Road cars that work on a racetrack are rare. Here are five models that are brilliant on-road and with few minor tweaks can work in the pressure-cooker racetrack environment. All are priced less than $30K.
1. Renault Sport Clio 172 (Phase 1/2)
Let’s start cheap. This 2001-era hot-hatch can be purchased for less than $4000 nowadays. What you’ll get is a bulletproof 2.0-litre F4R four-cylinder that revs to the high heavens, a brilliant chassis that still holds its head high among modern hot-hatchbacks and plenty of leftover cash to search internet forum for affordable track modifications.
2. Mazda MX-5 (NA/NB)
Not a fan of front-drive? The Mazda MX-5 is the obvious sub-$10K riposte. The circa-1996, last NA versions are the pick as they utilise a 1.8- rather than 1.6-litre engine. Each can be well-tuned anyway, if your budget can’t stretch to a MX-5 SP Turbo. As with the Clio, modifications are cheap and plentiful. (Note: S13 180SX and Silvia were runners up, and better if short-burst drifting is your thing).
3. Mitsubishi Lancer Evo (V – VIII)
Duck your head above $10K and get into a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. Even the officially imported circa-2003 Evo VIII will set you back less than $20,000, so there’s plenty to play with there without needing to spend big on modifications. That said, try finding one that hasn’t been played with. The standard Evo VIII had 195kW and 355Nm delivering a claimed 6.1-second 0-100km/h, but they can go faster than that.
4. Renault Sport Megane 250 Cup
Launched in 2012, the RS Megane 250 Cup is a bit of a depreciation disaster. It’s possible to find four year old examples for a smidge over $20,000 and you’re getting a helluva lot of 2.0-litre turbocharged hot-hatchback for that money. An LSD is standard and the chassis is as sharp as you’ll find for the money.
5. Lotus Elise
Not known for perfect reliability, but otherwise little will get in the way of a Lotus Elise on the track. For a bit under $30,000 you’re essentially paying $10K more than a Lancer Evolution VIII born around the same time (circa 2003). Lightness in a little roadster means a 710kg kerb weight, and an 89kW/168Nm 1.6-litre engine able to accelerate 0-100km/h in 5.9 seconds.