Select Page

10 European Cars Under $20,000 That Have Endless Tuning Potential – HotCars

by Oct 26, 2022Blog0 comments

Close this window
Get Hotcars Premium. Start your free trial today
European manufacturers boast a surprising number of stylish and tuner-friendly project cars under $20,000 used.
There's just something about European cars that screams refinement. This refinement comes at a huge cost. But if you want to have fun performance cars without spending too much, you will most likely find more options from the Japanese market. Yes, it's true; there are many JDM legends that you can modify to slay supercars. But Japan isn't the only place you can go to find super tunable rides. Across the Atlantic, you need a keen eye, but it's possible to find great sports cars to show some tuning love.
The next European cars have unlimited, untapped, and unbelievable potential. And the last one on this list is not only the cheapest but is one of the greatest sleeper cars ever.
BMWs are famous for their extensive catalog of luxury vehicles. One of the most established lineups from BMW has to be the 3-series, which has acquired a legendary status among enthusiasts.
The BMW E-30 is a near-perfect top luxury car that is within reasonable prices. You can instantly recognize one of these as a BMW from its great exterior design, luxurious interior, and great build quality. BMW sold so many of these copies that you will still find many on the road and easily find parts upgrades.
If you want the best value in tunability, then the Mk4 R32 is the one for you. This car has a super trick all-wheel drive and a legendary 3.2L VR6 engine. Unlike a regular GTI, you can tune this thing to the moon.
A stock R32 makes about 240 horsepower but throw a little money on the powertrain for some bolt-ons and maybe a turbo, and this hot-hatch will unleash the beast within. Add forced induction into the equation, and this thing might be rocking up to 600 hp reliably. That is one potent and versatile little car that'll make you grin from ear to ear with every mod.
Related: Here's Why The Volkswagen Golf R32 Is The Perfect Hot Hatch For Gearheads
Without a doubt, Mercedes-Benz has excellent cars running on V6s and inline 6s. But their CL55 AMG has a much bigger engine with much more potential. Under the hood is a 5.4L supercharged V8 good for 493 hp, meaning it doesn't take much to unleash this beast from its cage.
A couple of mods and generous tunings, such as a new pulley, intercooler, or carbon fiber airbox, could get it exceeding the 600 hp Mark. Oh, and your neighbors will never forgive you if you straight-pipe it.
Porsche attempted to capture the entry-level sports car market by offering various front-engine coupes. This is how the 944 was born, one of the best of these attempts.
What is great about the 944 is its sleek design, affordable price tag, and reliable Porsche engineering. It is considered to be a 911’s opposite, as it's water-cooled, whereas the 911 is air-cooled. Also, it has a front engine in contrast to the 911’s rear engine. There are many parts available for the 944 if you need them.
Related: Doug DeMuro Explains Why The Gorgeous Porsche 944 Turbo Is Criminally Underrated
If you prefer the joy of a little wind in your hair, then the Z4 M is for you. This balls-to-the-wall roadster does not clown around. Although this convertible is not the answer to everything like the Mazda Miata MX-5, it produces way more power without being expensive.
The powerful 3.2L inline-six generates an insane 330 horses in stock condition. The chassis is as good as the engine, and this thing will happily dance around the corners with its good weight balancing. Mods for the Z4 M are limitless; in no time, you could be getting upwards of 400 to 500 horses from the engine.
The beastly B5 S4 is quickly becoming a modern classic with its tunability and beautiful looks. The B5 is the generation to get for performance. Pop the hood, and a Bi-Turbo 2.7 l V6 that makes a decent 276 horsepower will stare back at you.
Related: 10 Reasons Why Gearheads Should Consider Buying A B5 Audi S4
But this car comes standard with loads of potential. Couple that with the confidence-inspiring Quattro all-wheel drive, luxury interior, and manual transmission, and you have a masterpiece. On top of it, you have a huge Audi community that will help you with everything.
The Bavarian 335i is a luxurious, leather-filled, rear-wheel-drive turning beast. The famous heartbeat of the 335i is the twin-turbo inline-6 N54 motor which has as much tuning potential as the legendary 2JZ.
Stock, it makes a respectable 300 horsepower, but with just an intake upgrade, cutlass exhaust, and tune, this thing will rip over 400 hp. Invest a little sweat, blood, and tears, and you can get to over a bonkers 1000 horses. They are available as rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, depending on how you want to put down the power.
Moving away from Germany, we all love Sweden for at least four things: IKEA, Swedish meatballs, the cheapest car on this list, and the tunability of the SAAB 9-3 Aero. This front-wheel drive mad lad is a tuning platform that any enthusiast should not sleep on.
It has a turbocharged V6 that reliably makes a respectable 255 hp but can be pushed to make way more. You're looking at making a solid 430+ horsepower with just a turbo and exhaust tune. They come in different body styles, from a 4-door sedan to a soft top convertible coupe, all for affordable prices.
Related: 1998-2002 Saab 9-3: Costs, Facts, And Figures
A Mini Cooper S is undoubtedly one of the most fun and cheap cars to drive. The ones you want to get are the supercharged first gen R53 and the turbocharged R56. Mods for the Mini Cooper S range from cheap beginner mods to full-on enthusiast builds.
These cars come with a tiny intercooler, so it's a no-brainer that the first of the mods is a bigger front-mount intercooler for better performance. The cars have been around for decades; therefore, there's a great selection of parts from a huge community and aftermarket support.
Other cars on this list, such as the CL55 AMG, Porsche 944, and BMW Z4, look and sound cool. But if you are looking for the ultimate sleeper, then consider the Volvo 850 T5, which is one of the best turbo sleeper cars of all time.
Stock, it makes 225 hp from its 2.3L turbocharged five-cylinder engine. However, there's a lot of potential and fun from wrenching on it. Bolt-ons and tuning could get you a respectable 330 hp to the front wheels, but with a better turbo and a full build you could get all the way to 400, even 500 hp. Insane, considering the low starting price of these automobiles.
K. N’njagi has been a writer in the auto industry since 2017 and keeps getting okay at it. A staff writer with a taste for high mileage, rusted-out projects, and amateur endurance racing.