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Best Used Performance Cars Under $20,000

A performance car can both make your Monday to Friday commute a little more tolerable and allow you to live out your race car fantasies at the track on the weekend. On top of that, you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for one either, and thanks to depreciation and the popularity of hot hatchbacks and turbocharged engines in recent years, it’s easy to find a gently used performance car for under $20,000. Here are eight of our favorite used performance cars under $20,000 for 2020.

2015 Volkswagen GTI

 

2015 Volkswagen GTI

One of the most beloved cars of all time, the GTI offers a little bit of everything. It’s an excellent performance car. The 7th-generation model packs a 2-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder putting out 220 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, sent to the front wheels via either a 6-speed manual transmission or 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. It also comes with a great interior, on par with the offerings of the German luxury brands and the practicality of a spacious hatchback design. The 7th-generation GTI is an excellent all-around vehicle, and right now it’s possible to find a used example for under $20,000 with relative ease. There are currently close to 800 such examples listed for sale on Autotrader. Find a Volkswagen GTI for sale

2015 Honda Civic Si

 

2015 Honda Civic Si

While most of its rivals looked to turbocharging, the 2015 Honda Civic Si makes its power from a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter inline 4-cylinder engine. Total output is 201 hp, which is sent to the front wheels via a 6-speed manual transmission. Kind of like the GTI, the Civic Si is known for being fun to drive but also subtle and understated, making it another great choice for someone wanting an inconspicuous performance car. The Civic Si is available in both sedan and coupe body styles, and given that it carried a base price of around $25,000 when new, it isn’t hard to find a used Civic Si from the Civic’s 9th-generation body style, offered from 2012 to 2015, for around $20,000. There are currently around 650 to choose from on Autotrader. Find a Honda Civic for sale

2015 Fiat 500 Abarth

 

2015 Fiat 500 Abarth

The Fiat 500 Abarth is a blast to drive. Under the hood is a turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that puts out 160 hp, a respectable figure for such a small car. 0-60 miles per hour takes just 6.6 seconds. A 6-speed manual transmission comes standard. One of the 500 Abarth’s most charming features is its grumbly dual-outlet exhaust, making the 500 Abarth one of the few vehicles the casual enthusiast should be able to identify based on its sound alone. Find the right financial incentives, and the 500 Abarth was attainable for around $20,000 when new, and virtually any example you find for sale today will be listed for well below $20,000. There are currently over 150 listed for sale on Autotrader, and several are even listed for around $6,000. Find a Fiat 500 for sale

2015 Mazda Miata

 

2015 Mazda Miata

Heralded as arguably the purest driver’s car of all time, the Mazda MX-5 Miata offers exceptional balance, great handling and a usable amount of power. Under the hood of the 2015 model was a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine putting out 167 hp and 140 lb-ft of torque. Base models came with a 5-speed manual, while the manual offered in the Club and Grand Touring models had six gears. The best thing about the Miata may be that you can drive it near its limit, using all 167 ponies without getting yourself into trouble with the police or with a ditch on the side of the road. The NC Miata was offered with either a folding soft-top or a power-folding hardtop. At the $20,000 mark, look to a 2009-2015 NC Miata with low miles. There are currently around 200 to choose from on Autotrader, half of which come with a manual transmission. Find a Mazda Miata for sale

2015 Ford Focus ST

 

2015 Ford Focus ST

A competitor to the Volkswagen GTI and Civic Si, the Focus ST was introduced for the 2013 model year and was instantly thought of as a worthy alternative to those aforementioned rivals. At a time when the VW and Honda both made right around 200 hp, the Focus ST brought a whopping 252 horses to the party with its turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. A 6-speed manual was the only transmission offered and sent power to the front wheels. Beyond that, the Focus ST came with an aggressive body kit, bigger wheels and a few unique color options. Additionally, the Focus ST was notably more playful around corners than its rivals and came with some of the same tossable characteristics common with rear-wheel-drive cars. There are currently over 500 2013-or-newer Focus STs listed for sale on Autotrader for about $20,000, over 350 of which are updated 2015-or-newer models. Find a Ford Focus for sale

2015 Ford Fiesta ST

 

2015 Ford Fiesta ST

Another great value, the Fiesta ST comes with everything buyers look for in a practical performance car — a turbocharged engine, a manual transmission and sporty handling — but in a downsized subcompact car package. The Fiesta ST was introduced for the 2014 model year as a follow-up to the compact Focus ST and came with a 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine making 197 hp and 214 lb-ft of torque — big output for such a little car. Beyond that, the Fiesta ST offers four doors and hatchback practicality. Sold from the 2014 through 2019 model years, there are currently around 200 Fiesta STs listed on Autotrader for around $20,000 or less. Find a Ford Fiesta for sale

2015 Subaru WRX

 

2015 Subaru WRX

As far as performance cars under $20,000 go, a used Subaru WRX is probably the best option for buyers looking for all-wheel drive. While its interior isn’t as nice as that of the VW or Honda, the WRX makes up for the shortcomings of its cabin in two ways. First, it comes standard with 4-wheel traction, not to mention Subaru’s rallying pedigree. Second, it makes considerably more power than even the Focus ST, putting out 268 ponies from its turbocharged 2.5-liter boxer 4-cylinder. This is enough for a 0-60 run in the mid-to-low 5-second range. While previous models got a 5-speed, the 2015 WRX came fitted with a new 6-speed manual. Right now on Autotrader, buyers have over 350 examples to choose from at the $20,000 price point. Find a Subaru WRX for sale

2015 Scion FR-S

 

2015 Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S

Like a Mazda Miata with a fixed roof, the Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S twins (the latter sold as the Toyota 86 since the 2017 model year) follow the simple formula of moderate power paired with superb driving dynamics. Virtually identical to one another save for some slightly different styling elements, the BRZ and 86 come with a naturally aspirated boxer 4-cylinder that makes 200 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. While they’ve been criticized for their lack of power since their debut, the BRZ and FR-S twins are an appropriate option even for young drivers given their relatively tame nature, especially when compared to other RWD options like the Ford Mustang or BMW 3-Series. There are currently hundreds of sub-$20,000 Subaru BRZs and Scion FR-Ss to choose from on Autotrader. Find a Subaru BRZ for sale or Find a Ford Focus for sale

Chris O'Neill
Chris O'Neill is an author specializing in competitive analysis, consumer recommendations, and adventure-driven enthusiast content. A lifelong car enthusiast, he worked in the auto industry for a bit, helping Germans design cars for Americans, and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He runs an Instagram account, @MountainWestCarSpotter, which in his own words is "actually pretty good", and has a... Read More about Chris O'Neill

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