Let's say you have $10,000 to spend on a car. But you want something fun — a car that, while it isn't necessarily built just for all-out circuit racing or the drags, is a little more enjoyable to drive than your average A-to-B city econobox. With that criteria in mind, we've rounded up the 10 most enjoyable cars that you can find in decent condition in Australia for around about $10,000.
Our goal was simple: with a theoretical pile of $10,000 (in $5 and $10 tips from your pizza delivery job, why not) sitting next to our keyboard, we browsed Carsales and picked out our favourites. Simple as that. If you look through the list, you'll see a couple of trends — a manual transmission is almost a necessity, and lots of our choices are turbocharged (although not all). There's a pretty decent mix of rear, front and all-wheel drivetrains, though, showing that you don't necessarily need to rip sweet skids to have fun in a car. We've also restricted ourselves to what we think is the most fun car in each brand for that $10K — and trust us, it wasn't always an easy choice, which is why Ford is in there twice.
So, without further ado:
The mid-2000s Focus XR5 Turbo was actually badged ST in other parts of the world, but whatever you want to call it, it's a hoot. It's a hot hatch with 168kW and 320Nm channeled through just the front wheels, which makes it a hell of a lot of fun to tool around your local roundabouts and twisties. Plus you can potentially find one in the lairy orange that Ford used as the XR5's hero colour, which has to be one of the best paint finishes we've seen around this price point.
Before the Mini got a little bit fatter in its later incarnations, the R53 Cooper S drove its skinny little front wheels off with a 1.6-litre supercharged four cylinder pushing around a nice short wheel base. And, for a relatively modern car it's surprisingly light, barely tipping the scales over 1250kg with a driver inside. Plus it looks the goods — very important — with twin central exhaust tips, and a hood intake for its top-mounted intercooler.
There had to be one of these in the list. Subaru's iconic rallycar is a really fun drive out of the box, and responds ridiculously well to bolt-on mods. Throw some decent tyres on it and you'll be chopping Evos in no time. While it'll be a little bit tricky to find an un-destroyed example for this kind of money, you might be able to pick up a half-decent bug-eye WRX STI with enough change to swap out the gearbox and diff oil before you go and ram-raid some 7/11s.
One of the only naturally aspirated choices in our otherwise biased list, the Clio Sport 182 Cup — and the even rarer 182 Cup F1 — is a small two-door hatchback with five on the floor and a really revvy 2.0-litre four-cylinder. Simple as that. There's not much more to it, which in our opinion is a great thing for longevity, and it looks like owners tend to keep them in pretty good condition, which means good things for your future ownership.
While we think the first-generation AW11 Toyota MR2 — y'know, the one that looks like it should be a Transformer — actually looks better, the SW20 is much more forgiving to drive despite being a little bit heavier. The newer car — which you can find in the luxe GT spec for under $10,000 in Australia — has the option of Toyota's turbocharged 3S-GTE, which has oodles of rear-wheel, mid-engine, snap-oversteery power for the car's sub-1200kg weight.
While it's not the out-and-out fun of some of the other cars like the STI or the Clio Sport, there's a lot of potential if you can find a R34 GT-T in good condition — which we've seen a couple of around that $10,000 mark. Rear wheels driven by one of Nissan's lovely RB family engines — although it's not a RB26, we get it — makes for a nice highway car with a hell of a lot of street cred. Just keep it away from telegraph poles.
7. 2000 Audi S4
While the early-00s S4 doesn't exactly look very cool in its stock form, what you do get in the B5 variant which is starting to drop under the $10K mark in Australia is a rather-quite-lovely 2.7-litre twin turbocharged V6, mated to Audi's excellent Quattro all-wheel drive system, all running through a six-speed manual gearbox. Do you need any more? Sure, it's a little bit chunky, but it'll hit 100km/h in well under 6 seconds.
Another big cruiser in the vein of the GT-T Skyline, Mitsubishi's GTO is a '90s JDM classic. For your dollars, you get an instantly recognisable two-door low-slung coupe with all-wheel drive and a twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6, and the instant admiration of all your car nerd friends. Try and bargain the price down a little to make sure you have plenty of cash left over for preventative maintenance.
Ford's second appearance in this list just makes sense. The BF was one of the best-looking Falcon XR6 models, in our opinion, with some much-needed visual tweaks over the BA but without the extra price tag and visual bulk of the FG series. And it's all built around that excellent, happy to rev, ridiculously-full-of-power-potential 4.0-litre turbo inline 6 — one of the best engines ever put inside an Australian-built car.
Cheap. V8. Power. You can actually get yourself a relatively recent — 10 years is less than the average age of a car on Aussie roads, strangely enough — Commodore, with the VZ SS getting a 6.0-litre L76 V8. You hoons might know it as the LS2 it's based upon, and it's basically the same block that has powered past HSV Clubsports and shredded many a cheap tyre and steelie in a Macca's carpark. Big, simple, Aussie muscle for a bargain price.
Anything you'd add to this list? Anything you'd take away? Let us know in the comments below.