Downshift, the engine roars as you blast out of the apex; you counter-steer to correct the slide. You feel like a professional racecar driver at this moment. This is why you bought a performance car. You don’t need a Ferrari or a Lamborghini, or some other six to seven-figure exotic, to have an ear to ear grin on your face. Car companies brag about 0-60 times and top speeds, but unless you have access to a racetrack or the Autobahn, these figures are moot at best, and the quickest way to go directly to jail at worst. There is a saying in the car community: “It’s more fun to go fast in a slow car than go slow in a fast car.” Here is a list of some used cars values that are sure to satisfy your need for speed without breaking the budget, or the law (unless you really want to).
Each car listed here is rear-wheel drive, manual-transmission available, and good examples can be found for well under $20,000. This list is meant to give you a brief impression as to what inspired the development of each car and what makes each car unique and respectable in its own right. Most cars and brands improve with time, taking what has worked in the past and refining it while learning from mistakes. In no particular order, here they are.
Mazda MX-5 Miata
The quintessential little sports car. Many mock it for its small size, cutesy looks, and diminutive engine. This would be missing the point of the Miata: it’s all about handling and keeping up momentum through the curves. The two-seater convertible harkens back to the British roadsters of yore, except the Miata is unquestionably reliable. Have a roll cage installed, and you can go Spec-Miata racing: a good option for those looking to get into racing at a reasonable entry point.
Notes: 1997 is the last year of the first-gen Miata. More than 400,000 first-gen units alone were sold. Each next generation of the Miata will steadily gain power, but also weight, making the overall performance gain minimal; however, overall safety will improve the newer you buy.
Subaru BRZ/ Toyota 86/ Scion FRS
Like the idea of the Miata, but not the Miata itself? Try the Toyota/Subaru sports car collaboration know as either the BRZ, FRS, or 86, depending on which badge you prefer. A four-cylinder boxer engine connected to a six-speed manual transmission will allow you to row through the gears without blatantly breaking the law. Utilizing Prius tires helps keep maintenance costs low, and the skinny profile allows the car to break traction easily within the speed limits and get sideways for a little drifting fun.
Notes: A Scion FRS will be slightly less expensive than an equivalent Subaru BRZ. Scion is seen as Toyota’s “cheap” brand and suffers from stigma rather than quality issues. A 2013 BRZ will have the same specs as a 2019 BRZ; the same is true for the Scion FRS and Toyota 86; all variants will have the exact same specifications, the only difference is badges and front bumper designs.
The Mustang has come a long way from its inception in the mid-sixties, yet still remains an American institution. Classic Mustangs can be quite expensive to buy, and still not possess nearly the performance from even the current generation (2015-2020) entry-level four-cylinder turbocharged version. There are six and eight-cylinder options, but the four-cylinder turbo produces over 300 horsepower, has the best fuel economy, and can be had for less than the other options. It may have taken a few of Aston Martin design cues, making it arguably the best looking car on this list.
Notes: In 2005, the 5th generation Mustang debuted with resto-mod looks and started the modern muscle car era with the Dodge Challenger (2008) and Chevy Camaro (2010) following. The 2015 Mustang EcoBoost has more horsepower than a 2005 Mustang GT.
The main rival to the Ford Mustang, the Chevy Camaro, offers similar performance with greater reliability. The looks of the current generation Camaro are for those that are either die-hard fans or those that focus on things more important than appearance. Once inside, you will forget all about that dubious front-grille as its solid build quality will inspire confidence. Really hate the looks of the current generation Camaro? Go back a few years (2010-2018) and pick a model that still possesses the resto-mod good looks; you will save money too, without compromising on performance.
While everyone is hyped on the new mid-engine Corvette C8, great deals are popping up on the previous generations of Corvettes. You will be hard-pressed to find a C7 (2014-2019) for under $20,000; however, those prices will continue to fall, especially for the base models. A C6 (2004-2013) can be a particularly good deal since it comes standard with a reliable and relatively fuel-efficient V8. The Chevy debuted the Corvette in the early 1950s and stood out as America’s first true sports car amongst the land-boats of that era. Decades later, it remains a high-performance bargain capable of going head-to-head with European exotics.
Other used performance cars worth noting are the Nissan 350Z/370Z, Chevrolet Camaro, BMW E36 M3, Honda S2000, and Dodge Challenger. These were picked for their impressive performance and affordable pricing. You wouldn’t go wrong by picking a used one of these performance vehicles.
Used Performance Cars
There are plenty of good options for used performance car bargains. You can save on the initial purchase and on maintenance costs by choosing a reputable company with a proven track record. Japanese cars tend to be lighter, nimble, and more reliable, while American cars tend to have more horsepower and are heavier, which makes them a good blend between a sports car and grand tourer.
Unfortunately for us, European sports cars are more complicated and more expensive to repair than either of their American or Japanese counterparts. Europe makes wonderful sports cars, the best when a budget is of no concern, but for those that want more bang for the buck, you should look to Japanese and American brands, with Chevy, in particular, being the most reliable domestic brand and a favorite amongst consumers.
Go out and test drive some different performance cars to see which one is right for you. When you find the right one, get a Carfax report, and have an independent mechanic inspect it. Take your time to find the right one, be responsible, and take care of that car. Used cars, like all cars, require constant upkeep. If you plan to use a performance car on a track, you’ll have to plan for even more regular maintenance to keep it in top shape.