When you wanna go fast, but your budget doesn’t agree with something new.
The life of a gearhead is a tough one – a constant battle of head vs heart and wallet vs deepest desires. To paraphrase Ricky Bobby, we wanna go fast! But sometimes, going fast is expensive, especially if you’re stuck looking for a new car. Fortunately, there are some affordable alternatives if you’re willing to look on the second hand market. We’ve scoured what’s out there in search of the best ways to get 400 horsepower or more for less than $20,000, because there’s nothing we love more than a good performance bargain.
Not all the models on this list are going to be performance cars, and the Mercedes-Benz E550 is a luxurious way to get behind the wheel of 402 horsepower. The E550 featured a 5.5-liter naturally aspirated V8 to produce its 402 hp output along with 390 lb-ft of torque. The rear-wheel-drive E550 was capable of a brisk 0-60 mph sprint of just 5.0 seconds, giving it some potent performance. In 2018, at the ripe young age of just six years old, you can pick up these performance bargains for around $19,000 if you go looking for the right one.
The BMW M3 is a performance icon dating back to the 1980s. But in recent years BMW has upped the game considerably. However, if you want a piece of the action for an affordable price, you’re looking for the 2008-2009 E9X generation BMW M3. It was the only generation to be powered by a full series production V8 engine – a 4.0-liter high revving monster with a sonorous soundtrack, and 414 high revving horsepower driving the rear wheels for a 0-60 mph time of 4.5 seconds with the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. For less than $20,000 you can get behind the wheel of a good sedan, coupe, or even convertible V8 M3.
The Mustang has gone through the mill, with good generations and bad along the way. The fifth generation, while not as competent as the current generation, still offered impressive clout for the era. For the 2013 and 2014 model years, the 5.0-liter V8 powered Mustang GT got some improved styling and even more power, gaining 8 ponies for a final output of 420 horsepower in the rear-wheel-drive pony car. There are many up for sale, but if you’re smart with your money you can find some great bargains for as cheap as $14,000.
It should come as no surprise that the V8 engine dominates this list. It’s a performance icon, a staple in the world of 400hp+ power outputs. One of the greatest ways to breach that 400-hp mark is a 2008-2010 Chrysler 300C SRT8. As the halo model for the first generation 300, the SRT8 featured a 6.1-liter Hemi V8 producing 425 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque. When you could get the rear wheels to hook up, 0-60 mph took just 4.9 seconds. Yes, the interior was kind of sub-par, and the handling dynamics weren’t up to German sports sedan standards, but they’re available on the used market for as little as $11,940, with cleaner examples priced around $15,000.
We couldn’t feature the Mustang on this list without bringing a Camaro to the party as well. You can find a Camaro V8 of the same age for around the same average price of $15,000-$18,000, all of which pack a 6.2-liter GM LS3 V8 producing 426 horsepower. A manual and automatic were both available, and SS models with the manual featured a launch control function and Sport driving modes. So if the Blue Oval isn’t your performance brand of choice, rest assured that 400 hp is still within reach for under $20k with a Chevrolet Camaro.
From one Chevy to the next, you can actually get your grubby little paws on a C6 generation Corvette for less than $20,000. For the money, you’ll get yourself a 6.2-liter LS3 V8 under the hood generating 430 horsepower and 424 lb-ft of torque. Rear wheel drive was, of course, the only drivetrain, with manual and automatic transmissions available. Though the auto was slightly quicker to 60 mph from a standstill, the manual is the one you really want, for that full immersion experience in your 400hp+ sports car.
While most on this list make the 400 hp+ mark by a decent margin, the 2006-2007 Cadillac CTS-V just makes it onto the list with an even 400 horsepower to its name. In the 2000s, Cadillac got serious about performance, and the CTS-V was the brand’s rival to the BMW M5. Sure, it was off the M5’s outputs by some way, but the 6.0-liter LS2 V8 still generated some impressive grunt, especially thanks to the wider torque band than the 5.7-liter LS6 it replaced in earlier models. A manual transmission was the only option available for the CTS-V. For between $16,000 and $18,000, the LS2-equipped CTS-V can find a spot in your garage.
Though this list is dominated by American machines – proving the affordable nature of American performance – there are a few European entrants as well. The Jaguar XF always was and remains to this day, one of the finest executive sedans when it comes to driver involvement. In 2009, Jaguar lumped a heavy-duty engine into the XF, giving it a 5.0-liter supercharged V8. The menacing V8 was not only one of the best sounding engines around but with 464 horsepower it was potent as well. Fortunately, prices have plummeted, and you can pick up a fine example of the XF Supercharged for as low as $11,000. Make sure you get the 5.0 though, as pre-2010 models featured a 4.2-liter V8 that wasn’t quite as good.
The Mercedes-AMG E63S is now a formidable all-wheel-drive beast. But the brand has a history of creating potent monsters from the E-Class platform, and from 2003 to 2006 the AMG model, designated as the E55 AMG was a true monster. Rear-wheel drive, with power coming from a supercharged 5.4-liter V8 generating 469 horsepower, performance was incredible, to say the least, due largely to the huge torque figure that accompanied it.
516 lb-ft of the twisty stuff was on offer – in 2003! – giving the E55 AMG devastating rolling acceleration, though standstill performance was also impressive, with many tests revealing 0-60 mph times of 4.1 seconds, rivaling the all-wheel-drive RS6 of the era. In 2006, the E55 was replaced by the E63, though with less torque it was hardly as impressive. You can pick an E55 AMG up for just $10,000 these days.
We save the best for last here, as the final entrant on this list brings 500 horsepower to the table. Not only is it the most powerful here, but it has one of the sweetest drivetrains the world has ever seen. Despite sleeper looks, the E60 generation BMW M5 was a true monster on the road. Under the hood lay an odd-firing 5.0-liter V10 engine with 500 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque on offer, sent all to the rear end through either a 7-speed SMG automatic or, for the US and Canada only, a 6-speed manual.
The 0-60 mph sprint came in at 4.2 seconds, but that noise was what really made the E60 M5 irresistible. In 2018, you can fit an E60 M5 into your garage for just $15,000. At $30 per horsepower that represents superb value for money.