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Top 8 Used Performance Cars Under $20,000 for 2019

Everyone should own a performance car at some point in their life. Thanks to the popularity of hot hatchbacks and affordable roadsters, sports car ownership is no longer reserved for the rich, and it isn’t hard to find a vehicle that can take you to and from the office during the week and to the track on the weekends. Here are eight of our favorite performance cars that you can get for around $20,000 or less.

Ford Fiesta ST

2014-Present Ford Fiesta ST

The Ford Fiesta ST is probably the best overall value on the performance car market, and given its low starting price, it isn’t hard to find a gently used — or even brand new — Fiesta ST for under $20,000. Offered exclusively as a 4-door hatchback here in the U.S., the Fiesta ST uses a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine putting out 197 horsepower and 214 lb-ft of torque, which is on par with larger vehicles like the Volkswagen Golf GTI and the Honda Civic Si. Buyers love the Fiesta ST for it great handling, style, practicality and efficiency. Right now, there are close to 500 Fiesta STs on Autotrader for $20,000 or less, over 150 of which are brand new. Find a Ford Fiesta for sale

Fiat 500 Abarth

2012-2018 Fiat 500 Abarth

If the Fiesta ST is the best performance car value on the market today, the Fiat 500 Abarth is a close second. Given the Fiat 500’s low starting price, the vast majority of used 500 Abarths on the market sell for under $20,000. Way under, in fact, and higher mileage examples are listed for as little as $6,000. On the other hand, there are even a few brand new 500 Abarths available for under $20,000. Either way, the 500 Abarth offers respectable performance, emphasized by its tiny footprint. Powering the 500 Abarth is a 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine putting out 160 hp, respectable for a vehicle that comes in at under 13 feet in length. Thanks to this power, the Abarth gets from 0-to-60 mph in a brisk 6.6 seconds. Additionally, the Abarth offers crisp, nimble handling and a fun grumbly exhaust note that is sure to turn heads. While a brand new 500 Abarth is in play at the $20,000 price point, we recommend taking the gently-used route, as these things tend to depreciate quickly, due to Fiat’s lack of brand recognition and uncertain future here in the U.S. There are currently over 300 Fiat 500 Abarths listed on Autotrader for under $20,000. Find a Fiat 500 for sale

Honda S2000

2000-2009 Honda S2000

As far as modern-day sports cars go, the Honda S2000 is one of a kind. The S2000 came with one of the most efficient powertrains in the world: a naturally-aspirated 2-liter 4-cylinder putting out 240 hp, a remarkable feat for an engine without a turbocharger. All came with a 6-speed manual transmission. Early iterations of the S2000 were known as the AP1, and came with a very high, motorcycle-esque redline of 8,800 rpm, requiring liberal use of the gas pedal for fast acceleration. The AP2 S2000, otherwise known as the second-generation model, rectified this a bit by bringing that redline down to a saner 8,000. Either way, the S2000 offers a supremely unique driving experience. Thanks to its unique powertrain, conservative styling, convertible top and excellent handling, the S2000 will always have appeal among the enthusiast crowd, meaning that these things are likely to hold their value, if not increase in value, in the future. Therefore, picking one up today might not be a bad idea, and there are currently around 150 listed on Autotrader for under $20,000. Find a Honda S2000 for sale

Honda Civic Si

2012-2015 Honda Civic Si

The Civic Si is offered in both coupe and sedan form. Regardless of which one you choose, Civic Si buyers are getting great performance backed by Honda reliability. The Civic Si comes exclusively with a 6-speed manual transmission paired with a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, and to this day, the Civic Si is one of the only performance cars on the market not offered with a turbocharged engine. The Civic puts out 201 hp while still returning around 25 miles per gallon in combined driving. Right now on Autotrader, there are close to 500 2012-2015 Civic Si’s listed on Autotrader for around $20,000 or less. A handful of examples of the current generation Civic Si, introduced for 2016, are listed for under $20,000 as well. Find a Honda Civic for sale

2016-2017 Mazda Miata

The Mazda Miata is legendary for offering top-down fun in a roadster package. Now in its fourth-generation, early examples of the “ND” Miata, as the fourth-generation Miata is known, have begun to creep down into the $20,000 range. Powered by a 155 hp naturally aspirated 4-cylinder, the Miata is about power that you can use, and it’s an exceptionally fun car to drive regardless of your skill level or how fast you’re going. Buyers can choose between a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters, but we recommend the manual. Right now on Autotrader, there are over 125 2016 or 2017 Miatas listed for around $20,000 — more than half of which offer a manual transmission. Buyers should also consider the Fiat 124 Spider, which shares its platform with the Miata. Right now on Autotrader, there are close to 100 124 Spyders listed for $20,000 or less. Find a Mazda MX-5 Miata for sale

Subaru WRX

2015-2017 Subaru WRX

The Subaru WRX offers practical all-wheel drive and a 4-cylinder turbocharged engine putting out a potent 268 hp and mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. The WRX favors performance and simplicity over features and interior refinement, so anyone prioritizing comfort may want to look elsewhere. Unfortunately, while a hatchback variant was offered in the past, the 2015-and-newer WRX is only available as a sedan. Still, if you want a vehicle with a rallying-pedigree, a WRX is the way to go. Early examples of the current generation model — which came out for the 2015 model year — can now be found for around $20,000 or less, and there are currently around 150 such vehicles listed on Autotrader. If you really want a hatchback, consider an older, third-gen model, sold from 2008 through 2014, of which there are currently around 500 listed on Autotrader. Find a Subaru WRX for sale

Volkswagen Golf GTI

2015-2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI

Most enthusiasts will agree that the Volkswagen GTI is one of the best cars of all time. Period. This is due to a number of reasons, including its nimble handling, practical hatchback design and overall fit and finish. Additionally, the GTI is a great bargain, with brand new 2019 models costing between $28,000 and $37,000. Thanks to depreciation, buyers can easily find gently used examples of the seventh-generation GTI that is currently on sale today for right around $20,000, or sometimes less. Currently on Autotrader, there are over 700 2015 to 2017 Volkswagen GTIs offered for around $20,000 or less. Perhaps surprisingly, over half of these offer the unique 7-speed dual clutch automatic, which comes with paddle shifters and launch control. Whether you opt for the manual or the automatic, the GTI makes for a supremely fun vehicle, and a 2015-2017 model should be high on the list of anyone shopping for a used performance car. Find a Volkswagen GTI for sale

Toyota 86

2012-2017 Toyota 86/Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ

The Toyota 86, the Scion FR-S and the Subaru BRZ are all essentially the same vehicle, co-developed by Toyota and Subaru. Note that the Scion FR-S was offered through the 2016 model year and renamed the Toyota 86 starting in 2017 after Toyota opted to discontinue its Scion brand. Offering rear-wheel drive, balanced steering and a low center of gravity, the “Toyobaru” triplets prioritize approachability and driving enjoyment over raw power and acceleration. Running an Autotrader search for all three returns over 600 listings that would work for someone with a budget of $20,000 or less, with the least expensive examples selling for around $12,000. Each vehicle comes powered by the same naturally-aspirated 4-cylinder engine putting out 200 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. Despite criticism that it’s underpowered, drivers of all skill levels can handle the 86/FR-S/BRZ, something that can’t be said for brutish muscle cars like the Ford Mustang. Like the Mazda Miata, this makes this trio of RWD coupes great for track days and for anyone wanting to experience driving in its purest form. While both an automatic and manual transmission are available, we recommend the manual, as rowing your own gears is what these cars are all about. Find a Toyota 86 for sale or Find a Scion FR-S for sale or Find a Subaru BRZ for sale

2013-2018 Ford Focus ST

2013-2018 Ford Focus ST

The bigger brother to the subcompact Fiesta ST, the compact Focus ST was introduced here in the U.S. for the 2013 model year to compete with the likes of the Volkswagen GTI and the Honda Civic Si. Offering an impressive 252 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque from a turbocharged 2.0 liter 4-cylinder engine, the Focus ST offered around 20 percent more power than the competition at the time of its release, although competitors like the GTI have begun to catch up in recent years. Additionally, the Focus ST came with a smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission, sport seats, a body kit and a cool center-outlet exhaust, which served to differentiate it from lesser Focus models. Overall, the Focus ST offers great handling, good acceleration and has proven to be fun and flickable around the track, although its interior isn’t quite up to par with the competition. Still, a used Focus ST is a great buy at under $20,000, and buyers currently have close to 500 to choose from on Autotrader, around 300 of which are the updated 2015-or-newer model. 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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