Reliable and affordable used sports cars article highlights:
- Buying a used sports car doesn’t have to cost a fortune; there are plenty of reliable ones available for no more than $20,000
- Classic or near-classic reliable, affordable sports cars include the 986 Porsche Boxster, Porsche 944, and the first-gen Audi TT
- More modern examples include the NB and NC Miata, Toyota MR2, Nissan 350Z and 370Z, Acura RSX, and E82 BMW 128i
With new and used car prices at stratospheric levels, you might think that a sports car is a waste of money. However, not only are some sports cars surprisingly practical, but they’re more affordable than you might think. Plus, even classic or near-classic ones aren’t always maintenance nightmares with expensive needs; ditto the more luxurious ones. And regardless of your layout or segment preferences, there’s undoubtedly a reliable, affordable used sports car out there for you.
Before we get into this car buying guide, let’s acknowledge that ‘affordable’ is rarely an objective measure. So, for this guide, we limited the main entries to good-condition cars that typically sell for no more than $20K based on contemporary information from sources like Hagerty and Autotrader.
The NB and NC Miata keep reliable, affordable sports cars alive
Big shock, but the list of affordable and reliable secondhand sports cars includes the Mazda MX-5 Miata. More specifically, now that the first-gen Miata is a desirable classic, the second- and third-gen NB and NC Miata.
Although the later Miata models aren’t quite as light or simple as the NA, they’re still fun and nimble roadsters. Also, they have several upgrades over the earliest version, including stiffer chassis, better interiors, and more features. And you don’t need more than a good set of tires and a roll bar to make even an NC into a decent autocross racer.
I can speak firsthand about the NB Miata’s reliability. In the three years I owned a 1999 10th Anniversary Edition NB, I never had an unexpected breakdown or random fault. The only things I had to replace, apart from fluids, tires, and brake pads, were an old battery and the soft top. And the NC is similarly bulletproof, Road & Track claims. Plus, even if something does break, parts are fairly cheap.
Speaking of cheap, as noted earlier, the NB and NC Miata are still affordable sports cars. A good-to-excellent NB—Mazdaspeed version aside—typically runs about $9K-$15K, Hagerty reports. And you can find well-kept NCs with desirable options like the limited-slip differential for that much, too.
Want a reliable mid-engine sports car on a budget? Get a Toyota MR2
The Mazda Miata isn’t the only reliable or affordable used sports car out there, though. You can also get one of its contemporary rivals: the mid-engine Toyota MR2.
In contrast to the Miata, the second-gen ‘Mk2’ Toyota MR2 is the most valuable version. But even good examples of its most desirable form, the Mk2 Turbo, often cost less than $20K, Hagerty says. And while it has a reputation for snap oversteer, in the right hands, the Mk2 MR2 could out-handle contemporary Ferraris.
However, if you want a reliable, affordable, mid-engine RWD sports car that can handle corners and the commute, the Mk3 MR2 Spyder is arguably the better choice. Although it has less cargo space than a Miata, it has a roomier interior. Also, while it’s shorter than the NB, it has a longer wheelbase, so it’s even more stable and balanced. And it’s even cheaper than a Mk2: good-to-excellent examples typically run $9K-$16K, Hagerty says.
If you maintain it, the Porsche 944 is a great affordable classic sports car
On the classic sports car front, a Porsche isn’t usually what you associate with ‘affordable.’ However, not every vintage Porsche is priced like an air-cooled 911. Although it’s gotten more expensive recently, a Porsche 944 is still a reasonably-priced RWD option.
Introduced in 1983, the 944 is the successor to the 924, the original bargain Porsche. Some brand purists sneer at its liquid-cooled 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, but it and the five-speed transaxle gave the 944 a 50:50 weight distribution. As a result, this affordable RWD sports car drew massive praise for its handling and balance.
And while initially, the 944 was arguably underpowered, Porsche fixed that with a 2.7-liter upgrade in 1989, as well as the S, 3.0-liter S2, and Turbo models. Also, this sports car is technically a hatchback, so it’s more practical than it appears. In addition, by the time the S2—“the best all-rounder” in Hagerty’s eyes—came out, Porsche offered dual airbags and ABS.
Because the Porsche 944 has been an affordable sports car for years, many examples degraded under deferred maintenance. So, get a pre-purchase inspection before you put down any money. However, apart from age-related leaks and worn parts, as well as Turbo-specific items, the biggest issues are timely timing and balance-shaft belt changes, R&T notes. And with the 968 now on Hagerty’s Bull Market list, the Porsche 944 is still reasonably priced (apart from Turbo models). You can pick up a good-condition S2 for about $16K, Hagerty says.
The Nissan 350Z and 370Z are two solid old-school reliable sports cars with reasonably price tags
With the new Nissan Z about to drift into dealers, those shopping on the used market might want to cast their eyes on its predecessors. Those in the Fast and Furious fandom likely have fond memories of the Nissan 350Z, which is still relevant on the customization scene. And while it was arguably past its prime when it left production, the Nissan 370Z’s old-school vibe is part of its charm.
Both sports cars, though, have something to offer drivers today, especially if you want something reliable and affordable. Nissan used the 350Z’s 3.5-liter VQ35DE in a variety of other cars, and while there were some early recalls, by now they’ve likely been addressed. And even the earliest 350Zs offer LSDs and traction control, Autotrader notes.
Meanwhile, the 370Z took everything good about the 350Z and improved upon it. The 3.7-liver V6 is more powerful but just as durable and there’s more interior and cargo space. And let’s not forget that the 370Z was the first road car with automatic rev-matching. But otherwise, its relative dearth of advanced tech is a refreshing change of pace.
Because convertibles’ mechanisms and struts can fail with age, best stick to coupe 350Zs and 370Zs. And you can find plenty of manual examples for $15,000-$20,000.
Address the IMS, and a 986 Porsche Boxster offers worry-free smiles for days
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Yes, the first-gen 986 Porsche Boxster can suffer from intermediate shaft (IMS) bearing failure. Yes, if it’s not caught in time, it can grenade the engine. No, not all 986s experience IMS problems. And yes, there are aftermarket solutions that eliminate this flaw.
Without the IMS specter hanging over the 986 Boxster, what’s left is a genuinely reliable, fun, and affordable mid-engine sports car. The spiritual successor to the 924/944/968, the Boxster saved Porsche from bankruptcy in the 1990s. And it did it not just with a reasonable sticker price, but also excellent driving dynamics, a slick transmission, and a rev-happy flat-six engine. Also, the hydraulic steering is still praise-worthy for its weight, accuracy, and sheer tactile feedback.
Because they’re now considered classics, first-gen Porsche Boxsters are appreciating, especially the 2000-and-later 2.7-liter cars and upgraded S models. But you can still find good-condition examples for under $20K.
Looking for some style with your affordable sports car? Try a first-gen Audi TT
For some, the Audi TT is more about style than sportiness. But despite its VW Golf roots, this is a real sports car. And a used TT isn’t just a reliable sports car—it’s one of the most reliable used Audis, period.
As with the 986, first-gen ‘Mk1’ TTs are approaching classic age these days. So, while ground-breaking in its day, Mk1 dual-clutch transmissions can fail. As such, it’s worth seeking out a manual car. Also, pay close attention to the model year because some of the Volkswagen engines had year-specific teething issues. And make sure any timing or cam belts were changed on time.
If these sound like deal-breakers, they’re not. A first-gen Audi TT, especially in AWD form, follows the Porsche 356 mantra of ‘less is more,’ Hagerty says. The manual shifter works well, the steering is solid, and it handles sweeping back roads with aplomb. And you can find a solid Mk1 TT for less than $15,000.
If you’re a FWD fan, the Acura RSX is a reliable and affordable sports car worth seeking out
Depending on who you ask, the Acura RSX, the original Integra’s successor, is more of a hot hatch than a sports car. But the RSX doesn’t need RWD to offer a scintillating experience. And this FWD sports car lives up to Honda’s reliable reputation.
With a VTEC-equipped K20 engine, double-wishbone front suspension, and a “fabulous” transmission, an Acura RSX still delights enthusiasts, CarBibles reports. The Type S models are especially prized, thanks to their six-speed manuals, upgraded suspension components, and bigger brakes. And keep an eye out for 2005- and 2006-MY examples: they have stiffer chassis, larger brake master cylinders, revised suspension settings, quicker steering racks, and more power.
Regardless of which Acura RSX you get, though, clean examples have deserved reputations as reliable sports cars. Just check for excessive oil consumption and if the timing chain and tensioner were replaced. And while low-mileage, unmodified RSXs naturally command premiums, you can still find good-condition ones for about $15,000.
You won’t blow your budget buying or maintaining an E82 BMW 128i
Buying a used luxury car, BMW or otherwise, can often summon visions of catastrophic and expensive issues. But not all used BMWs are unreliable. And if you want a reliable, affordable, but still luxurious RWD used sports car, one of the best BMW options is the E28-gen 128i.
Although the contemporary 135i has more power and torque, the naturally-aspirated 2008-2013 128i’s engine suffers fewer issues. And because it’s lighter than the turbocharged car, the 128i is the better-balanced sports car. In addition, not only is it faster than the contemporary 328i, but its interior is just as well-built. Also, it has the balance of handling, steering feedback, and compliance that BMW fans have long praised the brand for.
Furthermore, a BMW 128i is a genuinely affordable sports car. You can find good-condition examples with less than 100,000 miles for about $16,000. So, for less than the price of a GR86, you can get a more powerful, more luxurious, inline-six Bimmer.
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