Top 10 Track-Ready New Cars Under $60,000
Driving is a mundane task for some people, but for others it’s a sport, and there’s no better proving ground than a track.
Automakers see that opportunity as well, and love to offer up cars that are designed specifically with track use in mind. Take a look at the latest offering from Subaru and Scion, the BRZ/FR-S twins. Both cars were designed with a priority on light-weight, and achieves an impressive weight balance. In true sporting fashion, it’s rear-wheel drive and can be had with a slick-shifting six-speed manual, or quick automatic with race-inspired paddle-shifters.
The FR-S isn’t the only car out there with racing in its veins. Here’s a list of factory-customized machines designed for time at the track.
BMW’ s 3-series is already used as the benchmark for sports-sedans and coupes all over the world. It’s well balanced, has power going to the rear-wheels, and is a fine combination of fun and sportiness. But for those looking for more sport in a car will opt for the M3. Unlike it’s competition from Mercedes, the M3 is still available with a six-speed manual transmission-a key requirement for many track-serious drivers. It can also be had with a dual-clutch automatic that can outperform your own skills, but isn’t perhaps as fun. The M3’s 4.0-liter V8 pumps out 414-hp and 295 ft-lb of torque, and a whole 8,400 rpms to explore all that power.
When asked, the M3 will blast to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, but that’s not all it will do. Thanks to an impressive amount of high-tech goodies, the M3 will hunker down and take on the track in a way that reminiscent of the brand’s DTM race-cars. Like other cars on this list, the M3 features a locking differential that will help deliver more traction and power coming out of a turn. The M3 also features electronic dampening control, so the car will feel softer when its not on the track.
Sure our first car on the list breaks the $60K mark right off the bat, but if you can’t land one for under asking, you’re not trying hard enough – especially now that the M3 is at the end of its life-cycle.
And if you do have more to spend, for an extra $10,000 there’s the Lime Rock Park Edition (seen above).
Check our review of the BMW M3 with the competition package, where it was tested on the big and fast Road America track in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
Audi has proven itself on the global stage with its LeMans victories, having won the past three 24-hours of LeMans, and winning 11 times since 2000. While the TT might not look like a race car, it is an established coupe and when Audi decided to give the little coupe the RS treatment, they went all out.
The TT-RS gets a turbocharged five-cylinder engine which puts out 360-horsepower. That power goes to all four wheels thanks to Audi’s quattro AWD system, and helps the TT-RS get to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds. The TT’s short wheelbase is a great handling feature, but thanks to an upgraded magnetic shocks system it’s even more lively around the track.
Want more for track-use? The TT-RS has performance rated 255/35 performance tires strapped to 19-inch alloy wheels. Then there’s the weight. The TT-RS weighs only 3,306 lbs, just 100lbs more than the TT-S coupe, even though it has much larger engine and brakes.
For further proof of the Audi TT-RS’s performance, read the full review with video.
Chevrolet’s Camaro has been stuck in the shadow of being Bumblebee for far too long. With the ZL1 package the muscle-car is all beefed up and is ready to take on the rest of these track specials. Thanks to a supercharger, the ZL1 now makes a whopping 580-hp, allowing it to hit 60mph in under 4 seconds. The ZL1 isn’t just a supercharger strapped to a V8 though. It’s impressive handling upgrades were put to the ultimate test in Germany, with the crazy Camaro achieving a 7:41.27 lap time around the famous Nurburgring race track.
The ZL1’s magnetic ride control helps the big car handle so well, allowing suspension settings to be adjusted up to 1,000 times per second. This allows the car to be as responsive as possible, and provides precision on the track, and comfort on the street. This all works with the ZL1’s impressive traction control, which is taken straight from Chevy’s most menacing vehicle, the Corvette ZR1.
Helping keep the ZL1 under control are massive Brembo brakes, and unique Goodyear Eagle F1 SuperCar G2 tires that were developed specifically for the ZL1. All this performance for under $60,000 make the top-dog Camaro a choice for those looking for the most bang for their buck.
For those looking for a cheaper option there’s another Camaro worth mentioning. The Camaro SS 1LE is only $37,035. This is an extra package tacked on top of the normal SS and features a lot of the track-ready design that went into the ZL1. It all works together to make the normal Camaro SS withstand a serious trip on the track. It also features the same set of tires as the ZL1. The true test of the 1LE package will come soon. Chevrolet is hard at work at getting the 1LE SCCA approved for the Touring Class competition.
Nissan’s Motorsports division, NISMO got their hands on the already impressive 370Z and made it even more spirited. While the NISMO Z weighs a bit more than the normal Z (including the convertible) it also packs in 18-hp and 6 lb-ft of torque. While extra power does help, the NISMO Z also gets a tuned suspension setup with increased spring, dampening and stabilizer rates, in order to help out when the track gets busy. The NISMO also gets vented sport brakes with more durable hoses and special fluids. Finally, to prove it’s worth to the enthusiasts, the NISMO is only available with a 6-speed manual transmission, although for track novices a SynchroRev Match transmission is a good choice with its awesome automatic rev-matching.
The NISMO Z needs a bit more attention for more intense track use, especially in regards to cooling. To see more about the Nissan 370Z NISMO, read our review, which even has a video of its track performance.
Some think that Muscle cars are all about street-dominance, but Ford‘s Mustang Boss 302 model proves that American muscle can dominate on the track too. An upgraded engine means that the Boss 302 puts out 24-hp more than the normal Mustang GT, the total power summed up at 444 horses. This isn’t just a simple package for the Mustang to bump up its specs though, the Boss 302 gets some help from the 302R Mustang Racecar that runs in the World Challenge series.
The Boss 302 is so performance oriented that it comes with a 3.31 Limited Slip rear-axle ratio, and has an optional Helical Differential with 3.73:1 axle ratio. For those wanting the full track experience in the Mustang, there’s a package that makes the Boss 302 even more talented called the Laguna Seca package. This track-tested package gives a one-second improvement over the normal 302 on the legendary Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca racetrack. That extra second costs $6,995 and leaves no option unchecked.
Even without the fully spec’d out Laguna Seca package the Boss 302 comes standard with Brembo brakes, and front splitter and rear spoilers. The race-horse also has a stiffer suspension setup, perfect for the track, but not so nice on the road.
Our review of the 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 is a great read for those interested in the track-focused pony-car.
Mitsubishi has one option out there for enthusiasts and that’s the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. Some may think that the Evo is better suited for the rally-courses, but it would be cruel to only think of the Lancer as rally only. The car’s advanced Super all-wheel control system optimizes the car’s traction control for wet, dry or slippery conditions.
Pair that advanced all-wheel drive system with the car’s turbocharged 291-hp, four-cylinder engine and the car will simply shine at the track. The cheaper GSR model gives full control with a five-speed manual transmission and imposing rear-spoiler, but for those looking for the ultimate track-sedan, the MR model comes with a dual-clutch transmission and more track durable rotors and Bilstein struts and Eibach springs.
All Evos come with fancy RECARO seats, dual exhaust and a Brembo braking system, all ready to handle the abuse of either the track, road or rally-cross. Read our review of the Mitsubishi Lance Evolution MR, and watch the video to see it’s impressive handles in the snow.
Subaru has a long championship pedigree with the WRX STI models showcasing the brand’s racing focus. Don’t mistake the WRX STI as a one-dimensional rally car. It’s proven itself at the Nurburgring, and has been competing on the road tracks in the GRAND-AM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge series.
The WRX STI blasts around thanks to a turbocharged boxer engine that puts out 305-hp to all four wheels using Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive system. The delivery of that power can be modified thanks to Subaru’s driver-controlled center differential, which allows the driver to set up the split between the front and rear axles to ensure that whenever needed, there will be power and traction at the same time. That’s a pretty significant advantage at the track and something that makes the WRX STI a car to be feared when the road gets twisty.
Read our review of the Subaru WRX STI for more information on the all-wheel drive sports sedan.
MINI has a healthy racing heritage, dating back to the 60’s when the MINI Cooper and Cooper S won the Monte Carlo Rally four times. While these days MINI has made cars more appropriate for everyday drivers, they haven’t forgotten their heritage thanks to the John Cooper Works edition models.
MINI has five JCW models, all featuring the same turbocharged 208-hp, 192 lb-ft of torque engine. However, MINI knows that when its on the track, it can give a little more. An Overboost function delivers up to 207 lb-ft of torque for a short period of time, to give that extra edge on the track. Overboost takes the normal turbo boost from about 11.6 PSI, and to about 13.6 PSI. This extra boost comes in for about 15 seconds.
The JCW models also feature extensive suspension changes and performance tires, which gives the MINI its go-cart like handling.
Hyundai‘s Genesis Coupe has proven itself in a few unconventional ways. It competes in Formula Drift and at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb with Rhys Millen in the drivers seat. Obviously Millen’s Genesis is heavily modified to compete, but Hyundai offers some trims of its Genesis Coupe that can handle the occasional track days.
The R-Spec trim is available with both engines offered on the Genesis Coupe. It’s only available with a 6-speed manual transmission, and includes goodies that are really appreciated on the track like a Torsen limited slip differential, and four-piston vented Brembo brakes.
The R-Spec models are also slightly lighter than other Genesis trims, mainly due to the lack of frills like a sunroof and navigation system. It’s a pretty nice package for those looking to get to the track on a budget especially with the four-cylinder engine that puts out 274-hp. For those looking for power to challenge the Japanese sports cars, the 3.8L V6 makes almost 350-hp and produces a wonderful sound when taken to the limit, a product of the car’s sporty intentions.
When a car is equipped with Y-rated tires, like the 2012 Mazda speed3 is, it means serious business. Of course, the Mazdaspeed3’s tires will not experience their speed rating of 186 mph, thanks to an electronic limitation at 155 mph. Even with the limitation, the ‘speed3 is a track ready car right off the lot. A turbocharged 2.3L engine puts out 263-hp and 280 lb-ft of torque, and a special torque-sensing conical limited-slip differential helps get all the power to the front-wheels.
Mazdaspeed products always feature functional exterior touches, like the hood-scoop on the ‘speed3, which helps with the turbo’s intercooler. The Mazdaspeed3 is also the most affordable choices on this list with a price starting at $24,000.
Our review of the Mazdaspeed3 is a pretty telling story of how impressive the little Mazda is, so be sure to check it out.
Sami has an unquenchable thirst for car knowledge and has been at AutoGuide for the past six years. He has a degree in journalism and media studies from the University of Guelph-Humber in Toronto and has won multiple journalism awards from the Automotive Journalist Association of Canada. Sami is also on the jury for the World Car Awards.
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