While naturally aspirated motors have their advantages, forced induction will always be a practical and undeniably cool way to make more power. Ever since automakers started adopting turbochargers and superchargers in the ‘80s, such designs have become more commonplace but no less impressive. Not only do these air compressors increase power significantly; they can also even help fuel economy, especially if the boosted engine in question is replacing a big thirsty V8. Obviously, such equipment can be expensive, and car companies often reserve such powertrains for premium models, making many examples quite costly, at least when new.
On the used market, however, some of these high-end, force-fed vehicles have been hit with steep depreciation. Even though some of these cars originally sold for astronomical prices, they can be ridiculously cheap after many years. While their technology and interiors may have become completely outdated over time, their performance has aged much more gracefully. On the other hand, there are many affordable-when-new performance machines that are now dirt cheap. It’s usually pretty easy to coax more power out of such cars as well. Then, there are the seemingly boring cars that were offered with lesser-known turbocharged or supercharged powertrains. While these rides appear to be best suited for grandpa transportation, they still provide strong power despite their sedate styling.
20 2003-2006 Jaguar XJR
British automakers have historically retained old-fashioned styling and use a classic definition of luxury. The 2003 to 2006 Jaguar XJ was a prime example of such a car. However, the XJR variant offered super sedan performance under the old-man styling.
Underneath the iconic hood ornament was a supercharged 4.2-liter V8, pumping out 400 horsepower to the rear wheels.
Despite the two-ton curb weight, Car and Driver still got a zero-to-60 time of only 5.3 seconds. While price varies depending on the car’s condition, all but the nicest examples can be found for under $10k. Just keep an eye out for costly repairs.
19 Volkswagen Golf GTI
VW essentially created the hot hatchback in the ‘70s when the first Golf GTI rolled off the line. While the original car was incredible at the time due to its fuel-injected 1.6-liter motor, the Mark V Golf is even more impressive.
Released in 2006, this GTI used a 2.0-liter, turbocharged motor that produced 200 horsepower.
Best of all, this Golf stood out from the standard models with a black mesh grille complete with red pinstriping and attractive five-spoke rims. Available in either three or five-door body styles, clean, low mileage examples of this excellent hot hatch will only set you back around $7k to $8k.
18 Ford Thunderbird Super Coupe
Even though muscle cars are generally powered by gigantic, naturally aspirated V8s, a couple of U.S. automakers experimented with forced induction decades ago. Ford attempted to inject some performance into its Thunderbird with the Super Coupe model. While the ‘90s T-Bird was also available with a V8, the enthusiast’s option is the supercharged 3.8-liter V6. Not only is the Super Coupe’s V6 more powerful than the standard model’s V8, it also had electronically self-adjusting suspension, and it was the only way to get a manual transmission in a Thunderbird. While finding a Super Coupe may be a challenge, only spotless examples will cost more than $10k.
17 Chevrolet HHR SS
While the standard HHR is certainly not an attractive car, the SS model’s black mesh grille and ground effects package certainly help this small crossover’s appearance.
Even though it does sit lower than the standard model, the HHR SS certainly won’t be the best-handling vehicle on this list, but it's surprisingly quick, as its turbocharged 2.0-liter motor churns out 260 horsepower.
It can even be found with a manual transmission that allows drivers to bang through gears without depressing the clutch. In contrast to today’s increasingly dreary compact crossover segment, the HHR SS is a quick, fun, and practical choice for $6k to $8k.
16 Dodge Neon SRT-4
The SRT-4 is such an incredible little machine that it’s hard to comprehend that it was based on the lame Neon. While it was still a cheap, compact four-door sedan, Chrysler’s SRT group managed to massage the Neon’s appearance into something decently attractive. However, the real magic was done under the hood, where Chrysler’s SRT engineers managed to pump 230 horsepower out of the car’s little four-cylinder by way of a massive turbo. Unmodified SRT-4s may be nearly impossible to find today, but drivable examples are easily found for under $10k. If you’re looking for a clean, stock example, be prepared to spend more.
15 Mini Cooper S
When the new Mini was launched in 2002, forced induction was limited to the performance-oriented Cooper S trim. In these early years, the Cooper S had its air fed through a supercharger, resulting in a 168-horsepower output. While that’s certainly not a ton of power, it was a significant increase over the standard Cooper, and it still only weighs 2,767 pounds, according to Car and Driver. Even without gobs of power, the Cooper S will still fly through sharp corners effortlessly. Clean, low-mileage Mini Cooper S models can be found for around $8k, and older, high-mileage ones can be found for under $5k.
14 Buick Park Avenue Ultra
Even though this land yacht may look like it’s designed only to take grandma to church and back, it has a gem of a motor under the hood.
If equipped with the top-of-the-line Ultra trim, the Buick Park Avenue came with a supercharged 3.8-liter V6 that put out 240 horsepower.
Given the model’s vast proportions, soft suspension, and front-wheel-drive layout, the Park Avenue won’t win any autocross events, but its V6 can be easily modified for more power, making for a potentially strong sleeper. As these Buicks were never a trendy vehicle, nice examples can be found for under $6k.
13 Volvo V70R
Despite the brand’s pedigree, there are few who recognize Volvo for its racing endeavors. It was an early adopter of turbocharged racecars with the 240 Turbo, and the 850 R made for tough competition on Touring Car circuits. After the road-going 850 R left production, the V70 R made for a worthwhile replacement.
This Swedish wagon had a turbocharged five-cylinder under the hood, which sent up to 300 horsepower to all four wheels.
Less-powerful first-generation cars can be found for under $5k, while many later models will still fall under $10k, but the price will depend on the car’s mileage.
12 Toyota MR2 Turbo
It’s not often that the word ‘affordable’ can be associated with a mid-engine, turbocharged sports car. However, it’s not hard to find a Toyota MR2 for under $10k. With that said, prospective buyers should look carefully for a clean example, as many are modified or maintained with varying degrees of professionalism. It’s worth the effort, as there aren’t any other cars like it. With that optional turbocharger, the MR2’s 2.0-liter motor puts out 200 horsepower, more than enough to hurl this lightweight sports car to 60 in only 6.3 seconds, according to Car and Driver. Just be careful to not evoke the MR2’s infamous snap oversteer in hard corners.
11 Mitsubishi Eclipse
The Mitsubishi Eclipse is a rather sad story, as it slowly lost its most desirable features until the name was slapped on the back of a crossover. While it's a bit of a tragedy that such a name has been dragged down over the years, the first two generations of the Eclipse are still fun sports cars, especially for under $7k. Depending on the model and year, the Eclipse can have up to 210 horsepower, and many turbo models are all-wheel drive. Today, no stock Eclipse is going to set records, but it can put a smile on the driver’s face.
10 Chevrolet Cobalt SS
Sometimes, even the most boring car can be turned into something special. The standard Chevy Cobalt is absolutely nothing worth talking about, but the Cobalt SS is something special. Despite the rental-car appearance, both inside and out, it packed a surprising punch. Its first iteration had a supercharged motor, which was good for 205 horsepower. The second time around, the blower was swapped for a turbo, boosting power to 260, which is more horsepower than the Civic Si, the Golf GTI, and the Subaru WRX of the time produced, Jalopnik noted. While turbo models can be more expensive, both versions can be found for under $8k.
9 Volkswagen Jetta TDI
Turbos and diesels are a classic and, frankly, necessary combination. One of the best examples is Volkswagen’s 1.9-liter TDI. Before Volkswagen cheated on emissions tests, the 1999 to 2003 TDI Jetta was one of the most economical and reliable options on the market. Okay, it certainly isn’t quick, but it's rated for 44 MPG highway, and some owners claim to get even higher mileage.
These Jettas are becoming rarer and more desirable, but they can still be found for under $10k.
Many of these TDIs will have over 200,000 miles, but that’s okay, as Driving Line reports that it’s not uncommon to see examples with over twice that.
8 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Supercharged SS
While modern Monte Carlos are a far cry from the old V8-powered, rear-wheel-drive beasts of the ‘70s and ‘80s, there's still performance to be found in these big coupes.
In 2004 and 2005, Chevrolet offered the Monte Carlo with a supercharged 3.8-liter Buick V6 that’s good for 240 horsepower.
As this motor was meant to move huge land yachts, it could get the comparatively small Monte Carlo moving much quicker, with Car and Driver recording a 6.5-second zero-to-60 time. The Monte Carlo certainly won't fly under the radar like a Buick, but it's fairly quick for under $5k.
7 Fiat 500 Abarth
When it comes to cheap, stylish hot hatchbacks, the Fiat 500 Abarth is a compelling option. Under this Fiat’s tiny hood is an equally tiny turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder, producing 160 horsepower. Even though that’s a fairly low amount of power, the Abarth weighs in at just over 2,500 pounds, meaning it can hit 60 in a highly respectable 6.8 seconds, according to Motor Trend. Despite the Abarth’s performance and youthfulness, it’s easy to find examples for just under $10k, as these cars are hit hard by depreciation. For the money, it’s difficult to find anything as new, handsome, or better sounding than the 500 Abarth.
6 Dodge Ram 2500
Perhaps the most popular diesel in the U.S. is the Cummins-powered Dodge Ram. Not only did it popularize turbo-diesels in consumer-grade pickups, but it’s well-known for its durability and power. These days, pickups, both new and used, have risen in price, especially oil-burning machines.
It may seem ridiculous to pay nearly $10k for a 20-year-old Dodge pickup that likely has over 200,000 miles, but that sort of mileage is nothing for a 5.9-liter Cummins.
Jalopnik reported that the Cummins was originally intended for farm and construction machinery where it would undergo far heavier use than it would ever see while under the hood of a pickup.
5 Subaru Impreza WRX
The Subaru Impreza WRX was a big influence on affordable performance machines during the 2000s, essentially becoming a benchmark for comparable vehicles. Given how well-known this car is, decent WRX models of any year are difficult to find for under $10k, but it is possible. For this price range, don’t expect any low-mileage or immaculate cars. It’s important for prospective buyers to have such a car inspected prior to purchase. Thankfully, it’s possible to find nearly every generation built throughout the 2000s at this price, so there's a bit of variety. If you can find a cheap, well-maintained WRX, pick it up.
4 Hyundai Genesis Coupe
Despite being in the same segment, the Hyundai Genesis Coupe never got the same attention that the Subaru BRZ and its Toyota Twins received. While it's bigger and heavier, the Genesis does come with more powerful hardware. The stout 3.8-liter V6 falls well past our budget, but early turbocharged 2.0-liter cars are still affordable. This motor puts out 210 horsepower in early cars, with later, pricier models being more powerful. That may not seem like much for a car that weighs over 3m300 pounds, but a Car and Driver review said that a 300-horsepower tune should be easily obtainable.
3 Pontiac Solstice GXP
The Mazda Miata has held a near monopoly on affordable roadsters for many years now. In the late 2000s, GM tried to butt into the Miata’s territory with the Pontiac Solstice and mechanically identical Saturn Sky. While the standard models are quite cheap, the turbocharged GXP falls under $10k as well, though prices can vary quite a bit. While Mazda’s iconic convertibles are certainly smaller and lighter, the Solstice GXP makes up for its size disadvantage with power, as its 2.0-liter motor pumps out 260 horsepower—105 more than today’s Miata. Unsurprisingly, the GXP is quick, as Car and Driver recorded a 5.6-second zero-to-60 time.
For those who think that fast Subarus are too obnoxious and flashy, there's another turbocharged, all-wheel-drive sedan available. Even though the standard Mazda 6 isn’t the quickest four-door available, it proved to be a strong base for the MazdaSpeed6.
Under the hood is a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder that pumps out 274 horsepower to all four wheels.
Motor Trend recorded the MazdaSpeed6 hitting 60 in under six seconds, making it quicker than most family sedans on sale today and certainly being a quick option for under $10k. It also comes with a manual transmission, something that’s become increasingly less common.
1 Mercedes E 55 AMG
While it may seem impossible, there are supercharged, V8-powered Mercedes-Benzes that can be purchased for just under $10k. Needless to say, it would be smart to get a pre-purchase inspection prior to buying a Mercedes or any car that costs a fraction of its original price. However, if the powertrain and other necessary components are in good condition, a cheap Mercedes E 55 AMG is an incredible deal. Its 5.4-liter, supercharged V8 shoots out 475 horsepower and 520 lb.-ft. of torque. Even with the E-Class’s heavy curb weight, the big motor can still push it to 60 in a mere 4.6 seconds.
Sources: Car and Driver, Motor Trend, Jalopnik