American Car
Fun Cars Under $25K – High Performance, Low Price

When it comes to getting cheap thrills in a car on a budget, time and time again we’ll tell you to buy used. A used performance car has already depreciated and, as such, you’ll get a lot for your money.

We’re also willing to admit that sometimes that argument is horseshit. Buying used or vintage isn’t for everyone — you’ll be covering the (presumably astronomical) repairs on your own and you’ll spend hours searching and waiting for the right car to show up in your area. There are real life benefits to spending money on a new car: you get a warranty, you (usually) get better financing rates, you aren’t burdened with a previous owner’s neglect and, generally, buying a car new is easier than scouting out the perfect used example.


Even in a world filled with 200 mph luxury sedans and hybrid hyper cars, there are still plenty of great driver’s cars to be found at the budget-end of the price spectrum. In fact, their low prices are, in many ways, paramount to their success. Most of the best driving cars you’ll find around $25,000 are small, light and, above all, simple. So they may not hit 200 miles per hour, but that allows them to offer up plenty of driving fun — these seven do it best.

Mazda MX-5 Miata

Mazda MX 5 Gear Patrol

Internet car nuts have long declared the Miata the king of enthusiast cars, and for good reason: while cars have, on the whole, gotten bigger and fatter, for the fourth generation Mazda MX-5 went to great lengths to shave off 148 pounds from the outgoing generation. What’s more, Mazda actually lowered power output from the older model in order to keep the power-to-weight ratio on par with the original 1989 — proof that Mazda still puts the driving experience above all else.

Engine: 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic
Horsepower: 155 hp @ 6,000 RPM
Torque: 148 lb-ft @ 4,600 RPM

Buy Now: $24,915+

Fiat 124 Spider Classica

The original Mazda MX-5 channeled the ethos and design of lightweight European roasters like the classic Fiat Spider, so the fact that the 2017 version of the 124 Spider is based on the current MX-5 brings the concept full circle. But the differences between the Fiat and the Mazda don’t stop with the former’s Italian body style — the Fiat receives the brand’s lauded turbo-four cyliner engine, replete with 160 horsepower, 184 lb-ft of torque and a throaty, burbly exhaust sound.

Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic
Horsepower: 160 hp @ 5,500 RPM
Torque: 184 lb-ft @ 2,500 RPM

Buy Now: $24,995+

Ford Fiesta ST

If the MX-5 and Fiat prove driving pleasure can come from a simple, lightweight platform in an affordable package, the Fiesta ST proves you can have all of that without sacrificing practicality. By taking the subcompact Fiesta and stuffing it with 197 horsepower and 202 lb-ft of torque, sending that power to the front wheels via a six-speed manual (and only a six-speed manual) and overhauling the chassis, Ford created one of the peppiest, most eager-to-please drivers cars in the industry. And with a starting price well under $25,000, its happens to be one of the best values, too.

Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed-manual
Horsepower: 197 horsepower @ 6,000 RPM
Torque: 202 lb-ft @ 4,200 RPM

Buy Now: $20,970+

Honda Accord Sport

Honda — once purveyor of interesting-yet-practical cars — has produced a lineup of depressingly “watered down” and “uninspiring” cars (their words, not ours). But the Japanese manufacturer is already trying to inject enthusiast cred into its lineup and it shows in the cheap-and-cheerful Accord Sport. You get a six-speed manual, sharp-looking 19-inch alloy wheels, bigger brakes, sharper steering and slightly more horsepower than the standard Honda. They’re relatively small touches, but in what is ostensively a cheap and reliable family sedan, it’s proof that character and pragmatism need not be mutually exclusive.

Engine: 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed manual or CVT
Horsepower: 189 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm,
Torque: 182 lbs-ft @ 3,900 rpm

Buy Now: $24,415+

Jeep Wrangler Sport

The Wrangler Sport is the simplest iteration of what is already the most spartan off-roader you can buy today. You get a 4×4 system, a manual transmission and a spray-it-clean-with-a-hose interior. And that’s pretty much it. But, if off-roading prowess is what you’re after, springing for the budget option only means you’ll have more money to spend on subsequent upgrades later down the road.

Engine: 3.6-liter V6
Transmission: Six-speed manual or five-speed automatic
Horsepower: 285 horsepower @ 6,400 RPM
Torque: 260 lb-ft @ 4,800 RPM

Buy Now: $23,895+

Ford Mustang EcoBoost Fastback

Ford’s seminal pony car has been reborn, ditching the old solid rear axle in favor of fully-indpendent rear suspension, transforming the icon into a full-blown sports car (and an affordable one at that). If you’re nitpicky, the only Mustang you can get under $25k is the V6, but the $1,000 upgrade to the four-cylinder EcoBoost model is well worth it, considering you get 310 horsepower (10 more), 320 lb-ft of torque (40 more), better fuel economy and upgraded alloy wheels.

Engine: 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic
Horsepower: 310 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 320 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm

Buy Now: $25,645+

Volkswagen Golf GTI

The original GTI defined the hot hatch in the late 1970s, and today still remains a reigning champ in the segment. A 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder produces 210 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque and is good for a sub-six-second jaunt to 60mph. It comes standard witha six-speed manual (VW’s lauded DSG is also available) and comes with one of the best throwback details to automotive history: a tartan cloth interior.

Engine: 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed dual clutch automated manual
Horsepower: 210 horsepower @ 4,500 RPM
Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 1,500 RPM

Buy Now: $24,995


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