There are certain manufacturers of motor vehicles that become synonymous with specific areas of the car world. Pagani build supercars, Rolls-Royce focus on ultimate luxury vehicles, and Morgan make weird wooden three-wheelers, but there are few brands as inextricably linked to a class of car as Porsche is to the sports car. The Stuttgart brand has been at the forefront of the sports car market for over 50 years now, offering some of the very best vehicles in the class, and breaking boundaries of performance, with some models, such as the 911, becoming iconic in its own right and part of the brand’s identity.
But Porsches are also expensive, especially in the States, and you’d be very hard-pressed to find a good example of any model from the last 10 years for less than $30,000. In fact, a 2012 911 Carrera will cost you over $46,000 at the moment. If your budget does not stretch that far, do not fear. There are a good number of sports cars offering pre-eminent performance and dependable reliability for a fraction of the price, and we’re so determined to prove it, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 cheap sports cars that we think will outlive any Porsche.
10 Nissan 350Z – $12,000
Already a bona fide automotive legend and the pin-up car of its day, the Nissan 350z represents the best bargain sports car in the world right now. The JDM icon was the cover star for a plethora of publications and games during its 00s pomp, delighting drivers with its strong performance stats and agile handling.
The Nissan also already has pedigree as a Porsche rival, matching up favorably to its contemporary 911 adversary, offering almost the same amount of power for near enough half the price. You can still pick one up for less than $15,000, and reports suggest that its strong V6 is good for over 300K miles. Grab one now while prices are still low.
9 Chevrolet Corvette C5 – $18,000
The first of a few American entries on this list, the Corvette C5 might just be the most sensible purchase here, and yes, we know that “sensible” and “Corvette” are words that rarely go together. Built between 1997 and 2004, the Corvette C5 was one of Chevy’s best yet, with sumptuous styling, and great performance too; its LS1 engine puts out a very healthy 345 hp, propelling the C5 to a top speed of around 180 mph — enough to match most Porsches you can find.
The upsides don’t stop there, as the 5th generation ‘Vette has gained a reputation as highly reliable — due in part to the fact that it never has to try too hard on public roads — and it has depreciated to the point where you can get one for under $20,000. Pick one up now and enjoy beating Porsches at the lights for years to come.
8 Chevrolet Camaro SS – $25,000
We’re sticking with both The Land Of The Free and Chevrolet for this next entry, the quintessentially American, Camaro S.S. The current generation of Camaro has been with us for some time now — 8 years in fact — and it looks like Chevrolet is discontinuing the nameplate for good at the end of its run, but in many ways, its longevity appears to be a case of that old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” at play.
The Camaro S.S. offers exactly what you’d expect from its historic and iconic name; big power — 451 hp to be exact — aggressive and sporty styling, and undeniable presence. Much like the aforementioned Corvette, the Camaro is built on a reasonably simple and ubiquitous platform, making it reliable and economical to repair (though, again, like the Corvette above, fuel economy might be a different story). Pick up a 2015 model for $25,000 and use the change from the Porsche you could have bought as gas money.
7 Honda S2000 – $25,000
The two things Honda are most renowned for are: Building reliable vehicles and their sports cars from the 1990s and 2000s. So it’s no surprise then to see the S2000 — a car that encapsulates both of those — on this list.
Naturally-aspirated and high revving, the S2000’s iconic F20C engine could hurl its lightweight body along any winding road with enough vigor to match the vast majority of Porsches, and, with many reports of vehicles lasting over 300,000 miles with regular servicing and only minor TLC, it can match Stuttgart reliability, too. Prices for S2000s are beginning to shoot up in recent years and for good reason, but you can still get a good one for less than $30,000.
6 Ford Mustang – $25,000
Heavy, flamboyant, and at its best in a straight line, in many ways, the Mustang is the antithesis of Porsche products, but if you’re looking for a fun, reliable, and reasonably-priced sports car, you won’t go far wrong with the current version of the original pony car.
A new seventh-generation car is on the way for 2024, but Ford’s current Mustang shares many similarities with its aforementioned American stablemate, the Chevrolet Camaro. Both have been around since 2015, pack oodles of horsepower, and have strong consumer reports on reliability. You can get a 2016 model Mustang for around $25,000 at the moment, and, considering how much car you’re getting, that’s not bad money at all.
5 Mazda Miata – $26,000
You don’t need us to tell you that gearheads love a Miata — the little Mazda changed the automotive industry forever — but a lot of the talk surrounding the name focuses on the early cars, and we think the current model is well worth your time.
It may not have power stats to match some of the other vehicles on this list, but that’s not what the Miata is all about. The fourth-generation car has all of the ingredients you’d expect from the name badge; great styling, lightweight, and, with up to 181 hp, enough power to get a bit silly on a twisty road.
Will the fourth generation be as legendary as some of its predecessors? Only time will tell, but given Mazda’s famous reliability, there will still be a good number of them around when that time comes. You can grab a 2016 car for around $26,000 at the moment, and we think you probably should.
4 BMW M235i – $30,000
Okay, so we’re well aware that recent BMWs don’t have the best reputation for reliability among car people, but prepare to be surprised; according to the 2022 edition of the Consumer Report annual reliability survey, the brand is only behind Toyota and Lexus in overall dependability. The 2014-2016 M235i is a shining example of the brand’s reliability according to consumers, and also a complete joy of a sports car.
Nimble, agile, and powerful too — with a limited top speed of 155 mph and 0-62 mph time of just under 5 seconds — the M235i is a brilliant baby BMW, and, because of its M badge, it’s packed with performance features too, such as M Sport suspension and brakes, and sports seats. If you’re looking for that premium feel, strong performance, and great reliability, the BMW M235i is a car you should consider.
3 Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ – $32,000
When Toyota and Subaru decided to come together to develop the 86/BRZ a truly fantastic sports car base was born, and now in its second generation, we believe this is absolutely a car to rival any Porsche on the market, especially for first-time sports car buyers. The 86 and BRZ are very similar overall, give or take some minor tweaks, so choose your favorite and take in that wonderful old-fashioned sports car experience; a lightweight and well-sorted chassis, a proper manual gearbox, and rear-wheel drive.
Prices start at around $30,000 for a brand-new car, which is still a considerable amount less than it would cost you to buy a 10-year-old 911, and Toyota ranked number one in the previously mentioned 2022 Consumer Report reliability survey, too, so we can’t think of many reasons not to buy one of these.
2 Audi TT – $32,000
A sports car stalwart, the Audi TT is nearing the end of the road, with the German brand confirming that — after almost a quarter of a century — the current fourth-generation car will be the last, and production will end this year, but there are so many reasons to love the TT.
Far more than the “hairdresser’s car” stereotype, Audi’s compact sports car offers a little bit of everything, from its consistently distinctive design features and sense of style, to its performance capabilities and those famous Quattro handling characteristics. The TT has also proved to be a reliable machine; a 2023 study by iSeeCars found the TT to be the most reliable luxury sports car of all, getting a near-perfect 9.9/10 score for reliability in its convertible guise.
1 Acura Integra Type R – $40,000
Perhaps somewhat of a wildcard entry, the Acura Integra Type R is a rare beast these days, but not because of any reliability issues. Only around 4,000 were imported into the states, leading the car, described in its day as the best-handling front-wheel-drive car of all time, to be far less known than its famous brother, the Civic Type R.
But fame isn’t everything. The Integra Type R garnered strong praise from the motoring press when it came out, with its hand-built 1.8-liter, 185 hp engine picked out as a particular high-spot. Due to rarity, it’ll cost you around $40,000 to make an Integra Type R yours, and finding one that hasn’t been heavily modified could be seriously tricky business, but we think it’s definitely worth the effort.