Now that it’s 2015, you can drive to your local dealer and pick up an eight-seat minivan with almost 300 horsepower. However, it wasn’t too many years ago when owning a car that bragged three bills worth of ponies was close to legendary. As the super performance cars of the last couple of decades begin to age, the resale values drop from “when you wish upon a star” to “I can work some overtime and swing that” status. Vehicles that were once relegated to paper-thin images hanging on bedroom walls can now be parked the driveway.
With a maximum price tag of $10,000 and a minimum 300-horsepower requirement, I have assembled a list of five vehicles that offer incredible thrills-per-penny ratios. My list is certainly not comprehensive, nor is my goal to choose top picks in each category. Rather, my intention is to share some of my personal favorites and get the wheels turning (sorry for the pun) in your own quest to discover the 300 horsepower value winner that best serves your specific tastes and needs.
Rather than simply select five random high-horsepower vehicles, I have chosen to pick a few different types of vehicles, including a domestic sport sedan, a muscle car, a Japanese sports car, a German flagship and a full-size SUV.
2004 Cadillac CTS-V
Original base MSRP: $51,500
MSRP with inflation for 2015: $64,871
Price for a remanufactured alternator: $240
When Cadillac announced the CTS-V, the collective European sport sedan contingency stood up and took notice. Built to rival Audi’s RS6, BMW’s M5 and the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, the CTS-V pumps out an astonishing 400 horsepower and 395 pound-feet of torque at a fraction of the cost. The reviews were overwhelming positive and owners praised the “four-door Z06 Corvette.”
The luxurious and amenity-laden 2004 CTS-V can rocket a family of five from 0 to 60 mph in a mere 4.7 seconds, and there’s also its excellent handling and braking that’s right in line with its pricier European counterparts. A little over a decade later and the 400-horsepower CTS-V remains impressive. Very few family friendly sedans can touch this Cadillac’s visceral power, performance, convenience and luxury, especially for the cost.
2008 Dodge Magnum R/T
Original base MSRP: $31,780
Base MSRP with inflation: $37,509
Price for a remanufactured alternator: $174
Very few cars offer the unique styling, performance and real-world practicality of Dodge’s polarizing Hemi-powered station wagon. Offering comfortable seating for five adults and a cargo area that defies the status quo, the Magnum allowed for many a midlife crisis to go completely undetected.
The Magnum R/T’s 5.7-liter Hemi V8 comes attached to a smooth-shifting five-speed automatic transmission. There’s 340 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque at your disposal, and full-throttle launches send the angry grocery-getter from 0 to 60 mph in about 5.5 seconds. Drive it responsibly and the Magnum R/T still earns a respectable 15/23 mpg city/highway.
Considering the Magnum’s muscle and ironically outside the box boxy exterior, it isn’t hard to imagine that Dodge’s experimental sport wagon will become a fixture at local cruise-ins and car shows in the decades to come.
1995 Nissan 300ZX Turbo
Original base MSRP: $41,283
MSRP with inflation for 2015: $64,456
Price for a remanufactured alternator: $130
Very few cars are as iconic as Nissan’s heralded fourth-generation Z car, the Z32 300ZX Turbo. When the second imagining of the 300ZX came to market for the 1990 model year, the universal praise was overwhelming. Motor Trend named the 300ZX “Import of the Year.” Road and Track listed the Z as “One of the Ten Best Cars in the World.” Car & Driver included the 300ZX on its “10Best Cars” list every year it was available in the U.S.
The Z’s twin-turbocharged V6 produces 300-horsepower and 283 pond-feet of torque. When attached to the five-speed manual transmission, the 300ZX can launch from 0 to 60 mph in about 5 seconds and has a top speed of 155 miles per hour. Thanks to a comfortable, surprisingly roomy interior and an adjustable suspension that serves up a dual-nature twitchy sports car and softer grand tourer, the 300ZX is equally suited to work as a daily driver or a purposed track car. The Z32’s styling has held up remarkably well, and well-kept examples typically steal the thunder from much more expensive imports on cruise nights.
Clean examples are getting harder to find at the $10,000 price point and real-world values for the Spice Girls-era sports car are heading north every day. If you want to own a twin-turbocharged 300ZX for a great price, I’d start shopping today.
2001 Mercedes-Benz S55 AMG
Original base MSRP: $101,071
MSRP with inflation for 2015: $135,795
Price for a remanufactured alternator: $270
While BMW decided to keep its full-size 7 Series sedan away from the capable hands of the automaker’s M division, Mercedes-Benz saw the opportunity to best its rival with a fire-breathing AMG packaged executive car. The resultant 2001 S55 AMG jumped from 0 to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds, which is more than a second quicker than a BMW 740iL of the same era. It also reached the quarter-mile marker sooner than the BMW. The world took notice and high-powered executives filled their garages with the 4,260 pound muscle car parading around as a luxury sedan.
Time hasn’t been kind to the ferocious S55’s resale values. The S55 once cost more than the average home, but now it may have the lowest cost of entry of all the vehicles on my list. Much of this can be credited to the fact that the S55 AMG is wildly expensive to fix and many of the parts are getting harder to find. But for some the cost of entry to one of the finest luxury cars of the last 15 years may be too good to pass up. Indeed, the allure of driving around in the car of dot-com-era CEOs and princes from oil-wealthy countries is almost irresistible.
Just remember that you will be buying parts for a $101,071 car, not a $4,000 go-kart, and everything will be fine.
2007 Ford Expedition EL XLT 4×4
Original base MSRP: $36,625
MSRP with inflation for 2015: $42,031
Price for a remanufactured alternator: $190
Gunning for the Chevrolet Suburban, Ford added 14.8-inches to the wheelbase of the restyled 2007 Expedition making the new EL model one of the biggest, baddest full-size SUVs on the market. The third-row seat was designed to accommodate 6-foot-2-inch adults, and the EL provides 43 cubic feet of cargo space even when the giants are sitting back there. Folding down all the seats provides an outrageous 131 cubic feet of space for stuff, that’s utility.
The Expedition EL’s 300 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque earn it a spot on our list, and it may qualify as the one pick that you won’t get yelled at for when your significant other catches you relentlessly searching online classifieds. The new-for-2007 six-speed automatic transmission equated to slightly better fuel economy at 14 mpg city and 17 mpg highway and 9,200 pounds of towing capacity. If you have the means, the 2007 Ford Expedition EL would make the perfect affordable “extra” vehicle to tow the boat around during the weekend or transport materials for meaningful home improvement projects.