I’ve spent my fair share of talking about expensive, often unattainable cars. In part to challenge myself, and in part to highlight some of the excellent cars out there that can be had relatively cheap, I’ve put together my list of some awesome cars to own under $20k.
Alpina - an integrated German BMW tuner - imported a souped-up version of the 745i through BMW of North America. Equipped with a supercharged V8 engine, the Alpina B7 produces 515hp and 516ft-lb of torque while retaining all of the standard luxury features that were offered on the base 745i. The car reaches 60 mph in under 5 seconds, and 100mph in about 10 seconds. If you can get around the boy-racer body kit, the B7 not only moves quick but also handles well for a two-ton executive limo. Best of all, only ~700 were imported stateside so you can nearly guarantee you won’t pull up next to another one.
Beggars can’t really be choosers. With only a total of 700 cars imported into the states in 2007 and 2008, selection is relatively weak. That said, the B7 had optional night vision which makes for an awesome party trick. If you can find one with the night vision at a low mileage, you’ve struck gold.
Expect to pay $20k for a modestly optioned model with 70,000 miles.
The downside of only 700 imported versions of the B7 is that repair costs can get pricey on Alpina specific parts.
Supercharger Oil Seal ($3,000): The oil seal on the supercharger has failed on several B7s around 60-70k miles. Look for maintenance records which have this fixed or expect to pay out if it fails under your watch.
The S2000 has a high revving VTEC inline four engine producing 237hp. It also has what most mainstream car publications consider the best six speed manual to exist. Best of all, it has a mass following of die hard enthusiasts that offer excellent buying tips, aftermarket parts, and a price floor for the car. I recommend sticking to the second generation, the AP2, as most of the reliability kinks have been fixed and the suspension received significant upgrades. Be sure to get locks for those seats, though, as many users have reported their car seats have been stolen.
Current average selling price for the AP2 S2000 nationwide is $16,543. I’d recommend picking the lowest mileage S2000 you can afford. Make sure you get all of the service records, and a PPI. The enthusiast forums are excellent for information on doing basic checks yourself, too.
As mentioned above, I recommend getting the mid-cycle face-lifted version. The AP2 fixes many issues and comes with an upgraded suspension and radio. With good due diligence, and a long history of service records, I feel these S2000s are incredibly reliable.
I’m hesitant to include two large high performance sedans in the listicle. But I couldn’t resist the allure of the S6’s V10 engine, mostly derived from the V8 engine in the B7 RS4 and R8. The 5.0 liter V10 engine puts out 435 hp and 398 ft-lb and expels a damn good exhaust note. The S6 does weigh over 2 tons which limits the 0-60 time to a bit over 5 seconds. Still, it offers an interior that still looks great today, is packed with features, and gives you V10 bragging rights. What’s not to love?
Opt for a post-facelifted 2008+ version if selection permits. Average current price on Autotrader across the States is just under $20,000. Reliability is also further improved in the 2008+. 2010 variations received an updated MMI system and real time traffic, though I don’t think this is worth the $5,000 premium to purchase.
Surprisingly from our experiences with other Audis, the S6 V10 has shown few issues with reliability.
Carbon Build-up ($700 every 30,000 miles): The S6 does experience more frequent carbon build-up, which reduces power output and fuel economy. To maintain top figures, carbon build-up will need to be treated every 30k miles.
The GT500 is the runner up in horsepower and torque on the list. With a 5.4L supercharged engine putting out 500hp and 480ft-lb of torque, the Shelby GT500 will guarantee you some good times at the stop light Grand Prix. 0-60 takes 4.5 seconds. This kind of power isn’t intimidating, either, as the GT500 makes for an calm and collected daily driver - provided you can handle the somewhat heavy clutch. Taking the GT500 to the track, though, reveals a heavy front-end and somewhat disappointing skidpad numbers though I’m biased for lightweight, lower output cars for the track like the Miata.
Little changed over the three year production of the Shelby GT500. I’d make sure the one I purchase has had the clutch, flywheel and CSC replaced (see below). If there’s more than one for sale at a given time, I’d prioritize the lower mileage vehicle.
Clutch, Flywheel, CSC Replacement ($1,200): The clutch, flywheel and CSC need to be replaced on 2007-2009 models. Ford released a TSB on this issue and many were fixed under warranty. Before purchasing, make sure records confirm the replacement of these items.
Porsche made automotive history when it released the Cayman. Based on the Boxster, the Cayman was put into production after the convertible, and at a higher price - two virtually unheard of moves in the industry. Coming in base and ‘S’ variants, the former is equipped with a 2.7 liter flat six with 240hp and 238ft-lb and the latter with a 3.4L putting out 291hp and 251-lb. The car is a cornering monster and guaranteed to put a smile on your face whenever you get in it. Both variants are excellent in their own right, with a 0-60 time of 5.5 seconds and 4.9 seconds respectively. I recommend the base variant with a six speed manual because of the sweeter exhaust note, more usable power and because the 3.4L engine has a small tendency to destroy itself.
I’d opt for a 2.7 liter flat six, with a six speed manual, for the sweeter exhaust note, lower average price, and better reliability. If you do opt for the 3.4L engine, look for consistent maintenance records and get a PPI.
Bore Scoring, only Cayman S ($5k): As mentioned above, the 3.4L engine has a small probability of bore scoring requiring a new engine. Estimates range from $5k - $10k, depending on the shop and current availability of engines. /i recommend a nicely equipped base Cayman.