coupe is almost three seconds faster to 60 mph than the standard Civic coupe, which in automotive terms is a lifetime.  Starting at $21,905 the Si not only comes with the newest generation of Honda’s endlessly tunable engines that produces 197 horses, but also receives sport exhaust, rear spoiler and 17-nch wheels.  In terms of affordable and attractive coupes, the Si is easily one of the best.

10. 2008 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V

2009 Nissan Sentra Spec V

For those that need four doors and don’t care for hatchbacks, the Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V provides comparable performance to more traditionally popular cars in this group.  It has a high output version of the Sentra’s 2.3 Liter engine that produces an even 200 horsepower and hauls to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds.  With a standard six speed, tuned suspension, larger brakes, and Helical Limited Differential, the Sentra SE-R Spec V offers huge value with a base price of $21,160.

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16 Responses

  1. zune says:

    sweet, I have a black lancer GTS for a daily driver, but it’s no speed demon.

  2. Jim says:

    Why not get a used 88 camaro without fuel injection for $3,000. Put $7,000 dollars into it to spuce up the body, and put a 6-speed transmission with a supercharger in it. Yeah sure you won’t get great gas mileage but you can spend the extra $11,000 you save on gas and toast every single car on this list with ease.

  3. Michael says:

    In this day, in this economy, is $23k+ really affordable? And all but two of these are brand new. This article doesn’t match the quality I’ve found in others on this site (I’m thinking of the article on beaters off the top of my head).

  4. ferris says:

    You forgot to mention motorcycles which would destroy every car in this list a fraction of the price.

  5. Sentra says:

    The Spec V is a fun little car to drive. myspecv.com

  6. Daimyo No Neko says:

    That Subie is way hot, I have an 05 and an 04. The 04 has about 300whp after some extensive modifications, and the 05 about 240whp with some light modifications. Both cars are damn quick and still get some great gas mileage. The 09 can probably hit 300whp with nothing more than a downpipe and a tune

  7. Sixx says:

    Nothing FF is worth driving for speed. Unless you want to bumpsteer off a cliff.

  8. MAX says:

    wow!! very informative.. now i can decide which car to buy.. :)

  9. nemo says:

    In order to get the engines to make these cars go fast, you have to get the high end of each of these models. Most of these will put you in the low $30,000 range. Lexus, BMW and Audi all start in the low $30,000. Is that still “budget friendly”? A bit misleading of an article IMHO.

  10. Dave says:

    Worth mentioning is the fact that the new engine that powers the Cobalt SS, Solstice GXP and Sky Redline is now capable 30 extra horsepower with a dealer-installed reflash of the ECU. Bringing the SS up to 290 something horsepower. The reflash costs a couple hundred bucks. Subaru charges 10 grand for an extra 40 horses…

  11. Jedekai says:

    Why not do what the current record-holder in NHRA Pro Street Drag did?

    1. 89-93 Ford Mustang GT 5.0 – $3,500 – $5,500
    2. (2) John Deere multi-port turbochargers set for 17psi induction
    3. Intercooler “liberated” (his word) from a 1999 Japanese Nissan Skyline GT-R
    4. Start welding
    5. Acquire a Edelbrock Demon 900cfps carburetor – mount.
    6. Enjoy 1,350rwhp for just under $8,500 – and still get 14/19 out of it.

    Thanks to the Fox-body design no frame-strengthening is needed, either.


    Follow same process with a ’06-’09 GT500 and get juuuust under 2,000rwhp. Your performance may vary.

    (Personally the cheapest route is to buy a ’88-’96 ZX-12R ninja (roughly $5,000) and stick a S&S turbocharger/supercharger on it and have a 250hp bike that’ll do well over the two-ton mark – Gixxers, oddly, do not have the ability to mount one without extensive amounts of backyard welding and machining until the modern era – go figure.)

  12. Casey McCane says:

    You deffinately forgot the all new 2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe. This care is 306hp Rear Wheel Drive and starts at $25,000. Check it out!

  13. Jeans says:

    I have 2009 Volkswagen GTI,it’s really nice for me, 0-100Km/h just 5 to 10 second,it’s very very smooth…take my girl friend go out it is my happy time!

  14. I just love the Golf GTI , it may be on your budget friendly list, but here in South Africa it is still a little pricey for me and my pocket, I would so love to have one , I do like the Mazda 3 but the Mazda 2 is just as nice.

  15. 8. 2009 Volvo C30 T5 now this car I am so sure has become so popular ever since the release of the movie Twilight, it must have sold in huge amounts to the teen agers would be interesting to maybe see what those figures would be.

  16. mike says:

    Cars are my favorite but when it come to buying the budget comes in between. Good cars is most expensive. 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt SS is good car and is not to expensive. hyundai avante
    also are reliable cars which i own to day.