Who doesn't want a car that's a bit special? This is the list for those who are in the market for some cheap speed, luxury, or just pure driving pleasure. It should be pointed out that most of these picks are older cars that once cost a small fortune. Luckily, depreciation is playing into our favor today. Other cars on this list were regular cars back in the day, but they're now getting rarer and prices have started to climb - this is definitely the time to get one of those appreciating classics.
This list is hardly exhaustive; there are plenty of cheap cars out there that will deliver all the thrills we could ever ask for. However, repair costs can be significant, so make sure the car is thoroughly checked out before handing over the cash and flooring the throttle on a curvy road.
20 Audi S4
The S4 is a blast to drive and can go from zero to 60 in about 5.6 seconds thanks to the twin-turbocharged 250 hp 30-valve DOHC V-6 paired to a six-speed manual transmission that powers the Quattro all-wheel-drive system. This is one of the fastest cars under 5K with a top speed around 155 mph. Thanks to its age, you should be able to pick one up for around $5,000.
19 Porsche Boxster
Though it may be tough to find a first-gen Boxster under five grand, they're out there. Some people make silly comments about it being a hairdresser's car, and that it's not a 911, but the truth is that thanks to its mid-engine layout and flat-six engine, it's actually more balanced than the 911. You'll still have to deal with the questionable looks though.
18 BMW 7-Series
You don’t have to be a top executive to buy a 7-Series. While the older models aren't going to hug the corners like a high-end sports car, if you are looking for brute power combined with a ton of luxury, this is the vehicle for you. The base engine is a 4.4L V8 that produces 282hp. Or you can upgrade to the 5.4L V12 engine with 326hp.
17 Chevy Camaro SS
The Camaro was available with different engines. The 3.8 V6 was fun but not outrageous, or you could get the SS version with a 5.7-liter V8 producing 320 horses - a six-speed manual was optional equipment. The interior was less than impressive, with lots of plastic, limited visibility, and a very cramped seating area, but once you are behind the wheel it really starts to shine.
16 Jeep Wrangler
The Jeep Wrangler is universally cool, easy to work on and infinitely customizable - or you could keep it stock and it still looks good. Also, consider this: Take the doors off any other vehicle and it looks ready for the junkyard. Take the doors off a Jeep, however, and it looks ready to conquer the world. And let's not forget its grandfather was a war hero.
15 Mazda Miata
If you have no idea what car to buy, get yourself a Miata - it offers one of the best driving experiences on the planet: Rear-wheel drive, lively handling, rev-happy engines, delightful manual gearboxes. And did we mention it's a convertible?! Going with a second-gen NB over the first-generation NA means you'll get a little bit more power and the availability of a six-speed manual.
14 Nissan 300ZX
The 300ZX was produced in the U.S. until 1996 so grab one of the 1993-1996 models if possible. While low mileage examples can still go for $20K, if you are willing to buy a high mileage option, you can easily find one under $5,000. The twin-turbocharged DOHC 24-valve 3.0-liter V-6 could produce 280-300 horsepower depending on the trim level - enough power to propel it to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds.
13 VW Corrado
The Corrado was available with the 16-valve engine, the supercharged 1.8 liter G60, and the glorious VR6. The easiest to find for less than $5,000 would be the 16-valve, but occasionally one of the other models pop up at a great price. The Corrado had an ace up its sleeve compared to other sporty coupes of its time: an active rear spoiler that would rise automatically at speeds of over 50 mph.
12 Toyota MR2
Whether you're looking for a first-, second-, or third-generation MR2 to add to your garage, you should be able to find one that fits your $5,000 budget. The first generation is considered an appreciating classic these days, the second-gen is the sportiest and most powerful of the bunch, and the third-gen is a cool little roadster made for twisty roads.
11 Jaguar XJ
It doesn't get much classier than a Jag, but did you know you could get behind the wheel of a Jaguar for less than 5 grand? The Jaguar XJ-Series offers a powerful 4.0L V8 with 290 hp. The cabin is incredibly luxurious for a car of its age. And then there's the iconic Jaguar circular headlights and hood ornament. Overall, this Jag might be getting older, but it's still very capable.
10 Ford Mustang
One of the most popular cars in the world, the Ford Mustang has been an icon since the ‘60s. The Ford Mustang GT from the 90s is an impressively fast car for under $5000. Aside from the classic Mustang design, you’ll be pleased with the growling 4.6L V8 pumping out 225 hp. There’s a lot of value in this package, as it’s both reliable and fun to drive.
9 Toyota Celica
The last generation Toyota Celica has character. Ok, so it doesn't have a huge engine, but it really doesn't need one because it’s still fun to drive. The little 1.8L is perfect for this sporty coupe, offering either 140, or 190 horsepower. It won’t win many drag races, but if you want a car with a radical design that’s great fun to drive, this might be the car for you.
8 Honda Civic
Yeah, we know it has a ricer image. Here's the thing though, most of the ricers have moved on to other cars, which makes this the perfect time to get a Civic. Some models are already getting more expensive, but whether you go for an early 90s EG-model, a late nineties EK, or early 2000s EP, you'll get a fun, high-revving canyon carving machine.
7 Mazda RX7
Ok, so you won't find the stunning third-generation twin-turbo RX-7 for under $5000. Heck, you'd struggle to find one for under $10,000 - those things are as popular as ever. But you can get naturally aspirated versions of the first two generations, the FB or FC, for less than five grand. The rotary engine might be tricky to maintain, but it's so cool, it's definitely worth it!
6 Mercedes-Benz SLK230
The first-gen SLK has finally depreciated under the $5000-mark, so now it's possible to get a stylish and sporty Benz for not a lot of money. Finding one with a manual transmission may prove to be a bit tougher, though. The SLK is also a perfect starting point for those who enjoy modifying their cars.
5 Porsche 944
If brand name recognition is your thing, there's no better cheap car than the Porsche 944. Though it may not be rear-engined, it still drives like a Porsche and has the same wonderful build quality. It's a great all-rounder, offering great performance both as a daily commuter and as a track-day weapon on the weekends.
4 Chevy Corvette
Seeing how many people say the C4 is the "worst" Corvette, there are plenty of deals to be had on them. Sure, you won't find a late-production six-speed for under $5000, but there should be plenty of early cars available that are within budget. A chance to own a piece of American sports car history for just a fistful of dollars.
3 Subaru WRX
If you need a cheap performance car that can plow through any terrain, the bugeye WRX is an obvious choice that'll get the job done. With a turbocharged boxer-four, it shouldn't have any trouble muscling through the toughest of blizzards. Stay away from highly tuned versions as they have a tendency to blow up. A few sensible mods is ok though.
2 BMW E30
Though E30 prices are on the rise, it's still possible to find a good example for less than $5000. For that kind of money you're looking at a ratty 325, or a four-cylinder in good condition. Our pick? The 318is. It's got decent power and is well-balanced. Just be on the lookout for rust.
1 Mercedes 190E
The 190E was the last truly over-engineered Merc, and that's one of the reasons you'll want one. Forget the 16-valve Cosworth models though, they're way out of our budget. The 8v versions are too slow, that leaves us with the very competent straight-six version... or... the diesel! We'd take the 5-cylinder 2.5-liter diesel every time. It's highly tunable and can easily withstand 450+ horsepower.