Many drivers have dreamed about racing at one time or another, whether it’s taking the checkered flag at Daytona or doing hot laps at the Nürburgring. But what you may not realize is that getting a taste of track-day driving can be both relatively easy and relatively inexpensive. You can find public track days at hundreds of local racecourses and dragstrips across the country, and there’s an extensive pool of available track-friendly used sports cars.
Remember, though, that a thorough mechanical inspection here is more important than ever: Not only are you going to be pushing the car to its limits, you likely won’t be the first to do so. Past owners, even if they hadn’t taken the car to a track themselves, probably took at least some advantage of the car’s sporty nature. This means putting more stress on the car’s performance components, which can mean more potential problems if you’re the next person to buy it.
As long as you keep that in mind, we can recommend any of the following for a track-capable driving experience.
1. Mazda MX-5 Miata (1999-2005)
The classic choice is the Mazda MX-5 Miata, and the second-generation model, produced between 1999 and 2005, is a prime example. It features nearly the exact same nimble dimensions as the original, but with a more advanced and more powerful four-cylinder engine. Though that 1.8-liter unit tops out at just 142 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque, acceleration still feels brisk because of the car’s low curb weight. And really, pure speed was never the Miata’s strong suit. With a traditional front-engine/rear-wheel-drive layout, plus a four-wheel double-wishbone suspension, the car makes its mark thanks to impeccable handling and sharp reflexes.
2. Scion FR-S (2013-2016)
The Scion FR-S follows the same basic template as the Miata, with a focus on hot handling, lightweight construction and an enthusiast-approved powertrain configuration. A key difference, however, is that the FR-S provides all of that in a fixed-roof body style; the Miata, of course, is a convertible. The FR-S is more powerful, too, with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 200 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. Also working to create an engaging driving experience are the standard six-speed manual transmission and a Torsen limited-slip differential.
Off the track, the FR-S is new enough to offer conveniences like a rearview camera and Bluetooth connectivity.
3. Porsche Boxster (1997-2004)
For something a little more exotic, yet still reasonably priced, consider the first-generation Porsche Boxster. Relying on a mid-engine layout (with the power plant mounted between the passenger area and the rear axle), Boxsters have excellent front-to-rear weight distribution, which is great for handling. They also deliver a noticeable increase in velocity as compared with either the Miata or FR-S. Boxsters from this generation are available with a 2.7-liter engine that can produce up to 225 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque. That’s good for 0-60 mph times of less than 6.4 seconds.
4. Ford Mustang (2010-2014)
Although all of the modern-day muscle cars have offered track-capable models in recent years, the Ford Mustang brought out a particularly strong range of choices during the second part of its fifth generation, from about 2010 to 2014. In fact, the 2012 Mustang lineup includes a GT that offers 412 horsepower, a Boss 302 model specifically engineered for the track, and a range-topping Shelby GT500 with Brembo stoppers and a 550-horsepower turbocharged V8. But a particular advantage for customers is that Ford provided a Performance package even for the V6 Mustang. It’s an affordable alternative that nonetheless delivers a more athletically oriented final gear ratio, a limited-slip rear differential, a strut-tower brace and an upgraded suspension.
5. Cadillac CTS-V (2009-2014)
Don’t be fooled by the luxury credentials for the second-generation Cadillac CTS-V. Despite its premium positioning, this is indeed a full-on track car, complete with a 556-horsepower supercharged V8, Brembo brakes, a Magnetic Ride Control suspension and a standard six-speed manual transmission – and the ability to sprint from 0-60 in fewer than four seconds. Luxury amenities include a hand-stitched dashboard and available heated and ventilated Recaro racing seats. It’s also worth noting that the CTS-V is available in three body styles from these years: a sedan (2009-2014), a station wagon (2011-2014) and a coupe (2011-2014). Each body style showcases a striking design.