When it comes to performance, some cars are straightforward. You know right off the bat which one will go where. I can do that in my mind and so can you. It’s the price that makes it a bit more challenging though. For instance, there are many cars out there that could have been placed on this list, but weren’t because of the price cap. These would be cars like Ferraris, Lambos, high-end Mercedes-Benzes, Audis, and BMWs. While those are rather simple, some cars are a bit twisted.
Take the Dodge Viper, for example. This lineup had been in production since forever until last year became the last year of its life. The Viper is one nice car. I was always a big fan of how the car is shaped and the demonic vibe it gives overall. The car looks good and drives well too. And just like you start missing any other thing that you can’t have any more, the prices of the 2017 model year have begun to go up. The 645 HP vehicle that had an MSRP of $87K back in 2017 has an average asking price of $140K nowadays. And that’s totally understandable, as it’s a good car. But what I don’t get is how come the 1994 Viper has an average asking price of $36K? That’s insane—which is what I meant about things being tricky.
Nonetheless, we managed to find some performance cars under $25K that are totally worth it, and some that aren’t.
20 WOULD BUY: 2018 HONDA CIVIC SI ($24.1K)
This is one awesome looking car. Just check out the rear styling of it. It’s bold and beautiful. Despite the good looking front grille and fascia, I like the grinning rear styling.
The car doesn’t only look the part, it also drives the part.
The new one doesn’t have the mighty VTEC engine, but it still has 205 HP 1.5L turbo four that gives a magnificent ride thanks to the six speed manual shifter. The framework is solid and the price brand new is a few dollars under $25K. Honda really proves its worth as a reliable and enjoyable brand.
19 WOULD BUY: FORD FIESTA ST ($22K)
Unlike the Focus RS, which was limited, this one isn’t limited. If anything, the nearly half difference in price would say that this car is anything but limited. With a $22K price tag, this car is rather affordable for the masses. But it’s a sweet little car. You don’t need to have much driving experience to appreciate its qualities. But it’s a good idea to know how to handle a stick shift because that’s all you’ll get here. The car is also wallet-friendly when it comes to fuel economy. The horses are respectable. It’s a solid performance car overall.
18 WOULD BUY: FORD FOCUS RS ($24.9K)
This car went out as quickly as it came. But that’s no fault of its own. It’s our fault. We are the ones who are in love with crossovers, so what exactly is Ford supposed to do? Keep manufacturing little cars while rivals take over the crossover market? Anyway, the car looks pretty tantalizing. I mean, there’s not much you could want more from the exterior. And then the interior also looks reasonably posh.
But it’s features like industry first Drift Mode, awesome suspension and brakes and so on that make it lucrative. It might be difficult to find one within price range, but nothing plummets value like high mileage—it’s not impossible.
17 WOULD BUY: 2016 FORD MUSTANG GT ($25K)
The standard version of this is the love of this country—in the sports car category. As good as the base V6 is, the GT is even better in several ways.
The GT gets a V8, which is a pretty big deal. It’s kind of a monster, actually, pumping out 435 horses and 400 lb-ft of torque.
All that power allows the car to hit 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds. The handling is sharp, and the drive is one experience to have. The interior of these cars is also just awesome. You can find a 2016 for under $25K.
16 WOULD BUY: 2015 CHEVY CAMARO SS 1LE ($23K)
I’d have said to go with the standard Camaro, but I guess I wanted to present something that’s task-oriented. This car is not meant for your daily grind; instead, it’s meant to eat, sleep and live on a racetrack.
In addition to the dashing looks—and the newer ones are even better—the car has just amazing steering.
It’s quite hefty and likable. The entire driving experience, whether it’s the turns or braking, is just amazing. But of course, the car is not a daily driver. You can have one for a decent price that will fit the budget.
15 WOULD BUY: 2012 BMW M3 ($24K)
Here’s a Bimmer, and it does not come cheap at all. I guess that’s the beauty of good things, no? Be it life or car, if you want something that’s more than average, you’ll have to put in work that’s more than average. Sixty-six thousand dollars worth of work for the current M3. While that’s out of scope of this article, one from 2012 or similar years is not, as you can get it for less than $25K. They are pretty good cars honestly, having a likable experience and enjoyable drive, in addition to a huge amount of power.
14 WOULD BUY: 2015 Volkswagen W GTI R ($23K)
This is a lovely and accomplished car. I mean, that exterior styling looks just gorgeous. It’s not flashy or fancy, but has enough innate characteristics that make this car stand out from the crowd in the most favorable way possible.
As good as the exterior looks, equally good is the interior with the comfy and good looking seats.
The cabin design is user friendly and, of course, the car has a manual gearbox. You can be assured that the driving, with the good amount of power, is a pure bliss with this one. The best part? You can have a fairly recent one for $23K.
13 WOULD BUY: 2015 AUDI S3 ($22K)
It’s a pretty nice car as is, but if you decide to get a nice paint job with matching rims or something like that, even better. It’s an Audi—it can sport the exterior decorations rather well. But even without all that stuff, the car looks pretty exotic. A new one will cost you $45K, but you can go back a few years and get one that fits our budget. The turbocharged four cylinders do a good job of providing a powerful engine and a handling that is nimble. The interior is upscale, of course. It’s a good car through and through.
12 WOULD BUY: 2018 MAZDA MIATA ($24.9K)
I was a bit hesitant to place this car here. It’s a lovely and enjoyable car. It has nice handling, sharp turns and does whatever you want it to do, whether that’s while hitting the gym or going on a long trip.
And if something ever goes wrong, you can easily lift up the hood and take care of it yourself.
There might be some people who’d hesitate to call this a “performance car,” but I think the handling is good enough and, if more power is needed, you can easily slap a turbo/supercharger on this car. You can have a brand new for less than $25K with a little haggling.
11 WOULD BUY: 2015 DODGE CHALLENGER R/T PLUS ($24K)
This is one of those cars that if you buy, you better buy it in the flashiest, most sparkling color available on the market, like lime green. The brawny car is totally capable of pulling it off. It looks huge and seems to carry some unnecessary muscles—and the car is not the fastest—but it still manages to sell well thanks to its timeless looks and driving experience. Power is near 375 HP and torque at 410 lb-ft. With that amount of torque and a stick shift, if you know what you’re doing, you can really have some joy on the racetrack. You can have this for $24K.
10 WOULD BUY: 2016 SUBARU WRX STI ($24K)
This car actually has a racing history. It was, like, the best rally race car out there. I mean, it was just one popular car back in the ‘90s. And that legacy has carried it far ways.
Check out the styling of the car, and you’ll appreciate the bulging hood and a wing on the trunk.
It’s a bold car that has a quick acceleration and handling that’ll remind you of the rally days when on the track. The all-wheel drive adds to the traction, which is a good thing for daily driving. You can get a relatively recent model for about $24K.
9 WOULD BUY: PONTIAC FIREBIRD TRANS AM ($9K)
What a lovely car this is! Pontiac definitely got the looks of this car down. It’s low slung, and looks somewhat demonic. It has that nice looking hood with the beautifully shaped vents. And the rear also looks pretty nice with that spoiler. The Trans Am was based on the Camaro, but if you check out the Camaro of those times, you’ll see the Trans Am was clearly the winner. While the interior of this Pontiac doesn’t become Porsche like, it’s still doable. The beauty is capable, competent and, of course, couth. And yes, it’s also cheap, treading the $8K-10K neighborhood.
8 WOULD BUY: CHEVY CORVETTE C5 ($15K)
Very few cars have played such an iconic role as the C5 has. It’s just one beast of an American car. You can clearly see the evolution of the Corvette lineup since the day it was conceived up to now.
The range-topping Corvette has become an unofficial supercar, but since our budget doesn’t quite go there, we’ll stick with a stellar, but not super, C5.
The LS V8 is one iconic powerplant that has not only served as the source of energy for cars, but also countless drivers. It’s one beast car that can be had for a modest price of $15K.
7 WOULD BUY: 2014 HONDA ACCORD V6 COUPE ($20K)
There are Car and Driver reviewers who are die-hard fans of this car. We are a big fan of this car here too. And then there are a lot of other people who think this is one good car. So I guess most people think this is a great car?!? The circular reasoning aside, it’s actually a nice car. The acceleration of this car is an adventure thanks to the playful V6. With up to 272 ponies coming out of that powerplant, it’s a moderately powerful car. And you can control when the car goes into the next gear! You can easily get a 2014 Accord V6 for less than $25K.
6 WOULD BUY: LEXUS SC ($5K)
The front fascia of the car looks good, although the grille doesn’t exactly look all that fashionable even for a car that was made in 2008. But, the overall exterior styling does a wonderful job of luring drivers.
While the extremely gorgeous successor Lexus LC is out of reach, this car is not. And this car has a personality of its own.
One of the best things it has is a rear-wheel-drive configuration. That just gives so much more driving experience than what would have been possible in a front-wheel drive car. The engine is also powerful thanks to a V8. You can have a decent one for $5K.
5 JUNK: MAZDA RX-8 ($5K)
I guess if you wanted to race with a rotary engine that would be okay. After all, no one is going to stop you. Instead of a piston, the motor actually rotates in one direction, which leads to a smooth engine. Indeed, the RX-7 made this engine super famous. The engine provides high power with small displacement and a rev range that’s just magnificent. It’s not the end of the world to have this car, but that’s only when it works. When it doesn’t work properly—and the engine has a tendency to do just that—it just comes across as one sloppy car. So don’t buy this $5K car.
4 JUNK: AUDI TT ($5K)
Stealing looks from the Bug, the TT was plagued by bugs. The looks are somewhat conflicting, reminding you part Bug, part Audi R8 and part novelty. But the grille is commendable, and the interior is posh in the more recent models.
But the newer ones are also a bit out of the scope of this article, so let’s go back to the first generation, which still looks pretty decent.
And nowadays, you can find one for under $5K. And while that may have jingled your nucleus accumbens, these TTs also had major issues with oversteering and timing chain. In other words, the early models are not advisable.
3 JUNK: DODGE CALIBER SRT4 ($11K)
This one is a weird one. At a glance, it looks heavy, CUV like. It’s not a CUV, just a hot hatchback. It has a whopping 285 horses and 265 lb-ft of torque coming out of that turbo four-cylinder engine. You look at those numbers and start wondering why we are calling it a bad car. Well, in addition to looking heavy, the car was built pretty terribly. The interior was just laughable with cheap materials. Worse yet, all that glory of the powerplant was lost when the suspension and brakes didn’t do their jobs properly. You can have one for $11K.
2 JUNK: VW BEETLE TURBO S ($5K)
I know a lot of people are a big fan of the exterior styling of a Beetle—and it truly was something extraordinary when it had come out back in the ‘60s or so—now it’s time to move forward. That design is going out of fashion.
The younger folks don’t exactly have that connection with this car, and to no one’s surprise, even VW has announced that there won’t be another generation of the current Beetle.
This Beetle Turbo S looks and sounds fancy, and you can even find one for as low as $5K let alone $25K, but it’s about time you said goodbye.
1 JUNK: PONTIAC GRAND PRIX GXP ($8K)
The exterior looks pretty Pontiac like. No surprises there, which can also be taken to mean it’s a good thing—you won’t find anything too out of shape. But that’s not why you shouldn’t have this car. You can definitely reject the car based on the exterior, but wait until you hear about the powerplant. The engine was actually respectable with the 5.3L LS4 V8 that produced 303 horses. Go Pontiac! However, the transmission wasn’t upgraded from working with a V6, and as such, it couldn’t keep up with the V8. You can have this for $8K, but you better be careful.
Sources: roadandtrack.com; autotrader.com