Many cars have been called sports cars over the years. The Honda Civic Type R, Volkswagen Golf GTI, and Subaru Impreza WRX Sti have all been considered sports cars at some point since they are a little different than their less sporty average commuter counterparts. True sports cars are different, though. Their recipe includes nimble handling, rear-wheel-drive, two doors, and usually two seats – sometimes four.
This would include cars like the iconic Mazda MX-5 Miata, the relatively new Subaru BRZ, and the Ford Mustang. Most sports car buyers are looking for these types of cars as a second or third option, and that is more possible than many think.
There are plenty of true sports cars on the used market that you can have for $20,000 or less. Sometimes, they have low mileage as their original owners did not drive them as their primary transportation. Sometimes they are a little rough around the edges from being driven hard but still work well. Regardless, here is our list of the best-used ones for at or below $20,000.
2009-2016 Nissan 370Z
The Nissan 370Z is both loved and hated for several reasons. Some see it as the old-fashioned, two-seat sports coupe that Nissan forgot about for over a decade. Others see it as an affordable sports coupe with over 330 horsepower, great handling, a hatchback-style trunk door for a dash of added practicality, and a great tuning platform.
Both sides of the coin are correct. It has not seemed to age well with its minimalistic interior and dated exterior styling, but it has proven to be a reliable and affordable option for those who love its sonorous V6 engine. The availability of its six-speed manual transmission only adds to its fun factor.
With an original MSRP of between $30,000 and $45,000, used examples have dropped nicely in price, just as many Japanese sports cars have in the past. 2009 to 2016 models are largely the same, so the current price range is largely dependent on condition and mileage. Both a coupe and roadster body style are available on the used market, depending on your taste, and both can be had for less than $20,000.
2015-2017 Ford Mustang
The Mustang has never really been considered a sports car, but it has never really been considered a muscle car either. It has always slotted somewhere in between both, at least until 2015. This is the year that Ford updated its styling to look less retro and replaced the rear live axle with independent suspension. This transformed into a true rear-wheel-drive performance car that could now keep up with the competition in the corners.
Both coupe and convertible body styles are available, a manual or automatic transmission is easy to find, and the choice of a turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder, V6, or V8 gives buyers plenty of options. Used EcoBoost Mustangs are the most common for below $20,000. Before knocking them, they put out 310 horsepower and have more low-end torque than the equally as affordable 300-horsepower V6.
Of course, everybody wants the Ford Mustang GT with the 435-horsepower Coyote V8. They can be found on the market, but they are scarcer since they are generally the most desirable Mustang model. 2015-2017 marked the last years of the V6-powered Mustangs. They are not as sexy as the GT or as tunable as the EcoBoost, but they sound good, and they have proven to be quite reliable, making them the sleeper pick of the three.
2016-2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata
It is so cliché to have the Mazda Miata on a list like this, but the fact remains that it is a near-perfect sports car. It was modeled after the traditional British sports car but with Japanese reliability added to the mix. For years, it has simultaneously been one of the most loved and hated cars, but nobody can argue that it sets the balance and handling bar high.
Even though third-generation Miatas are currently all over the market, Mazda redesigned the tiny sports car for the 2016 model year. With aggressive styling, 155 horsepower on tap, rear-wheel drive, an available six-speed manual transmission, seating for two, and sub-2,500-pound curb weight, these cars are a hoot to toss around the roads. They are also quite reliable and get great gas mileage to boot.
Grand Touring and Club trim levels are harder to find since they have upgraded options like a power hardtop, Bose sound system, and Bilstein shocks, but the Sport trim level started around $25,000 when new. It is the simplest of the MX-5s, but it is no less fun to drive. Being so small, large adults may be quite cramped, but if you can fit in one, a Miata is simple driving bliss.
2006-2010 Pontiac Solstice/2007-2010 Saturn Sky
Both the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky are often forgotten today. They are the embodiment of the Mazda Miata if the Miata were made in America and given more power. Neither are quite as nimble since both are a little heavier and larger, but neither was a slouch on the twisty roads. Both also fit the sports car bill: Two seats, rear-wheel-drive, convertible top, and focused on handling.
Both were only produced for a handful of model years, so they are nowhere near as easy to find as the Mustang, Miata, or the 370Z. They both shared powertrains which included the choice of a 2.4-liter four-cylinder or a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, producing 177 and 260 horsepower respectively. If you do find them, they can be well under $20,000 both because of their age, their low starting MSRP, and their general lack of strong collector status at current.
A manual or automatic transmission was offered in both models, and both were received quite well by the public, but neither lived up to their true potential as GM’s financial woes caused the discontinuation of both the Pontiac and Saturn brands. Today, you can find just about any remaining Solstice or Sky for less than $20,000, including the powerful Solstice GXP and Sky Red Line models.
2016-2017 Chevrolet Camaro
The Camaro is like the Mustang in that it has never really been considered a true sports car, nor has it ever been a muscle car. Camaro LT models will be the most popular available at the sub-$20,000 price point. They are equipped with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine making 275 horsepower to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic.
Even though there are more powerful engines available in the Camaro, the peppy four-banger provides enough zip to get you your thrills while saving you a little at the pump. You can also opt to have one in a convertible or coupe.
If you are still not convinced that a base model Camaro is for you, its standard features may help push you in the right direction. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a 7-inch touchscreen, and Wi-Fi come in the 1LT. The 2LT features a Bose sound system, dual-zone climate control, and leather seats.
2005-2008 Porsche Boxster
Many have argued that the Porsche Boxster is a better pure sports car than the Mazda Miata. It may not be more popular than the Miata, but it is one car that could truly contend with the Miata for that title. Its mid-engine layout provides perfect balance when cornering, earning it the right to be called one of the best-handling cars ever made.
Early second-generation cars have started leaking onto the used market—they look better than the first-generation Boxsters and have a bit more power, plus they’re only available as a convertible, and they only come with a five-speed or six-speed manual transmission, depending on which engine you choose.
The most common Boxsters on the market are those with the 2.7-liter flat-six. They produce a healthy 240 horsepower and are paired to the five-speed manual. The Boxster S has a larger 3.2-liter engine or 3.4-liter in 2008 and 2009. Both engines get you the six-speed manual transmission, but you get 280 horsepower with the 3.2 and 295 horsepower with the 3.4. Regardless of the engine choice, you cannot go wrong.
2013-2016 Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ
The Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ are nearly identical with only a few subtle differences here and there. That being said, both are great choices if you are in the market for an affordable sports car. A naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder boxer engine powers both vehicles, producing 200 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque.
Some complain that these cars are chronically underpowered and that the rear seats are too cramped. Many also forget, however, that both only weigh around 2,800 pounds, lightweights in today’s market. Additionally, most who need the rear seats on a regular basis will look to a sporty hatchback or sedan rather than one of these tiny four-seaters.
With excellent fuel economy, proven reliability, razor-sharp handling, and a six-speed manual transmission as the only available option, you can drift your rear-wheel-drive coupe around the parking lot without breaking the bank. The 2013 model year marked the first year of production for both cars, so you also do not have to worry about finding one that is “too old” as the oldest ones on the market are still less than a decade young.
2009-2011 BMW Z4
If you do not want a Miata, you cannot find a Pontiac Solstice, and you want something a little smaller than a Camaro, you should look for a BMW Z4. For around $20,000 you can get yourself a rear-wheel-drive convertible with over 250 horsepower on tap from an inline-six engine. Being a BMW, you can also flaunt the fact that you have “the ultimate driving machine.” The Z4 may not be perfect, but it comes close.
It is not as much of a performance car as the Porsche Boxster, it is not as nimble as the Subaru BRZ, and it is not as powerful as the Ford Mustang, but the Z4 strikes a great balance between all of these vehicles. It makes for a great cruiser while having enough get-up-and-go when it needs to. It also has a more comfortable and luxurious interior than many others on this list.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard, but you can find one with a seven-speed automatic and a horsepower bump to 335 if you look hard enough. In between the base trim and highest trim lives a 300-horsepower version that is easier to find than the most powerful Z4 but harder to find than the base model.
2005-2007 Chevrolet Corvette
The Chevy Corvette is more of a performance car than a true sports car or a muscle car. It has always handled better than a traditional muscle car, but it has also been heavier, more muscular, and less agile than a typical sports car. That being said, the Corvette has improved by leaps in bounds over the past several years, very much transforming into a borderline supercar today.
Of course, current C8 Corvettes are selling for near six figures, while C7 Corvettes are also still too new to be truly affordable. For an affordable Corvette, we have to look to the early years of the C6: 2005 to 2007. Although the C6 capitalized on the C5’s revival of the Corvette name, many purists hated its styling as it was the first year that pop-up headlights were no longer available.
It is still a bargain. For under $20,000 you can choose between a coupe or a convertible body style, you get a seat for yourself and one passenger, and you can choose between a six-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic. A beefy 6.0-liter V8 engine puts down 400 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque, plenty of power for a sub-$20,000 American icon.
2011-2015 Audi TT
The second-generation Audi TT extends back to 2008, but a refresh in 2011 gave it more power and slightly refreshed styling. It is the one to get for under $20,000. Buyers have the choice of either a two-passenger roadster convertible or a four-passenger coupe, and its interior is one of the nicest out of nearly all the other vehicles on this list.
It is an oddball, though. Some might argue against its sports car credentials since it comes standard with all-wheel drive. If anything, Audi’s famous AWD system makes it scoot off the line a little quicker than some comparably powered sports cars. It certainly looks the part of a sports car, and it handles quite well because of its small size.
A base 2.0-liter turbocharged engine provides 211 horsepower to the TT Premium Plus through a six-speed automated manual transmission. 26 combined MPG ensures that buyers do not have to sacrifice gas money for driving excitement. For even more excitement, you may be able to find a higher-mileage Audi TTS. It boosts horsepower output to 265.
2003-2009 Nissan 350Z
The Nissan 350Z was the Nissan 370Z’s predecessor. The older 350Z and its replacement have several things in common. The 350Z is available as a coupe or convertible roadster, it has a V6 engine with a distinctive sound, it has two seats, it features rear-wheel-drive, it features an excellent tuning platform, and it has similar styling to its successor.
The 350Z was not in production as long as the 370Z, making it a little more consistent with the time in which it was built. But do not expect a sophisticated, complicated, or technologically advanced sports car. It has a simple interior, a standard six-speed manual transmission, and a naturally aspirated engine.
Horsepower varies depending on the model year with 287 from 2003 to 2005 and a bump to around 300 from 2006 to 2009. With the proven reliability of the 350Z’s VQ engine, you will not have any issues finding plenty of used ones. There are a ton of nice ones with low miles on the marketplace for well under $20,000.
2000-2009 Honda S2000
The Honda S2000 is a special car for many reasons. It is only one of very few two-seaters rear-wheel-drive sports cars Honda has ever made, it is one of the closest true MX-5 Miata rivals ever made, and its legendary F20C naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine screams to over 8,000 RPM.
You cannot have one without a manual transmission, though an automatic transmission probably would not do too much to hamper the fun you would have with the car. 240 horsepower is on tap from both the 2.0-liter, used from 2000 to 2003 and the 2.2-liter, used from 2004 to 2009. Both versions of the engine have proven to be reliable with several used examples showing well over 100,000 miles on the odometer.
Fortunately for the S2000, it has gained a cult following and is loved by enthusiasts. Unfortunately for you, though, that has caused collector values to skyrocket. You can still get them for $20,000 or less, but the pool of good condition, low-mileage S2000 is drying up rapidly. Make sure to get your hands on one in the next year before even the bad ones get too pricey.
2009-2011 Mazda RX-8
Mazda is known for two things: fun-to-drive cars and SUVs, regardless of body style, and the rotary engine. They combined those elements to build the Mazda RX-8. They even added a little extra sauce to the mix by building it with small, rear, suicide-style half doors on each side. This makes rear passenger entry a little easier while also preserving the car’s sleek design.
The tiny 1.3-liter rotary engine equipped in all RX-8 models produces 212 horsepower but only 159 lb-ft of torque, consistently making drivers absolutely ring the engine out to over 4,000 RPM to get going. Its manual transmission, rear-wheel-drive layout, and near 50/50 weight distribution have even driver Jeremy Clarkson named it one of his favorite cars to drive.
2009 to 2011 models are the ones to get since they are the latest models in the RX-8’s lifespan. The good news is that these peppy sports cars have remained dirt cheap to buy. The bad news is that there is a reason for that. For all the fun that buyers might have driving the RX-8, it is also notoriously unreliable for worn apex seals within the engine. Maybe you can use the money you save to keep your RX-8 running and to keep a huge smile on your face.
2013-2016 Hyundai Genesis Coupe
The Hyundai Genesis Coupe is overshadowed by a host of other sports cars for several reasons. The largest reason is that Hyundai is not known for building sports cars like Nissan, Toyota, or Porsche. The second reason is that it was Hyundai’s first attempt at a true, rear-wheel-drive sports car, The FWD Tiburon tried to get its foot in the “sports car“door in the years before the Genesis Coupe’s debut in 2010 but ultimately failed.
2013 to 2016 models are the ones to get. Both the turbo four-cylinder engine and naturally aspirated V6 got beneficial power gains to 274 and 348 horsepower respectively, and updated styling made it look more modern. A six-speed manual came standard with the choice of either engine. An eight-speed automatic was optional on both.
The more tunable turbo four-cylinder was dropped for the 2015 model year, leaving the 3.8-liter V6 as the only engine option for its last two years of production. The nicest Genesis Coupes with low mileage are still selling for more than $20,000, but there are plenty of nice examples for less. They are worth a try if you have the money to work with and want an underappreciated sports car.
2012-2015 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class
The SLK-Class is Mercedes-Benz’s version of the BMW Z4. 2012’s redesigned styling made the SLK lineup look a little more aggressive, and Mercedes added the entry-level SLK 250 into the lineup. This is the most affordable of the bunch with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine sending 201 horsepower to the rear wheels through a standard six-speed manual.
If you need more grunt, you can look for the SLK 350. It has a more powerful 302-horsepower engine, but it was only made with a seven-speed automatic. For a car of its size, that should still be plenty to brighten up anybody’s drive without having to row the gears yourself.
Like the Audi TT, the Mercedes-Benz SLK 250 and 350 are not as sharp in the corners as some other vehicles on the list. It has a relatively high curb weight for a vehicle of its size, but it is comfortable to drive. Unfortunately, the most powerful AMG version of the SLK is still priced too high for these years.