Finding a cheap real-wheel-drive (RWD) car is becoming harder and harder. Finding a cheap car that is also fun can be even more difficult, but it may not be as hard as you think. Entry-level sports cars make up a small segment of the market, but cheap fun can be found for less than $15,000, and in many cases, considerably less than that.
Unlike front-wheel-drive (FWD), RWD drivetrain allows for much better handling characteristics. A RWD is also lighter than an all-wheel-drive (AWD) layout and provides better overall weight distribution since the engine at the front and drivetrain components in the rear provide balance.
Most true sports cars favor a RWD layout for the aforementioned reasons. The limited traction and superior handling abilities of RWD sports cars provide some of the best driving experiences and the most smiles per gallon on the market. They can be great for a second or third vehicle, and all this fun can be surprisingly affordable, if you know where to look.
The Mazda MX-5 Miata is one of the best-selling sports cars of all time, and for good reason. Its classic front-engine, RWD layout gives it impeccable balance, incredible handling characteristics, and zippy character.
In addition to all of this, they are readily available across dealer networks. Their relatively high production numbers mean that used examples – especially first, second, and third-generation models – are easy to find and cheap to buy. Their high reliability also makes buying a higher-mileage Miata a reasonable risk to take.
The Miata is small, and according to some, underpowered, but it is a perfect entry-level sports car for just about any buyer. Low-mileage examples in good condition can sell for less than $10,000, even if they are only about five to ten years old. Very late-model examples can push to $15,000, but even then, buyers are treated to some of the most fun that four wheels can offer.
The Ford Mustang is a classic choice for those who want an entry-level sports car to drive daily or to keep as an enjoyable fancier ride. Like the Miata, they are very common, so only the more specialized models usually carry a higher price tag. As well as being common making them easier to find, low buying prices on used Mustangs are helped by their comparatively low starting MSRP.
The winning recipe for used ‘Stang seekers is the fourth and fifth-generation V6 models. They are relatively easy to find with a manual transmission, and convertible models are also available. Though they are not as sought after as the GT models, late fifth-generation V6s were boosted to over 300 horsepower.
Fourth-generation GT models – with the 4.6-liter V8 – are also relatively easy to find for around $10,000 or less, but increasing your budget by a few thousand dollars will put buyers squarely into the newer, and later, more powerful, fifth-generation Mustang realm. Regardless of what year and engine buyers seek in their Mustangs, they have all proven to be quite reliable as a bonus.
The Nissan 350Z and 370Z are the automaker’s modern versions of their excellent historic “Z Cars.” Being a little older, the 350Z features fewer modern lines, fewer horses under the hood, and a generally lower price tag than its younger brother. But, the 370Z has been on the market for so long that good examples are attainable for around $10,000.
350Z models utilize a sonorous 3.5-liter V6 engine producing just under or just over 300-horsepower depending on the year, and 370Z models utilize a slightly larger 3.7-liter engine that produces around 330-horsepower. Both figures may not sound incredibly impressive compared to today’s standards, but both vehicle’s small sizes allow them to pack a performance punch.
Not only are both models available with manual transmissions for some added fun factor, but both are considered easily-modifiable tuner cars, both feature balanced handling characteristics, and both come in hatchback coupe or roadster variants. Again, their relatively high production numbers keep costs low and pushing budgets past $10,000 yields even better market results.
The Camaro is seen by many as the Mustang’s primary competitor. In many ways it is, but production was ceased for several years, creating a gap in the market. 2010 saw the return of the iconic pony car after a seven-year hiatus causing quite a price gap in the used market as well.
The best-used examples come from the fourth generation, produced from the early 1990s into the early 2000s. Its body styling screams of typical ‘90s design and cheap overall build quality has seen many of these examples fall apart or be driven until they give up. Despite this, even V8 models are cheap to come by, and nice V6 models are even more affordable.
Fifth-generation models, closely resembling the retro-sheik styling prevailing in modern Camaros, are much harder to find for around $10,000. Much like the Mustang, V6 models are more readily available and offer over 300-horsepower from the factory. Used V8 models from 2010 to now can be found for around $15,000, but they are usually higher-mileage well-used examples.
Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ
The Toyota GT86 – formerly known as the Scion FR-S – and Subaru BRZ are nearly identical vehicles with few differences between them. They are also relatively new compared to others like the Mustang, Camaro, and BMW 3-Series that have been around for multiple generations.
Like the Mazda Miata, they are small and considered by many to be underpowered. The results of these “flaws” are sporty coupes that are light, nimble, and zippy. A low starting price and no real exclusivity also means that used pricing is starting to slide into and under the $10,000 barrier. Even nice examples can be had at a relative bargain.
For those who want a new or used Toyota Supra but can not afford one, the BRZ or GT86 offers a great consolation prize. Unlike the new Supra, neither is turbocharged and both are offered with a six-speed manual gearbox for some naturally-aspirated driving pleasure.
Fiat 124 Spider
The Fiat 124 Spider was welcomed into the market with praise from reviewers but slow sales numbers from consumers. Its underpinnings come from the Mazda Miata, a vehicle alongside which it was produced. This means that the DNA which has made the Miata so successful is infused into its Italian counterpart by proxy.
By most reviewers’ standards, the 124 Spider is underrated, and it is a great alternative to the Miata if the traditional view of the Miata’s image is something that puts buyers off. Its base 160-horsepower engine comes with subjectively better styling, better interior materials, and a bit more overall space than its cousin.
Finding a 124 Spider Abarth, the sportiest version of the roadster, is what most experts recommend for its upgraded engine horsepower and tuned exhaust. Unfortunately, the Fiat is not known for its stellar reliability, the little convertible’s Achilles heel. This is ultimately what brings used models squarely into the $10,000 price range, but finding a good one can still be incredibly
Hyundai Genesis Coupe
The Hyundai Genesis Coupe is an underrated sports car that only lived for seven model years through two generations from 2010 to 2016. First-generation models were available with two engine choices: a four-cylinder turbo and a V6. Second-generation models experienced a facelift and increased horsepower across the board.
Offered with the choice of a manual or automatic transmission, the Genesis Coupe caters to a variety of sports car seekers. Many reviewers have likened the car to a Korean Mustang, but the surprisingly engaging driving experience it provides usually outweighs the surprise of most when they find that Hyundai actually made a RWD sports coupe.
The purportedly best model, the second generation Coupe with the 3.8-liter V6, produces a hefty 350-horsepower, but nice, low-mileage examples of these tend to sell for well over $10,000. The rest of the lineup, including first-generation V6 models, fall well within and under the $8000 to $10,000 price range. Hyundai’s excellent warranty is even still in effect for some used examples.
Buyers who love the refinement of German engineering can rejoice in the fact that the BMW 3-Series has a lot to offer the used car market for around $10,000. It is BMW’s entry-level luxury car, but being smaller than many other BMW models, the 3-Series offers a mix of power, drivability, and practicality nearly unrivaled for a vehicle at that price point.
Higher than average depreciation rates are what help the 3-Series fall within the affordable spectrum. They come in both sedan and coupe body styles to meet the needs of nearly everyone, and they can also be found with AWD for those looking at Audi alternatives. BMW’s inline-four and excellent inline six-cylinder engine choices only add to their allure.
Fifth and sixth generation cars spanning from the mid-2000s to the mid-2010s will be the most likely examples to fall within the $10,000 sweet spot, but many cars at this price point are available with less than 100,000 miles on the odometer.
The Porsche Boxster is one of the most well-respected and well-balanced sports cars in history, and although examples can be found for around $10,000, it is harder to do so than other models on our list. First-generation models are most likely going to be the only Boxster models available at this price point, but this is not a bad thing.
They are nimble mid-engine sports cars with serious racing credentials from a company that knows how the game is played. First-generation models only produced around 230-horsepower from a flat four-cylinder engine, but their superior handling is what has cemented their reputation as a pure driving machine.
Boxsters are perfect for those looking for a little more than what a Mustang or Miata can provide. They are relatively reliable, but they have higher running costs than many other non-German offerings on our list. Still, this should not sway buyers looking for a fun weekend vehicle since they are almost universally recognized as one of the best sports cars of all time.
The Mazda RX-8 is like the Genesis Coupe in many ways. It is no longer in production after a short life span, and it is much underappreciated as a sports car since it could not follow up on Mazda’s excellent RX-7. Unlike the Genesis Coupe, it is light, has a near-perfect 50/50 weight distribution, and only makes around 230-horsepower.
What makes the RX-8 special is its Wenkel rotary engine. Because of its unconventional design, it allows the RX-8 to rev to 9000 RPM, and its minimal 159 lb-ft of torque means that keeping the accelerator to the floor is a necessity to get the most out of it. Its optional manual transmission furthers the experience even more.
In addition to its unconventional engine, its two rear suicide-style half doors allow slightly easier access for second-row passengers. For as reportedly unreliable as its engine is and for as many quirks as it has, the RX-8 is an incredibly affordable sports car with loads of character that can be well worth the risk of repairs.
Dodge Challenger/Dodge Charger
Both the Dodge Challenger and Dodge Charger are like a combination of the Chevy Camaro and BMW 3-Series. Both offer plenty of grunt from their V6 or V8 engine offerings, but the Charger is a large four-door car, offering plenty of space for rear occupants. Even the Challenger is fairly large despite being a two-door coupe.
Charger and Challenger models are both much easier to find at or below the $10,000 price point with V6 engines than their V8 counterparts. Mid 2000’s to early 2010s models are readily available. Even early model V8 cars can fetch more than $10,000 with more than 100,000 miles on the odometer, but increasing your budget by a few thousand dollars can yield better results.
Within their hearts, the Challenger and Charger are both muscle cars. They do not provide the handling characteristics that smaller and lighter sports cars can, but they can provide the road presence and extra space necessary for those who need a unique combination of the two.
The Chevy Corvette is an iconic car, but many also forget how affordable it can be. Newer models have become sportier and more advanced than previous generations, and thus, pricing remains high. The sweet spot for Corvettes comes from the fourth generation C4, produced from 1984 to 1996.
For many, the C4 is one of the least desirable Corvette models, but for others, this means that bargains are plentiful, and they are correct. 1980’s base models were a bit short on horsepower, but the 90s saw better figures: 300-horsepower for base V8 engines and over 400-horsepower in top performance models.
Even though newer models have much better performance car credentials, the C4 is easy to work on, easy to maintain, and their styling is underrated. They can be easily modified and parts swapped for newer components to provide a custom experience. But, one of the best parts of a C4 purchase has to be those pop-up headlights.
The SLK is a good choice for those who want a German car that is smaller than a 3-Series BMW. It is very much like a German version of a Miata with more power. The late 1990s and early 2000s models are the most readily available at or below $10,000 but some nice mid-2000s models can be found with updated styling and technology.
SLK230 Kompressor models with 190-horsepower and SLK320 models with 215-horsepower are the two most common models available with relatively low miles for well under $10,000. Each model offers great luxury features for the time and offers a great driving experience as small two-door roadsters.
The Audi TT and BMW Z3 of the same era overshadowed the SLK, but it remains the best-looking of the three. It also comes with a retractable hardtop compared to the Z3’s soft top, and its rear-wheel-drive drivetrain helps it handle more playfully than the all-wheel-drive TT.
Even though the Jeep Cherokee is not even a car, the XJ Cherokee is a beloved cult classic that came standard with RWD and optional four-wheel-drive. Many vehicles are slow and boring, but the XJ Cherokee is loads of fun despite being a slow off-road-focused SUV.
One of the things that make it fun is its customizability. There are a plethora of tuning and custom parts on the market and a huge community to help with any modification buyers choose to perform. It is also the one vehicle on this list that can comfortably be driven into a field, romp around the countryside, and then drive home after getting all dirty, just like a kid in a sandbox.
For right now, the XJ Cherokee specifically – considered by many to be the last true Jeep – is widely available on the market for around $10,000, depending on the condition. But, be warned that prices are rising as desirability is high. People love these things and very well-kept examples are already selling for upwards of $25,000.
Ford Crown Victoria
The Ford Crown Vic is seen by most as an older person’s vehicle or as a police cruiser. Both views are correct, but the Crown Victoria’s potential as a legitimately cool car is severely underestimated and is starting to be realized since they have gone out of production.
While it is true that they are superbly comfortable and roomy, police officers love them for their durability and rugged design. All came standard with an underpowered V8 engine for the car’s size, but the tuner market for these is growing, and they can be bought for next to nothing.
Purchasing a stock vehicle or one that was used by police officers is a great choice for those who want an easy-to-maintain, easy-to-modify burnout machine that will not cost an arm and a leg to fix, even it if breaks. Something as simple as upgrading the exhaust system will produce a throaty growl akin to that of a serious muscle car.