Brilliant-sounding cheap cars | Six of the Best

With a silent EV tsunami on the horizon, what better time to spend not very much on sounding great?

By PH Staff / Saturday, 25 November 2023 / Loading comments

Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG, 2007, 76k, £14,000

For as long as there have been lists on the internet (and for a long time before), those after a glorious sounding engine for not very much money would have made AMG their first port of call. There was often a V8, usually a lot of power, and always a temptingly large hit of depreciation. And if nothing feels quite the bargain it might once have seemed, some cars definitely still look better value than others. While the original C63 AMG gradually assumes the modern classic mantle, so some cars with which it shares that epic 6.2-litre M156 V8 (but weren’t quite so loved) look even more appealing. This CLS rocks the full 507hp, still looks stylish 15 years later, and benefits from just 76k under those smart multi-spoke wheels. It’s rare, too, with most CLS AMGs using a supercharged or turbocharged V8. Good luck finding a 6.2 C63 this good for £14,000…

Jaguar XF V8 S, 2010, 57k, £9,950

Although Jaguar’s reputation for great-sounding cars was forged by the XK straight-six, it’s with the AJ-V8 that its modern rabble-rousers have made mischief. In 5.0-litre form since 2009, it’s powered everything from F-Types to Defenders, and made a rip-snorting racket in the process. Even the presence of a supercharger in a lot of installations did nothing to stifle the kind of belly-shaking rumble only a V8 can produce. No wonder they’re putting the sound in the British Museum – it’s an engine to be preserved for the ages. It’ll sound perhaps a little more demure in this XF, but there will be ways to address that if you must. And what a fine saloon it looks nonetheless, with low mileage, a recent service and seemingly impeccable condition. The 5.0-litre XF was always rare, playing understudy to the supercharged XFR, and now it looks a very affordable way into V8 bliss. 

VW Golf R32, 2008, 102k, PH Auction

If ever proof was required of how persuasive a fantastic sounding engine can be, look no further than the VW Golf R32. The original Mk4 is now highly prized, while the turbocharged, four-cylinder GTI of the era languishes. The Golf R that followed this one is nowhere near as loved as the Mk5 R32, despite being just as fast, largely because it ditched the VR6. From its debut in the Corrado, VW’s narrow-angle six always sounded magnificent, even if it was shoehorned in a Sharan. The unique layout (with just 15 degrees between the banks) saved space and must have contributed something to the unmistakably sonorous growl. It remains sorely missed. This DSG R32 goes under the virtual hammer tomorrow, benefitting from a full service history, advisory-free MOT and rarely-seen Shadow Blue paint. The estimate is £6-8,000 – don’t forget to check the exhaust video in the listing, too…

Audi RS4 cabrio, 2006, 151k, £9,850

Now, while we’re not for one second suggesting that a 150,000-mile cabrio is the best way to experience all the joys of the B7-generation Audi RS4, there’s a lot in its favour if considered purely from an aural perspective. First, of course, is that tremendous engine, racier than the other V8s in our list and with a character all of its own – revving out an Audi A4 to beyond 8,000rpm never loses its novelty value. Don’t forget, either, that all RS4s of this era are manual, so there’s the joy of perfectly matched downshifts to appreciate as well. And without a roof to muffle any of the snorts, rasps and rumbles. There’s even space for friends to come along and enjoy the open-air symphony. Don’t expect sports car levels of handling prowess or many small bills along the way – 336g/km and 20.3mpg is just the start – but do bank on very much enjoying one of Audi’s best engines in a drop-top.

Nissan 370Z, 2010, 58k, £14,000

There will be a generation of car folk for whom the bark of a Nissan VQ engine never fails to conjure up fond memories. In 350Z and Infiniti G cars, the big V6 became as much a part of the soundtrack to Fast & Furious and Need for Speed as anything from Terror Squad. Usually with some outrageous modification, yes, but the true fans can recognise that timbre wherever they hear it. Without a Nissan sports car of any stripe currently for sale in the UK (and unlikely to return, at least not with an engine), so the old stagers look more appealing. You’ll probably want an air filter and exhaust to get the best from the old lump, but half the job is done here already – see the K&N stickers stuck proud under the bonnet. This one also benefits from low mileage, a cool colour and the manual gearbox. Just get some good tyres on those Rays forged wheels, please. 

Porsche Cayman 2.7, 2006, 84k, £14,995

Yes, we’ve missed out four- and five-cylinder engines here. Three as well, for the really pedantic. (V10s and V12s can have a more expensive rundown some other time). Truthfully, there’s no way that all the superb-sounding cars at relatively affordable prices could be confined to just six. There are plenty more besides. But after all the vees, something flat: a Porsche six, in this case. Keep forced induction out of the equation and there’s surely never been one that hasn’t been a joy to listen to. The one in this Cayman is as humble as would have been available at the time, mustering just 240hp or so and hooked up to a five-speed manual, but it ought to still sound sweet as anything. And if the acceleration is slower then the sound lasts longer, right? This one is being sold by a Porsche specialist, has had a lot of common niggles addressed, and has passed a bore scope inspection ‘with flying colours’. And prices only seem to be going one way…

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