Five cars that get more bang for your buck when you pay less

Spend more money, you get more gear.

Whether you're spending $20,000 or $1 million it's a natural progression when buying a new car.

Except that sometimes you may not want (or need) some of the luxury fruit lavished on the top-of-the-range models.

If you want more power, for example, it could be lumped with a sunroof and flashy sound system, adding dollars where you didn't want them.

But on some rare occasions saving a few bucks can deliver a nicer machine.

BMW M3 Pure

On first blush the M3 Pure looks like any other M3, except its missing some of the fruit.

The price leader of the M3 lineup – it kicks off at $129,900 – gets the same 331kW engine from the M3 Competition, a model that leaves you $15k poorer.

That also makes it 14kW more powerful than the regular M3 sedan (remember the days when there was a single M3?), which sits between the Pure and Competition on price.

So, what's the catch?

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What's inside counts

The Pure does miss out on some of the luxury kit, including full leather seats and headlights that turn around corners, as well as 20-inch wheels (it does with 19s).

But the good bits are there: head-up display, LED headlights and an 8.8-inch touchscreen incorporating navigation and the latest (terrific) iteration of iDrive.

About the only thing we missed was the pumping Harman Kardon audio.

Then again, you're driving a performance car. OK, so it's no V8, but the purposeful boom from the quad exhausts (with some synthesised assistance from the sound system) is a better bet than One Direction pumping through the sound system.

Porsche 911 Carrera T

Stepping up through the 20-plus models in the 911 range brings more pace, different bodies (some are wider) and more gear, culminating in the 911 Turbo S (and, soon, the GT2 RS) that is a seriously brisk device.

But there's something elegant and pure about the base model Carrera.

Like the Turbo it these days gets a turbocharged engine, but one that is designed with less of the obvious turbo rush, for greater linearity.

More, please

If you want a little more – and a little less – then the 911 Carrera T is a great middle 911 ground.

It gets the same 272kW 3.0-litre horizontally-opposed six-cylinder of the Carrera but in a car that is about 20kg lighter.

Combined with a mechanically locking rear differential to improve traction, it's enough to lower the 0-100km/h by 0.1 seconds, taking it to a brisk 4.5 seconds (or 4.2 seconds if you choose the PDK auto).

Plus, you can option the rear-wheel steering system that makes for better high speed stability through bends.

At $238,400 the T is a decent step up on the regular Carrera ($220,900) but it's a lot less than the S ($256,000) and brings go-fast goodness from more expensive 911 variants.

Chrysler 300 SRT Core

It's a model that was created specifically for Australia and the Core makes reasonable sense for $65,000, especially now that V8-powered Commodores have been phased out (jump in quick if you still want one!).

The SRT Core gets the same thumping 350kW 6.4-litre V8 matched to an eight-speed auto of the regular SRT, but for $10k less.

And it still drives the rear wheels and launches to 100km/h in less than five seconds, just like the regular (non Core) SRT.

The things it misses out on include the 19-speaker Harman Kardon sound system (the sound of the V8 makes up for it), leather and suede seats (the cloth pews are fine), red paint for the brake calipers (who cares?) and some active safety gear such as lane departure warning and blind spot monitoring.

Kia Stinger Si

The drawcard with Kia's fastest ever car is the 3.3-litre twin-turbo V6 pumping out 272kW.

It drives the rear wheels for a terrific driver experience that makes for decent pace.

It's a lovely engine, even if its subdued exhaust note doesn't get close to matching the V8 thrum of Holden's Commodore SS, the now-gone local hero than was its most natural competitor.

Maximum returns

If you want the maximum Stinger experience then the GT brings all the bells and whistles, including head-up display, 360-degree camera and Nappa leather seats.

It also gets adaptive dampers, which can be stiffened or softened at the press of a button.

A stiff deal

But here's the catch: the fancy suspension doesn't do a particularly good job.

In its stiffest setting it's too jiggly, to the point where it can occasionally upset the otherwise good body control. And there are only two settings – soft (it's comfy) and hard.

Downgrade to the Stinger Si ($55,990 versus $59,990) and you get the same engine, the same wheels (including broader rear tyres) and the same great V6 turbo.

And the regular (non-adjustable) suspension does an even nicer job, all but guaranteeing a broader smile.

Mazda MX-5 1.5 Roadster

The MX-5 sticks to a simple – and pure – formula of sending modest power to the rear wheels in a lightweight two-seater with a folding roof.

The car that (arguably) best nails that brief is the cheapest MX-5 on offer, the $33,340 1.5-litre Roadster.

Sure, you can get more power with the 2.0-litre (118kW versus 96kW) but you'll add 24kg in the process.

And the 1.5 is a sweeter engine, revving longer and more cleanly to really ram home the whole fun-to-drive thing.

Driving through one of the nicest six-speed manuals you'll ever shift with it makes for a terrific affordable sports car.

Have you found that sweet spot where you get more for less? Share your experience in the comments section below.

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