There is a common misconception about the most fun cars, that you need to spend big bucks in order to own a cool, fun, or interesting performance-oriented car. The prevalence of this misconception should come as no surprise, as big dollar supercars tend to dominate auto news and media.
In reality, however, you don’t need to spend much at all to get yourself into a car that you can have fun with, modify, take to car shows, or just outright enjoy owning. With this budget-friendly mindset as our inspiration, this article will go over some cars that will put a smile on your face without breaking the bank: here are some of the most fun performance cars for under $10k (or thereabouts).
The Volkswagen GTI has dominated the hot hatch segment for as long as the hot hatch segment has existed, and for good reason. The GTI is known for being a lively and toss-able little car, and what it lacks in straight line speed, it more than makes up for in its ability to make you smile while you thrash it around your favorite twisty road.
The cherry on top is that the aftermarket parts selection for GTIs is near endless, as they are an extremely common platform upon which some truly fantastic builds take place. 2000’s GTIs can still be found for well under $10k, and even some post-2010 GTIs are being sold for under $10k, making them a great performance bargain.
The Chevrolet Corvette, since it’s inception in the mid 20th century, has existed as a benchmark of affordable American performance: it made owning a legitimate performance car attainable for the average person. This philosophy rings especially true on the used market.
Finding a good Corvette for sale under $10k will require some searching, but it can certainly be done. It’s most likely that sub-$10k Corvettes will be C4 or C5 generation models, and they’ll probably have some miles, but either one would make for a fun project to keep you busy this summer.
BMW 3 Series
I was debating whether or not to choose a specific generation of the 3 series. They’re all so good, I decided we should include them all! From the E36 generation of the 90s to the F30 generation of the 2010s, the 3 Series has good looks, sharp handling, and in certain trims, respectable straight-line power.
The E36 generation is a great platform upon which some stunning show cars can be built, and the newer E90 and F30 generations can be great all-around daily drivers. Any newer F30 under $10k will have a turbocharged four instead of the more desirable turbo-six, but if you go back to an E92, you can get yourself into a straight-six, manual transmission BMW coupe and still not break our $10k threshold.
B6 Audi S4
The B6 generation Audi S4 was sold from 2003-2005, and it featured a naturally aspirated 4.2L V8, quattro all-wheel drive, and an optional 6-speed manual transmission. This comes packaged in a handsome, well-proportioned German sedan body (as well as wagons and convertibles), making the B6 a very attractive used car.
While examples under $10k are sparse, they do exist, and the burly, humble rumble sound that they make alone will be a constant reminder that you made a good choice picking up a B6 S4.
The Mazda Miata is perhaps the affordable sports car: it is many enthusiasts’ go-to when they’re looking for something cheap and fun. The Miata is one of the most fun cars out there when it comes to backroad driving, due to its small frame and very light weight.
Additionally, some minor suspension and wheel and tire upgrades can turn a Miata into an autocross all-star. They don’t have much power or torque, but when you’re carving up a backroad with the top down that won’t bother you one bit.
Subaru Impreza WRX
The WRX is a staple of car culture everywhere: you’d be hard-pressed to attend a cars and coffee and not see a stable of WRXs somewhere in the lot. They’re just extremely likeable cars. Throughout its various iterations, the WRX has offered fun and sporty sedan and wagon body styles, manual transmissions, and potent boxer-4 engines.
Additionally, few cars have an aftermarket scene as big as the WRX. Older WRX models can be had for under $10k, and they’re a great performance car whose capability is sky-high with the proper modifications.
Honda Civic Si
The Honda Civic Si has lived through eight generations now. When cars go on for that long, it’s usually because there’s something pretty good about them. The Civic Si’s secret sauce seems to be its ability to offer everyday useability with just a hint of “Si” fun-factor.
The Civic Si may not be as serious about performance as the other cars on this list, but it is probably the most reliable, and it still knows how to show you a good time if you drive it on the right roads. Older, pre-2010 Civic Si’s can be had for under $10k all day long, and the hatchback versions offer an undeniably cool hot-hatch specialness that is hard to get anywhere else.
E39 BMW 540i
So you want an E39 M5, but can’t afford the insane prices that they’re selling for nowadays? Look no further than the E39 540i, the M5’s little brother. The 540i can still be had in the M5’s V8, manual, rear-wheel drive configuration, just with less power and less ///M division magic. But the 540i still offers 282hp and up to 325lb-ft of torque, a well-balanced chassis, and perhaps the best-designed sedan body of all time.
Final thoughts on the most fun cars under $10k
As you can see, there are plentiful options available for the folks who want a fun car, but who don’t want to spend an arm and a leg to get one. And, while this list includes all of my personal top picks, it barely scratches the surface of all the enjoyable cars that exist for under $10k. So if you have a budget, don’t let that stop you from joining in on all of the automotive fun to be had this summer!