One major benefit we enjoy at ECS is seeing what our customers prefer to drive and modify. While we only cater to European vehicles, the distribution of makes, models, and trim packages is still incredibly diverse. There are, of course, clear leaders in each brand segment that tell us which cars are most popular by brand. This gave us an idea: with a used car buying budget of $20,000 or less, what used European vehicle is the best bang for the buck for modifying, making reliable power, and having a blast driving. ? What would we recommend right now to consider purchasing, why, and how much you can expect to pay for your next vehicle are all questions we will answer in this article.

Before we explore each of the cars preferred by our customers within each brand manufacturer, we need to set some parameters on the vehicle search. While anyone with enough money can go find the newest, fastest, highest-trim level enthusiast vehicle, finding a specific vehicle with the express purpose of driving and modifying can be a long journey. Ideally, the second-hand car we would suggest should be reliable enough to get in and drive daily, handle some light modification, and give you nearly instant gratification in your purchase.

Audi

To start our list we chose to look into what our Audi customers’ favorite car seems to be according to our records. The clear winner was the B8 A4, which was produced from 2008 through 2016. There was in 2012 a facelift to the nearly four-year-old B8 which made some aesthetic and safety changes but otherwise left the vehicle untouched.

Due to the eight years of production, the sheer volume of B8 A4s, and the incredible range of pricing and condition, we have narrowed down our search to the 2010 B8 A4 Quattro for our recommendation. We found an average price of $9,400 in an automatic Quattro or $11,000 for a manual Quattro, which allows you to jump into a well-sorted car without dropping serious cash. With the added benefit of AWD, availability in a manual transmission, and the incredibly popular 2.0T TFSI engine, the 2010 B8 A4 easily proves why our customers tend to gravitate towards the platform. If you are looking to make serious power for less than $12,000 in a second-hand Audi that will be a relatively worry-free, daily-drivable, and well-supported vehicle, we entirely recommend the 2010 B8 A4 2.0T Quattro with a manual transmission.

(Our figures were based on sixteen individual sales of 2010 Audi B8 A4 2.0T Quattros across the United States. All information on pricing and specific vehicles was found on www.cargurus.com, www.cars.com, and www.craigslist.com)

A popular modification our B8 A4 customers usually make is to upgrade their intake to our ECS Luft-Technik Induction System. With this intake, you can expect awesome induction sounds and power increases while adding a tastefully styled aftermarket performance component to your 2.0T TFSI engine.

Shop our entire catalog for the B8 A4 right here on our site.

BMW

Our Bavarian segment was fairly surprising, especially for me, a BMW enthusiast and owner myself. While many would consider the E30 or the E36 to be the most popular platform, our data not only shows otherwise but points toward a more realistic daily drivable option. Our BMW customers generally prefer the E46 M3 over all other models. The E46 M3 was BMWs third generation of the incredibly successful //M division’s road-going race car. With a screaming S54B32 straight-six, 6-speed manual or SMG transmission, and availability of either coupe or convertible models, the E46 M3 is what we would call the quintessential BMW performance car.

The E46 M3 in recent years has dropped in price considerably, especially SMG-equipped examples. The well-known crank bearing failures and SMG pump failures have driven prices down to nearly E36 M3 money. While ideally, your second-hand performance car is ready for daily driving, the E46 M3 is too tempting to overlook even with these issues. Fortunately, the main crank bearing fix is a simple procedure, and parts are available here. For the SMG pump failure, we actually suggest purchasing an SMG car with the intention of manual transmission swapping for a true 6 speed. This method can actually grant you a well sorted, low-mileage, reliable M3 for far under what a factory manual transmission example would be priced. However, driven conservatively and serviced regularly, in our experience, the SMG transmission is reliable and incredibly engaging to drive.

With prices starting to become relatively affordable, even for clean ‘low-mileage’ M3s, the time to buy one is now. An SMG example will sell in a decent condition somewhere between $11,000 and $15,000, while a manual transmission version is going to sell between $16,000 and all the way up to one incredible sale found on Bring A Trailer, which went for $50,000. Realistically, budgeting $20,000 for a manual transmission E46 M3 coupe still yields the buyer what we consider to be BMWs ultimate M-powered car available stateside, and what is clearly the preferred model among ECS BMW customers.

(Sales Data sourced through www.bringatrailer.com)

The Turner Motorsport Performance Engine Tuning Software for your E46 M3 is an incredibly popular choice to grant extra horsepower with little effort. Many of our customers equip their M3s with this performance upgrade.

Shop our entire catalog for the E46 M3 here on our site.

Porsche

I know we are going to hear a lot of hate from Porsche purists, but we have noticed the 996 generation Porsche is not only one of the more popular generations our customers choose to modify, but also an unbelievably good idea to consider. This is especially true if you are in the used performance car market. Produced between 1998 until 2004, the 996 offers the usual range of Turbo, AWD, NA, and special packages seen on nearly every Carrera. The twist here is the unbelievable affordability of these amazing vehicles.

While the ‘cracked egg’ headlight design and bulkier body turned several collectors and enthusiasts away when the car was new, the 996 has become one of the best examples of an excellent ‘bang for your buck.’ Average value puts the once super-car expensive flat six Carrera priced right with E46 M3s and Ford Focus’ at a $22,000 average for a manual transmission coupe RWD naturally aspirated model. While cabriolet versions are less expensive and easier to find, we would not suggest owning a second-hand convertible as your only vehicle.

Yes, the Porsche 996 NA Boxer engines are known for their catastrophic IMS bearing failure, but no, that should not stop you from purchasing one. Clean, well maintained, even IMS-solved examples are incredibly affordable and reliable, being the first year of water-cooled Porsche Carreras. It still has mechanical power steering, a tactile manual transmission, and all the hallmarks of a traditional Porsche that make driving these cars such a thrill. For under $25,000, a reliable, fun, and fantastic investment can be made before the prices begin to climb once more.

(Sales Data sourced through www.bringatrailer.com)

The ECS Luft-Technik Performance Intake adds considerable power to any 996 with a simple and cost-effective modification.

Shop our entire catalog for the Porsche 996 911 here on our site.

Volkswagen

We have been heavily focused on this model in our more recent posts, so it should be no surprise our most popular enthusiast vehicle chosen by customers is the VW MK6 GTI. While we have outlined several popular modifications, upgrades, and services that would be fantastic for a second-hand purchased MK6 GTI, we have not outlined why that MK6 GTI price bubble is at the perfect time to take advantage of as an enthusiast.

With the first models still being under a decade old, the MK6 GTI is an affordable platform capable of achieving impressive power outputs. Not only is it a great platform to begin tuning, it has been a staple in name since its inception with the MK1 GTI in the ‘80s. With average pricing for even newer examples still sitting around $15,000, the MK6 GTI is a low mileage, convenient, and fun car to pick as your daily driver enthusiast vehicle.

In a previous post, we outlined all the necessary maintenance for purchasing a used MK6 GTI so you can be confident in joining the majority of our VW customers in choosing this platform as your car. Since their prices and condition have met that perfect ratio, we honestly encourage anyone looking for a second-hand European performance vehicle to heavily consider the MK6 GTI for it’s all around cost to benefit breakdown. For very little money, the MK6 GTI customer can purchase, customize, and fully enjoy this platform without ever touching close to a $20,000 maximum budget.

(Sales Data sourced through www.bringatrailer.com)

See our post on all the best initial modifications for the MK6 GTI should you choose this car as your ideal daily driver.

Shop our entire catalog for the VW MK6 GTI here on our site.

Take-Away

There are several fantastic enthusiast vehicles aside our selection range. Those alternates include the Audi 8v A3, the Porsche Cayman S, the BMW E36/7 or BMW E36/8 M Roadster/M Coupe, or the MK6 GLI Jetta. Whatever your choice of vehicle is, sticking to this list means you will join several other enthusiasts who have recognized these vehicles as the best options in their classes. All your maintenance and performance needs can be found for this entire list right here at ECS Tuning. Of course, we would love your feedback on our selections as the most popular European performance vehicles by brand, and look forward to your questions, comments, and suggestions.