Affordable sports cars exist for one reason – to offer all of their splendor to those of us that usually can’t afford luxury cars, supercars, or even top tier muscle cars. Japanese roadsters offer superb handling, quick revving and genuinely fun drive, but they aren’t the only ones. Domestic cars can be affordable too, and offer all of this at the same time as well, if a Dodge Challenger is more your thing. Heck, even German cars have been known to become affordable if you’re patient enough to wait before buying them. What’s more, all of them can become the cheapest sports cars of all time.
And while their prices drop considerably, their performance remains more or less intact. You won’t pay much for them and nothing will hold you back for it. You’ll be able to squeeze out the most of them without feeling guilty about forcing them too much. This is why cheap used sports cars can be a fine investment. You can drive them until their their soul leaves their body and move on to the next one. Here are ten such affordable sports cars to choose from. Oh, and only one nameplate per manufacturer to keep things fair. And, no Mazda Miata. It’s getting seriously boring. Not the car’s driving dynamics which are hellishly fun, but the inclusion of the Mazda MX-5 Miata on every single inexpensive sports cars list. Consider this the honorable mention.
Ranking The Best Cheap Used Sports Cars
10. Nissan 350Z
The Fairlady has always been one of the best cheap sports cars that offers fun driving mechanics and great performance. While the 370Z still keeps its price being the current model and all, the Nissan 350Z is already quite affordable. Produced between 2002 and 2009, it can be found for much less than $10,000 if you’re willing to go with pre-facelift models. Regardless of choice, 3.5L V6 is what always comes with it, and so do almost 300 horses. Transmission, however, depends on the model year. Pre-2006 models were fitted with 5-speed automatics, while newer 350Z’s come with 6-speed automatics.
9. Late 4th Gen Chevrolet Camaro Z28
Millennium Z28 Chevrolet Camaros are now quite affordable, although not as much as the base models. However, they are much more fun to drive thanks to their orientation toward performance. One such V8 Z28 Camaro usually delivers around 300 horsepower which is more than enough to ensure easy overtaking and quick acceleration. F-body Z38 Camaros are probably your best bet for acquiring affordable American sports car – especially knowing what kind of weight Z28 moniker carries with itself.
8. Honda S2000
The S2000 is arguably Honda’s most popular roadster, and though it was discontinued in 2009, rumor has it that it might be making a comeback soon enough. Until it does that, however, you can always get yourself a used one. They still keep their price, but for slightly north of $10,000 you can easily get yourself one of the earlier millennium models. Their 2.0L 4-cylinders were making around 250 horsepower, but it was their high revving that was addicting. Japanese sports cars aren’t as popular as others, but they’re the best cars if you’re looking for a good bang for buck ratio.
7. Mitsubishi Eclipse
This Mitsubishi sports compact was in production until 2012 and there are four generations of it to choose from. What’s great, even the latest models can be found for less than $10,000 – not to mention older ones. Of course, you’ll want the Eclipse GT which was fitted with 3.8L V6 making 263 horsepower in its last generation. In early two thousands, though, Eclipse still made north of 200 horses via 3.0L V6, and these can be had for less than $5,000.
6. Mazda RX-8
Newer Mazda RX-8s aren’t that easy to find because their owners are aware of what superb sports cars they possess. Moreover, they still hold their value, but with a little research, you’ll easily be able to find the late two thousands model for between $5,000 and $10,000. It’s really not much considering you get the masterpiece guzzler Wankel rotary engine with it. 1.3L displacement doesn’t promise much on paper, but it did manage at least 190 horses in low-output versions. 6-speed manual transmission and high-output models put close to 250 horsepower and 9,000 rpm redline at the table.
5. Ford Mustang S-197
It wasn’t that long ago that the fifth generation Mustang was the freshest new car Mustang there was. When sixth generation came out in 2015, code name S-197s prices dropped considerably. They can easily be found for less than $10,000, but don’t expect too many beyond-2010 models for that kind of money. Still, even they don’t cost much more, plus they usually come with lower mileage on their odometers. Wasting words on their performance is unnecessary, really. Whether V6 or V8, the Mustang is an epitome for performance. It always was, and it likely always will be.
4. Acura RSX Type-S
While the regular models generated 155 horsepower, the Acura RSX Type-S delivered 201 horses thanks to its K20A2 version of in-line four engine. That was between 2002 and 2004, at least. 2005 and 2006 year models received 210-horsepower K20Z1 version of the four banger. In both instances, the RSX is one nimble and capable sports car which is usually available for between $5,000 and $10,000.
3. Toyota MR2
When it comes to Toyota and sports cars mash ups, everyone would like to get themselves a Supra. Since the Supra is kind of expensive for 20-year old used car, you’ll probably have to settle for MR2. There’s no less than three generations to choose from here, and they all have their ups and downs. Newest W30 models branded as Spyder in the US have been powered by the 138-horsepower 1.8L 4-cylinder engine. They are usually available for slightly north of $5,000 or $6,000, while older models are cheaper still.
2. Porsche Boxter 986
Newer Boxters and Caymans are still a little bit expensive to be called laughably cheap sports cars, but first generation Boxter hits that sweet $10,000 spot or thereabouts. They all came with Porsche’s trademark flat-six engines, although with different displacements and power outputs. 2.5L, 2.7L or 3.2L, they all delivered more than adequate outputs for one sports car. Totals ranged from 201 horsepower in 1996 to 266 horses in 2004, but don’t expect to find the latter for as little money as the older models.
1. BMW M3 E36
E36 versions of the performance-oriented BMW 3-series were produced between 1992 and 1999 with first US imports coming in 1995. While latter models still keep their prices, you’ll likely find older versions for much less. Maybe even for around $5,000, but they probably won’t be in that great of a shape. In any case, second generation M3 shouldn’t be that expensive, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find better combination of performance and luxury for that kind of money in any cheap sports car. 240 horsepower and 225 lb-ft of torque from 3.0L straight-six was enough for 6-second 0 to 60 at the time. Quite solid considering M3 came in sedan configuration, as well as in coupe form. It’s arguable one of the best affordable sports cars out there.
8 Used Sports Cars You Should Avoid Buying at All Costs!
Are these the most reliable used sports cars? Not at all! Usually, buying a sports or performance car doesn’t have to be that great of a hit on the budget. Japanese imports are affordable, reliable and usually rather good in performance part as well. They aren’t your only option, however. Although luxury brands like Cadillac, Lexus, Acura and their German counterparts cost a lot, shopping for a used car gives us the opportunity to come out on the better side of the bargain.
But how reliable are they actually? Especially after taking their age into equation. While every car demands some repairs here and there, some of them are known to do that on a regular basis. Sports and performance cars are somewhat unique in that respect, so they usually require more attention than others. That’s another potential pitfall when buying a used sports car. You never know who drove it before you and how they treated the car. While that’s something we can’t help you with, here’s something we can do for you. The list of cars and their model year runs you should probably avoid given their reputation and set of well documented issues. You’ve seen our top choices, now look at the ones we encourage you to steer clear of!
“What Sports Car Should I Buy?” – None Of These!
2003 Acura TL Automatic
Although the Acura TL suffers from “standard” Honda transmission issues, it seems that 2003 is the worst year by far. Whether it’s the conventional 225-hp 3.2L V6 or 260-hp Type-S model, TL’s 4-speed automatic simply doesn’t match the overall quality of the car itself. It can happen after 50k miles or anywhere deep in 100k’s, but you can bet it’ll happen. The transmission failure, that is. Poor transmission design on Honda’s part lead to improper fluid flow, which in turn lead to transmission overheat. Add time and wear into that equation, and you’ll easily figure out why 2003 TL’s auto trans usually ended its journey long before it was supposed to. If used Acura TL is on your radar, better avoid 2003 models. Or better yet, buy one with the manual. It’s a performance car after all, and tall gear ratio of TL’s automatic doesn’t help it perform better either.
1996-2001 Honda Prelude 5th Gen Automatic
In an inexcusable fashion, Honda’s entire fifth generation Prelude with 4-speed auto is a car to avoid. Even some 5-speed manual owners report sort of a grind when going into fifth, but that’s more of an annoyance than a problem, and it’s mostly limited to 1997-1999 models. Auto, though, is poorly executed and should fall apart unless meticulously maintained. Needless to say, you can never really know what level of commitment to maintenance did the previous owner(s) apply, if buying used. So, if fifth generation Honda Prelude is your sports car of choice – and there’s nothing wrong with that for it’s one fine car – stick to the manual.
2004-2005 Mazda RX-8
The Mazda RX-8 never really garnered the cult following of its predecessor the RX-7, but that doesn’t mean it was a bad sports car. To the contrary. However, rotary engine is an acquired taste. 1.3L Wankel with more than 200 horsepower will give you plenty of cheers, but it also demands sacrifices. It burns through both oil and fuel, and it requires attention to detail when it comes to maintenance. Engine rotors tend to wear down if not cared for properly, and by care I mean often check-ups on compression levels (apart from keeping oil levels in line). Mazda US even extended the warranty for all 2004-2008 models to 8 years or 100,000 miles.
As it happens, air and fuel mixture from within the engine tend to leak from one combustion chamber into another. That lowers compression and, in turn reduces engine’s efficiency. That leads to paradoxical situations where Mazda RX-8 starts up when cold, but not when warmed up. 2004 and 2005 year models tend to be the ones that are more prone to this issue, but others will be too if not cared for properly. So, yet again, it falls down to whom you’re buying your used car from. Only buy ’04 or ’05 Mazda RX-8 from someone you know understands these engines and used to provide good care for them.
2001 Mitsubishi Eclipse Automatic
Like most sports cars, the Mitsubishi Eclipse too has some issues with the auto trans. Doing some digging, you’ll bump into numerous reports about third generation Eclipse’s automatic transmission. 2001 year models seem to suffer the most from it. The problem is that the 4-speed automatic has a manufacturing defect. Or rather one small part of it has. Wave cushion spring located in the transmission often breaks down causing catastrophic transmission failure. This fragile two coil piece propels itself through the filter and into the pump gear after breaking. It then causes the pump gear to break which immediately shuts off all of the Eclipse’s gears – both forwards and backwards. To make things even worse, it all happens on relatively low mileage. To cut the long story short, if third generation Eclipse is your car of choice, you’ll likely want to ask if the car had suffered from one such breakdown before. If it hasn’t, you can bet that’ll happen to you.
2009-2010 Nissan 370Z
Nissan didn’t exactly choose a good time to present their newest Z car with the recession hype and all. That, however, was by far the the most meaningless of its issues. The Nissan 370Z suffered from the faulty steering lock column straightaway. 2009 and early 2010 models would either leave you stranded somewhere on the road or fail to start if you were more lucky. It’s better to to be let down by your car while at home, right? Although Nissan recalled some of them, many VIN’s have been left out of the recall. You probably know what that means. Either check the VIN and call Nissan straightaway to check if 370Z you’re hunting was the subject of a recall, or avoid early 370Z’s altogether. 2012 models and newer are completely steering lock-free which pretty much sums up the system’s fragile nature.
2006-2007 Pontiac Solstice
It took almost a decade before GM finally recalled over 1.6 million vehicles for defective ignition switch back in 2014. Part of that recall was 2006-2007 Pontiac Solstice. Faulty ignition switch could have been pulled out of its socket by a heavy keychain (go figure) which lead to some serious safety hazards like disabled airbags and loss of power to all electrical systems. In other words, your car quickly became a deathbox prone to all manner of accidents. The same thing happened with ignition switch in case of an accident. Needless to say, airbags and electronic safety systems would have come in handy had they worked in those situations. GM’s faulty ignition switch found in Pontiac Solstice among other cars has lead to 13 documented deaths over the years. Before buying ’06 or ’07 Solstice, you’d better check if the issue had been addressed. Better safe than sorry (or worse).
2000-2005 Porsche M96 Engines
All Porsche models with M96 engines including Boxters, Caymans and 911s have the same well documented defect – the intermediate shaft bearing or the IMS. Both M96 and M97 engines had had this part, but 1997-1999 models used dual-row ball-bearing, while latter 2006-2008 models had reinforced single-row bearings with the same load capacity of the early models. This leaves 2000 through 2005 models – excluding some 2000 and 2001 models with the older bearing design – as defective.
So, what actually happens inside the Porsche M96 engine? The IMS of the M96 engine is located just below the crankshaft carrier, and connected to it by chain. Since there are no internal oil passages which would grease the IMS with pressurized engine oil, it had to rely on its own internal grease. Needless to say, that grease would dry up after prolonged engine run, causing the IMS to break down and, in turn cause catastrophic damage to the engine, leaving complete engine rebuild or swap as your only options. And Porsche engines aren’t that cheap either. Although 2000-2005 single-row bearing models have as much as 10% failure rate, all 1997-2008 M96 and M97 Porsche engine-fitted models can experience the IMS seizure. Even worse, 2006-2008 models have no means of addressing the issue without disassembling the engine entirely due to revised design which doesn’t allow the access to the IMS otherwise. I’m not saying “don’t buy a Porsche,” but I am just saying “be advised if you do.”
2000-2001 Toyota Celica GT-S
Toyotas are generally well-designed and reliable cars, but that doesn’t mean they’re faultless. Take the seventh generation performance model Celica GT-S, for instance. It isn’t necessarily a bad car, but it tends to be sluggish and hesitate when accelerating. These are more annoyances than problems, but they happen to many Celica owners, and like every annoyance, they too can become unbearable after a while. 2000 and 2001 GT-S models seem to suffer the most. Sometimes new oil pump and filter do the trick and sometimes it’s the EVAP system that causes problems. Whichever the case, problems often come back to haunt the Celica owners after a while. Never a dull moment with 2000 and 2001 Toyota Celica GT-S.