Looking for a sporty but practical daily driver for under 15K? We have updated our list for 2015. We only included cars that are fairly easy to find on the US used car market within a price range of $10,000 – $15,000. If you would like to add your pick, vote below.
Acura TL 2004-2010
Acura TL combines sportiness and luxury in a well-rounded package. The TL is a mid-size front-wheel drive sedan with an upscale interior and 270-hp V6 engine. The 2009-plus TL offers more power and available AWD. The SH-AWD TL models are rare, but very fast; the 0 to 60 mph time is around 6 seconds. Acura TL requires premium gasoline and parts are expensive, but it’s very reliable. Crash-test ratings are good too. The 2007 3.2-liter Acura TL is rated at 18/26 MPG city/highway.
BMW 3-series 2003-2010
The 3-series is a best-seliing luxury car with a classy interior and strong engine. Thanks to its compact rear-wheel drive platform, the 3-series offers an unmatched driving experience, but be prepared to spend more on repairs and maintenance. It also needs premium gasoline. The 3-series comes as a sedan, wagon, coupe or convertible with rear- or all-wheel drive. The 330i offers most power without turbochargers. The 2009-plus 328i is rated better for long-term reliability. If you don’t mind higher maintenance costs of a turbocharged engine, the 2007-2010 twin-turbo 335i does 0 to 60 in 5.2 seconds. Read more.
Infiniti G35/G37 2005-2010
Infiniti G35/G37 is often mentioned as a more affordable alternative to the BMW 3-series. The G handles well and has plenty of power. It’s available as a sedan or coupe. The G35/G37 has a rear-wheel drive platform and comes with a 3.5L or 3.7L V6. The AWD option is available in sedan models. Infiniti G35/G37 is reliable but parts are expensive. Some models require premium gasoline, others can run on regular. The G37 accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds.
Volkswagen GTI/ Golf R32
The European hot hatch VW GTI is arguably the most fun-to-drive compact car. For under 15K you can find the 5-th generation GTI powered by a 2.0L direct-injected turbocharged FSI engine. It comes as a front-wheel drive 3- or 5-door hatch. The Golf R32, although rare, also should not be excluded. The R32 has a 3.2L VR6 engine with all-wheel drive. The reliability is questionable, but the interior quality and fun factor should make up for this. Variety of available mods is another plus.
Ford Mustang 2005-2013
The iconic Mustang is widely available for under $15,000. The Mustang comes as a coupe or convertible; it rides on a rear-wheel drive platform with struts in the front and a solid axle in the back. Powertrain choices include a V6 or V8 and a manual or automatic transmission. The 2005-2010 Mustang is rated well for reliability and most of the trims can run on regular gasoline. The 0 to 60 times are 5.6 seconds for the GT (V8) and 6.6 seconds for the V6 (for 2010 model). The 2010 V8 Mustang gets 17/23 mpg city/highway.
Mazda3s 2.5L 2010-plus
Mazda 3 is a sporty compact car that offers a stylish interior and responsive handling. It comes as a front-wheel drive sedan or wagon. The Mazda 3 “s” model offers a low-maintenance 2.5L engine that provides plenty of power for a car of this size. The top of the line GT trim level is well equipped, including heated leather seats and premium Bose stereo. Mazda 3 is very reliable and won’t cost a lot to maintain. It’s also the most fuel efficient car on this list and it will happily run on regular gasoline. The 2010 2.5L Mazda 3 auto gets 22/29 mpg. The 0 to 60 time is 7.4 seconds for the 2.5L engine.
Lexus IS 2003-2009
The 2001-2005 IS has a rear-wheel drive platform with a 3.0L inline-6 engine, similar to the last generation of Toyota Supra. The IS 300 was offered with a manual or automatic transmission. Redesigned for 2006, the Lexus IS got the 2.5L and 3.5L V6 engines and an available all-wheel drive. Lexus IS interior is tight and in terms of handling, the IS is not as good as the BMW 3-series, but it’s a very reliable upscale car. Same as other luxury cars, the IS needs premium gasoline and parts are expensive.
Honda Civic Si 2006-2011
The Civic Si is a very solid, reliable small car. If you like performance mods, there is no better candidate. The Civic Si is available as a sedan or coupe. It comes with a high-revving 197-hp 2.0L i-VTEC engine and only a 6-speed manual transmission; no automatic was offered. The 2009 Honda Civic Si is rated at 21/29 MPG, but it requires premium gasoline. All Civic models except the 2006 coupe have good safety ratings.
Subaru Impreza WRX 2002-2008
There are not that many of them available, but this 91-octane turbocharged Subie is a true sports car and if 230 horsepower is not enough, it can be easily modified. The WRX has a turbocharged 4-cylinder boxer engine and standard all-wheel drive. Subaru AWD system is one of the best out there and works very good in snow. The Impreza WRX is available as a sedan or wagon. The 2007 stock WRX does 0 to 60 in around 6 seconds. We even found a few WRX STI models within this price range.
Honda S2000 – hot small roadster, but very hard to find for this price and not very practical.
Hyundai Genesis Coupe – rear wheel drive coupe with a 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo or 3.8L V6 engine. Currently not many are available for this price.
Mazda MX-5 Miata – great little two-seat roadster. It’s widely available, reliable and easy to maintain, but not very practical for daily commuting. You can spot a 6-foot-plus driver by a bump in the soft top.
Nissan 350Z/370Z – small, fast rear-wheel drive V6-powered two-seater available as a coupe or convertible. It’s a bit front-heavy and the interior is tight, but the reliability is above average.
Dodge Challenger 2009-plus – excellent cruiser, but a very few are currently available for under 15K.
Dodge Charger – sporty, but not very reliable.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo/Ralliart – either one is very rare to find: we only found a few Evo IX and several 2009-plus Ralliart models.
Chevrolet Camaro – few 2010 models are already available for under 15K, but the visibility issues make it not very practical.
Cadillac CTS – mid-size luxury sports car. Reliability in not the best, but crisp styling and upscale interior make it very appealing.
Porsche Boxster – very few are available within this price range.
Mazda RX8 – perfectly balanced, handles like a dream, but the rotary engine has no low-end torque and is too sensitive to driving style/poor maintenance; parts are expensive too. Anyone who drives it has to know how to de-flood the engine. Should we still include it? Vote!
Acura RSX – we have already included the Civic Si, which is a very similar car.