New Or Used?: 400 Horsepower Edition

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
new or used 400 horsepower edition

JM writes:

So, I am sitting in two feet of snow in DC with another foot to come this week. This, of course, means that I am thinking about the next vehicle to buy in the spring. I need to buy a first class, E ticket rocket for cheap $. I have decided that the next vehicle needs 400HP from the factory. Because I am not a big wig banker, looks like I am going to have to buy used. So here is the thing on which I am hoping to get some insight. What is the least expensive vehicle I can buy that has in excess of 400HP? I have been using KBB’s good trade in ratings, assuming around 10,000 miles/year. So far it looks like a 2000-2002 BMW M5 (around $14K) may fit the bill. It doesn’t have to be a sedan (would love a porsche turbo, but I’m afraid 50K+ is out o’ my league). Are there any 400+HP from the factory cars on which I should focus for less than $14K?

Thanks for your help

Sajeev Mehta replies:

Ever heard of the Terminator Mustang? That’s the 2003-2004 Cobra with 6-speeds, four independently sprung wheels, 32-valves and a big supercharger. It’s the poor man’s Ford GT. The Terminator’s (underrated) power figures were closer to 400 ponies than Ford shall ever admit, with plenty more available from a smaller pulley and ECU reflash. Not only are Terminators in your price range, they’ll stick to your budget for years to come. Once you get over the junk interior and vague steering. Then again, the E39 M5’s tiller is kinda dull: so the money saved on Ford-spec repair bills should go to M5-eating chassis and handling upgrades. Oh yes, you can have your cake and eat it too!

Hmm, a car with 400 horses for about 15 large: can I interest you in a late model V6 Camry with a huge bottle of NOS and a spare transmission in the trunk? Don’t get me wrong, the E39 M5 is the high watermark of modern performance saloons, still besting the average interior and steroid styling of today’s CTS-V. But your budget scrapes the bottom of the M5 barrel, high miles and questionable ownership records makes part and labor concerns even more relevant. It’s decision time, so pick one: be one to bask in the glow of a famous badge, or punish people like that with brute force.

Steve Lang replies:

400 horsepower is just a number. So is 500 pounds torgue. 600 pounds of thrust. 755 home runs (before Barry took to the juice)… and 30,000 pounds of bananas. Unfortunately, horsepower don’t mean a damn thing if the chassis is made out of parts bin remants and the interior is made out of cheap plastic. Please reference any Firebird with the name IROC on it.

If you really want the best bang for the buck… I would look more towards a power for pound deal with something a bit unique. Buy a Lotus Elise. Sure it doesn’t have the power of an M5. But in the United States it’s pretty much the most fun you can have on four wheels. The engine is made by Toyota. The handling is courtesy of a company that’s made it’s reputation on it. Plus it’s truly a rare sight. You won’t have to deal with seeing the 47th Mustang coming down the street on a Sunday afternoon.

But if you’re really looking strictly at the one dimension…buy a 2005 Pontiac GTO in Midnight Blue. It’s got 400 horsepower. It’s affordable to own compared with the BMW. Oh, and it’s not another Mustang.

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2 of 105 comments
  • Accs Accs on Feb 14, 2010

    I was also just going to comment... Needing 400hp...?! How much is a 10yr old 5 series.. and with THEIR high dollar repairs..

  • Hedrick5286 Hedrick5286 on Feb 20, 2012

    buy a nice fox body for $3500 and put another 5k in it and youll have a really nice 400+ hp car. or you can buy a 99 cobra and put a supercharger on it.

  • Tassos What was the last time we had any good news from Ford? (or GM for that matter?)The last one was probably when Alan Mulally was CEO. Were you even born back then?Fields was a total disaster, then they go hire this clown from Toyota's PR department, the current Ford CEO, Fart-ley or something.He claims to be an auto enthusiast too (unlike Mary Barra who is even worse, but of course always forgiven, as she is the proud owner of a set of female genitals.
  • Tassos I know some would want to own a collectible Mustang. (sure as hell not me. This crappy 'secretary's car' (that was exactly its intended buying demo) was as sophisticated (transl. : CRUDE) as the FLintstone's mobile. Solid Real Axle? Are you effing kidding me?There is a huge number of these around, so they are neither expensive nor valuable.WHen it came out, it was $2,000 or so new. A colleague bought a recent one with the stupid Ecoboost which also promised good fuel economy. He drives a hard bargain and spends time shopping and I remember he paid $37k ( the fool only bought domestic crap, but luckily he is good with his hands and can fix lots of stuff on them).He told me that the alleged fuel economy is obtained only if you drive it like a VERY old lady. WHich defeats the purpose, of course, you might as well buy a used Toyota Yaris (not even a Corolla).
  • MRF 95 T-Bird Back when the Corolla consisted of a wide range of body styles. This wagon, both four door and two door sedans, a shooting brake like three door hatch as well as a sports coupe hatchback. All of which were on the popular cars on the road where I resided.
  • Wjtinfwb Jeez... I've got 3 Ford's and have been a defender due to my overall good experiences but this is getting hard to defend. Thinking the product durability testing that used to take months to rack up 100k miles or more is being replaced with computer simulations that just aren't causing these real-world issues to pop up. More time at the proving ground please...
  • Wjtinfwb Looks like Mazda put more effort into sprucing up a moribund product than Chevy did with the soon to be euthanized '24 Camaro.