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Track days, and long road trips, are the two best ways to get to know your car. But purchasing a car for the track can be a daunting task, especially since you’ll be beating on it mercilessly and it needs to last. Powertrain layout, maintenance and even daily drivability could be a concern. With that in mind, here are five good starting points for a track car, all commonly for sale at less than $10,000.

Porsche 944

The front-engine, non-turbo 944s are a great base for a track or race car.

Porsche 944

Clean examples of early non-turbo Porsche 944s can be picked up in the $5,000-$10,000 range. They don’t make a ton of power — they’re in the 140- to 200-hp range — but they only weigh 2,600 pounds or so. Plus, the engine’s in the right place, driving the correct wheels. They also have strong brakes and a nearly 50-50 weight ratio. Check out a few nice examples on eBay Motors right now.

Mazda MX-5 Miata

Early Miatas can be had for well under the $10,000 mark.

Mazda Miata

No track-day list would be complete without a Mazda Miata. It’s the ubiquitous driver’s car for a reason. Miatas are easy to handle, lightweight and get great mileage for those long drives to the track. They’re momentum cars, meaning it’s more important to keep your speed up through corners. Stronger cars can make up for slow corners with power, but the Miata forces an enthusiast to drive well. Shifter and clutch feel are also near-perfect, speed parts are readily available and consumables like brakes and tires are relatively inexpensive.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

The GTI is a great daily driver, and will keep up on the track. Photo by Wikipedia

Volkswagen Golf GTI

A front-wheel-drive GTI from the 2000s can be had for less than $10K, and we’ve seen good examples for as low as $6,000. Besides being a great daily driver, the GTI is easy to handle on the track and will keep up with most of the cars on this list. The MK5 version (2003-2009) delivered 197 hp from a turbocharged four; both the six-speed manual and dual-clutch automatic are good. Check out some nice examples here.

BMW 328i

The rear-wheel-drive BMW 328i can get around a track with ease, has great steering feel and its badge carries weight.

BMW 3-Series

Like the GTI, BMW 3-Series cars from the 2000s are great, cheap track cars and have a little badge cachet, to boot. We’d suggest rear-wheel drive and a manual, of course. You’ll also have the choice of two or four doors, which could add some utility to the equation; the end result could be a good daily driver, as well. The straight-six-powered cars are silky smooth and easy to find, plus steering feel is off the charts. Check out a few examples here.

Mazda RX-8

The Mazda RX-8 wasn’t a great follow up to the gorgeous RX-7, but it was quick, light and rear-wheel drive.

Mazda RX-8

Early RX-8s come in under the $5,000 mark and later ones (2008-2012) straddle the $10,000 line. These aren’t overly powerful (232 hp), but like the Miata, RX-8s are about building and keeping momentum. They look great and sound great with the teeny, 1.3-liter rotary engine, but they’re a bit more fragile and harder to work on than your average front-engine, rear-drive, piston-engined vehicle. They were the last hurrah for the rotary engine in the U.S., and we think that’s worth something, too.

Have some we missed? Let us know in the comments.