The fastest cars you can buy for £5,000

24th June 2024
Russell Campbell

You've requested it, so we're writing it – a guide to the fastest cars you can buy on a modest budget of £5,000. It means casting our line to the riskier end of the second-hand car market, where reliability is neither guaranteed nor inferred. It also means most cars here have a speed limiter, but an educated guesstimate will give you a decent idea of what each vehicle is actually capable of. Germany dominates here like a Scottish Euros match, but others do get a look, including a surprising entry at the top of our list. This is our guide to the fastest cars you can buy for £5,000. 

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C6 Audi S6 saloon – 155mph

Folklore said Audi's C6 S6’s V10 was the engine found in the Lamborghini Gallardo when it went on sale in 2006, something which wasn't entirely true because the Audi's motor had a different bore and stroke, erring more towards low-end torque than ultimate power. Nevertheless, with 441PS (324kW) and Quattro four-wheel drive, the S6 certainly wasn't short of shove, accelerating from 0-62mph in 5.3 seconds before hitting its 155mph limiter like a brick wall. We're sure your local tuner can solve this problem.

Tradition tells us large-engined Audis shouldn't handle well, and the S6 dutifully follows this unwritten rule, its massive engine ahead of the front axle gives it the handling of a cue ball in a sock. Squeezing that massive motor in such a small space also leads to astronomical labour if (or should we say when) problems occur. 

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E60 BMW 550i – 155mph

Sadly, the BMW 550i is another overpowered saloon known to have its share of mechanical issues – poorly sealing valve stems have afflicted BMW's V8 for as long as we can remember. But if you can live with that, this is a fine machine. 

The E60 5 Series arrived to much consternation in 2003, replacing the traditionally good-looking E39 with a Chris Bangle design that was, well, a little too Bangle. That's what we thought then. Nowadays, the E60's simple 'flame surface' lines are contemporary. As is the 550's performance. The 367PS (270kW) 4.8-litre V8 gets the 550 from 0-62mph in 5.5 seconds and would blow the doors off 155mph with the limiter removed. The 550 has classic rear-wheel drive BMW handling, but with a much less BMW-like V8 rumble, you might even be lucky and find a rare manual example. 

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Nissan 350Z – 155mph

The Nissan 350Z brought old-school front-engine-rear-wheel-drive thrills to the market when it went on sale in 2003. Its 3.5-litre V6 was a core selling point, producing a minimum of 291PS (214kW) when it went on sale in 2003, giving you more bang for your buck than you got anywhere else. That got the car from 0-62mph in 5.9 seconds, its surprisingly vocal exhausts producing a unique V6 warble, before the limiter interrupted the fun at 155mph.

The 350Z wasn't just about straightline performance. With a standard fit limited-slip differential, the brawny Nissan would ease into easily controlled slides. The 350Z was better to drive than its fuzzier replacement, the 370Z, and its fun side made up for the fact that it lacked the precision of a Porsche Cayman. Looks that still stack up today help you forget that the interior that, with giant speakers in the rear firewall, is starting to look pretty naff. 


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B6 Audi S4 Avant – 155mph

The B6 S4 Avant comes from a heyday when Audi had tight shut lines, Teutonic styling, and interiors in a class of their own, making Mercs and BMWs look under par by comparison. S4 specification only accentuates the look with a chunky body kit, iconic six-spoke Avus wheels, and blue-suede sports seats. 

The S4 is a small estate with a massive 4.2-litre V8 forced under the bonnet, producing 344PS (253kW). It's good for 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds and a limiter-restricted top speed of 155mph. Sadly, the B6 wasn't Audi's finest hour in terms of handling – that didn't come until the B7 RS4 – but there's still something to be said for a manual gearbox that lets the V8’s power and noise build into an intoxicating crescendo. Something must also be said for the Avant body and four-wheel drive, making this the do-anything fast car on the list.

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BMW Z4 Si 3.0-litre – 155mph

It's not just old BMW's looks we miss; it's also the powertrains. The latest turbocharged motors offer near limitless performance, but for the character, it is hard to see past the silky-smooth power delivery of one of the company's old naturally aspirated straight sixes.

That's precisely what you'll find under the bonnet of the Z4 Si, a car that, ironically, doesn't have the heyday looks to go with the motor, although the Z4's styling has aged better than most of its peers. The same goes for the interior, which would still look contemporary if it were kitted out with a giant infotainment screen. The Z4 also doesn't have the outright nimbleness of an MX-5 or the endless ability of a Porsche Boxster, but the 266PS (196kW) motor releases plenty of fun from the front-engine-rear-wheel drive chassis. The BMW gets from 0-62mph in six seconds and is limited to 155mph. 

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Jaguar XJR – 155mph

The X350 Jaguar XJR is likely the least loved version of Jag's big saloon. It didn't have the svelte lines of XJs before it, but neither did it have the cool new look of the recently deceased X351. But we’re not arguing, inhabiting a stylistic no man's land helps bring the X350 into the sights of this list, unlike a comparable BMW M or Mercedes AMG. 

What the X350 did have was an aluminium body that meant it weighed less than 1,700kg despite having a back seat big enough for humans to sit in. Power came from a familiar source: Jaguar’s supercharged V8 served up instantaneous grunt for overtaking: 396PS (291kW) dispatching 0-62mph in 5.3 seconds on the way top speed that would far outreach 155mph were it not for the usual suspect – a pesky limiter. Standard air suspension gave the X350 the comfortable ride you'd expect of a Jaguar, making the XJ arguably the better road cat than a comparable BMW or Mercedes. 

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Mercedes S600 – 155mph

Getting a V12 motor on a £5,000 budget is too good an opportunity to miss, even if it means netting a Mercedes from the shonkier end of the S-Class market. Sadly, the S600 that comes on budget is not the later twin-turbocharged model that serves up colossal horsepower, but the earlier model with a still respectable 367PS (270kW) from its turbine-smooth 12 cylinders. It's still good for 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds and a top speed limited to 155mph. While other cars here will be shedding body parts as they reach their ultimate Vmax, you can expect the S-Class to be as quiet and serene as if it were doing 50mph.

It's not an exaggeration that the W220 is the least loved of all the S-Class models, with a tin-can-like ability to rust and complex suspension problems that could bankrupt small countries. But get a good one, and you'll be quids in. The S600 didn't just have the range-topping engine, it also had range-topping specifications with leather-wrapped seats and dash, electrically adjustable rear seats, and a fridge. Where a better place to toast your new purchase? 

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986 Porsche Boxster S – 162mph

It says everything you need to know about speed limiters that the Porsche Boxster – a Porsche that was not about top speeds, finds itself third placed on this list thanks to being unlimited. It can hit 162mph flat out.

However, such activities would miss the Boxster's point entirely; this car belongs in the corners. The Boxster is one of the best cars Porsche has ever built, and an early 986 is the most organic of the lot, without the variable power steering that ever so slightly corrupted the helm of the 987. 

The 253PS (186kW) flat-six produces an engine note to die for, and its mid-engine positioning means the Boxster delivers its power to the road with zero fuss and extraordinary composure. Brakes far more exotic than those found in rivals see to the stopping while popping the roof down takes you one step closer to the action. Boxsters at this price are already thin on the ground, it can't be long until they're entirely non-existent. 

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955 Porsche Cayenne Turbo – 165mph

The Cayenne Turbo owes its appearance on this list thanks to Porsche's staunch indignance to speed limiters. Most of the cars on this list could better the Cayenne's 165mph top speed were they not electronically harnessed.

But we don't want to underplay the Cayenne's breathtaking performance. After all, this is a huge SUV with brick-like aerodynamics and proper go-anywhere ability. Kit like a low-range gearbox, locking differentials and adjustable air suspension mean the Cayenne tips the scales at nearly 2.5 tonnes. It's even got an onboard air compressor for inflating and defaulting its tyres, making its 5.3 second 0-62mph time all the more impressive. The only downside of moving a car this big that quickly is the fuel economy, which struggles to be better than 15mpg. 


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Vauxhall Insignia 2.8i Turbo V6 VXR – 170mph

Who'd have thought a Vauxhall would top this list? We didn't, that's for sure, until further research revealed the Insignia VXR was available with its speed limiter removed from the factory releasing an impressive top speed of 170mph. 

The old Vauxhall Vectra VXR was one of the quickest cars you could buy for the money, but it could also plough through corners quicker than a snow plough through light sleet – it was comically bad. Keen not to make the same mistake twice, Vauxall's second bite of the big-family-VXR cherry came with four-wheel drive, allowing it to transmit all 325PS (239kW) of its power into the road without the tyre-smoking antics of its predecessor. Surprisingly, the fastest car on this list is also one of the most sensible.

  • Road

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  • Audi

  • BMW

  • Porsche

  • Jaguar

  • Mercedes

  • Nissan

  • Vauxhall

  • S4

  • S6

  • 5 Series

  • Cayenne

  • Z4

  • XJR

  • S600

  • 350Z

  • Boxter S

  • Insignia

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