Cheapest Fast Cars in 2023

For many the magic number is $40,000. Above that, and some begin to think, ‘Too much for a car.’

If that’s you, or if $40k is your limit, you’ve nothing to worry about, even if it’s a performance car you’re after. You can get a superb performance machine for under $40,000. Here we take you through the facts and take-home messages about some of the best on the market.

These cars are rapid, fun, and won’t break the bank!

If you’re shopping for a performance coupe or a hatch that offers good performance and handling, you might imagine you won’t find much that’s affordable. Prices for new cars are rising fast, but it’s still possible to get a thrilling hot hatch or a slingshot rapid coupe for monies that won’t break the budget. The models you see here all offer a performance variant for less than $40,000.

These cars may not always be their brand’s absolute quickest or fastest model, but given the still modest price, that’s fair enough. But what they are are very fast cars that give huge driver thrills. You can get plenty of enjoyment from them whether you race or take it easy at more leisurely ride speeds. These are cars where very little will ever disappoint. The overall package in all these models is polished, accomplished and offers sound value.

2023 Subaru WRX

$30,605 | 271 hp | USN Performance Score: 6.8/10

The Subaru may polarize views about its styling, and for some there is too much black plastic, but what is generally agreed upon is the car’s performance and potential. It comes with a turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 271 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, but Subaru also offers a continuously variable all-wheel drive option that gives you excellent all-weather traction and that many think makes this among the grippiest of cars in this bracket. The run from 0-60 mph takes around 5.5 seconds. Its top speed of 155 mph is likely to be fast enough for most!

Summary Table:

Engine Turbocharged 2.4-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower 271 bhp
Top Speed 155 mph
0-60 mph 5.5 seconds

2023 Kia Stinger GT-Line

$36,590 | 300 hp | USN Performance Score: 8.0/10

The Stinger still gets too little attention, in our view. The base engine in the 2023 Kia Stinger is great for everyday driving and offers striking performance when you go for it. It produces 300 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque and comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission and either rear or all-wheel drive.

More than just a performance vehicle, the Stinger offers class leading interior space, upper-end finishes and it has smooth and extensive tech. Be aware, however, that Kia has no long term plans to continue the Stinger and we expect this 2023 model to be the last.

Summary Table:

Engine Turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower 300 bhp
Top Speed 130 mph
0-60 mph 5.3 seconds

2023 Dodge Challenger R/T

$39,385 | 375 hp | USN Performance Score: 7.2/10

We really admire the Challenger. (Check out our reviews of the Charger and Challenger Hellcats.) But sadly the 2023 Dodge Challenger brings an era to a close, as Dodge will discontinue the cars after this year’s model to concentrate on electrified muscle cars. Until then, we can savor the Challenger R/T’s wonderful 5.7-liter V8, which produces 375 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque.

Power is delivered to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. The V8 delivers a powerfully singular sound and a 0-60 mph time of 5.0 seconds. As an added bonus, the Challenger is a very spacious and comfortable family cruiser with decent tech and solid interior construction.

Summary Table:

Engine 5.7-liter V8
Horsepower 375 bhp
Top Speed 155 mph
0-60 mph 5.0 seconds

2023 Hyundai Kona N

$34,700 | 276 hp | USN Performance Score: 8.2/10

Another understated contender, the 2023 Hyundai Kona N is a great value fast family car. It will take you by surprise behind the wheel, and it offers surprising performance when outfitted with its optional turbocharged version of its 4-cylinder 276 horsepower engine. This turbo-four is paired with a responsive and quick-shifting eight-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Though the standard Kona is available with AWD, for performance reasons, we presume, Hyundai only offers the Kona N with front-wheel drive. That said, this is a fleet of foot and nimble machine that can weave its way up a canyon pass with a level of agility not many others match.

Summary table:

Engine Turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower 276 bhp
Top Speed 150 mph
0-60 mph 5.1 seconds

2023 Honda Civic Si

$28,500 | 200 hp | USN Performance Score: 8.4/10

Redesigned for 2023, the new Honda Civic Si comes out with less garish styling and more refined driving dynamics. This is not a criticism! The turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine provides you with 200 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque. Less than some others, but it doesn’t always feel like it. A six-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive come as the standard set-up.

The Civic’s handling and ride quality remain outstanding, and are again among the best in its class. This is a classy, enriching and rewarding driver’s car that is also a superb family option. Its upscale interior is spacious and has great levels of storage.

Engine Turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower 200 bhp
Top Speed 137 mph
0-60 mph 6.6 seconds

2023 BMW X1 xDrive28i

$39,100 | 228 hp | USN Performance Score: 8.4/10

The 2023 BMW X1 will be even more surprising to you than the Hyundai Kona might be. In spite of its boxiness, it is agile and quick, and its turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine whacks out 228 horsepower. All-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission come as the standard set-up. There’s a lot of power on tap for all driving styles. The X1 is smooth, but also able to hold its own when the bends come along.

Inside, the X1 has comfortable seats, though its back seat space is a weakness.

Summary table:

Engine Turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower 228 bhp
Top Speed 129 mph
0-60 mph 6.2 seconds

2023 Mazda 3 2.5 Turbo Hatchback

$32,450 | 250 hp | USN Performance Score: 8.4/10

The 2023 Mazda 3 is outstanding. It does an incredible job of blending performance, comfort and luxury in a package that is truly incredible value. Its turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder makes 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque, and the standard six-speed automatic transmission keeps the engine working hard, but does it effectively. The 3 also offers highly responsive and agile handling while delivering a smooth ride in almost all driving scenarios.

If you’ve a family, be aware the cabin is not as spacious as some rivals, but it’s a pleasing place to sit in over long journeys and it’s comfortable.

Summary table:

Engine Turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower 227 bhp
Top Speed 134 mph
0-60 mph 5.9 seconds

2023 BMW 230i Coupe

$36,350 | 255 hp | USN Performance Score: 8.5/10

The 2023 BMW 230i brings style and performance together and the combo makes it a fun and engaging car to drive. It’s got a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and it offers up 255 horsepower and 294 pound-feet of torque. The 230i comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive, though BMW also offers front wheel drive and AWD.

The car offers good ride quality and competent handling, and because it’s rear-wheel drive handling and driving dynamics are more appealing to some enthusiasts than a front-drive car.

Summary table:

Engine Turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower 255 bhp
Top Speed 155 mph
0-60 mph 5.5 seconds

2023 Toyota GR86

$27,900 | 228 hp | USN Performance Score: 8.5/10

The splendid Toyota GR86 got an overhaul for 2023 and it has brought a boost to the power that makes a difference. The car now has 228 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, giving it the punch it lacked before. It remains lively at higher speeds, where cruising and passing at speed is a cinch, but it’s perhaps not quite as raw in its power delivery as some others.

Even taller drivers will find an intuitive and ergonomic interior with a great deal of space. It’s those in the back seat, however, who may be complaining, as it’s tight.

Summary table:

Engine 2.4-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower 228 bhp
Top Speed 140 mph
0-60 mph 6.0 seconds

2023 Subaru BRZ

$28,595 | 228 hp | USN Performance Score: 8.5/10

The 2023 Subaru BRZ shares a platform with the Toyota GR86, so it has benefited from the same 2023 upgrades. That therefore means it, too, generates 228 horsepower from a naturally-aspirated 4-cylinder engine and a standard six-speed manual transmission. Power hits the rear wheels, and with the recent upgrade there’s enough power to get the car moving with real gusto.

The car offers good room in the front, and the bucket seats bring ample cushioning and support. As with the Toyota, however, it’s not nearly as comfortable for those in the rear.

Summary table:

Engine 2.4-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower 228 bhp
Top Speed 140 mph
0-60 mph 6.0 seconds

2023 Chevrolet Camaro LT1

$36,400 | 455 hp | USN Performance Score: 8.8/10

There are many ways to configure the 2023 Chevy Camaro but the sub-$40,000 LT1 model brings an enormous amount of power from its 6.2-liter V8. With 455 horsepower and 455 pound-feet of torque on deck, the LT1 can slingshot from 0-60 in just over four seconds.

General Motors is well-known for its chassis tuning and handling prowess, and the Camaro is superb in that area. It’s an excellent companion on the track or any curvy backroad. That said, some drivers find the visibility poor, and at speeds that can matter.

Summary table:

Engine 6.2-liter V8
Horsepower 455 bhp
Top Speed 165 mph
0-60 mph 4.3 seconds

2023 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring

$32,650 | 181 hp | USN Performance Score: 8.9/10

This is a roadster that, among its fans, has legendary status. This iconic roadster improves with age and we love it, even though it is now notably larger than the original car it was modeled on. It offers astonishing handling, and the 181 horsepower is a joy to work with.

The Miata’s steering is responsive, and the body roll is perfectly judged to thrill, without any loss of confidence in the car. Though it’s not the fastest car on sale, part of the Miata’s potency comes from how much it communicates with the driver. Few other cars anywhere near this price bracket can match it for that.

Summary table:

Engine 2.0-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower 181 bhp
Top Speed 143 mph
0-60 mph 5.7 seconds

2023 Volkswagen GTI

$30,530 | 241 hp | USN Performance Score: 9.0/10

The 2023 VW GTi got a bit of criticism for its tech and infotainment situation, but in purely driving terms it’s one of the best performance cars around. Its turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine provides 241 horsepower and it gets sent to the front wheels through a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The powertrain is responsive and delivers great performance in the corners, thanks to a new differential that improves handling and helps eliminate torque steer.

The GTi also offers a family decent storage and space, better than some far larger cars. It’s also excellent value, as you can max out options and trims and still stay under $40,000.

Engine Turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower 241 bhp
Top Speed 155 mph
0-60 mph 5.1 seconds

2023 Ford Mustang GT

$38,345 | 450 hp | USN Performance Score: 9.4/10

We really admire this car. The 2023 Ford Mustang is a classic muscle car with great handling and some fine technology. Its 5.0-liter V8 delivers a huge 450 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque, and it gets sent to the rear wheels through a six-speed manual or an amazing 10-speed automatic. It’s a potent combination that delivers lightning acceleration and a glorious sound.

The Mustang is agile in spite of its scale and power and it has a good ride quality at all speeds.

Summary table:

Engine 5.0-liter V8
Horsepower 450 bhp
Top Speed 168 mph
0-60 mph 4.4 seconds