Best sub-$30K reliable used sports car article highlights:
- Besides a Mazda Miata, you can also get a used Honda S2000, Porsche 987 Boxster/Cayman, and a Scion FR-S/Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ for under $30,000
- For the V8 fans, a C5 Corvette Z06, C6 Corvette, and a 2016-and-newer Camaro SS make excellent reliable used sports cars
- Meanwhile, the best reliable used luxury sports cars include the Lexus IS F and the Mk2 Audi TT
A cheap secondhand sports car sounds intriguing on paper, but many buyers are undoubtedly worried about forking over their life savings when these ‘inexpensive’ used cars fail. However, not only are excellent used sports cars cheaper than you might think, but they’re not all basket cases waiting to happen. And if your budget stretches to the $30,000 mark, these are the best reliable used sports cars out there right now.
A Mazda Miata remains one of the best used sports cars for under $30,000
It might be an obvious choice to some, but that doesn’t make it any less accurate. Although first-gen (NA) Miatas are now becoming desirable classics, the later models are significantly more affordable. You can still find well-kept NB and NC Miatas for under $20K, never mind $30K. And you can even find 2019 Miatas for under $30K these days, Autotrader claims. That’s significant for the ND because Mazda gave it more power.
The Mazda Miata isn’t one of the best used sports cars just because it’s affordable, though. It’s also one of the most reliable sports cars on the market. In general, the only issues are rust, old bushings, worn suspension components, and in the NC’s case, a tall early-model-year ride height, Road & Track says. But these are all easily rectified. And what you get is still one of the purest examples of the RWD roadster formula.
A Mazda Miata might not be the fastest used sports car, but it’s one of the best. And it’s easy to keep running through years of shifting gears and smiles.
You can still find a Honda S2000 for less than $30K
As fun as the Miata is, there are one or two sports cars that can match its charms. The VTEC-screaming Honda S2000 is one of them.
Although S2000s are appreciating in general, they haven’t all become worth their weight in gold. Whether you’re talking AP1 or AP2, a good-condition non-CR S2000 is still a sub-$30K sports car, Hagerty says. And along with the Miata, it’s one of the best used sports cars for that price.
Admittedly, the AP1 cars have a reputation for being oversteer-prone, though that’s arguably part of their appeal. But they also have the undiluted version of the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, blaring out to 9000 RPM. And the six-speed shifter is still referenced with awe today. It’s focused to a fault on performance, but that unfiltered fury is why it’s so beloved.
Though the Honda S2000 had a few glitches over its production run, overall, these used sports cars live up to the brand’s reliable reputation. With proper maintenance, the engines can easily see past 300,000 miles. That’s a lot of time to hear the VTEC kick in, yo.
Want a reliable used sports car that isn’t a roadster? Consider a Scion FR-S/Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ
Technically, a brand-new manual 2022 Subaru BRZ Premium costs less than $30,000. But there is a way to get almost the same experience in a reliable used sports car for even less. And that’s by an earlier Scion FR-S/Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ.
Pre-2022 BRZ/86/FR-S models do have the 2.0-liter boxer engine with its infamous ‘torque dip,’ but the aftermarket has found some solutions. However, if you can learn to live with the engine, the rest of the car more than makes up for it.
Like the Miata, the BRZ/86/FR-S are textbook-perfect introductions to the world of RWD sports cars. These cars are light, well-balanced, simple, and plain fun to drive on curving roads. But because the BRZ/86 has back seats and a usable trunk, it’s more practical than the Miata. And though the valve-spring engine recall has caused a few headaches, these sports cars are reliable overall. Plus, sub-100K-mile examples sometimes come in at around $15K.
Keep an eye on the model years and a 987 Porsche Boxster/Cayman makes a solid reliable used sports car
So far, the list of best used reliable sports cars has focused on front-engine models. But what about a mid-engine one? Luckily, there are some affordable options: the 987-gen 2005-2012 Porsche Boxster and Cayman.
Although they’re Porsches, used 987 Caymans and Boxsters are still available for under $30,000. Particularly 2005-2008 987.1 models, because these, like the 986 Boxster and 996 911, have the infamous IMS bearing problem. You can often find these for under $20,000.
Fortunately, most 987 engines either have replacement IMS bearings by now or won’t experience failure. 987.1 engines can sometimes suffer from cylinder scoring, too, but this is easily checked during a pre-purchase inspection. Otherwise, these cars mainly only suffer from typical age-related problems like sensor failure and broken plastics, PistonHeads says.
Once you address these areas, though, the 987 Porsche Boxster and Cayman are genuinely some of the best affordable used mid-engine sports cars. Many consider the Cayman to be the 911’s handling equal, if not its superior. Both the Boxster and Cayman ride comfortably enough for daily-driving purposes but delight in carving up swoopy roads. Their brakes are solid, their steering is well-weighted and extremely communicative, and the flat-six engine yowls a sweet song.
A used Corvette is an excellent sports car, and C6s and C5 Z06s are still affordable
Decades after the C2 Corvette popularized the Z06 Package, the C5 Corvette brought it back for 2001. Thanks to a titanium exhaust, less sound-deadening, and more power, the 2001 Corvette Z06 went 0-60 mph in 4.3 seconds, R&T reports. And following a power boost in 2002, that time dropped to under four seconds. That’s still fast today. Plus, with some modern performance tires, the C5 Z06 can keep up with Hellcats in the ¼-mile. If that’s not ‘best used sports car’ material, I don’t know what is.
Although the 2001-2004 Z06 is arguably peak C5 Corvette, it’s not immune to some of the lesser ‘Vette models’ issues. Early C5 Z06s can suffer from excessive oil consumption, while 2002-2003 ones’ valve springs sometimes break. And that’s on top of steering-column lockout problems. But overall, well-kept C5 Z06s are solid, reliable used sports cars—and good-condition ones still cost under $25K, Hagerty says.
Alternatively, you could pick up a C6 Corvette. Though the Z06 models fall outside our self-imposed $30K limit, base C6s regularly sell for $20K-$30K, Hagerty reports. And whether you get the 400-hp LS2 or 430-hp LS3 models, C6 Corvettes make great reliable used sports cars. Plus, Chevrolet offered them with MagneRide adaptive dampers, so you can shred corners and cruise comfortably, R&T notes.
If you want a practical reliable used sports car, get a Lexus IS F
A two-door coupe isn’t the only sports car body configuration; sports sedans are sports cars, too. And while there are several affordable, reliable used BMWs and Mercedes models that could fit the bill, it’s hard to get more reliable than a Toyota sedan with a naturally-aspirated V8. That V8-powered sedan is the 2008-2014 Lexus IS F.
The first Lexus F product, the IS F has a 416-hp 5.0-liter V8 hooked up to the world’s first production eight-speed automatic. Capable of 4.5-second 0-60 mph runs, the 2008-2010 models suffered from overly-stiff suspension, too-light steering effort, and an open differential. But in 2011, Lexus tweaked the suspension, installed a Torsen limited-slip differential, and revised the power-steering system.
The result is “a true M3 chaser” with well-weighted, accurate steering that can comfortably cruise if the mood called for it, MotorTrend reports. Plus, its Brembo brakes are more than up to the task of slowing this sports sedan down. And speaking of the E90 M3, it’s only 0.1-0.2 seconds faster to 60 mph. However, its S65 V8 isn’t quite as durable or as reliable as the IS F’s V8. Its only real issue is a leaky water pump and heat exchanger, PistonHeads says.
While the 2011-2014 IS Fs are more valuable, the earlier cars aren’t bad per se. And with a $25,000-$30,000 price range, these reliable, practical used sports cars just sneak under our price limit.
A 2016-and-up Chevrolet Camaro SS isn’t just a muscle car
The current sixth-gen Chevrolet Camaro isn’t getting much love in the showroom right now, but there’s a side benefit. Namely, you can get one of the sportiest modern muscle cars used and save some cash. And not only does a used sixth-gen Camaro make a great sports car, but it’s a reliable one, too, particularly if you get a 2016-and-later one.
That $30K is just enough to net you a used 2016 Camaro SS, which rides on the same Alpha platform as the current CT4-V Blackwing. So, it delivers stellar handling, solid steering, and an impressive amount of on-road composure, R&T reports. Plus, a 455-hp 6.2-liter V8.
And be on the lookout for an SS 1LE. This has stiffer springs and sway bars, an electronic LSD, extra engine cooling, bigger brakes, automatic rev-matching, lighter wheels, and grippier tires. And it turns the sixth-gen Chevrolet Camaro into, genuinely, one of the best used sports cars you can drive on a track.
Looking for something more luxurious? The Mk2 Audi TT makes a stylish, solid, secondhand sports car
Last but not least on our list of best reliable used sports cars is the Mk2 Audi TT, aka the Type 8J. Not only is the TT one of the most reliable used Audis, but it’s also one of the longest-lasting sports cars. And while the original Mk1 TT is on its way to classic status, the Mk2 is similarly stylish but offers more performance and features.
Unfortunately, you won’t find a Mk 2 TTS or TT RS for under $30,000 these days. But you can still get a 2006-2010 TT 3.2, which has the venerable VW VR6 engine and quattro AWD. It’s worth seeking out a manual model because the DSG Mk2s often develop faults as they age, PistonHeads notes. The VR6 is fairly stout, though, and period coil-pack issues have largely been addressed these days.
Also, all TT 3.2s have bigger brakes, as well as sportier suspension and bigger sway bars. However, even without the optional magnetic shocks and navigation, the Mk2 Audi TT is a comfortable place to sit and/or carve corners in. And even over a decade after its introduction, it still looks sleek.
So, as you can see, the list of the best reliable used sports cars under $30,000 contains quite a variety of options. But the good news is that you’ll likely find exactly the kind of experience you’re looking for.
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