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Top 6 Fun Cars for $25,000

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2012 Chevrolet Camaro

author photo by Jeffrey Archer August 2012

Although it was once true that shoppers interested in sports cars like the Ford Mustang had to step up to a top-line trim level for exciting performance, that's no longer the case. We've rounded up several of our favorite sporty cars that provide exciting thrills even in their most basic trim levels. And we've capped our budget at $25,000, ensuring that performance-minded shoppers don't have to break the bank to have a little fun.

Chevrolet Camaro

Chevrolet's sporty Camaro packs a lot of thrills into its base price of around $24,000--even in the V6-powered LS trim level. While that model may not boast the 6.2-liter V8 found in the Camaro SS, it still produces a stunning 323 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. That's enough for zero-to-60 times of around six seconds, and that's despite fuel economy figures of just below 20 miles per gallon in the city and nearly 30 mpg on the highway. Best of all, the Camaro LS boasts a long list of equipment, including automatic headlights, Bluetooth, satellite radio and cruise control. This one will never feel like a "base model" car.

Dodge Challenger

With a base price of $24,995 before shipping, the Dodge Challenger tugs violently on our $25,000 budget. But with parent company Chrysler offering several attractive incentives on the retro-styled coupe, we think most shoppers can walk away with a V6-powered Challenger SXT for around $25,000 or less. And while it's no V8-powered Challenger R/T, the SXT still boasts Chrysler's muscular Pentastar V6--a robust new power plant that's good for 305 hp and 268 lb-ft of torque. While some shoppers may lament the lack of a manual gearbox in the SXT, those who would prefer to let the car do the shifting will enjoy the Challenger thanks to zero-to-60 times of around 6.3 seconds, not to mention styling that draws jealous gazes on the road.

Ford Mustang

Priced from $22,200 before destination, the sporty V6-powered Mustang is a great choice for shoppers interested in a brand new high-performance car without splurging on a $31,000-plus Mustang GT. And while the Mustang V6 doesn't offer the same brawny 420-hp as its V8 stable mate, we think the V6 still provides ample thrills thanks to its 305 hp, 280 lb-ft of torque and standard 6-speed manual transmission. Best of all, the Mustang V6 offers a far superior fuel economy to the GT, with an EPA-estimated 19 mpg in the city and up to 31 mpg on the highway with its available 6-speed automatic transmission.

Hyundai Genesis Coupe

Although the Genesis Coupe's base price of $24,250 before destination is testing the limits of our budget, we think savvy shoppers might be able to negotiate a deal on the sporty two-door, even in light of its recent update for 2013. And while it would be easy to get a leftover 2012 Genesis Coupe for under $25,000, we strongly recommend the new model. The 2013 Genesis features a new 274-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which boasts 60 horses more than its predecessor. And while the Genesis Coupe's available 348-hp V6 is tempting, we hardly think it's necessary, especially since this engine can scoot to 60 mph from a standing stop in just six seconds and still do up to 30 mpg in highway driving.

Mini Cooper

Sure, the turbocharged Mini Cooper S offers a delightful driving experience in the corners. But for shoppers who don't want to risk a ticket--or spend a fortune on fuel--we think the base-level Mini Cooper provides a more than adequate alternative. While its 121-hp 1.6-liter 4-cylinder doesn't offer tremendous power, the small hatchback still handles terrifically thanks to taut suspension and a wide front track. The Mini Cooper also flirts with 40 mpg in highway driving with its standard 5-speed manual transmission and reaches nearly 30 mpg with either manual or available automatic transmissions in city driving.

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Volkswagen GTI

Volkswagen's 256-hp Golf R is certainly a tempting new proposition, but we think most buyers will be highly satisfied with a base-level GTI. While its 200-hp 4-cylinder may not seem muscular, the engine's turbocharged power delivery and ample torque help propel the hatchback to 60 mph from a standing stop in just 6.2 seconds. Not only is that less than a second behind the Golf R, the GTI is also far more affordable, with a base price of around $24,500 after destination. Best of all, the GTI achieves surprisingly miserly fuel economy figures of 21 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway with its standard 6-speed manual transmission--that is, if you can keep your foot from constantly mashing the accelerator.

What it means to you: If you're interested in a sporty new ride at a reasonable price, our list has several great base-model options that provide just that.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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Top 6 Fun Cars for $25,000 - Autotrader