Quick cars come in all shapes and sizes, but going fast in a straight line isn’t always a budget-friendly endeavour.
That’s where I come in. I put together this list of five affordable fast cars not because I was stuck isolating in a faraway hotel room for 10 days after testing positive for COVID-19, but because I’m a car guy who cares. OK, it’s for both of those reasons that I scoured spec sheets and combed countless car guides to assemble some of my favourites that do the dash to 100 km/h on the quick and the cheap.
Unlike most lists like this, there’s no official price cap – only the somewhat arbitrary parameters of what qualifies as the quickest around for the least amount of money. I should probably also point out that a list like this can never quite be considered definitive, with new models arriving all the time that up the ante.
And that brings me to my next point: it’s a pretty diverse assortment of automobiles, if I do say so myself. From coupes to sedans, hatchbacks, and even electric vehicles (EVs) – there’s a little something for everyone here. Enjoy.
1. Volkswagen Golf R
This list isn’t necessarily in any particular order, but the Volkswagen Golf R seems like a pretty good place to start. And let’s be real: any car that can get from a standstill to 100 km/h in less than five seconds should be classified as quick – even by today’s lofty standards.
The automaker claims its hottest of hatches can do the benchmark sprint in 4.7 seconds when fitted with the dual-clutch automatic transmission that can change gears faster than you can think. The secret – aside from the slick-shifting gearbox, of course – is the combination of VW’s stout turbocharged 2.0L engine and an all-wheel drive system that shuffles torque around in a hurry.
Oh, and about that torque. The four-cylinder generates 295 lb-ft of it when mated to the seven-speed automatic. Opting for the manual means you only get 280 lb-ft of torque – a restriction that had to be put in place to stay within reason of what that transmission can handle. (Fun fact: the six-speed is only available in North America and it carries over from the previous car, hence the torque limit.)
Either way, the 2.0L spins up 315 hp, which isn’t quite enough for the Golf R to qualify for my list of the most powerful cars under $50,000 but its price is – although just barely. With only one trim available, opting for the automatic means a pre-tax price tag of $49,195. The manual is a little cheaper but it’s also slower, bumping this hot hatch from the list along the way.
2. Hyundai Elantra N
If this was a list of cheap and fun cars instead of cheap and fast ones, I definitely would’ve opted for the more affordable GTI over the Golf R. Alas, the 1.5 seconds that separates them in the sprint to highway speed is enough to eliminate that plaid-seated riot machine from contention. When it comes to the Hyundai Elantra N, it surely lands on both lists simultaneously, with the capability for all kinds of quickness, affordability, and fun.
Just like the Golf R, the only option available is a dual-clutch automatic transmission – although there are a handful of paint choices that add $200 to the asking price – and that’s what makes this sporty little sedan such a peppy performer. The Elantra N also uses a 2.0L turbo four-cylinder, with 276 hp and 289 lb-ft of torque channelled to the front wheels rather than all four of them. That makes its claimed zero-to-100 km/h time of 5.3 seconds an impressive one, coming in at nearly a second quicker than the Golf GTI.
Now consider its starting price of $40,524 before tax. The manual transmission is $1,600 cheaper, for those keeping score at home, although it bounces the Elantra N from this list. Either way, that’s a damn fine price for all the car it includes, with adaptive dampers and a limited-slip differential, plus enough creature comforts to make it drivable every day.
3. Chevrolet Corvette
OK, we’re getting into big-budget stuff now, but dollar for dollar the Chevrolet Corvette just might be the reigning champion of quickness. Check the stats: even the entry-level Stingray, with its mid-mounted engine and eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, can take off from a standing start and hit 100 km/h in just about three seconds. That’s electric-car quick, which also happens to make its price tag of about $80,500 before tax – with its requisite Z51 performance pack, I might add – a downright bargain.
That might seem like a bit of a stretch until you consider what this car is up against. It goes beyond the mid-engine layout, but that’s really where it starts, with rivals from brands like McLaren and Ferrari priced well into six figures. There are others, too, like the rear-engine Porsche 911 Carrera 4 GTS that costs twice as much as this Corvette.
The Z51 package adds goodies like an electronic locking limited-slip differential that helps get all 490 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque from the 6.2L V8 to the pavement via the rear wheels. There’s no more manual transmission offered here, with the Corvette relying on an eight-speed dual clutch automatic; but just like the Golf R and Elantra N, the gearbox makes all the difference when it comes to hitting triple-digit speeds so quickly.
4. Hyundai Ioniq 5
The Corvette may deliver quickness like an electric car, but if you’re after actual electric power that’s affordable and fast, the Hyundai Ioniq 5 has to be the way to go – well, unless you consider a rear window wiper a must-have feature.
Jokes aside – although I’m not joking; it doesn’t come with a rear wiper for some mind-bending reason – the Ioniq 5 is a fairly fantastic EV, with decent driving range, quick charging capabilities, and some impressive technology and features. Opting for the top Long Range AWD trim adds tons of torque to the mix, too, which also means impressive acceleration abilities.
First, the details. Unlike the rest of the lineup, which uses a single motor to power the rear wheels, the Long Range AWD, as the name suggests, drives all four of them via a dual-motor setup. Combined output is 320 hp and 446 lb-ft of torque – the latter of which is more than the Ford Mustang GT’s 5.0L V8 generates. All that helps the Ioniq 5 scramble from zero to 100 km/h in an official 5.1 seconds, and take it from me: it’ll do the deed without issue.
All that electric performance doesn’t come cheap, per se, with this range-topping trim ringing in at about $57,000 before tax, depending on paint choice. Yes, that’s more than the gas-powered Golf R that’s about half a second quicker in the bragging-rights run, but it’s competitively priced among mainstream EVs while looking cooler than just about any other car on the road right now.
5. Tesla Model 3
Sticking with the EV theme, the Tesla Model 3 Performance may be small but it packs a punch, covering the run to 100 km/h in a claimed 3.3 seconds. It’s the combination of that quickness with its relative affordability that makes the Model 3’s top trim a value pick among the quickest EVs around.
Of course, relative is the operative word here, as its $84,000 price tag makes it more expensive than any other car on this list, including the Corvette (although that’s gas-powered). But then similarly speedy EVs can easily cost more. Add in the impressive 500-km range and Tesla’s expansive fast-charging network, and the Model 3’s appeal is apparent. While the threat from the likes of the BMW i4 can’t be ignored, lightning-fast – and (relatively) affordable – electrification still starts with Tesla.
There are plenty of other quick and cheap cars on the market, but whittling it down to the five here was a fairly straightforward exercise. Granted, they didn’t have to fit into any specific parameters like pricing or sprint times, which made it a little more subjective; but each one of them represents the best of their respective segments.
Think I missed something? Hit me up. Trust me – I’ve got time.