Are you after raw pedal-to-the-metal action without breaking the bank? These cheap performance sports cars offer just that.
There was a time when a good sports car didn’t necessarily equate to a good performance car. Multiple examples of this exist throughout history: take the early Ford Mustang or the Mitsubishi GTO. Neither of these are slouches, but when you think about the all-round dynamics and qualities that a car must have to truly offer a high-performance drive, both aren’t quite as refined as a Mazda MX-5, for example.
But in recent years, the ‘sports’ and ‘performance’ segments have found a common ground, and given that most modern sports car buyers also want to enjoy the full limits of what a good engine and chassis partnership can do, it’s a near non-negotiable that the sports car had to develop into something more multifaceted.
While we did see flashes of this during the ‘80s and ‘90s – particularly with the JDM era – it was during the 2000s that the two-door sports car market really started to take off. In this list, we’ve brought together 10 of the finest driver-focused vehicles over the last 30 years, staying well aware of price points in the process. Here’s what we’ve come up with:
10 Honda Civic Type R (FK2) (Estimated Market Value Of $18,000)Honda Civic Type R – 9th Generation 2012-15
The Civic Type R is the definition of purely distilled performance that doesn’t go over the top. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder block puts out around 310 hp, and through a six-speed manual gearbox, the car willingly redlines between shifts. Ah, the beauty of VTEC, right? But if you were to take it to your local aftermarket dealer for some work, just take a look at this crazy modified Civic Type R FK2 for some inspiration.
A pristine example of just what we’d recommend buying is this 2016 Honda Civic Type R FK2 that was sold on Collecting Cars for just over $18,000. It has around 28,000 miles on it, and despite being seven years old now, can give just about any other front-wheel drive sports car a run for its money – in the right hands!
9 Porsche Boxster (986) (Estimated Market Value Of $15,000)Porsche Boxster – Front
Coming in ninth here doesn’t reflect poorly on the Boxster, rather, we think it’s punching way above its pay grade. Not only is the first-generation Boxster the cheapest car on our list, but it hails from arguably the very best performance car manufacturer on the planet. That means it has the heritage and the credentials to support its standing among the comparative giants ahead of it on this list.
These cars are practically known for being a good entry point for beginners into the sports car market, and that’s because a huge number of them entered circulation. It also means that there are plenty of sub $10,000 examples up for sale right now, but we’d spend a little more to get one of the more well-kept 36,000-mile 1999 Porsche Boxsters.
8 Jaguar XKR (X150) (Estimated Market Value Of $28,000)Jaguar XK-R
An achingly gorgeous body mated with a more than ample supercharged 5.0-liter block: is the Jaguar XKR the ultimate performance car bargain at present? It certainly stakes a claim, especially with 49,000-mile 2010 Jaguar XKR Coupes being sold for $27,500 on Bring A Trailer.
It’s not often that Jeremy Clarkson falls in love with a car. In fact, you can probably count on two hands the number of times he has, and the XK was one of them. Blasting through the hills with the top down, and that glorious engine in full voice, you realize what makes this work of art so very special. And now that it has been retired for a few years, a detailed look back at the Jaguar XK shows us just why we miss it.
7 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 (C6) (Estimated Market Value Of $30,000)Yellow Chevrolet Corvette C6
It was always a question of when, and not if, the C6 Corvette would make an appearance on this list. We can’t imagine a society where the C6 isn’t talked about as one of the go-to cheap performance car options, and since this is only the second Corvette model to really compete against the Europeans on the racetrack, you can see why David Patterson said the C6 Chevrolet Corvette is his favorite Corvette ever.
It’s pretty easy to find yourself a 24,000-mile 2005 C6 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible for around $23,000, but the Z06 variants prove to be slightly more elusive, often fetching between $30,000 and $35,000. Even at that price, however, this little supercar slayer proves to be a more than capable machine. It’s also the most powerful car on our list. So, for those that truly want outright pace over precision, you can’t go wrong with a C6.
6 Ford Focus RS (MK2) (Estimated Market Value of $27,000)Ford Focus RS 500
Who doesn’t love a Fast Ford? For decades now, the Blue Oval has given us countless cult classics like the Sierra RS500, Escort Cosworth, and Mondeo ST220 – but no Fast Ford can claim to have the success or the longevity that the Focus RS has had across its three generations so far. The reason for its prosperity on the market and its burgeoning street credentials is simple: it’s as fun as it is practical.
It absolutely qualifies for the list of 10 awesome Fast Fords we’d blow all our savings on. The second-generation RS was never ‘officially’ sold in America, but those with some expertise on the market will know where to look to find one. As a slightly vaguer example, have a look at this 2012 Ford Focus RS MK2 that was previously sold on Collecting Cars for just over $27,000. It’s difficult to find a more dual-purpose cheap sports car for that amount of money, wouldn’t you agree?
5 Audi TT RS (MK2) (Estimated Market Value Of $30,000)Red Audi TT RS On Track
The second-generation TT was not the instant hit its predecessor was, and had to work hard to gain society’s approval. It didn’t really happen until it received the RS treatment, which fired it straight into the path of the world’s very best jack-of-all-trade sports cars. But when Audi threw it to the sharks, the little TT learned to swim: the sole reason why gearheads should give the Audi TT RS a second chance.
Like many of the other cars on this list, prices are inflating at an alarming rate. While clean 2012 Audi TT RS examples have been sold for under $30,000 in the last few months, it would be a struggle to find one for such a low amount now. Perhaps the skeptics are finally starting to realize that this car deserved so much more praise from the start after all.
4 Honda S2000 (Estimated Market Value Of $22,000)2002 Honda S2000 Cropped (1)
A true hero that absolutely deserves its standing as a JDM great, the Honda S200 combines some very vocal VTEC power with an appealingly low center of gravity to provide drivers with a thrilling experience. No wonder it’s still one of the best head-turners money can buy.
Though, you’d better act fast if this is the car you want because prices are only inflating as more people are beginning to realize that it is still massively underpriced for what’s on offer. You can still find the odd rare example of a 2000 Honda S2000 floating around on Bring A Trailer for around $22,000, but most will command fees closer to $30,000. Be shrewd, and you could land yourself a bargain here.
3 BMW M3 (E92) (Estimated Market Value Of $30,000)V8-Powered Frozen Gray 2011 BMW M3 Competition Package
Shouting its way into our triumvirate of the very best affordable driver’s cars is the legendary V8-wielding E92 M3. Combine 414 hp with a car that’s just as happy to stick as it is to slide, and then give it the ability to redline at 8,400 rpm, and the outcome was a muscly European thoroughbred that enthusiasts were crying out for at the time.
There are plenty of reasons why the BWM E92 M3 is still one of our favorite driver’s cars of all time, and we cannot recommend buying one enough. However, the market is still very wide for E92s, with some examples going for as low as $25,600, such as this original-owner 2008 BMW M3 Coupe. Meanwhile, pristine limited-edition variants can fetch as much as $90,000 – this is an incredible piece of engineering, but please don’t overpay ridiculous amounts for it!
2 Caterham Super Seven (Estimated Market Value Of $25,000)Black and gold Caterham parked
Not only is this the oldest car on this list, by some distance, but it is also the most extreme example of a cheap performance car, given that it is good at very little else. Just take a glance over our in-depth look at the Caterham Super Seven 1600 in focus.
If driving genuinely is a hobby and a joy, a back-to-basics 1993 Caterham Super Seven will tick absolutely every box you want from a toy. While power and top speeds are no doubt enjoyable, there is nothing quite as satisfying as enjoying a toned-down driving experience where every sharp gear change, every deft flick of the steering wheel, and every calculated heel-and-toe action culminates in pure automotive nirvana. That’s exactly what you get with a Caterham.
1 Lotus Elise Exige (Series 2) (Estimated Market Value Of $45,000)Lotus Exige S – Front
If you truly enjoy driving and don’t care about the perception of others, the second iteration of the Lotus Elise is just about close to perfect. Dynamically, it has very few chinks in its armor: a well-tuned front-differential, paired with a sticky set of tires, and the Elise is a showstopper around a bare-knuckle flooring across a set of twisty mountain roads.
It is the perfect driver’s escape, and that’s why the Lotus Elise should be on every gearhead’s bucket list. Of course, we know the range-topping Exige can’t be considered ‘cheap’ by any stretch of the imagination, but if you were able to get your hands on something like a 17,000-mile 2007 Lotus Exige, not a day will go by where it doesn’t coax an unusual amount of dopamine from your brain.