A new sports car is priced from $25,000 and up, but what about used cars? We researched the used car market and found plenty of choices in the 15K-22K price range. Our requirement for this list:
1. Available in sufficient numbers in the U.S.
2. Minimum 0 to 60 mph time: 6.5 seconds.
3. Model year 2000 or newer.
Chevrolet Corvette C5
The C5 Corvette (1997-2004) is a classic rear-wheel drive two-seater sports car with a lightweight body and a small-block V8. The C5 Corvette is available as a coupe, convertible or a hardtop. With the transmission in the back, the Corvette has nearly perfect weight distribution and handles exceptionally well. A 6-speed manual transmission is available, but three quarters of Corvettes we found in this price range have an automatic. The high-performance Corvette Z06 has more power and comes only with a manual. The ride is firm, so it is probably not a very good choice for a daily driver. The Corvette holds its value very well, so you won’t lose a lot when you decide to sell it. The C5 Corvette is rated above average for reliability by Consumer Reports. The 0 to 60 times: 1998 Corvette: 4.8 seconds. 2004 Corvette Z06: 4.2 seconds
Ford Mustang GT 2003-2011
This iconic pony car is widely available and we even found a few SVT Cobra and Shelby models for under $20,000. The Mustang is more of a straight-line-power muscle car with 2+2 seating, although it handles well even with the solid rear axle in the back. Ford offered an independent rear suspension (IRS) in the 1999-2004 SVT Cobra, but the old-school solid rear axle works just fine and fits better into the Mustang “raw power” image. The V8 offers plenty of torque and sounds terrific. The Mustang is for the most part reliable and not very expensive to maintain. The interior could be more refined, but if this doesn’t bother you, it’s a great affordable sports car. The 2003 Mustang GT accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds.
Subaru Impreza WRX/WRX STi
The Impreza WRX/WRX STi is a small all-wheel drive rally car with a turbocharged “boxer” engine for low center of gravity. For under 20K, you can buy the rugged second-generation sedan or wagon, or the softer and larger third-generation sedan or hatchback WRX. The WRX STi has more power, stronger 6-speed manual gearbox, better suspension, brakes and a few other mods. The second-generation 2004-2007 WRX STi comes only as a sedan, while the 2008-2010 WRX STi is a hatch only. Subaru Impreza WRX is well-built and reliable, but a lot will depend on how hard it was driven by previous owners. The 0 to 60 mph times (Stock): 2006 WRX – 6.0 seconds. 2006 WRX STi – 4.5 seconds. 2008 WRX STi – 4.8 seconds.
BMW M3 E46
The E46 M3 comes as a rear-wheel drive coupe or convertible. With 330 horsepower and sport suspension to match it, you will go through a lot of tires in this Ultimate Driving Machine. It’s also comfortable enough to work as a daily driver. With the usual 3.2L inline-6 under the hood, the E46 M3 is available with a 6-speed manual or SMG (automated manual) transmission. Of course, the stick is the best choice. In terms of reliability, the M3 is not too bad, but it is not a Honda – if you enjoy doing repairs yourself, this car will keep you busy. Research the e46 forums before buying the M3, as there is a lot of specifics. Many owners advise, for example, to modify the rear suspension to prevent expensive subframe repairs. The 0 to 60 mph time: 4.8 seconds.
You can’t go wrong with this small roadster. The S2000 is a rear-wheel drive two-seater with a high-revving 4-cylinder engine redlining at 9000 RPM and only a 6-speed manual transmission. With 50/50 front/rear weight distribution, this thing is a lot of fun to drive, although you have to rev the engine past 6000 rpms to get to the power. For a daily driver it’s cramped and a bit noisy, but it won’t bother you once you get the chance to see what it can do. It’s also very reliable, although it might be hard to find the S2K that hasn’t been raced. The tuner market is huge for it, but the insurance could be very expensive, as the S2000 is one of the most stolen cars. The S2000 0 to 60 mph time: 5.8 seconds
The 350Z is a rear-wheel drive V6 powered two-seater available as a hatchback-coupe or convertible. The 350Z is the second most widely available sports car after the Mustang. The good news is that almost half of those we found for sale are equipped with a manual transmission. The 350Z has plenty of power and is fun to toss around the corners, but the ride is firm and noisy and the cabin is cramped. Open the hood, and you will find the very popular 3.5L V6 VQ engine. The Nissan GT-R’s V6 is loosely based on the VQ motor and even looks similar. The 350Z is reliable for the most part, but there were a few issues with tires wearing fast, engine oil consumption and some transmission glitches that you probably want to research first. The 350Z reaches 0 to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds.
The Camaro reappeared for 2010 and is already widely available on the used car market. It is a rear-wheel drive 4-seater muscle car with a refined suspension and powertrain available as a two-door coupe or convertible. The Camaro comes with a V8 or V6 engine and an automatic or six-speed manual transmission. Most cars we found for this price are V6-powered and about one third of them have a stick shift. Of course, the 3.6L direct-injected V6 is no slouch, delivering 304 horsepower. The interior is nicely done, although the rear seat is fairly small. The outward visibility could be a deal breaker, but if you can live with it, it’s a steal for this price. The 0 to 60 time: V6 manual: 4.9 seconds.
Infiniti G35/37 Coupe
The Infiniti G35 coupe shares its rear-wheel drive platform with the Nissan 350Z but it’s more refined and comfortable, which makes it more suitable as a daily driver. The G35/37 handling is often compared to the BMW 3-series. Reliability is above average. It’s an upscale car, so you are more likely to find it in good condition, than, for example, Subaru WRX. The G37 Coupe replaced the G35 for 2008 model year. The G37 is faster and has a more luxurious interior. It’s also the first production car to use the VVEL technology, where the amount of intake air can be controlled directly by the intake valves rather than the throttle for faster response. The 0 to 60 mph times: G35 Coupe: 5.5 seconds, G37 Coupe: 5.3 seconds.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX, X – the Evo is definitely one of the top sports cars for under 20000, but we found less than a hundred of Evo IX and only several Evo X for sale in all the US under 20K. Is this enough to include the Evo on this list? Cast your vote!
Subaru BRZ / Scion FRS – wait for a year or two. As of now, they are priced higher.
Volkswagen GTI – plenty are available for under 20000. The GTI is a fun to drive FWD hatchback with a turbocharged engine and a nicely done interior. The 0 to 60 time is 6.1 seconds. Reliability is not great. Is the VW GTI really a sports car? Should it be included on this list? Vote!
Mazdaspeed3 – widely available fast FWD hatchback with a 2.3L turbo engine. The 0 to 60 time is under 6 seconds. Reliability is OK. Is it one of the top 10? Vote!
Pontiac GTO 2004-2006 The GTO is a rear-wheel drive 2+2 coupe with a 5.7L or 6.0L V8. The GTO is a rebadged Australian Holden Monaro that was based on the European Opel Omega. It’s basically a European-looking version of an American muscle car.
Mazda RX-8 – handles very well, redlines at 9,000 rpm and sounds great doing it. The 0 to 60 time is 6.4 seconds. The short manual shifter is excellent but… There is practically no torque off the line and would you really recommend the RX-8 to a friend unless he or she is willing to learn all the tricks of driving and maintaining a rotary engine?
Mazda MX-5 Miata – It’s a good candidate for a top 10 fun-to-drive cars, but it’s a very small two-seater and it’s not really fast. If you are over 6″ tall, you are going to have a hard time getting in and out of this car. Plus, the 0-to 60 time is about 6.8 seconds.
Dodge Challenger 2009-2011 RT/SRT8 – nice one, but you are going to have to wait for a few months. Currently, only a very few V8-powered Challengers are available for this price. You can easily find the 2009 or 2010 Challenger SE, but it comes with a 250-hp V6.
Pontiac G8 – gorgeous car riding on the same platform as the Camaro. Plenty are available for this price. Cast your vote.
Acura NSX – Yeah, right. The lowest price is $44,000.
Porsche Cayman – excellent rear-wheel drive, rear mid-engined two-seater; currently priced around 30K and higher.
Porsche Boxster / Boxster S 2000-2006 – nice one, the 0 to 60 time for Boxster S is around 6 seconds. Still, it’s more of a roadster, isn’t it? Vote!
Pontiac Solstice GXP / Saturn Sky Red Line 2007-2009 – These twins come with a turbocharged 260-hp 4-cylinder engine. The 0 to 60 time: 5.5 seconds.
Audi TT – there are plenty of 2000-2006 Audi TT for sale, but it’s really not that fast. The 0 to 60 time is in the 6.7 – 7.4 seconds range. The 2008 and newer TT is faster, but only a few of them are available for this price.