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The Best Performance Cars Under $25k

Posted in Car Buying, Featured, Lists, Top of the Heap by Kurt Ernst | April 13th, 2011 | 18 Responses |

Ford's Mustang V6: the cheapest way to get to 60 MPH in a hurry. Image: Ford Motor Company

A few weeks back I brought you a list of the top five new car performance bargains under $35,000. “Good,” you collectively replied, “but how about a list of new cars under $25k, which is more affordable for us unwashed masses.” Since that includes yours truly these days, I decided to expand the list to the top nine performance bargains under $25,000, and as you’ll soon discover, there’s something for everyone. If your taste runs to muscle cars, I’ve got you covered. If you’d rather feel the wind in your hair as you chase a mountain stream down a twisting canyon road, you’re covered, too. If torque steer and FWD is what you know and love, don’t worry – I haven’t left you off the list, either.

The cars on this list represent reality for most of us. Sure, we’d rather have a Shelby GT500 in the garage, but unless we hit the lottery in the near future, a 305 horsepower Mustang V6 doesn’t suck, either. Besides, all of the cars on the list below just beg to be modded, and better handling or more horsepower is just an internet search away. There’s something to be said about building a ride that’s truly your own, and the nine cars below represent great blank canvases. As with the first list, the cars are ranked by their 0 – 60 times, and prices shown reflect a base model with only the destination charge added.

2011 Ford Mustang V6, $22,295

Image: Ford Motor Company

Zero to sixty: 5.1 seconds
Drivetrain: Front engine, rear drive
Horsepower: 305
Curb Weight: 3,453 pounds
Horsepower to weight: 1:11.32

2011 Chevy Camaro LS V6, $23,530

Image: © GM Corp.

Zero to sixty: 6.0 seconds
Drivetrain: Front engine, rear drive
Horsepower: 312
Curb Weight: 3,780 pounds
Horsepower to weight: 1:12.12

2011 Mazdaspeed 3, $24,495

Image: Mazda USA

Zero to sixty: 6.3 seconds
Drivetrain: Front engine, front drive
Horsepower: 263
Curb Weight: 3,272 pounds
Horsepower to weight: 1:12.44

2011 Mini Cooper S, $23,700

Image: BMW Group

Zero to sixty: 6.6 seconds
Drivetrain: Front engine, front drive
Horsepower: 181
Curb Weight: 2,668 pounds
Horsepower to weight: 1:14.74

2011 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V, $21,160

Image: Nissan

Zero to sixty: 6.7 seconds
Drivetrain: Front engine, front drive
Horsepower: 200
Curb Weight: 3,067 pounds
Horsepower to weight: 1:15.34

2011 Mazda MX-5, $23,905

Image: Mazda USA

Zero to sixty: 6.9 seconds
Drivetrain: Front engine, rear drive
Horsepower: 167
Curb Weight: 2,480 pounds
Horsepower to weight: 1:14.85

2011 Honda Civic Si, $22,955

Honda's 2012 Civic Si Concept. Image: American Honda Motors

Zero to sixty: 7.1 seconds
Drivetrain: Front engine, front drive
Horsepower: 197
Curb Weight: 2,895 pounds
Horsepower to weight: 1:14.7

2011 Volkswagen GTI, $24,465

Image: Volkswagen

Zero to sixty: 7.3 seconds
Drivetrain: Front engine, front drive
Horsepower: 200
Curb Weight: 3,034 pounds
Horsepower to weight: 1:15.17

2011 Scion tC, $18,995

Image: Toyota

Zero to sixty: 7.3 seconds
Drivetrain: Front engine, front drive
Horsepower: 180
Curb Weight: 3,060 pounds
Horsepower to weight: 1:17

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18 Responses

  1. Anthony says:

    I was going to get a Mustang or Camaro but both in automatic with good options come to 30k easy. I just can’t see myself spending the sticker and grabbing complete base models for either unless i was only buying for speed, which is ny is pointless since you can get anywhere fast..to crowded. I bought a Lancer GTS 2011 for under 25k though, very nice car. It’s no EVO but it’s also not 35k.

  2. Kurt Ernst says:

    Anthony, I’m getting a Lancer Sportback Ralliart as a press fleet car tomorrow, and I can’t wait to drive it.

  3. Alex says:

    Just get a used STi for 24k and call it a day.

  4. J D Stadler says:

    Hmmm, well we just got the Speed3 so there’s one down =) I have the GTI and the 2012 Civic Si on my “to check out” list (yeah, changed my mind again). I didn’t realize the Spec V’s numbers were so high…I think the looks of the car made me discount it from the list but maybe I’ll have to check it out. Maybe, in the right color, at the right angle, if it’s a fun drive, I could get over it. Heh

    • Kurt Ernst says:

      You find a lot of Spec-Vs on used car lots, but I’m not sure why. Seems like people buy them, then flip ‘em after a year of so.

      Also, they have a solid beam rear axle, not an independent rear suspension. They go well in a straight line, but there are better choices for autocrossing.

      • J D Stadler says:

        Yeah, I saw that about the axle and the reviewers didn’t seem wild about the gearbox action either. And the hunt continues.

  5. PFULMTL says:

    Sentra SE-R V Spec? That was a surprise. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen that on the road.

    Out of the list, I’d probably get the Mazda3, although the Mustang has the most value.

    • Kurt Ernst says:

      I didn’t factor in insurance cost, but I suspect the Mustang is among the highest in the group. One more thing to consider…

  6. BigRuss says:

    Kurt… havent you driven the new Avenger with the V6? thats a stout performer… and a sleeper among the list

    • Kurt Ernst says:

      BigRuss, I’m guilty as charged. I haven’t driven the new and improved, 283 horsepower Avenger R/T. It’s still a big FWD sedan, so I suspect it will go better in a straight line than around corners.

      • BigRuss says:

        if im contemplating giving up my Scion xB with some minor mods for an Avenger Heat you know its gotta be more fun in the corners…. its a bonified sleeper

  7. chase says:

    hyundai genesis coupe r spec?
    subaru impreza?
    both are capable of under 25k if u get a good deal

    • Kurt Ernst says:

      chase, the purpose behind the article was to identify cars that sold under $25k sticker price. The lowest sticker price for a Genesis Coupe 2.0T R-Spec is $25,350, and the 3.8 R-Spec starts at $27,600. The cheapest sticker on an Impreza WRX sedan is $26,220, so none of the cars referenced made the under-$25k cutoff point.

      Can you find deals on them to bring the price under that level? Sure, but that defeats the purpose of setting a benchmark. The same $25k buys you some fast used cars, too.

  8. Smith says:

    Front-wheel drive cars are not “performance cars”, they’re only considered “performance cars” by stupid ricers that get a simple fart can exhaust and air intake..

    • Kurt Ernst says:

      Or guys like me, who’ve been building, driving and racing cars for the better part of three decades, but I’d defer to your clearly superior experience.

      Like it or not FWD is hear to stay. Is it as fast around a racetrack as RWD or RWD? No, it’s not, but to say that there’s no such thing as an FWD performance car is pretty short sighted.