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Forgotten (and cheap) performance cars of the early 2000s

What are some of the best cars of the early 2000s? One reader asks for reasonable options - but how about offering cars that are forgotten?


The mailbag returns this week with a bit of a nostalgia piece – what are some of the best affordable cars of the early 2000s? I don my sideways hat and answer. If you have a question, email me, and I might just answer it in a column of your very own.


Hi Mike–

I’m about your age (38), and recently read your Nissan Z review. I must say, I’m sad it’s not a better car. Or more updated. Feels like I should just look into an older model and save the money. Do you agree? And what are some other cars from the early 2000s that you’d recommend?

PS – I cannot afford a Ferrari.

– Zach


Zach references a car that I was so excited to drive, but the expectations fell a bit short of reality. Times have changed, but the Z has not.

Since it looks like he’s trying to relive his college years, let’s help. We’ll define this as any car available from 2000 through 2009, and since every car I list is very much out of production, I’ll give prices for cheaper and more expensive models.

But let’s skip over the usual suspects, shall we? So many great cars existed during that time.

Dodge Viper
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you – the 2000s!

Here’s my top five best (and cheapest) performance cars of the early 2000s. Let’s really bring back the vibe with original shots from the 2007 New York Auto Show, terrible framing and all.

Look out, things are going to get weird.

Subaru Legacy 2.5GT Spec.B

Alas, even I do not have an image of the mighty Legacy. Photo: Cars & Bids

The goal here isn’t to regurgitate the same tired performance car suspects, which includes the Evo and WRX. Fine cars they are, but I’d call some of them pricey. A 2009 WRX for $25k? Please.

Instead, let’s give you the good bits, namely a six-speed manual and turbocharged 243-horsepower flat-four, along with rally-inspired all-wheel drive. Then, let’s stick it in a family sedan: the Subaru Legacy 2.5GT Spec.B. Hell, it even has a hood scoop.

An Subaru from 2007, just not the Subaru.

It’s been a long time, but I have driven them and the speed and feel were on par with a Nissan 350Z. Add in the fact that you can take the kids for a ride, and I think I’m on to something.

The best part is the price. You can grab these for less than $15,000, even less if they need a little love. Throw on some performance tires and you’re good to go. Bye WRX and Evo.

By the way, Subaru announced that the Legacy is dying – 2025 is its last year. I know, I forgot about it too.

Infiniti G37

Infiniti G37
With a six-speed manual and 3.5-liter V-6? Come on, they are fun!

Sadly, the used Nissan Z landscape has been decimated with ill-advised tunes and questionable body add-ons. I could sneak in a 2009 370Z, but for the exact same price, you can grab something much better: an Infiniti.

Right, not much better. The G37 has the same engine and transmission options as the Z, but the sedan can carry more, and the coupe looks better. There’s even a hard-top convertible.

Infiniti G37
The interior is what it is – could do worse.

I used to own a G37 S sedan, and I loved it. Better steering than an E9X M3, wonderful automatic transmission (a manual is also available), and plenty fast to get yourself in trouble. It’s no 335i, but it’s a lot cheaper – $12k or less.

As a bonus, a car I always had a crush on was the original G35 Coupe, and here’s one for less than $7,000. I think it’s aged well (outside, anyway), and you can keep it unicorn-status by leaving it unmolested.

Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

Mustang GT500
Supercharged, with 500 horsepower.

Here’s where things get fun: a Ford Mustang. Not a GT, no no. I want to get you in a supercharged V-8 with 500 horsepower and a six-speed manual.

If the Infiniti has aged well, this…has not. Looks incredibly outdated in comparison to the model released after it. But this Shelby edition has the aforementioned goodies and a sport-tuned suspension (though it still carries a solid rear axle). Whatever, for about $30,000, it gets you a nostalgic feel and a sweet, sweet thundering V-8.

Audi RS 4

Audi RS 4
V-8 roar, on a (slight) discount.

I believe I’ve waxed poetic enough about the E9X M3. What else from that era has a sonorous V-8 and six-speed manual? How about an Audi B7 RS 4.

The fact that it’s a sedan makes it more practical than a BMW E46 M3, and its V-8 gives it a performance advantage. Is it better or worse than an E90 M3? Let’s call it different, but I promise you’ll have a ton of fun in one.

Audi R8
The RS 4 takes its engine from the R8.

The best part? Price. Right now, you can grab them for $20,000 (clean, unmodified examples). Sometimes they need a lot of work, but honestly, every car here is a crap shoot.

However, since we’re on the subject of German cars…

Porsche 911 Turbo

Pictured: Not a 996 Turbo. But you can get these non-turbo 997s in the mid-$30s too.

Picture this Zach. You’re at a car show. Someone asks you which car is yours. You look in the distance. Squint (hey, we’re 40), and point to a silver Porsche 911 Turbo.

“Oh, that’s my 911 Turbo over there.”

Doesn’t matter that it’s “only” a 996, the ugliest 911 ever made. Cheapest-looking too, especially inside. Why do all cars from this era look the same inside, regardless of price?

Oh, right, price. Don’t be afriad. Here’s one for $35,000. Since the interior is already crap, and the outside already ugly, who cares if it has a lot of miles on it? But only the sweetest of examples even go above $50k, and convertibles are available for cheaper.

You can get an automatic Turbo, though I recommend the six-speed manual. Back in the day, the car hit sixty in 4.2 seconds, so it’s plenty fast even by 2024 standards.

Regardless, you’ll be a part of the club. Get the branded Porsche hat, the jacket, the driving shoes, and have yourself a drive.

Best cars of the early 2000s Bonus: Honda S2000

Honda S2000 CR
You don’t need to spend $90,000 on a CR.

Yes, not exactly a sleeper – everyone knows the S2000. But I recently drove one (review coming soon), and loved it. Fun, light, nimble, loves to rev, and a manual to die for. Also, somewhat reasonable.

This isn’t a car that will set your hair on fire, but the Honda S2000 is really meant just for you and no one else. Is $96k too much for a CR edition? Absolutely – get a Ferrari 360 (or two 911 Turbos) for that price. But for a just-as-good regular example? Perfect.

Zach, every car here will allow you to live your best 2000s life and keep plenty of money in the bank after purchase, because I promise, these are all going to break.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll put in a Papa Roach CD and Keep On Rollin’, Baby…

Want MWS to review your car?

If you live in the tri-state area and want me to check it out, send me an email! 

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