We all want super fast cars, but we don’t all have superfast car budgets. Fear not, friends – there is still hope. But you gotta make some sacrifices because nothing you love should ever come easy. While we can help you with the inspiration part of going super fast, you have to take the next step. You want blistering performance! You want cutting-edge technology! You want a rock-bottom deal! Pick two.
All the cars here are capable of at least 150 miles per hour in their factory form. Modifications stand to serve you even heavier doses of road justice, should you choose to take your pursuit of speed to the next level. But we figure, encouraging 150 miles per hour is plenty, considering that you’re not a professional driver, you’re not one of the world's richest people (or you’d be checking out another list from the cabin of your Ferrari), and you’re not a racecar driver.
Notice how I made sure to mention one of those things twice! That is the takeaway here— because there are cars out there that literally catapult you into a whole separate realm of performance, a realm that few people are readily equipped to sufficiently handle.
That’s also why everything on this list is dirt cheap!
20 Volvo V70 R - $6,000
The Volvo V70 R is a sleeper of sleepers and those who know, just know. But if you don’t suspect it, you’ll walk right past the 300-hp “wagon,” scoffing at its smooth, homely body lines. You’ll write it off as if it’s somehow below you, while pulling up next to it at a light. But what you don’t know is about to hurt you.
Because you don’t know that it’s sitting on an all-wheel-drive design with a manual six-speed. It wasn’t built to look fast, just to be fast—and that's the best type of fast. You’ll never see a massive wing hanging off of the deck lid because that’s not necessary here.
19 Lexus LS 400 - $2,000
This monolith is about as legendary as it gets. It’s the luxury car of yesterday and yet, somehow, it’s still relevant today! The technology is old—you can’t deny that—but it still feels good to slide into the driver’s seat and trip the steering wheel because nothing looks shabby or clunky. It’s not super flashy, but it’s adequate, even by 2018 standards. Why?
The 4.0-liter 1UZ motor could be had in a 290-hp, naturally-aspirated version that meant straight business in the streets. Stance nation doesn’t worship this thing just because it looks good stanced and it’s not often this guy (me) will ever tell you stance looks good on anything, so take a picture of this before it blasts by at 155 miles per hour.
18 Nissan 300ZX $10,000
When Nissan comes to play, they don’t play around. The 300ZX had turbos on turbos; power was up nearly 50% from the previous engine design and the 300-hp VG30GE engine had as much horsepower as Ferraris of its day. The 300ZX was designed to combat the C4 Corvette and the Porsche 944 and nobody believed it could do it until they drove it!
The 7,000-rpm mill would wind up with the effortless authority of a bully and you could barely feel the boost kick in. An unprofessional examination of the big four-wheel brakes told a tale of stopping power that was engineered for a reason—everything on the 300ZX was engineered for a reason!
17 BMW 7-Series - $12,000
The legendary 7-Series isn’t legendary for no reason. The iconic silhouette of the BMW sedans of the 1990s came with a performance punch that would surprise you but, by all means, it should surprise you given what they were stuffing under those hoods.
According to AutoEvolution, these puppies had to be speed-limited to 155 miles per hour (making it BMW’s first electronically-regulated car) because it was otherwise able to hit 186.4 mph if you had enough road in front of you! Whatever you do, if you’re getting a BMW that’s 30 years old, you’re obviously trying to get an edge somewhere, so don’t skimp on the V12! These things are dirt cheap—when you can find them!
16 Mitsubishi 3000GT VR4 - $9,000
JDM knows the 3000GT as the GTO; we sometimes recognize it better as a Dodge Stealth in its captive import status. (Interestingly, the JDM “GTO” moniker came from the 1970s-era Galant GTO, which was named after a GT racing spec in Japan at the time.)
Whatever you call it, it’s a grand tourer. Yes, 3,737 pounds of mass hold it back but a transverse V6 finds a way to zing life into all four wheels through the Getrag six-speed. You may not be the fastest off the line, but you’re knocking 60 mph down in 4.8 seconds and hit 100 in 13.4. Not good enough? How about scratching the underside of 160 mph?
15 Mercedes E-55 AMG - $12,000
The W210 AMG hit the deck way back in 1995 and has been blasting through streets ever since. It’s not much to look at today but you can see how beautiful it must have seemed if you park it next to the same year Toyota Corolla and soak up the sight before you. Another stark contrast between the two classics is engine design, obviously.
We’re not even going to bother with the Corolla but if you try to pick up the W210 (1995-2002), and don’t opt for the AMG package, you’re missing out on the 349-hp 5.4-liter engine and that’s the only way this thing is going to move like you want it to! (Nobody gets hot over a 3.2-liter inline-six.)
14 Chevrolet Corvette C4 ZR1 - $20,000
The C4 is something of an oddity in the design department. If the C2 loyalists cried when the modernized C3 came out, they must have blown their lid when they were hit with what was to follow. The C4 was introduced in the mid-80s when performance and speed were slowly starting to make a come back. The LT5 motor, when it was installed for the 1990-model year, was a 375-hp powerhouse with a Lotus-designed DOHC.
However, 405-hp versions were available from 1993 to 1995. What does all this translate to in performance? Hagerty says you’re good for 13-second quarter-miles at 110 mph and topping out at 180 mph—with the 375-hp version! If that’s not good enough for your greedy performance desires, you need a bigger budget!
13 Audi S8 - $7,000
The S8 doesn’t look very convincing as a performance-getter in its first generation dressings. It looks like something should look that came out of the mid-‘90s. But the D3 (2006-2010) Audis hide a sinister secret between those front struts—when you know what to look for! If a 5.2L Lamborghini Gallardo V10 is something you wouldn’t mind vectoring torque to your wheels with, the D3 is your man!
Electronically limited to the Euro-standard 155 miles per hour, it’s hard to imagine what it would do without the computer there to keep us alive. It goes without saying that most people we see on the road really have no business going faster than 150 mph—or even 80 mph, for that matter! We trust this secret is safe with you…
12 Dodge Neon SRT4 - $6,000
If ever there was a bigger little jalopy, we’ve never seen it; the Dodge Neon came to us to ferry bodies around on the cheap and it was debatably ugly to an epic degree. But what Dodge guys secretly knew about the Neon is that the SRT4 was highly underrated by the factory.
The 230-hp rating was a steaming-hot load of horse pucky and even then, Mopar Performance offered a host of bolt-ons to boost the SRT4 into the realm of the completely unnecessary. The best part, aside from the OEM upgrades, you can bolt performance onto the SRT4 from here to China and race it like you stole it.
11 Chevrolet C5 Corvette - $10,000
The C5 saw a lot of radical design changes that began to really set it apart from its predecessors. The chassis, for example, was re-engineered and structurally fortified. The transmission moved aft to the differential housing for near-perfect weight distribution.
The 4L60-E transferred over but it was the Borg Warner six-speed that allowed a top speed of 175 mph! Even with all of this performance, the C5 manages to narrowly evade the “gas guzzler” tax by a slim margin thanks to the lightweight construction of the new design. The C5 may seem like a mid-life crisis Band-Aid at first glance but once you get under the skin a little bit, it’s a very impressive automobile.
10 Jaguar XJR $10,000
Some people hated these cars but they didn’t appreciate them for what they were. The 1997-2003 XJ could ruin your financial stability if you weren’t ready for it. Blowing a $25,000 engine (parts & labor) at 105,000 miles because the timing chain let go is a hard pill to swallow—especially when you have to swallow it from the other end.
But, if the proper foresight was taken when looking for your XJ, you’d have made sure to get the supercharged version of the 4.0-liter, which gave you around 370 horsepower to play around with. The cars still look relevant today and move around with respectable authority.
9 Audi S4 - $5,000
The beauty of this car is the modular-like approach one can take in the performance department; it’s a perfect little gunner for Audi fans. The B5 turbos were life-limited and they could be thought of as a “weak link” of sorts. But at that point, it’s easy to jump up to horsepower numbers around the 430s with a few simple upgrades when you do need to replace them. Not that you’d need it.
The 2.7, twin-turbo had stellar performance specs in its stock configuration, and they’ve been clocked at almost 160 mph with the speed limiter disabled. They aren’t a car you can tend sparingly to and expect a loving reciprocation; but for the willing, the B5 S4 can be a very rewarding ownership experience.
8 BMW 540i - $5,000
It’s an M in disguise and to the people who recognize this, it can be performance heaven. No, they aren’t as powerful as the premium line from which they draw inspiration but they also aren’t as hard on the retirement fund (which, for many, is probably a lot less than it should be).
The E39 was the first 5-Series to use aluminum to reduce weight in the front end (and also the first 5-Series to use a four-cylinder diesel—in case anybody cares about stuff we don’t care about). The doozy about the E39 was no all-wheel drive! Still, you can make plenty happen with the 394-hp S62 motor that became available in 1995.
7 Chevrolet Z28 Camaro - $7,000
The gen-four Camaros went out with a bang; they’d come back in with an even bigger bang, too! But on their way out, Chevy wasn’t going to lay them down without some juice. It’s no Ferrari but you could top out at 155 before removing your speed limiter. After that, a bit of math is required to determine your true top speed, math that we actually recommend doing.
But you have to know your gear ratios (and tire circumference). In the absence of being able to do this (and testing it for yourself), you’re at the mercy of forum warriors, who will claim “theoretical” top speeds of over 250 mph!
6 Chrysler 300 SRT8 - $10,000
With a top speed of 175 mph, this is closer to a NASCAR than a road car. Chrysler may have a propensity for questionable designs, ugly styling, and super-flops but one thing they do right is SRT. They didn’t keep the Viper around but they made sure there was a respectable performance footprint left in its place. The massive 6.4-liter will grab you 12 mpg in the city and 4.7 seconds for a 0-60 mph run.
If Chrysler did not one other thing in life right, they were sure to do their performance line a hefty justice through and through. They’re old enough now so you can pick up where someone else left off and continue to destroy the car until there’s nothing left of it.
5 Infiniti G35 Coupe - $7,000
Considered a mainstay of the Infiniti line, the G35 is well-loved and thoroughly abused. Some call them girl cars but whatever that’s supposed to mean is beside the point. This is full JDM, undercover and over 300 horsepower. Properly vectored through an efficient driveline, this power meets the road with gearing that’ll get you to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds and continue all the way up to 151 mph before technology starts to hamper your fun.
The G35 is an aging machine but still a gorgeous one and it’s not surprising why this thing gets slammed into the earth more than it gets raced—though it's still a small shame.
4 Mercedes S 600 - $10,000
Maybe Mercedes leads the way when it comes to recalls for quality issues but even so, they sure know how to build a car! In 2001, there was a brief run of 444-hp V12s equipped in the S 63 AMG. We thought that was as good as it got. The S 63 would later be graced with a 6.0-liter unit tuned to over 600 hp—with a twin turbo!
So, it’s safe to say, there’s definitely power behind the S Class if you look hard enough. They still aren’t cheap to own but they can be cheap enough to buy and put a few hard miles on before you regret it!
3 Pontiac GTO - $13,000
Missing a goldmine opportunity to retro this out, the Pontiac GTO, in the fifth-generation getup, was a sad oversight of the revived muscle car era that was just beginning to percolate. GM had a bad experience with the SSR and wasn’t itching to waste capital on another failed retro design, so, instead, what we got for the new GTO was a Holden Monaro.
It was nothing like the G8 they gave us but it was a powerful machine, albeit an ugly one. You could put hood scoops, air dams, splitters, spoilers, and diffusers on it, but it was still ugly—400 horsepower ugly! It was somewhat of an overhyped flop in its day and now is the time to cash in for a deal.
2 Porsche 944 Turbo - $11,000
This one is a 1980s baby and that’s the only way you’re going to buy into a Porsche nameplate for under three times what you want to spend on a Porsche. Unfortunately, that limits your options to just about this one or a spare tire; but a Porsche is a Porsche. The 944 design was also available as a naturally-aspirated car and was very popular for a Porsche.
With production numbers in excess of 160,000 units, it was the top-seller until the Boxster came along. They may not qualify as dirt cheap, which is our second favorite price (next to free), but it’s dirt cheap for a Porsche and you can run it up to a hair under 160 mph!
1 Porsche Boxster S - $10,000
The Boxster moniker is a nod to the iconic engine design that has faithfully served the European carmaker so well; it was also a budget Porsche that we could all afford. Not when it was new, mind you: it’s still a Porsche. But a few decades after the fact, you can pick yourself up one of these undesirables for a relatively fair price.
What’s relative to you is relative, of course, but your odds of owning an “exotic” don’t get much better than this—unless a 911 Turbo suits your fancy more? Chances are it doesn’t because you don’t appreciate a machine as ugly as that without merit, understandably so. This one usually comes with more clear coat on the paint, anyway.
Sources: Motor Trend, AutoEvolution, Road and Track, Motor Trend, Hagerty, Jalopnik, Super Street, and Top Speed.