Not everyone can go out and plonk down the cash for a Porsche 911 or even a top of the range BMW M3 but, as home tuners have been proving for decades, that does not have to be a bar to owning and driving an affordable, high performance sports compact that really goes. The trick is starting off with the right base car. These five compact sports cars have been winners since the first day they hit the lots but have also proved to be exceptionally fun to modify and in the hands of a dedicated tuner can become something even more special.
Despite all of the competition somehow the Honda Civic has managed to hold onto its crown as the tuner car of choice for years now. All of the big name tuning shops do a few versions, even Honda’s own Mugen Division – and in garages and sheds the world over you can find a countless number of Civics in various stages of transformation.
The fact that the Civic has such a rep for longevity helps as does the fact that usually they respond well to all kinds of engine swaps (a big favorite right now is a CR-V and RSX mashup that can pack a real punch) And in the right creative hands you make a Honda Civic look as cool as any other high performance compact even though you may have only paid a fraction of the price initially.
Before it was rechristened as the RSX the third generation Acura Integra may have been the most faked car of all time. The number of tuner kids who tried to get away with slapping an Type R sticker on a regular Integra to gain extra street cred was massive. But the simple fact is you don’t have to resort to that kind of fakery to get a truly great car. From the base model to the much coveted Type R itself these cars are flexible, easy to work with and can be used as the base of something truly great.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
This is a car that looks like it’s dying to get out and race from the get go and it’s seemingly indestructible nature makes it a tuner’s dream. A great example of a carmaker actually listening to its fans and customers the Evolution was once a Japan only offering but pleas from the masses saw the company bring it to the US. With even just light to moderate tuning this baby can keep with the best of the ‘Vettes and look sharp doing it to boot.
Subaru Imprezza STI
As good as the Evo is it has serious competition in the form of the WRX STI. Benefiting, as all Subaru models do, from standard AWD it’s a beast on streets and rally circuits alike. If you happen upon one of the originals with those rather strange bubble headlights you might want to swap those out but do us a favor please WRX dudes? No more bronzed out wheels? They really do kinda kill the naturally sleek and sexy vibe.
Although it will never set any speed records the Miata is some of the best fun you’ll ever have driving a smaller car. Sure it’s pretty minimalist but that’s part of the appeal and the fact that it enjoys such a huge aftermarket presence means it’s really not hard to get your hands on one of these. And for those who scoff this one of as too lightweight and superficial? Drive one and then try to tell us that you don’t have a change of heart.