Speed-obsessed drivers used to have to shell out big bucks for high performance. Want to go zero to 60 mph in 2.46 seconds? That'll be $1.5 million for a Bugatti Veyron, please.
Today, however, consumers see speed as more of a right than a privilege. Many automakers agree and, while they're not delivering the same sort of performance as one finds in the Veyron, several models can get to 60 nearly as fast — without costing more than $100,000.
"Every generation of performance autos gets a little bit better," explains Mike Omotoso, senior manager of Global Powertrain Forecasting at J.D. Power & Associates. "Only supercars used to go 0-60 in less than four seconds. Now 3.5 to four seconds is just the price of admission in this segment."
And the performance segment is broadening. It's not just angular, low-riding sports cars that make up the speed category. Many are now big, bold power sedans. Longtime luxury manufacturers are even keeping up with the sports-car makers, so those in the market for a new car can stop dreaming when it comes to speed and start deciding which package they want it wrapped in.
To find the fastest 2009 cars under $100,000, we looked simply at automaker-provided data models that reach 60 mph the fastest. Unfortunately, there is no standardized form of measurement of 0-to-60 time across the auto industry. The data can vary due to a number of factors — such as the type of tire, road surface, weather conditions, etc. — and all manufacturers have their own testing facilities. Nevertheless, across the manufacturer-provided information, the results were varied: sports cars, muscle cars and high-powered luxury cars. Where 2009 data was not yet available, we used data from the 2008 model.
The top of our list belongs to a curvy speed machine: the 2009 Nissan GT-R R35. Born of the legendary Nissan Skyline GT-R models dating back to 1969, the 2009 GT-R officially drops the Skyline name. At 480 horsepower, it hits the 60 mph mark in 3.3 seconds and tops out at 193 mph.
This car is the fastest in the pack, but it doesn't necessarily make a statement — it might even get through a city commute without straining too many necks because, while it's sporty, it doesn't stand out the way other performance cars do.
Lotus, a British manufacturer of performance cars since the 1950s, does stand out, however, and uses a lightweight advantage to get two models onto our list: the Lotus Elise SC and the Lotus Exige S 240.
"[Some companies] are getting better performance by using lighter materials," says Omotoso. "Lighter cars go faster and get better fuel economy." Lotus models couple middleweight engines with light frames and aerodynamic designs to create cars that get stellar performance without the soaring prices of high-end engines.
Both cars cost a pretty penny — the S 240 clocks in at about $65,000 while its little brother costs about $10,000 less. But both reach the 60 mph mark quickly and both, with their sleek designs, definitely make a statement.
If a Lotus is a little too bold to satisfy one's need for speed, there are always the updated American classics that serve more or less the same purpose.
"There's still room for the good old American muscle car," says Omotoso, who believes enthusiasts for timeless American favorites will exist for years to come. "People are demanding cars that remind them of their youth. These cars need interior and exterior touches of nostalgia to remind this audience of the original versions."
Cars that fit the bill are the Corvette Z06, which hits 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, as well as two modified Ford Mustangs. For those more interested in buying American and big performance, but don't care as much about nostalgia, there's the Dodge Viper, which reaches its heart-pounding 0-60 mph in 3.5 seconds with the second most powerful engine on our list.
But speed also comes in some surprising packages, particularly luxury models that don't — on first appearance — look as though they pack quite the same punch. But they do.
Mercedes-Benz has three 2009 models on our list. The C63 AMG, Mercedes-Benz's base-level performance sedan, sports one of the weaker engines on our list, but with a 0 to 60 mph of 4.3 seconds, it's doubtful any driver would notice. Matching its speed and power, believe it or not, is a wagon — the E63 AMG. It may not have the cool factor of a Corvette but keeping pace with one is pretty cool in its own right.
A Cadillac, the 2009 CTS-V, also makes the list after getting an upgrade. (So much for the old-man image.) Despite its large and heavy styling, the CTS-V hits 60 mph in 3.9 seconds and reaches a top speed of 191 mph.
So with the category of speedy cars expanding, could they eventually muscle out demand for cars that cost five or 10 times as much? Omotoso doubts it.
"People know names like Ferrari, and there are enough millionaires there's always going to be a demand for those cars. They're a combination of performance and heritage, and a Ferrari customer isn't the same as a Corvette customer."
Or a luxury sedan customer, for that matter. But with the performance market expanding, they can at least all keep pace with one another.
© 2012 Forbes.com