If you’re a good driver (and you know you are), you know you don’t need Ferrari money to go fast.
Last week we told you about the Top 10 Cheap RWD Cars you can buy today. We picked rear wheel drive for good reason – it’s hard to compare thrashing a Corvette on dry land to thrashing a WRX in the mud. But while it’s great fun to turn the local Wal-Mart parking lot into a wee-hours gymkhana course, not every fast car has rear wheel drive. There are plenty that have all wheel drive and – gasp – even front wheel drive. Oh, the humanity! Today we change things up and bring you all the fastest cars under 15k that you can find.
What Do You Mean by Fast Cars?
I’m sure you know by now that a fast car can be fast in a straight line, but it doesn’t have to be. We’re going to look at many different kinds of fast cars – all sorts of engines and drivetrains are on this list. From Midnight Drag favorites to Nurburgring hopefuls, you can buy a whole lot of go-fast for well under the cost of a new Camry. And we’re obviously talking about used cars here – we’re not about to compare a Nissan Leaf to a Toyota Yaris. Spoiler alert: they’re both slow.
Some people get a coffee at Starbucks every day for 15 years. I’d much rather have one of these awesome cars to hoon around in, since they cost about the same. We’re talking about stock cars, and we’re avoiding the low-hanging fruit of high miles and bad titles that could cause a rouge M6 or Z06 to fall to this price. These are legit deals you can get on fast cars under 15k today. So without further ado, let’s jump right in: these are the newest, best, and fastest cars for under 15k.
Years: 1999 – 2009
Original Price: ~$38,000
The Honda S2000 is the obvious choice if your weekend consists of knocking over cones in a disused college parking lot, but you’re not a hairstylist (just kidding, we love the Miata and so do you). What you might not know is that the S2000 is the kind of car that just isn’t made anymore. It has a perfect 50/50 weight distribution and weighs in at only 2900 pounds. It was only available in a four cylinder – rear wheel drive – manual transmission configuration, like so many classic sports cars. And it has VTEC, yo! SkyActiv just lacks a certain… memeiness.
You can’t get close to this car’s handling and maneuverability for the price. To buy the closest equivalent on sale today, the ND Miata, you’d have to put down 25 large. Compared to the new Miata, the S2000 is 0.1 seconds faster to 60 (later ones were faster), it has a higher top speed of 168 miles per hour, and it’s cheaper to modify to make more than the stock 240 horsepower – even this tuned ND Miata can’t touch an S2K in the handling department. And the engine revs to over 8000 RPM! Couple that with classic good looks and incredible cornering, and you have a car that’s only going to get more expensive as time goes on. But grab one quick – people know these are great. And for under 15k, they’re a steal.
A venerable modern-day classic that’s aging like a fine wine.
BMW M3 (E46)
Years: 2000 – 2006
Original Price: ~$60,000
“But I got my E92 for under 15k and it’s better! THE E92 IS BETTER!”
Sure, if you lowballed this guy on eBay you could get a 2008 BMW M3 in the most boring exterior color ever made, with a DCT transmission, and with a rebuilt title. Not to mention you’d be robbing yourself of the sheer joy of flogging one of the best engines ever put into a passenger car: the incredible inline-six S54. The S54 is like the S2000 of engines: it’s one for the ages. High horsepower builds, endurance racing, or cruising backroads while getting 24 MPG. It’s all possible with an S54 – including a top speed of over 165 miles per hour. On Nurburgring pubic days, these are more common than a Tesla in San Francisco. And you can get one for under 15k.
It’s only fitting that BMW built such a magnificent car around that engine. It has a balanced chassis, which means it’s forgiving when you push the limits of grip, and those fender flares and tall windows are quintessentially German. You can buy an E46 in one of the best colors to ever grace a car, Laguna Seca Blue. You can even get a convertible if you fancy having the top down. When you drive an E46 with a six-speed manual, and all 333 horsepower are singing their inline six tune, you experience what Germans call “perfektion” – I’ll let you translate that one yourself.
Porsche 911 (996)
Years: 1997 – 2004
Original Price: ~$80,000
Bet you didn’t see that coming – you can get a Porsche 911, one of the most legendary sports cars of all time, for less than the cost of a new Chevrolet Spark.
The 996 catches a lot of flack from 911 purists who say the headlights are the wrong shape. Sure it has its share of other quirks and features, but that’s seriously the biggest problem people have with it. Or should I say, had. A few years ago, you could buy one of these for under $15,000 all day. As more people have started to realize that looks aren’t everything, the price for a good 996 has been going back up again. Nobody is going to care that your headlights are a funny shape when you pull up in a Porsche 911, because it’s a Porsche 911. And it can go 176 miles per hour.
Power comes from a three-liter inline six mounted at the back, giving you better grip from the fat rear tires that propel the 911. 330 horsepower might make this seem slower than an M3, but the 911 996 weighs over five hundred pounds less than an E46 M3. In other words, it’s faster. And like the M3 you can get the 996 in convertible form. But it’s more expensive to modify than an M3 and way more so than an S2000. Nonetheless, it’s the most race-oriented car on the list. Just make sure you find one that’s had its IMS bearing replaced and you’ll be good to go.
A damn fast car for under 15k.
Audi TT VR6
Years: 2006 – 2014
Original Price: ~$50,000
Let’s keep this German train rolling for a minute. You may remember the Audi TT as the futuristic people-carrier in the 2004 Will Smith movie I, Robot. I used a movie reference here because depending on where you live, you may never have seen one of these in the wild. It has never reached the same production numbers as some other cars on the list, but anyone who hasn’t experienced a TT is missing out. And you might think $15,000 limits you to the MK1 TT, but not anymore.
Within the last two years, the MK2 TT has started dropping to around $15,000. You can even find the odd VR6 at that price if you’re diligent. The VR6 gets you a 3.2-liter V6 paired to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. The 2-liter four-cylinder version is a thrill to drive on its own, but at 247 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, the VR6 takes that performance to the next level. Also standard on the VR6 is Quattro all wheel drive, meaning this German can get down and dirty in the rain and the snow, when those other cars are hiding in their garages. With the limiter removed, top speed is somewhere north of 170 mph – and Quattro helps you carry more speed through the corners with confidence.
There were some facelifts midway through the MK2, and it’s usually the pre-facelift cars you’ll find in this price range. But what if you want the speed and luxury of the TT, but you want to bring 3 friends along?
Your Fast Cars for Under 15k choice if you want something different.
Years: 2006 – 2009
Original Price: ~$120,000
Four doors. Ten cylinders. All wheel drive. 450 horsepower. 398 lb-ft of torque. 14 miles per gallon. Nearly seventeen feet of glorious German sheet metal. The Audi S8 is 4500 pounds of automotive excess. And it can go 180 miles per hour stock. It’s the second-fastest car on the list, and it’s on sale for 92% off MSRP.
This land yacht has the V10 from the Lamborghini Gallardo, a car which will never cost under 15k for any reason. It’s tuned differently in the S8, but it can still get you to 60 in 5.1 seconds with your friends, luggage, and dog along for the ride. It’s a luxurious place to go fast – supple leather, a big nav screen, speakers that rise out of the dashboard, and a six-speed automatic transmission pamper you as you hurdle toward your destination.
The S8 costs $100,000 less than it did just ten years ago. A hundred grand less. That’s because the type of person who buys a flagship Audi four-door either leases it or buys the new one a few years later. And I can’t deny, this thing is super expensive to fix if something goes wrong. So it fell through the hands of several owners who found that out the hard way, and now it costs a fraction of its original price. Because of fear.
Depreciation 101 – a class taught by big German sedans.
The S8 can outrun almost anything on the road, but because it looks like a plain old saloon car on the outside you won’t have people taking your picture every time you stop for gas. A discerning eye might spot the V10 badge, but if you like to fly under the radar this is the fast car for you.
A no-holds-barred German muscle car.
Subaru WRX STI
Years: 2001 – 2007
Original Price: ~$33,000
YES, YOU CAN GET AN EVO FOR UNDER 15K TOO. Getting that out of the way for the h8rs.
We’ve seen AWD with a big engine, now it’s time for AWD with a small engine. This one isn’t German, but it does have an exotic powerplant. Sort of.
The Subaru STI is a bastion of car culture. It can be anything from a mudslinging rallycross weapon, to a race track legend, to a social media stunner, with perfect stance and impeccable detailing inside and out. STIs unite people of all backgrounds and interests, and that’s because everyone knows how great they are. And for 15k you can have your pick of several generations – with the second generation being the newest one in that range. Good luck finding a stock one, though; that might even cost more because they’re so rare these days. Then again, letting the other guy pay for the mods isn’t always a bad idea.
The 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is a boxer – that means the pistons oppose each other instead of sitting in a line or a V, a rare design in the automotive world – and that means the STI has a boatload of torque. 300 pound-feet to be exact, and 300 horsepower to match. And at about 3300 pounds, it’s light on its feet. It can do a four-wheel burnout in the right hands. In a lot of ways, it drives like a mini GT-R.
Despite having a smaller engine it can reach 160mph with ease. And its all wheel drive system is one of the best ever made. Mods are cheap and easy to do at home, repairs are cheap and breakdowns are rare, and you can customize one however you want.
What other car can look that good in such totally different settings?
Years: 2010 – 2013
Original Price: ~$28,000
Our first and only front-wheel-drive car of the countdown. There would be a Focus ST in this slot, but sometimes you just have to choose a side. There would be a GTI in this slot, but we’ve already favored the Germans. If you haven’t noticed that’s because of their massive depreciations. The Mazda isn’t much better on that front – it’s already 50% off, and some are just five years old. But don’t let that sway you. This is an awesome car – and a properly fast car for under 15k.
The 2.3L turbo four-cylinder engine delivers 264 horsepower and 280 torques. It’s manual-only, and you can do zero to sixty in 5.2 seconds. It can do a quarter mile in 13.9 seconds at 102 miles per hour, on its way to a top speed of 160+. All while getting 25 MPG on the highway with your friends and luggage in tow. There are even a few out there that still have warranties. Not bad, Mazda, not bad.
And like the STI, the Mazdaspeed has a huge following and lots of customization options to make it your own. Check out this one looking sexy in white on Inland Empire Craigslist for $13k – 2013, bone stock, and with just 79k miles.
If you want a car that will last you awhile, this is one of the newest fast cars for under 15k on this list.
Chevrolet Camaro 2SS
Years: 2010 – 2015
Original Price: ~$40,000
“This list is cool and all, but the true meaning of fast is a big American V8 with a shitload of horsepower.”
Well eat your heart out, because you can get an early fifth-generation Camaro 2SS for under 15k. Don’t believe me? Here’s proof (alt here).
AND YES YOU COULD GET A MUSTANG GT TOO. The pseudo-feud between Mustang and Camaro drivers is nearly as old as the Hatfields and McCoys… but there’s never been a Mustang called Bumblebee. I rest my case.
The Camaro 2SS packs a massive 6.2L LS3 backed by a six-speed manual transmission. It’s good for 426 horsepower and 420 torques, or if you get an automatic (please don’t) you get a different engine – an LS3 L99 with 400hp and 410 lb-ft. Either way, the 2SS can shoot to 60 in 4.9 seconds, covers the quarter mile in the 12s, and has a top speed of over 175mph. And it can roast tires for days.
Did you know you can buy the LS3 and many other GM engines without buying the rest of the car?
Here’s another fun fact: back in 2009 GM built a twin-turbo Chevrolet Camaro just for Jay Leno. It had a 3.6L V6 instead of the LS3, but the turbos brought the power output up to 420 horsepower. Ah, the perks of being a gearhead.
It’s a 400-horsepower rear-wheel-drive V8 muscle car for under 15k. What more do you want?
Chevrolet Corvette C6
Years: 2005 – 2013
Original Price: ~$56,000
If the “more” you want is for your big-ass American V8 car to be able to corner as well as it can drag race, you’re going to need a Corvette. And in 2017 the early C6 Vettes crossed that magical $15,000 threshold for the first time, into the realm of mass affordability.
Base C6 Vettes came with a 6-liter LS2 producing 400hp and 400 lb-ft of torque. It’ll hit 60 in 4.2 seconds, and 100 before your friend’s Civic hits 60. Convertibles seem to run a bit cheaper than hardtops, and automatics (why?) are cheaper still. And because that big V8 isn’t trying too hard at 70mph, you can get 30 miles per gallon. See honey, it’s economical!
Not only that, it’s wicked fast. How fast? 186 miles per hour. Stock. And it’ll do it all day long. And if you add in some standard fare performance upgrades, a C6 Corvette will do 200 miles per hour – that’s a football field every second. Which is insane.
So there you have it – by the literal definition, the C6 Corvette is far and away the king of fast cars under 15k. And I imagine 186 is fast enough for you.
186 Isn’t Fast Enough For Me
What’s that? You’re not satisfied with 186? You want a stock vehicle that can go 200 miles per hour, and none of the cars we just talked about fit that bill? But wait! You can outrun any car on this list and get better MPGs than any car on this list, after having spent less than the cost of any car on this list. You’ll just have to give up a few things, like your regard for safety, and those pesky extra wheels.
Years: 1999 – 2007
Original Price: ~$10,000
The first-generation Hayabusa, or GSX1300R, was purpose-built by Suzuki to end the motorcycle speed wars of the 1990s. It’s powered by a 1.3-liter four-cylinder with just 173 horsepower and 99.6 torques, but it weighs under 600 pounds. That’s power-to-weight in action. If you’re just putting around town it gets 37 miles per gallon, and if you twist the throttle and give yourself enough room… it will go 200 miles per hour.
Now I’m not saying you should go out and buy a Hayabusa on Craigslist, find yourself a controlled test area like an airstrip, and take it right up to its top speed. But if you do, keep safety in mind and get yourself a good suit and a great helmet. And great health insurance. It takes a whole lot of time and power to overcome physics at that speed – so you’ll need the right conditions. But nevermind that, you can walk any car on this list, or a Lambo, or a Bugatti, because a Hayabusa will do zero to 60 in 2.3 seconds.
Plenty of motorcycles are capable of going 180+, and a lot of bikes don’t even cost 15k when they’re new. So if you’re dying to break 200 miles per hour and you want to do it on the cheap, the fast car under 15k you need isn’t a car at all.
Well there you have it – the fastest cars you can buy for under $15k. We put a higher importance on newness, but if that isn’t your selling point I highly suggest checking out the C5 Z06, Nissan 350z, and Jaguar XK8. And if you go further back in time, there are plenty of options for fast cars under 15k. Not to mention the possibilities opened up by modifying any number of cars.
Just make sure you do your research when you buy one of these cars – you don’t want to take on a lemon, or a botched project, or one that has been put through too many hard miles without the right maintenance.
Is your car faster than those? Do you know of a car that should of made our fastest cars under 15k list? Tell us about it in the comments!