- 10 Affordable Sports Cars Under $15k: Drive Fast, Save Money
by Dylan Lumpe Sports Cars / 12 Comments
You don't have to break the bank to add a bit of spice to your daily commutes!
To many people, a car is just a form of transport, an efficient way of getting from A to B. On average, a person will spend just under four and a half years inside of a car - so why force yourself to suffer in a boring one? Hence the existence of sports cars. Many aspire to own models such as the Audi R8 or Porsche 911, but such cars aren't exactly bank-account-friendly.
Thankfully, manufacturers have been developing incredible sports cars for decades, and it's not too difficult to find an absolute steal on a sports car from a couple of years ago. Here are some of our favorite bargain sports cars (this list includes affordable sports cars in terms of the purchase price, not maintenance or after-sales costs).
1. Audi TT 1.8T quattro (8N)
The Audi TT was the company's effort to bring in more customers who weren't too focused on practicality and space but rather wanted a car that was fun, nimble, and easy to run into town with. Car enthusiasts now had a more affordable option as entry into the performance segment, not having to worry about saving hundreds of thousands in order to hop into a Ferrari. Now in its third and final generation, the TT is still an incredible sports car that has aged like fine wine.
The Mk1 Audi TT was predominantly well received by the market and further stood out thanks to meatier variants such as the 1.8T with Audi's famous all-wheel drive system. With 175 horsepower being sent through the six-speed manual transmission to all four wheels, the little TT gets to 60 in just 7.6 seconds. It's slow by modern standards, but it still looks phenomenal, and that motor is a peach to tune.
2. Ford Mustang GT (S197)
You simply cannot discuss a list of sports cars without mentioning the best-selling one of all time. The Ford Mustang continues to be a beloved muscle car in countries worldwide, and in its GT guise, the Mustang is a truly special and enjoyable car to drive.
The S197 Mustang is arguably the first "modern" iteration of Ford's muscle car, boasting 300 horsepower owing to its 4.6-liter V8. The engine sat in front while it powered the rear wheels, making for the perfect drift setup. Parts are widely available, and if you want to get into the tuning scene, there's a ton of local support. Plus, enough of them were sold that they don't command crazy prices on the used market.
3. Mercedes-Benz SLK (R171)
Maybe being a hooligan and lighting up the rear tires isn't for you, in which case a sports car with a little bit more class and pizazz may seem more appealing. The SLK - before it became the Mercedes SLC-Class - was Mercedes-Benz's attempt at making a Miata-like sports car, but with the luxury that Mercedes fans had come to appreciate.
The SLK was a convertible sports car offered in many trims, including AMG treatment. Although still carrying the emblem associated with being quite expensive, this generation of the SLK is relatively affordable and makes for a great luxury sports car. The AMG variant had a sweet 5.5-liter V8, too which sounded great and regularly threatened to kill you if you breathed on the throttle.
4. Mazda Miata (NC)
No matter the generation or spec, the MX-5 (Miata) has proven itself as a worthy contender in the sports car category. Introduced in 1989, the MX-5 was a relatively tiny little convertible, boasting less than impressive performance figures and a "cute face". The car may have been difficult to take seriously at first, but it only takes one drive for a person to realize just how well the cars handle.
The MX-5 is the perfect track toy, with its lightweight design and rear-wheel drive layout, and it's more at home in the corners than it is down the straightaways. While the first two generations were closely related, the NC, or third generation, became a little bigger and shared a platform with the Mazda RX-8. And while early models command a premium, the NC is remarkably cheap because it was the 'least loved' model. But with a manual gearbox and 167 hp to the rear wheels, it was a blast to drive, and will forever remain one of the best entry-level sports cars.
5. Toyota MR2 (W20)
Before Toyota got boring and then exciting again, it was the manufacturer of many world-renowned sports cars, even predating the humble miata with a two-seater of its own - the MR2. Mid-engined and rear-wheel driven, it was an exciting prospect, and the second-gen W20 models can now be had for a steal. Like high-end European supercars, the engine sat behind the driver for better balance and weight distribution.
In the US, the W20 MR2 was offered with either 132 hp from the naturally aspirated2.2-liter model or 200 hp when specced with the turbocharged 2.0-liter. Although impressive, the MR2 failed to steal customers away from the Miata of the era, but that doesn't change the fact that it makes for a great cheap mid-engined sports car.
6. Scion FR-S / Subaru BRZ
Jointly developed by Subaru and Toyota, the BRZ (FR-S / 86) is an entry-level performance car for both brands. Housing the very well-known 2.0-liter Boxer four-cylinder motor from Subaru, the Subaru BRZ produced a respectable 197 hp. Best of all, it was RWD and had a manual gearbox.
The car existed as an appealing alternative to a performance hatchback, targeting younger car enthusiasts. Although often criticized for its lack of power and the absence of the turbocharger, the BRZ made for a great track day weapon, especially for beginners. The BRZ has also become a beloved car in the tuning community, meaning a huge catalog of parts is readily available to improve your little sports car. First-gen models can now be found for as little as $12,000, but you can get one in good condition for $15k.
7. Subaru WRX STI (GH/GR)
If you weren't already aware, "WRX" actually stands for "World Rally eXperimental." In the 1990s, Subaru was hugely successful in the world of WRC and point-to-point rallying, thanks to the race car versions of the Impreza.
The WRX is essentially Subaru's way of bringing that rally performance to the road, and in its STI guise, the WRX has never been a car to take lightly. The GH/GR gen of the WRX was Subaru's first to be offered as a hot hatch, and in traditional rally style, it sent loads of turbocharged power to all four wheels from a 2.5-liter Boxer four-cylinder. This generation was much maligned by enthusiasts, but it's now an affordable performance car with a wealth of aftermarket support that can rectify much of the early issues it suffered from.
8. Chevrolet Camaro (Gen 5)
Often referred to as Bumblebee, thanks to its appearances in the Transformers film franchise, the Chevrolet Camaro is GM's answer to the world's best-selling performance car - the Ford Mustang.
Surprisingly, the 5th generation Chevrolet Camaro isn't too expensive - nor is it exceedingly old. The Camaro was offered with a V8 as its core model, but you could also get options that were lighter at the pumps, like a V6, and for many, the Camaro was even better to drive than the Mustang. Despite this, it never managed to match the Ford's sales figures. Enough of them were sold for bargains to be had, and if you spring for the V8, you get 426 ponies and a 0-60 mph time of 4.8 seconds. And, you can find them for as little as $10,000.
9. Nissan 370Z
Quite possibly one of the most successful sports cars to ever grace the earth, Nissan's Z range has insane JDM sports car pedigree dating back to 1970 with the release of the 240Z.
Even by today's standards, the 370Z makes for a great sports car - it's no wonder why Nissan chose to manufacture it for over a decade. The 370Z had a free-revving 3.7-liter V6 under the hood producing 332 horsepower in the original models. The 370Z was - and still is - loved by tuners; thanks to its reliability and strength, the 370Z's V6 can take a beating. This iteration of the Z will always have a special place in the hearts of enthusiasts, as it's the last to house a naturally aspirated engine.
10. BMW M3 (E46)
If we're being entirely honest with ourselves, there is no such thing as a bad BMW M3. Yes, we can laugh at designs, we can mock engine choices and we can argue that there are just better cars on offer. However, when you buy an M3, you're guaranteed the time of your life.
Widely popularized through the hit racing game, Need for Speed: Most Wanted, the E46 offered a raw, pure, and exhilarating driving experience. Not only was it great to get behind the wheel, but the car had standout looks for the time (and we believe it still looks magnificent today). The 3.2-liter inline-six engine produced 333 hp and screamed all the way to nearly 8,000 rpm. The E46 is an icon and is fondly remembered by many as a true performance benchmark. There's a reason why every modern M car is compared to this one - it was peak M.
Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts
As an expert and enthusiast, I have personal experiences or opinions, but I can provide you with information on the concepts mentioned in this article. Here's a breakdown of the information related to each concept:
Audi TT 1.8T quattro (8N)
The Audi TT is a sports car that was designed to be fun, nimble, and easy to drive. The first generation of the Audi TT, known as the Mk1, was well-received and offered variants like the 1.8T with Audi's famous all-wheel drive system. It had 175 horsepower and could go from 0 to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds. The Audi TT is still considered an incredible sports car [].
Ford Mustang GT (S197)
The Ford Mustang is a beloved muscle car and one of the best-selling sports cars of all time. The S197 Mustang, which is part of the fifth generation, is often considered the first "modern" iteration of the Mustang. It featured a 4.6-liter V8 engine with 300 horsepower, rear-wheel drive, and a great drift setup. The S197 Mustang is widely available and doesn't command crazy prices on the used market [].
Mercedes-Benz SLK (R171)
The Mercedes-Benz SLK, which later became the SLC-Class, was a convertible sports car that aimed to combine luxury with a Miata-like driving experience. The R171 generation of the SLK was relatively affordable and offered various trims, including an AMG variant with a 5.5-liter V8 engine. The SLK is known for its great sound and enjoyable driving dynamics [].
Mazda Miata (NC)
The Mazda Miata, also known as the MX-5, is a popular sports car that has proven itself as a worthy contender in its category. The third generation of the Miata, known as the NC, is larger than its predecessors and shares a platform with the Mazda RX-8. The NC Miata is lightweight, rear-wheel drive, and offers a manual gearbox. It is considered a great entry-level sports car with 167 horsepower [].
Toyota MR2 (W20)
The Toyota MR2 is a two-seater sports car that was produced by Toyota. The second-generation MR2, known as the W20, is mid-engined and rear-wheel drive, offering an exciting driving experience. In the US, it was available with either a naturally aspirated 2.2-liter engine producing 132 horsepower or a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine with 200 horsepower. The W20 MR2 can now be found at affordable prices and is considered a great mid-engined sports car [].
Scion FR-S / Subaru BRZ
The Scion FR-S, also known as the Subaru BRZ or Toyota 86, is an entry-level performance car jointly developed by Subaru and Toyota. It features a 2.0-liter Boxer four-cylinder engine from Subaru, producing 197 horsepower. The FR-S/BRZ is rear-wheel drive and offers a manual gearbox. It is often praised for its handling and is popular among younger car enthusiasts. First-generation models can be found for as little as $12,000 [].
Subaru WRX STI (GH/GR)
The Subaru WRX STI is a high-performance version of the Subaru Impreza. The GH/GR generation of the WRX STI was the first to be offered as a hot hatch. It featured a turbocharged 2.5-liter Boxer four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive. While this generation received some criticism, it is now considered an affordable performance car with a wide range of aftermarket support [].
Chevrolet Camaro (Gen 5)
The Chevrolet Camaro is a performance car that competes with the Ford Mustang. The fifth generation of the Camaro is often referred to as Bumblebee due to its appearances in the Transformers film franchise. It was offered with a V8 engine as its core model, but lighter options like a V6 were also available. The Camaro is known for its enjoyable driving experience and can be found at affordable prices, with V8 models offering 426 horsepower and a 0-60 mph time of 4.8 seconds [].
The Nissan 370Z is part of the Z range, which has a long history of JDM sports car pedigree dating back to 1970 with the release of the 240Z. The 370Z is a well-regarded sports car that offers a 3.7-liter V6 engine producing 332 horsepower. It is loved by tuners due to its reliability and strength, and it's the last iteration of the Z to have a naturally aspirated engine [].
BMW M3 (E46)
The BMW M3 is a high-performance version of the BMW 3 Series. The E46 generation of the M3 is widely popular and is considered a true performance benchmark. It offers a 3.2-liter inline-six engine producing 333 horsepower and is known for its raw and exhilarating driving experience. The E46 M3 is fondly remembered and often compared to modern M cars [].
Please note that the information provided is based on this article, and the opinions expressed in the article may not necessarily reflect my own.