While we celebrate India's 74th Independence Day, it is also important to remember those dark days gone by where you had the choice of only a handful of cars to choose from. However, as the country progressed and liberalised, the car buyer truly acquired the freedom to choose the car he/she wants. India is the world's third-largest auto market globally with choices ranging from entry-level hatchbacks to drool-worthy supercars, all registering their presence in the country. A liberalised economy has also helped improve purchasing power and that ensures the choice stays with the consumer. So, making the most of the freedom we have, car buyers today can choose from the reliable old hatchback or opt for something that really gets your adrenaline rushing. It also helps that the market is diverse enough to make way for used cars at attractive prices. In fact, there are several cars under the ₹ 10 lakh price point that we guarantee will put a massive smile on your face. So here are the top five affordable used performance cars that you can easily get your hands on in India.
1. E90 BMW 3 Series
Starting with a bang and a rear-wheel drive configuration, the BMW 3 Series is the king of the performance family car segment and the E90 series was the last one that had a pure hydraulic steering setup. And that means the car offers superlative handling like no other. The E90 was launched in India in 2007 and was available till 2012 with the 2008 model onwards being termed LCI or facelift and those are the ones to get. While the diesel is the sensible choice, the petrol version is the one that will make your heart sing, especially in the 330i version. The variant packs in over 250 bhp, one of the best chassis of the modern era and a straight-six naturally aspirated engine. What's not to like!
2. Abarth Punto
The hot hatchback is the perfect city car for someone who wants practicality with a bit of performance thrown in. And while the brand may not be active in India anymore, there's no denying that the Abarth Punto was a short burst of hope for a segment that is yet to catch on. On the other hand, you can easily get a used Fiat Punto Abarth for shockingly low prices with only a handful of examples sold. The hatchback packs in 150 bhp under the hood from its 1.4-litre 4-cylinder turbo engine, while the overall build quality is nothing short of a tank. The Abarth Punto is an absolute hoot to drive especially if you considering doing a few select mods to it. Do remember there aren't too many of these sadly in the used car market, so keep a close watch on the listings.
3. Gen 1 Honda City 1.5 / VTEC
The quintessential Indian performance car, the first-generation (facelift) Honda City 1.5/VTEC is the stuff most petrol heads dream of. With about 110 bhp from its 1.5-litre naturally-aspirated petrol engine, it might not seem great but stomp on that throttle and let that engine rev out till it hits the limiter and you will understand why a whole generation of petrolheads swear by it. Upgrade the suspension, slap on a set of nicer brakes, simple exhaust and intake mods and you are good to go. And the best part, all that performance cars about ₹ 1-1.5 lakh! A clean Honda CIty 1.5 VTEC is a hard find though but if you do get your hands on one, do not let it slip.
4. Skoda Octavia RS
The new Skoda Octavia RS costs quite the pretty penny. But what if you wanted the same - or similar levels of performance at 1/4th or maybe 1/8th the price? Well then you can choose an older version, Laura or the Octavia - but in its RS form. A manual gearbox, about 200 bhp and the potential to double that just by slapping on some mods is a very very tasty proposition. And one that we most certainly want to experience ourselves someday too! The first-generation Skoda Octavia /Laura RS also came in some pretty spectacular colours such as that iconic yellow! Do remember do check the car for major troubles in the future before you actually make the purchase. A clean example will be slightly more expensive but will certainly save you a lot of your money in the long run.
5. Maruti Suzuki Zen
The cheapest car on this list and also the most fun! The Maruti Suzuki Zen can easily take a huge amount of abuse with the likes of engine swaps, suspension upgrades etc. Out favourite, of course, has to be the rare Zen Carbon or Zen Steel and we would immediately plonk in a 1.3-litre engine into it and maybe add some high-lift cams! With about 800 kg of kerb weight and about 85 bhp (stock on the 1.3-litre engine, over 100 bhp with cams), the Zen has the potential of being an absolute pocket rocket of a hatchback and not just in a straight line. It's no surprise they call this the common man's go-kart!