Looking for a sporty used car? We have compiled a list of top 10 sporty cars that are widely available on the used car market for $10,000 – $15,000. We haven’t included other obvious choices such as Chevy Corvette or Honda S2000 because for this price range they are very rare to find in good shape.
Acura TL 2004-2008
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. Although the TL doesn’t handle as well as the rear-wheel drive cars like the BMW 3-series, it is reliable and has good crash-test ratings. On the downside, it requires premium gasoline and parts are quite expensive. The 2007 3.2-liter Acura TL is rated at 18/26 MPG city/highway.
BMW 3-series 2001-2007
BMW’s best-seller, the 3-series is a mid-size luxury car with a classy interior and powerful engine. It’s widely available throughout the US. With its traditional rear-wheel drive layout, the 3-series offers an unmatched driving experience, but the reliability is not better than average. 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. Read more.
Infiniti G35 2003-2008
Infiniti G35 is often mentioned as a less expensive and more reliable alternative to the BMW 3-series. The G35 handles well and the 3.5L V6 has plenty of power. The G35 comes as a rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive sedan; the two door coupe is only available as rear-wheel drive. Infiniti G35 is reliable but parts are expensive. Some models require premium gasoline, others can run on regular.
Mazda 3 2006-2012
Mazda 3 is a sporty small car available as a hatchback or sedan. With its precise steering and excellent feel of the road, Mazda 3 handles better than most of the small cars. It is available with a 2.0L or 2.3L engine and a manual or automatic transmission. The 2010 redesign brought that smiley grill and a more powerful 2.5L engine. For 2012, the 2.0L model got the new Skyactiv package with the direct injection that resulted in more power and 40 MPG on the highway. Overall, Mazda 3 is very reliable and easy to maintain.
Mazda MX5 Miata 2003-2008
The MX5 Miata is the perfect example that size and power are not as important as the overall driving experience. It is a small rear-wheel drive convertible two-seater available with a 1.8L 4-cylinder engine and a manual or automatic transmission. A retractable hardtop is available but rare. Despite its size the Miata is very agile and a lot of fun to drive. The 2006 redesign brought a more powerful 2.0L 4-cylinder engine. The 2007 MX5 Miata automatic is rated at 20/28 MPG on premium gasoline.
Ford Mustang 2002-2010
The iconic rear-wheel drive Mustang is widely available within this price range and it’s the only American sports car that is rated as ‘Good Bet” by Consumer Reports. The Mustang was redesigned for 2005. It comes with a V6 or V8 power and a manual or automatic transmission. If you care about the performance, get the V8, as the V6 is underpowered. The Mustang is rated above average for the reliability and most of the trims can run on regular gasoline.
Nissan 350Z 2003-2007
Nissan 350Z is a fairly small rear-wheel drive two-seater available as a coupe or convertible. It comes with a strong 3.5L V6 and a 5-speed automatic or 6-speed manual transmission. The 350Z is cramped inside and a bit noisy, but it’s quick and fun to drive. The reliability is not perfect, but still above average. The 350Z gets 17 MPG city and 23 or 24 MPG (depending on the year) on the highway on premium gasoline.
Lexus IS 2002-2007
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 2006-2009
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.
Reader’s choice: Subaru Impreza WRX 2002-2007
The votes have been counted. Subaru Impreza WRX and Honda S2000 were getting the most votes, but in the end the WRX won by one point. 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. Subaru all-wheel drive system is one of the best out there and is good in snow. The Impreza WRX is available as a sedan or wagon.
Dodge Challenger 2009 and newer – a great car, but currently it’s much more expensive.
Dodge Charger – sporty, but not very reliable.
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo – rare and those available are mostly over 20K.
Volkswagen GTI – fast and fun to drive, but rare and not reliable.
Mitsubishi Lancer, Subaru Impreza – the regular version of either one is not very sporty.
Toyota Celica, Honda S2000 – good cars; hard to find.
Chevrolet Corvette and Camaro – most are more expensive (over 20K).
Cadillac CTS – engine, electrical problems.
Pontiac G8 – a gorgeous car, more expensive.
Porsche, various models – very few are available within this price range.
Mazda RX8 – drives nice, but the rotary engine has no low-end torque and is too sensitive to poor maintenance; not something you want in a used car.
Nissan Maxima – solid sporty V6 sedan, but the reliability is just about average.