Mark IV Supra, R34 GT-R, even an FD RX-7. Make no mistake, those are most definitely tuner car heroes, and you wouldn’t be surprised if one whooped up on a supercar for lunch. In fact, you’d be surprised if it didn’t. But that’s not why we’re here, is it? We’re here for the overlooked and underrated tuner cars. The ones that may or may not have been discovered yet.
So, I got a list of cheap cars, plus an honorable mention, that may not look like a supercar slayer, but can definitely be tuned to lay down some competitive numbers. And the last one on the list is a brotha from another motha… you’ll see.
Mitsubishi Galant VR-4
The Mitsubishi Galant VR-4 is the 4-door, 4-cylinder turbo, 4-wheel drive, 4-wheel steering and 4-wheel ABS terror-on-wheels that you’ve probably never heard of! Back in the late 80’s, the Japanese were really pushing the envelope when it came to technology. And at the time, the only car that was probably more technologically advanced was the Porsche 959. Yes, it really was an engineering feat, and the modern marvel Galant VR-4 has never really gotten the credit it deserves. The VR-4 was the car that spawned one of the greatest rally car legends of all time: the Lancer Evolution, Mitsubishi’s golden boy and most well known all-wheel drive turbo sedan.
So, the Galant VR-4, quietly hidden in Mitsubishi’s history, is an unassuming monster, making it one of the ultimate sleepers! Thanks to the heartbeat, the 2-liter 4G63 turbocharged powerplant pumping out 195 horsepower, this low-key sedan could run to 60 miles per hour in under 6 seconds. And that’s in stock form! Add a tune, downpipe and some more boost, and you’ll be knocking on 400 horsepower’s door in no time!
Check this out: this modified VR-4, one of 3,000 made for the U.S., recently sold for $6,500 bucks! For such a cool and totally unique car… that’s a steal!
And you thought Mazda only built one good car? Yeah, we know, Miata is always the answer. But, believe it or not, they built a few cool rides. And when Mazda released the Mazdaspeed6, it shook the automotive world. Just look at the thing. From the outside it was just a normal everyday family hauler, yet it features an advanced all-wheel drive system with a 2.3-liter turbo-four engine cranking out 274 horsepower! That’s plenty for today’s standards and borderline legendary back in 2006!
But that’s not all. It even came with the fun pedal letting you row a 6-speed manual, so you had to use all four of your limbs to drive this puppy! Plus, the high-performance sedan was a blast to drive, rocketing from 0 to 60 in 5.4 seconds. That’s as lightning quick as an E36 M3! The Mazdaspeed6 is a low-key, unassuming tuning treasure chest just waiting to be opened!
If you throw a little time and money at the MZR I4 powerplant, you can safely bump the horsepower to over 400. Yes, it’s not as hardcore as a WRX STi or Lancer Evo, but I think this Zoom Zoom mid-size sedan Mazda put out in the mid 2000’s is now a performance car bargain! We found one for $4,995, and if you finance that out over 5 years with decent credit, it’s only $93 per month! And if you sign up for the Ideal Car Strategies, you could get that price down even further! Seriously! That’s super cheap to smoke unassuming motorists in this “tame” family sedan!
The untapped potential of the Volvo 850R comes in both flavors, sedan or wagon, with either iteration. This sporty little Volvo is a Swedish sleeper. It may not look like it, but it has the exact same amount of horsepower as the Ideal fan favorite: the 1995 E36 M3. The 850R was powered by a turbocharged 2.3-liter 5-cylinder engine pumping out 240 ponies. And when that turbo spools, watch out, because this Swedish missile puts on a performance of a lifetime.
Ok, maybe you’re already impressed, but there’s more! The massive brakes were capable of bringing down the speed faster than most sports cars of the time, which is pretty wicked for a big luxury front-wheel drive sleeper! Front-wheel drive burnouts are definitely mandatory! The 850R was Volvo’s first full-size front-wheel offering, and believe it or not, it has racing pedigree! They partnered with TWR and it was on two wheels almost the entire time at the British Touring Car Grand Prix! Who knew an estate car could do such a thing?
I mean, I think we all knew this was no ordinary station wagon. But at the time it was available in the mid 90’s, when not a lot of people were geeking out over fast, turbocharged cars from Volvo, they never really caught on with consumers. Volvo’s a company known more for reliability, luxury, and safety. So, it’s so awesome to know they once built a wild child forced-induction 5-cylinder screamer that turned it up to 11!
It’s definitely a cool platform to get started on for tuners! And for $4,000 for a 850R wagon, you’ll have plenty of dough left over to tune this thing beat up on newer M3s!
Eagle Talon TSi (2nd Generation)
The Eagle Talon TSi was a halo car that could give exotics a run for their money thanks to a turbocharged powertrain and all-wheel drive to get the power to the ground. And yes, you may recognize this car, as the Talon’s counterpart is the much more well known Mitsubishi Eclipse, and they’re pretty much identical! And inside the Talon TSi is the infamous 4G63T, the same heavy-hitting turbocharged engine we found in the Galant and the Evo, pushing out an unruly 210 horsepower, which isn’t a bad start.
But that motor can handle a lot more! Like the evil DSM known as “The Red Demon“, a 2nd generation Talon that puts down over 1,800 horsepower from the 4G63! That’s more horsepower than a Bugatti Chiron!
DSMs have deep aftermarket support, so you can easily build it from lean to mean. I guess the thing is that you still see the Eagle Talon and Mitsubishi Eclipes fairly regularly on the road today, but very few people actually know their true potential. But now you do!
And what do they say?! There’s no replacement for displacement? Well maybe this little 2-liter Talon is here to prove otherwise. Plus, for $5,500 this red rocket with it’s celebrated powerplant could make your wildest tuning dreams come true.
Saab 9-2X Aero
I’m just going to throw this out there, and you can throw it back at me if you want to, but I think the Saab 9-2X Aero should be called a “Saabaaru”. See, from the outside this Saab looks more sophisticated than the car it shares a lot of its platform with, but the doors, the roof, and the rear quarter panels are all the exact same as a Subaru WRX wagon. That’s right! It’s essentially a grown-up version of the 2nd generation Japanese rally rocket. The body may look different, but they share the same power plant and drivetrain! You get a turbocharged flat-4 with the same 227 horsepower, a 5-speed stick, and the same all-wheel drive system! And we all know about that tuning potential those EJ205 engines have when you slap a couple STi goodies on there! Cheap power, baby!
As similar as they seem, Saab really wanted to distinguish this car from it’s JDM brother. So, they reworked the suspension, added quicker steering taken from the Subaru STi, as well as much needed sound deadening, and also sprinkled a little more Swedish magic on it to bring out a less tinny and more refined drivers car.
They sold the Saab 9-2x for two years and really didn’t sell many of them. And that’s a key for having sleeper status: having people not know they’re literally a Subaru WRX wagon in sheep’s clothing. Yes, Saab is a four-letter word, but you can still find deals on deals and essentially get a Subie for a lot less money! Heck, for $3,600 you could snag a Saab and do Subaru things in the snow for pennies on the dollar! Which is great, because then you can spend all the money you saved on one of these cheap Ferraris that you can actually afford!