A tuner car (often sedans or coupes) offers drivers a chance to customize or adjust the build to go faster. Tuner car culture expanded in the late 1990s and early 2000s with the Fast & Furious movie franchise. The best tuner cars offer owners a lot of options for customization. Here are the 10 best tuner cars you can get, according to U.S. News:
10. Honda S2000
Honda produced the front-engine S2000 from 2000 through 2009. The first generation had a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine producing 237 horsepower and 153 lb-ft of torque. Starting in the 2004 model year, the S2000 came with a 2.2-liter engine producing the same power but with better low-end torque. The S2000 only comes with a six-speed manual transmission. Road & Track called it one of the best transmissions ever built.
A competitor for the likes of the Mazda MX-5 Miata and Toyota Supra, the S2000 is a tuner car gaining popularity. It is quick and handles well in stock form, but there are lots of S2000 modifications you can make to tune it up for performance.
9. Volkswagen Beetle
The Volkswagen Beetle was re-launched in 1998 and was produced through 2019. That means there are plenty of models on the used market and a used Beetle is a great option.
The Beetle is not very powerful in its stock configuration. The final model year came with a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder making 174 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. However, there are plenty of ways you can customize it. Exhaust and brake upgrades, turbo additions, and even engine swaps are possible in the light car. Subaru engine swaps are popular in some older models, according to Car Throttle, thanks to the layout.
8. BMW 3 Series
A BMW 3 Series compact sports sedan handles incredibly well and gives you plenty of power. You can get up to 355 horsepower from the inline-four or six-cylinder layout. U.S. News highlights the fourth-generation 3 Series (1997-2006, also called the E46) as the best for modifications.
This is one of the best tuner cars, thanks to all of the modifications you can make. Some owners have even put a V8 engine in the 3 Series. It will remain an enjoyable drive and can be made for a track day if you’d like. They are gaining popularity, though; a resale E46 with less than 50,000 miles can cost around $50,000.
7. Mitsubishi Lancer
The Mitsubishi Lancer debuted in 1973 and, over the years, has won many rallying and racing competitions. U.S. News remarks the two- or four-door Lancer is customizable “to the nth degree.” Though it has been discontinued, Lancers for the model years 2003-2017 were sold in the U.S. and can be found used.
The inline four-cylinder engine is easily modifiable and, depending on the trim level, can pack some power. A 2005 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution packs at least 276 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque into an all-wheel drive setup with a manual transmission. These are some of the best tuner cars, thanks to the options and price.
6. Toyota Supra
The Toyota Supra returned to the market in 2020 after a two-decade hiatus. Before then, it was an iconic tuner car. An orange 1994 Supra was famously modified in the movie The Fast and the Furious.
The fourth-generation Supra, made from 1993 to 1998, is popular for its handling. The base engine for that generation gives you 220 horsepower out of a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder. There’s also a twin-turbocharged option that bumps the horsepower up to 276.
5. Subaru Impreza WRX
If you’d like a tuner car with more room, the Subaru Impreza WRX has a lot to offer. A stock Impreza WRX comes with plenty of power from a turbocharged 2.5-liter flat four-cylinder engine: 265 horsepower and 244 lb-ft of torque. From there, you can make modifications to the turbo, exhaust, brakes, and lots more to make it track-worthy.
4. Mazda RX-7
Three generations of the Mazda RX-7 were built from 1978 to 2002. Its rotary engine setup was lighter and simpler mechanically than standard piston ones. It also meant the RX-7 had a 50:50 weight distribution and a low center of gravity. That’s a great starting point for modification before considering the 230+ horsepower you can get out of the final generation RX-7.
There’s plenty to do appearance-wise as well. You can customize things like its steering wheel, seating, gear shift knob, and rear spoiler.
3. Honda Fit
The Hona Fit five-seat hatchback comes with a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine making just 130 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque. However, the Fit is quick around corners and can be modified pretty easily.
U.S. News says the Fit is a great candidate for an engine swap and a turbo. Upgrades to the suspension and other components are popular as well. Road & Track reviewers drove an engine-swapped Fit around NCM Motorsports Park in Kentucky with great enjoyment.
2. Ford Mustang
Ford’s iconic Mustang established the muscle car segment decades ago. Due to the layout and number of Mustangs on the market, it’s a great option to buy an older Mustang and swap out the engine for a newer V6 or V8. If you go for a full swap or minor upgrades, the Mustang will be a fun tuner car behind the wheel.
1. Dodge Challenger
The Ford Mustang’s longtime competitor is also an excellent tuner car choice. A new Dodge Challenger can come with more than 800 horsepower – but that will cost nearly six figures.
A used Challenger with a powerful V8 can be bought for much less with a lot of power and options. U.S. News reviewers say you can make this a tuner car with an electric motor. Even if you keep the stock engine under the hood, you can make many changes to the suspension to make it more track-ready.
Is a tuner car worth it?
Tuner cars are a great way to customize your way to something more specific to your liking. They are often affordable and offer the chance to understand cars better. If you’re looking for a lower-cost option to personalize, a tuner car is worth the investment.