Sports car ownership can be a costly enterprise. They’re likely to be more high-maintenance, need servicing more often, and will result in your insurance premium going through the roof – and that’s even when you buy the right sports car. Get the wrong sports car, and you don’t even have the enjoyment of driving it to balance out all the other little headaches that get in the way of owning a piece of automotive fun.
Luckily, sports car ownership need not be expensive. Whether new or used, sports cars can be found for low prices, perfect for the gearhead on a budget. Here are 10 that have stood the test of time and are still considered the very best in their price bracket.
10 Mazda MX5 Miata
Sometimes obvious choices are obvious because they make a lot of sense, and that’s been the case with Mazda’s roadster for the 34 years it has existed. Still officially the best-selling sports car in history. Mazda was unashamed in the fact they stole so much of what made the Miata a fun car from British sports cars of the 1960s, namely the Lotus Elan. In the process, they revolutionized the sports car and changed the automotive landscape forever.
There have been four generations of the Miata and a million cars made bearing the name. Not only has it been a roaring sales success, but it has become the quintessential British roadster, despite being made by a Japanese brand and only ever being built in Mazda’s plant in Hiroshima.
Whichever generation you choose, the Miata is a sound investment for pure driving pleasure and wind-in-the-hair fun. The 2023 model has an MSRP of $28,050, but you can find second-hand Miatas for under $4,000.
9 Toyota GR86
Recently renamed the GR86, Toyota has had the “86” model of sports car in production for a decade now. Inspired by some of Toyota’s legendary sports cars such as the 2000GT and the AE86, it was developed in collaboration with Subaru who named their variant the BRZ, and Scion named theirs the FR-S.
Popular among driving enthusiasts from launch, both generations of the 86 have come in for praise for their low center of gravity, front-engined rear-drive layout, and naturally aspirated boxer engine. By far and away the perfect new car for drifting, the current 86 is marketed as part of the Gazoo Racing family and is strong value at $28,400. If you’d prefer it to be even cheaper than that, first-generation cars (as a Scion FR-S) are on the second-hand market for around $20,000.
8 Honda S2000
If you like the Miata but feel it’s perhaps a bit obvious, go for one of the true modern classics of our time. Underrated when it was built, the S2000 was in production from 1999-2009 and at that time was a thoroughly acclaimed roadster, but this never quite translated to mainstream appreciation over the first-generation BMW Z4 or the Miata.
The VTEC engine is famed for its high-revving nature, and this was no different with the 2.0-liter motor in the S2000, which Honda claimed produced the highest specific output of a normally aspirated production engine of any car in the world. If you’d prefer a bit of star power over your engine specs, then bear in mind that celebs from Chris Pine to Bob Dylan owned S2000s.
S2000s are appreciating in value, but you can still find first-generation cars from 1999-2003 for between $25,000-$30,000.
7 Toyota MR2 (third generation)
As we’ve already seen with the Miata and the S2000, one of the best ways of getting your driving kicks is to find yourself a roadster. Part of the appeal of roadsters is the fact that you don’t have to be going a million miles per hour to enjoy yourself because you’ve got the top down and the radio on.
You might not find yourself going a million in the third-generation MR2, but you will still find a thoroughly decent sports car. Unlike the predecessors which bore the name, this MR2 was a mid-engined Spyder rather than a 2+2 sports coupe. For this reason, enthusiasts overlooked it at the time and still continue to despite perfect weight distribution, weighing less than a ton and getting you from 0-60 in under eight seconds.
Beware of a potentially rusty rear sub-frame, but you should consider the MR2 Spyder instead of a Miata. You’ll still be able to find a good example for $15,000, which is a low price for a mid-engined sports car no matter what it is.
6 Audi TT (first generation)
Towards the end of the first generation TT’s lifetime, a lot of people started to focus on the bad. Those in the know when it came to cars didn’t like the way it had become as much of a fashion accessory as it had a sports car, and the public still had reservations after the high-profile accidents that occurred with early TTs.
25 years on from the first TT rolling off the production line in Györ, Hungary, and people are starting to tip it as a possible future classic. Available for around $10,000, the first-generation TT is a solid investment that you can have a lot of fun with in the meantime and is cooler than you think.
5 Ford Mustang GT (fourth generation)
Another early 2000s choice, the fourth-generation Ford Mustang GT is just as much of a sports car as it is a muscle car. The 4.6-liter V8 produced 268 horsepower and accelerated from 0-60 in 5.4 seconds, which is still a decent time today. Mustangs have always been good value for money, and the fourth generation was no different, with an MSRP when new of $31,036 (adjusted for inflation).
It’s not the prettiest Mustang that ever existed, but it is cheap and we love the fourth-gen Mustang GT’s modification capacity. Prices average out at about $14,000 today, but there are plenty available for under $10k.
4 Mitsubishi 3000GT
The most underrated of the 90s Japanese sports cars like the Toyota Supra and the Mazda RX-7, the 3000GT was also badged as the Dodge Stealth in North America. Unlike its rivals however, the 3000GT hasn’t had the same impact on automotive culture as its contemporaries, which is one of the reasons that it has remained one of the cheaper JDM classics that everyone should drive.
One of the coolest elements of the 3000GT was that there was a Spyder variant with a retractable hardtop, which was still a rarity in the mid-90s. Paired with a 3.0-liter V6 capable of producing 222 horsepower, the 3000GT still holds up as a neat package.
Sold new for around $35,000, prices of the 3000GT are starting to rise as cars of this period are rising in value. Still available for less than it cost when new, with some hunting around you can even find examples of the 3000GT for less than $20k.
3 Porsche 944
The 944 was Porsche’s attempt in the early ’80s to bridge the gap between their entry-level 924 and their most famous premium sports car, the 911. Produced for just under ten years between 1982-1991, the 944 carried the usual excessive range of trim levels that Porsche seem to specialize in.
The finest of these is widely held to be the 944 Turbo, introduced for the 1986 model year. The turbocharged 2.5-liter straight four produced 217 horsepower and reached 60 in under six seconds, an extremely impressive time for the mid-1980s.
Adjusted for inflation, the 944 would cost $120,000 in today’s money when it was brand new, but right now, the average price of a 944 is $20,000. However, 944 prices could skyrocket soon, so it might be worth taking a gamble on a fun investment before you get priced out of it.
2 Hyundai Tiburon (second generation)
The second generation Tiburon was great value when it was new as a sub-$20k V6 sports car, and prices have dropped to the point where $5000 can get you a sports car with a V6. There are some pieces of information you should know before buying a Tiburon, but none of them are deal-breakers.
It’s also worth remembering that the Tiburon was not an ugly car either, as it was compared to contemporary Ferraris when it was new. The V6 produced 172 horsepower, and although not a giant amount, certainly had enough power to get itself around in a hurry if needed.
1 Chevrolet Corvette C4
Corvettes tend to have to hit a sort of sweet spot to become cheap sports cars, and right now the C4 Corvette is in that period where it isn’t old enough to be sought after as a classic, nor recent enough to have held its value.
Currently averaging out at $23,000, the C4 is still one of the most underrated Corvettes on account of the valuation dichotomy, which means if you buy now you can expect its value to rise the further away from the 80s and 90s we get. Certain C4 variants are now worth a fortune, so get in now before prices climb even more.