5 Best Tuner Cars For Gearheads On A Budget (5 To Stay Away)

2013 Scion FR-S

It doesn’t matter how perfect a factory car is; many enthusiasts have that little voice in them that shouts things like “it needs a turbo”. Perhaps the car manufacturer already offers a turbo; well, who cares? We will change the air filter, put in an aftermarket exhaust, flash the ECU and even change the existing turbo to a bigger one and do everything we can to improve performance just to satisfy our hunger.

Once you’ve decided to start your tuning journey, get that nice car that will stand your tantrums! A dream car that will take all your hard-earned money and have fun while you spend a wonderfully long period of time repairing and tuning it. But trust me, this beautiful car will give you good times once it’s finished.

Tuning cars can be tricky if you pick the wrong one, especially if you’re concerned about budget. Blowing up parts while tuning your car is a ubiquitous phenomenon. Tuning can require significant upgrades such as suspensions, larger intercooler, etc., which some cars may avoid. That’s why we’ve rounded up the five best tuner cars you can get that won’t empty your pockets and five you should stay away from.

10 1993 Honda Civic

The Honda Civic is every high school student’s first car. It is a perfect choice for a beginner who wants to test their skills. The Civic came with a stock inline 4 PH16 engine that produced 123 horsepower, which sounds lame, but it certainly has stories to tell.

Everyone knows the turbocharger sound of the Civic in their neighborhood. Some experts can get more than 500 horsepower out of this car! So it makes the most sense to have it as your budget tuner car.

9 Honda S2000

The S2000 is another Honda here. But it is a unique machine, as it has very high horsepower per liter thanks to ‌237 horsepower and 153 lb-ft of torque. While it’s more expensive at around $20,000 to $25,000, it sure is a fun ride.

It handles like a dream due to its unique crank rotation and weight balance. The S2000 can easily reach 400 horsepower with modified turbochargers. And the best part is: everything is affordable!

Related: Massive power-per-litre: Here’s why Toyota’s three-cylinder engine is a tuner’s dream

8 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS

The Mitsubishi Lancer GTS seems to be an average car with 168 hp. It’s available for less than $10,000, leaving you with some cash to spend on upgrades. While the GTS doesn’t look much like its older sibling – the Evo lancer, it’s still worth a shot.

That said, with decent upgrades, 300 horsepower is achievable on the GTS. A modified turbocharger, some tweaks to the intake manifold, intercooler and mapping are good enough for the job. You can also find decent body kits to make it look better.

7 Mitsubishi Eclipse 1992

The first Eclipse debuted in 1989 and became famous among enthusiasts for its rally DNA. It is very lightweight and contributes to better handling and acceleration. You can easily find one around 10K, leaving plenty of room for tuning.

The Eclipse came with a 2L i4 engine that generated 135 horsepower and 125 lb-ft. The numbers may not be funny, but the engine is tuner friendly. Some gearboxes pushed more than 400 horses out of the block.

Related: Here’s Why Mitsubishi Eclipse Is The Most Forgotten Sports Car Of The ’90s

6 1st generation of FR-S

One of the great boxer engines you can get today. The first generation FR-S is reliable and can certainly meet the tuning expectations. All you need is $20,000 and some experience. While working on a boxer engine is a bit complicated, it is manageable with a guide.

Good condition FRS ranges from 10k-15k on the used market making it a sensible option as a tuner car. The standard FRS offers a 2-liter 4-cylinder boxer that produces 200 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque. Setting up a turbo boosts nearly 80-90 horses and 70-80 lb-ft of torque.

Related: The Key Differences Between the Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S

5 Stay away from: Cadillac CTS

Cadillac may have replaced the CTS with the CT5, but it could be an excellent option for tuning. Proper tuning can give the CTS nearly 700 horsepower, nearly double the original figure. It is also not very expensive to find on the second hand market.

So how does it not fit well with your budget tuner car? The answer is performance. For example, a 2015 CTS weighs almost 3800 lbs. This becomes a problem even if your car has 1000 horses. Sure, you can swap the springs and brakes and everything, but then it won’t be easy for your pockets.

4 Stay away from: 1990 Jaguar XJ-S

The Jaguar XJ-S comes with a 5.3-liter V12 that produces 262 horsepower. Amazing, right? Given the engine specs, we can tell it’s rare, and it’s a Jaguar. It raises the question of the availability and accessibility of the parts.

The answer to that is quite simple: it will be very difficult. Working on the XJ-S will not be easy and cheap by any means. Every time you deal with screws and bolts, you need the advice of an expert. A single calculation error can cost you a lot of money and time.

Related: A look back at the evolution of the Jaguar XJ

3 Stay away from: 2007-2015 BMW 335i

The 335i from the German car company BMW is indeed a beautiful car. But only for ordinary people. We do not fall into that category; therefore it’s just no way to go. It costs less than 10K on the used market, seems cheap; the parts are relatively more expensive though, so you won’t really save a lot of money.

They equipped the 335i with a 3-litre I6 engine that produced 300 horsepower. Aside from the exciting numbers, the bike is widely criticized for its reliability. Owners reported that the most common problems were engine overheating, turbo failure and rough running.

2 Stay away from: 2003-2006 Mercedes E55 AMG

The Mercedes E55 AMG became a nightmare for other companies at launch as it offered a supercar performance in the 2000s. The powerhouse in the E55 AMG is a 5.4 liter supercharged V8, good for about 469 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque.

Despite the fantastic performance, it also comes with a luxurious price tag. Finding an E55 AMG under 20K is a challenge. If luck is on your side and you get your hands on one, the service and parts price will still empty your pockets. Tuning this also seems difficult as it already has a supercharger.

Related: Whipple Supercharged E55 AMG Wagon Is The Ultimate Grocery Store

1 Stay away from: 1998 Porsche Boxster

Who doesn’t know the Boxster? As the name suggests, the Boxster came with a 2.5L 6-cylinder boxer engine that produced only 201 horsepower. We do not consider the Boxster reliable as it has many issues, including oil leakage and bearing failure

Since the Boxster is available for around $15,000 on the used market, you may be confused as to whether it is a good buy to tune. But unfortunately, it can leave you more disappointed than joyful. You will have to do a lot of mods that require a lot of money making it a crappy tuner car on budget.