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Frugal Fun: The Best Performance Rides Under $35k

Posted in Car Buying, Featured, Lists, Top of the Heap by Kurt Ernst | March 30th, 2011 | 13 Responses |

Image: Ford Motor Company

If you’ve been shopping for a new car lately, you know that $30,000 doesn’t go as far as it used to. In fact, even a Hyundai Elantra compact can hit the high twenties if you check every option box, and it’s now possible to put a Mazda MX-5 over the $30k barrier if you buy a well-optioned power retractable hard top version. I’m not sure what the average new car transaction price is these days, but I’m absolutely certain it’s significantly higher than it was even a few years back. That’s bad news if you like fast, entertaining rides, because we all know that speed costs money. If you’re a gearhead on a budget, there are still some half decent choices for track-day fun between $30k and $35k, so below are my picks for the five best performance rides under the $35k barrier.

Since I’m trying to be objective here, the cars are ranked in order of their zero to sixty times, without bias to powertrain layout, manufacturer, fuel economy or pricing. All represent stripped base models, unless otherwise indicated, and all are equipped with six speed manual transmissions and are priced to include destination charge. There’s a lot of cars that didn’t make the list but still have significant entertainment value, such as Mazda’s Mazdaspeed 3 or Honda’s Civic Si. These were excluded because of their price point, and if you guessed that I’ll do a “Best Performance Rides Under $30k” piece in the near future, you’d probably be correct. In the mean time, if you’ve got $35k in your new car budget, here’s what I’d recommend you shop for.

2011 Subaru WRX STI, $34,720

Zero to sixty: 4.5 seconds
Drivetrain: Front engine, all wheel drive
Horsepower: 305
Curb Weight: 3,384 pounds
Horsepower to weight: 1:11.09

2011 Ford Mustang GT, Brembo Brake Package, $32,190

Image: Ford Motor Company

Zero to sixty: 4.8 seconds
Drivetrain: Front engine, rear drive
Horsepower: 412
Curb Weight: 3,605 pounds
Horsepower to weight: 1:8.75

2011 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X GSR, $34,755

Zero to sixty: 4.9 seconds
Drivetrain: Front engine, all wheel drive
Horsepower: 291
Curb Weight: 3,517 pounds
Horsepower to weight: 1:12.09

2011 Chevy Camaro 1SS, $31,795

Image: © GM Corp.

Zero to sixty: 5.0 seconds
Drivetrain: Front engine, rear drive
Horsepower: 426
Curb Weight: 3,860 pounds
Horsepower to weight: 1:9.06

2011 Nissan 370z, Sport Package, $34,990

Image: Nissan

Zero to sixty: 5.1 seconds
Drivetrain: Front engine, rear drive
Horsepower: 332
Curb Weight: 3,232 pounds
Horsepower to weight: 1:9.73

If you’re wondering what I’d pick from the above list, the Mustang GT would be my top choice. The car is absolutely superb, especially given its price point, and can be used for nearly any type of motorsport event you can think of, ranging from track days through autocross and even drag racing. I’ll eventually put one in my garage, just as soon as I go back to earning enough money to afford a car payment.

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