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Frugal Fun: The Best Performance Rides Under $35k

Posted in Car Buying, Featured, Lists, Top of the Heap by Kurt Ernst | March 30th, 2011 | 13 Responses |

Image: Ford Motor Company

If you’ve been shopping for a new car lately, you know that $30,000 doesn’t go as far as it used to. In fact, even a Hyundai Elantra compact can hit the high twenties if you check every option box, and it’s now possible to put a Mazda MX-5 over the $30k barrier if you buy a well-optioned power retractable hard top version. I’m not sure what the average new car transaction price is these days, but I’m absolutely certain it’s significantly higher than it was even a few years back. That’s bad news if you like fast, entertaining rides, because we all know that speed costs money. If you’re a gearhead on a budget, there are still some half decent choices for track-day fun between $30k and $35k, so below are my picks for the five best performance rides under the $35k barrier.

Since I’m trying to be objective here, the cars are ranked in order of their zero to sixty times, without bias to powertrain layout, manufacturer, fuel economy or pricing. All represent stripped base models, unless otherwise indicated, and all are equipped with six speed manual transmissions and are priced to include destination charge. There’s a lot of cars that didn’t make the list but still have significant entertainment value, such as Mazda’s Mazdaspeed 3 or Honda’s Civic Si. These were excluded because of their price point, and if you guessed that I’ll do a “Best Performance Rides Under $30k” piece in the near future, you’d probably be correct. In the mean time, if you’ve got $35k in your new car budget, here’s what I’d recommend you shop for.

2011 Subaru WRX STI, $34,720

Zero to sixty: 4.5 seconds
Drivetrain: Front engine, all wheel drive
Horsepower: 305
Curb Weight: 3,384 pounds
Horsepower to weight: 1:11.09

2011 Ford Mustang GT, Brembo Brake Package, $32,190

Image: Ford Motor Company

Zero to sixty: 4.8 seconds
Drivetrain: Front engine, rear drive
Horsepower: 412
Curb Weight: 3,605 pounds
Horsepower to weight: 1:8.75

2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X GSR, $34,755

Zero to sixty: 4.9 seconds
Drivetrain: Front engine, all wheel drive
Horsepower: 291
Curb Weight: 3,517 pounds
Horsepower to weight: 1:12.09

2011 Chevy Camaro 1SS, $31,795

Image: © GM Corp.

Zero to sixty: 5.0 seconds
Drivetrain: Front engine, rear drive
Horsepower: 426
Curb Weight: 3,860 pounds
Horsepower to weight: 1:9.06

2011 Nissan 370z, Sport Package, $34,990

Image: Nissan

Zero to sixty: 5.1 seconds
Drivetrain: Front engine, rear drive
Horsepower: 332
Curb Weight: 3,232 pounds
Horsepower to weight: 1:9.73

If you’re wondering what I’d pick from the above list, the Mustang GT would be my top choice. The car is absolutely superb, especially given its price point, and can be used for nearly any type of motorsport event you can think of, ranging from track days through autocross and even drag racing. I’ll eventually put one in my garage, just as soon as I go back to earning enough money to afford a car payment.

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13 Responses

  1. J D Stadler says:

    I’ll take the 370Z. Actually, I’ll take the $35k, buy an MS3, and use the remainder on a bike. Yeah, that works.

  2. BigRuss says:

    dont forget the new Charger… the new V6 in its pretty beasty for a family sedan… add in rear wheel drive its straight up family hoonage

    • Kurt Ernst says:

      Russ, I was going for cars that could be driven on the street and track. The Charger is fun on the street, but it’s really too big to flog on a racetrack.

      The 5.7 liter Hemi Challenger would have made the cut if I dragged the list out to “Top 10″.

  3. Set says:

    STI, probably. Useable, practical fun that can always surprise you.

  4. PFULMTL says:

    $35K hmm, I’d still take a Lotus Elise. Sadly that price is still out of my range. Plese do an under $25K article because that’s a little more realistic to me. I would love to read it.

    • Kurt Ernst says:

      PFULMTL, I was going for new cars under $35k; the Lotus starts at $52k new. Not sure I’d want an Elise as a daily driver, either.

      Stay tuned – I’ll work on an “under $25k” list soon.

  5. Shoddy says:

    You can buy these cars under $35k?!? In Europe you’ll have to raise that number by approx 50%! At least!

  6. Acidtonic says:

    Way off on the weight for the Evo X. No way that’s even remotely accurate reporting.

    It’s more like 3560lbs plus or minus some.

    My older Evo IX weighs 3250 and with just a turbo back exhaust ($500) and tune ($150-300) 0-60 in 3.1 seconds and the quarter mile in 12.6

    After fuel pump ($75) injectors ($350) and blow off valve ($150) it’s now ready to run 11.7 in the 4th with 0-60 under 3 seconds.

    Go buy a used Evolution IX… The MIVEC really makes the powerband similar to a V8 down low when properly tuned. I hit full boost at 3250 rpm making over 360ft/lbs. Beats the hell out of the 97 Cobra I had before this car which made 300ft/lbs at 4800rpm. The Evo IX has better fuel economy, it’s faster in all situations, full time awd in the rain/snow compared to being stuck in the Mustang, and still lighter by 150lbs. Get the strong 5 speed transmission, skip on the 6spd it can’t hold much power. Without doing hardly anything except exhaust and tuning it will destroy a V8 Mustang. The Evo X is heavier at 3500+ and that’s why the 0-60 was so bad in this comparison. That car with just a tune picks up an easy 80 horsepower.