The used market is full of unexpected surprises.
The Chevrolet Spark is currently the cheapest car on sale in the USA.
Add an option or two and the destination cost, and you're looking at roughly $15,000. It's a cool little car, but you'd never describe it as entertaining. The Spark can do 0-60 mph… probably.
As a fun, informative exercise, we decided to see if we could find something on sale for half the price of a brand-new Spark. The way we see it, between $7,000 to $8,000 is a reasonable budget for a fun third car and an excellent starting price for something that you build up over time.
Some of these cars are reliable. Others aren't. The main objectives are speed and fun, though the two aren't always connected, as you shall see from one example.
The first-generation Audi TT looks even better now than it did in 1998. We've always liked the coupe more, but we understand why some people prefer the dazzling looks of the roadster. The TT is such a design icon that it survived a massive scandal. Early TTs were infamous for being sketchy at the limit, so a lot of TTs ended up with scraped roofs.
The Audi TT is based on the Golf 4 platform and uses the same 1.8-liter turbocharged four-pot. Two power outputs are available: 178 hp and 222 hp. If you're buying an Audi TT, the easiest way to tell them apart is the exhaust pipes. High-output models had dual tailpipes.
It's a fun car to drive, even though it was initially only available in FWD. The famous 1.8T engine is highly tunable and fairly reliable if you take care of it. The TT can sprint to 60 mph in roughly 6.5 seconds and is electronically limited to a top speed of 155 mph.
This is the non-S version of the Mini Cooper two-door hatch and it's all the better for it. Sans turbocharger, it produces 115 hp and a lot fewer problems. The spirited naturally-aspirated engine only has to power 2,535 lbs of Mini, which means even without a turbo this little hatch can hit 60 mph in 8.5 seconds. It tops out at 125 mph.
The Cooper S is faster, but we still maintain that this is more fun. You can drive it harder more often without breaking the law (too much). Besides, Minis have always been about handling more than anything else. These cars are just so eager to turn in and play around when you switch all the nannies off.
They don't, we repeat, don't handle like go-karts. Never have, and never will. The whole Mini go-kart thing is one of the biggest marketing cliches to ever haunt the automotive world. A used Mini Cooper Coupe is a lot of fun for just $7,000, however.
This E46 BMW 325 Ci Coupe is in mint condition and built on what might just possibly be the last properly engaging 3 Series platform. The E90 3 Series went a bit soft and lost some of its edge.
The 2.5-liter inline-six only produces 190 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque, but it only weighs around 3,000 lbs. The current 3 Series weighs 3,560 lbs in the base specification. This particular BMW 325Ci Coupe for sale is a five-speed automatic, but it's worth digging further for a six-speed manual. The automatic is perfectly fine, but if you're going to have fun you might as well have a manual.
Fit a louder exhaust to let that 6-cylinder roar a bit more and you've got yourself a lovely RWD toy.
Like the BMW above, the Infiniti also offers a large naturally aspirated engine up front, sending all the power to the rear wheels. The BMW's styling is more elegant, but we prefer the wilder looks of the G35.
The G35 is also based on a better platform. It's built on the bones of the Nissan 350Z, though Infiniti tuned the setup for comfort rather than track times. Still, enough of the 350Z playful characteristics were carried over to make the G35 a fun machine.
Early models like this used Infiniti G35 Coupe produced 260 hp and 260lb-ft of torque from a naturally aspirated V6. Get a later model, and those figures increase to 280 hp and 270 lb-ft. Either way, you're looking at a 0-60 mph time of 5.5 seconds and a top speed of 157 mph.
Being a tuner favorite, loads of modifications are available for the G35. You can get better brakes, suspension, ECU upgrades, exhaust kits, and forced induction kits.
The first-generation Audi A5 is one of the best designs ever. Walter de Silva called it the most beautiful car he ever made. Other cars on his resume include the Alfa Romeo 156, Audi R8, Volkswagen Scirocco, and Lamborghini Egoista. That's enough of a reason to be interested in it. It's also the top option to consider if you live in a cold-weather state, thanks to Audi's renowned quattro AWD system.
The 3.2-liter V6 was a mid-grade engine globally. Not as brutal as the RS5, but fun nevertheless. The RS5 isn't particularly good at being a BMW M3 imitator anyway, and to us, the A5 always feels better with a lighter engine under the hood.
Audi's 3.2-liter V6 produces 261 hp at 6,500 rpm, and it sounds lovely. You can make it even more resonant with an aftermarket exhaust kit. Thanks to the additional grip, it can sprint to 60 mph in roughly six seconds, and it tops out at 155 mph. When shopping around, look for a used Audi A5 3.2 quattro with a few extras. This particular model is equipped with a full leather interior, navigation, and a panoramic sunroof.
The Crossfire was a bit of a joke when it came out, and as a driving tool, it still is. The thing does look more incredible than ever these days, however. Chrysler sourced the vast majority of the Crossfire's parts from the first-generation SLK, which, to be brutally honest, was a poor place to start.
The Crossfire's Mercedes-sourced 3.2-liter V6 is asthmatic, producing only 215 hp and 229 lb-ft of torque. It gets to 60 mph in roughly eight seconds when equipped with an automatic. The manual transmission is hateful and provides zero joy, so you might as well stick with the self-shifter.
So, why is it here? The 3.2-liter engine is quite robust and can easily handle a supercharger. Mercedes-AMG used an Eaton M45 supercharger to build the SRT6 engine, which you can easily find on eBay for $600. That bumps the power to 330 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. The result is a 0-60 mph time of 4.8 seconds and a 155 mph top speed. A used Chrysler Crossfire will handle like a pig, but it will be fast in a straight line.
Okay, so this one is a little over budget, but it's an excellent price for a used Nissan 350Z Touring. And the 350Z is generally a robust car with the proper preventative maintenance. For the 2007 model year, Nissan changed the whole engine (80%), pushing the power output up to 300 hp and 268 lb-ft of torque.
The upmarket Touring specification was only available with an automatic gearbox, but it came with leather, heated seats, and nicer 18-inch wheels. Even with the slushbox, the Z retains most of the characteristics that kept it in production for 12 years. The turn-in is precise, it has loads of mechanical grip, and the car is more than happy to slide if you drive like a loon.
The 350Z remains fast, even by today's standards. It completes the 0-60 mph sprint in 5.5 seconds and tops out at 155 mph. Prices of Z cars seem to be increasing at the moment, so now might be a good time to invest in one. Because the 350Z was such a smash hit, there are loads of aftermarket kits available as well.
Like the Mini, the second-generation Hyundai Tiburon is an unlikely candidate. Looking at the specification sheet, everything seems to be wrong. It has a 2.7-liter V6 that only produces 172 hp, sending that power to the front wheels. At least it has a six-speed manual gearbox.
As a result of the underwhelming engine, the Tiburon takes a leisurely 8.2 seconds to get to 60 mph, and it tops out at 137 mph. The engine does provide an excellent soundtrack, however. We recommend buying a used Hyundai Tiburon because it's a genuinely good driver's car with traditional coupe styling. The Tiburon's secret is its chassis and steering. It provides loads of feedback and inspires confidence. The six-speed gearbox is on the heavy side, but it lets you get the most out of the V6 engine. Before you laugh, go out and try one. This is one of the most underappreciated cars of all time.
This list wouldn't be complete without at least one 'Stang. Unfortunately, at this price level, you can only get the most basic used Ford Mustang dating back to the first model year of the fifth-generation Mustang. The car was recalled ten times during its first year on sale.
Base Mustangs of this vintage are powered by a 4.0-liter V6 producing 210 hp. Mind you; the 4.6-liter V8 is not much better. At least the power is sent to the rear wheels, and the fifth-gen Mustang still looks pretty excellent.
The 4.0 Mustang takes a leisurely seven seconds to hit 60 mph, and you'll need quite some time and a long open space to get it to 124 mph. The secret to this car is the sheer number of aftermarket parts available. There's a kit for improving every aspect of the vehicle, right down the brakes and suspension. In terms of power, you can go the turbocharging or supercharging route. Think of this Mustang as a blank canvas that you can slowly complete over time.
The Accord Coupe only lasted one generation for obvious reasons. While it has interesting coupe styling, it's still based on the humble Honda Accord. It's decent to drive for what it is, but still quite far from being truly sporty.
We do think the design aged well, and because it's essentially an Accord, it will keep on going forever. You can also make some tweaks to the underpinnings to make it more engaging, but the Accord Coupe is better as a grand touring machine.
The 3.5-liter V6 engine is powerful, even by today's standard. In this car, it produces 272 hp and 254 lb-ft of torque. It's more fun mated to a six-speed manual, but good luck finding one. Thanks to this trouble-free V6, the Accord Coupe can get to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. Honda never claimed a top speed, but we don't doubt that even in a used Honda Accord Coupe EX-L V6, you'll be able to do more than 124 mph.