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Cheap speed: Best performance cars under $35,000

2013 Subaru BRZ front three-quarter viewThe ideal form of a sporty car is usually something sleek and loud, with a Ferrari or Porsche badge on the deck lid. Automotive fun doesn’t have to be expensive, though. Not every car can top 200 mph, but many are still fun to drive, and some can even serve as entertaining daily drivers. Here are ten great cars, five under $25,000, five under $35,000, that will make your morning commute more exciting.

Under $25,000

Mazda MX-5 Miata

2013 Mazda MX-5 MiataWith the Miata ($23,470), Mazda set out to build a 1960s British sports car that doesn’t leak oil like the Exxon Valdez. It succeeded, making a car that has been a bestseller for over 20 years. The Miata isn’t blindingly fast in a straight line, but few cars offer better handling than this compact, rear-wheel drive roadster.

Volkswagen GTI

Volkswagen GTI Mk6 four doorThe original hot hatchback is still going strong. The GTI combines the everyday practicality of a compact hatch with a 200 hp, turbocharged engine and six-speed manual or dual-clutch DSG transmission. It’s the perfect car for pulling lateral g while hauling groceries, and it starts at $23,000.

Mini Cooper S

Mini Cooper SDon’t let its cute looks fool you, the Mini can be serious fun. Its micro size means go kart-like handling and a light curb weight, so the turbocharged, 1.6-liter engine doesn’t have much to push around. It’s basic, but the Cooper S gets down to the essence of what makes a car fun to drive, all for $24,000.

Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ

Scion FR-S front-three quarter viewThe Subaru-Scion twins bring some serious hardware to the party. A 2.0-liter Subaru boxer-four is married to Toyota dual injection (direct injection and port injection for the most efficient combustion), and placed in a compact (think hardtop Miata) rear-wheel drive body. With 200 hp and a meticulously-tuned chassis, either car should turn a winding road into a racetrack. The FR-S starts at $24,930; the BRZ is $1,335 more.

Hyundai Genesis Coupe

2013 Hyundai Genesis Coupe driftingHyundai’s 2+2 is a muscle car with a Korean twist. The Genesis has the proportions of a Mustang or Camaro, but with a turbocharged, 274 hp, 2.0-liter four ($24,250) or a 3.8-liter, 348 hp, V6 ($28,750). The Big Three’s muscle cars are legendary, but not every sports coupe needs to be an homage to ‘60s Americana. The Genesis is the perfect car for someone who wants the room of a four-seat coupe and the energetic character of a small, high-revving engine.

Under $35,000

Ford Mustang GT

Ford Mustang GT front three-quarter viewThe classic American muscle cars of the 1960s were known for offering big power at a low price, and Ford’s 21st century Mustang GT does just that. The retro-styled ‘Stang is available with a 5.0-liter, 420 hp V8 for $30,300. If the FR-S and Miata are the handling champs, that V8 makes the Mustang the king at the drag strip. Who says the they don’t make them like they used to?

Chevrolet Camaro SS

2013 Chevrolet Camaro SSThe Ford vs. Chevy rivalry continues with each company’s current “pony car.” The Camaro SS ($32,635) answers the Mustang GT’s 5.0 with a 6.2-liter, 426 hp V8. For enthusiasts who still believe that there is no replacement for displacement, this is an excellent motor. The star of Transformers also sports more sophisticated independent rear suspension. In the Mustang and Camaro, a corporate rivalry has created two great cars for performance enthusiasts.

Nissan 370Z

Nissan’s evergreen Z Car takes the two-seat sports car game up a notch. The Z is powered by the 3.7-liter V6 Nissan uses in nearly all of its cars, in this case tuned to 332 hp. As it’s done since 1969, the Z continues provide cheap thrills that rival the blue blood sports car competition. It will do 0 to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, faster than a Porsche Cayman but, at $33,120, it costs significantly less.

Subaru Impreza WRX/STI

2012 Subaru Impreza WRX STI sedanMost performance cars are bred on racetracks, but the WRX comes from backwoods rally stages. This rocket ship starts out as an all-wheel drive Impreza sedan or hatchback, then gets a 265 hp, turbocharged 2.5-liter boxer-four and some go-fast suspension and body modifications, all for $25,595.

If that’s not good enough, the $34,095 WRX STI packs 305 hp. Either way, the WRX combines serious performance (the STI does 0 to 60 in under five seconds) with the practicality of all-wheel drive and four doors. It’s a great car to drive that can get you home in a snowstorm, something no rear-drive car can claim.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution XThe Subaru-Mitsubishi rivalry is just like the one shared by Ford and Chevy, except rally cars are the weapons of choice. Mitsubishi’s hot Lancer Evolution was the original rally car for the road, and is currently in its tenth generation. Like the WRX, the Evo is a four-door with all-wheel drive and a turbocharged engine. In this case, the engine displaces 2.0 liters and produces 291 hp. The Mitsubishi may have less power than the WRX STI, but it brandishes more technology, including an optional dual-clutch transmission and a Super All-Wheel Control system that adapts power output to different road conditions. The Evo slides under the $35,000 barrier at $34,495.

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