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Imports vs Muscle Cars (Best Cars for Tuning Under 6K)

Imports vs Muscle Cars

Like peanut butter/jelly or bologna sandwiches, this is a polarizing topic that’s hotly debated. The right answer is highly dependent on opinion.

Why do I say that?

Well for one, this is an argument of false equivalence or an apples-to-oranges argument since you can’t really compare Japanese engineering and American muscle on a 1:1 basis.

As for me, I’m partial to both imports and muscle cars. I’ve owned both. I’ve had experience with both.

Armed with a budget of $6000, what follows is a list of six of my favorite import cars. Followed by a list of six of my favorite muscle cars as we compare imports vs muscle cars.

1. Honda Civic (2005-2011)

Honda Civic (2005-2011)

Transmission: 5-speed automatic | 5 to 6-speed manual

Horsepower: 140 to 197

Engine: 1.8 and 2.0-liter four cylinders

Weight: 2,588 to 2,895 lbs

The Honda Civic makes the best import tuner car due to its extensive aftermarket scene which means parts are relatively cheap.

A budget of $6,000 also means you can get up to a ninth generation Civic.

But one of my favorite Civics is the eighth generation, specifically the coupes. What I like is that it has a wider track than the hatchback for better stability.

2. Volkswagen GTI (2004 to 2009)

Volkswagen GTI (2004 to 2009)

Transmission: 5-speed automatic | 5 to 6-speed manual

Horsepower: 180 to 200

Engine: 1.8-liter to 2.0-liter four cylinders | 2.8-liter V6

Weight: 3,051 to 3,308 lbs

GTIs are some of the most beautiful hot hatches on the planet. And powerful too. Like the Honda Civic it takes to modifications like a seal takes to water.

Something to think about when it comes to modifications is the fact that the MK6 generation has a front strut suspension and a multilink rear.

And the 2.0-liter TSI engine already puts out impressive numbers.

3. Mitsubishi Eclipse (2006 to 2012)

Mitsubishi Eclipse (2006 to 2012)

Transmission: 4 to 5-speed automatic | 5 to 6-speed manual

Horsepower: 162 to 265

Engine: 2.4-liter four cylinder | 3.8-liter V6

Weight: 3,263 to 3,609

I’ve had one of these. Not this generation. But I’m strongly thinking about it.

The Mitsubishi Eclipse is one of if not the most important car in import tuner culture. Even without any modifications I was able to take the lead in a race against a moded Civic back in high school.

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The fourth generation has the distinction of being the only one to offer a V6.

4. BMW 3-Series (2006 to 2011)

BMW 3-Series (2006 to 2011)

Transmission: 5 to 7-speed automatic | 5 to 6-speed manual

Horsepower: 184 to 320

Engine: 2.5 to 3.0-liter six cylinders | 3.0-liter six-cylinder diesel

Weight: 3,197 to 4,0001

Speaking of V6 engines. The BMW is famous for its bulletproof inline six. It’s smooth with a torquey delivery.

If you’re looking for a tuner that offers a bit of fine luxury you can’t go wrong with a 3-Series. You can choose from coupes, sedans, wagons and convertibles.

It should be noted that the beauty of BMW’s inline-six is what encouraged the development of Toyota’s 2JZ engine powering cars like the Supra.

5. Nissan Sentra (2000 to 2006)

Nissan Sentra (2000 to 2006)

Transmission: 4-speed automatic | 5 to 6-speed manual

Horsepower: 122 to 175

Engine: 1.8, 2.0 to 2.5-liter four-cylinders

Weight: 2,513 to 2,776

While a budget of 6K can get you a newer Sentra, in my opinion the sixth gen just isn’t as compelling a platform for tuning as the 2000 to 2006 Sentra.

This generation not only marked the return of the SE-R after a seven-year absence. But it also introduced the bigger 2.5-liter engine in the Spec V which had 25% bigger displacement than any of the competition.

It’s an engine option that makes a good consideration an engine swap while your wrenching.

6. Mazda 3 (2010 to 2013)

Mazda 3 (2010 to 2013)

Transmission: 5 to 6-speed automatic | 5 to 6-speed manual

Horsepower: 144 to 167

Engine: 2.0 to 2.5-liter four cylinders

Weight: 2,859 to 3,123

When the Mazda 3 was introduced in 2003 the company used its catchy Zoom Zoom slogan to communicate a message all too familiar for those of us already in the know: Mazdas are fun to drive.

Mazda brought that same soul into the second generation of which the hatchback is my favorite. You can tune yours with plenty of bolt on options from MazdaSpeed.

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7. Chevrolet Camaro (1993 to 2002)

Chevrolet Camaro (1993 to 2002)

Transmission: 4-speed automatic | 5 to 6-speed manual

Horsepower: 160 to 335

Engine: 3.4 to 3.8-liter V6 | 5.7-liter V8

Weight: 3,247 to 3,928 lbs

Finally, we get into muscle car territory. Cars with bigger displacements. These street ready racers also make fine tuners with plenty of aftermarket parts.

The fourth gen Camaro is import because it ushered in a new high-tech era of muscle cars incorporating everything Chevy learned from the third gens.

It was indeed the first modern muscle car. There’s lots of tuning packages for this platform.

8. Ford Mustang (2006 to 2014)

Ford Mustang (2006 to 2014)

Transmission: 5 to 6-speed automatic | 5 to 6-speed manual

Horsepower: 210 to 444

Engine: 3.7 to 4.0-liter V6 | 4.6 to 5.0-liter V8

Weight: 3,336 to 3,735 lbs

It doesn’t take much to make a Mustang look or sound awesome.

Like the Honda Civic, that’s what makes it such a fantastic platform for tuning. Riding on the Jaguar S-Type’s more refined platform this generation finally jettisons the tired Fox chassis.

Whether you choose a V6 or prefer the rumble of the V8, you’re getting a lot of power right out of the box.

9. Chevrolet Corvette (1984 to 1996)

Chevrolet Corvette (1984 to 1996)

Transmission: 4-speed automatic | 4+3 to 6-speed manual

Horsepower: 205 to 405

Engine: 5.7-liter V8

Weight: 3,223 to 3,512

It’s baffling to think this once fixture of the bedroom wall can now be had for less $6,000.

Since its introduction in 1983 as a 1984 model it was touted as a world-class sports car loaded with technical sophistication.

True to that is the fact that it came with a crossfire fuel injection at a time when fuel injection was still new to cars.

But I would opt for the Vettes with the L98 and LT1 motors since there’s a lot more tuning options available for them.

10. Dodge Charger (2006 to 2010)

Dodge Charger (2006 to 2010)

Transmission: 4 to 5-speed automatic

Horsepower: 178 to 425

Engine: 2.7 to 3.5-liter V6 | 5.7 to 6.1-liter V8

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Weight: 3,727 to 4,160

When this generation of the Charger first appeared, I noticed it.

But I didn’t pay too much attention to it.

Maybe it was the four doors that turned me off. That is until I drove a 2010 SXT for a week. I was impressed. You can opt for the V8 rumble which make a car fun to drive.

But the SXT comes with what is in my opinion a potent enough 3.5-liter V6 that knows how to get the Charger out of its own way well enough.

11. Pontiac Firebird (1993 to 2002)

Pontiac Firebird (1993 to 2002)

Transmission: 4-speed automatic | 5 to 6-speed manual

Horsepower: 160 to 335

Engine: 3.4 to 3.8-liter V6 | 5.7-liter V8

Weight: 3,232 to 3,623 lbs

In high school, after my Volvo I drove a Pontiac Sunfire with a manual transmission.

Although it was a good car to learn how to drive stick. And even though my friends seemed to like it.

I wanted a V6 Firebird.

Even today with the outdated pop headlights it’s still a lust worthy car. And thanks to SLP there are plenty of tasty upgrade parts for a tuner to get his or her hands on.

12. Chrysler Crossfire (2004 to 2008)

Chrysler Crossfire (2004 to 2008)

Transmission: 5-speed automatic | 6-speed manual

Horsepower: 215 to 330

Engine: 3.2-liter V6

Weight: 2,971 to 3,140 lbs

Maybe it’s because I’ve always liked the Crossfire that I think it would make an interesting tuner.

Like the BMW, I wouldn’t choose this car if your pockets aren’t that deep given the fact that it shares its underpinnings with the Mercedes-Benz SLK320 – parts will likely be a little less affordable than other cars on the list.

But if that’s not an issue I think it can be as interesting a car to wrench on as the Corvette.