In our most recent TopSpeed Podcast , Christian, Justin, and myself were asked the age-old question: If you had a reasonable amount of dough to blow on a sports car, what would you get? Well, we’d be lying if we said it wasn’t a constant fantasy in our subconscious. The idea of a sporty car with generous power and an accessible sticker price would make any gear head salivate.
To that end, we’ve gathered a list of eight respectably sporty cars that can be picked up for under $20,000. The list includes a mix of foreign and domestic brands with coupes, convertibles, and even a four-door sedan. Of course, this is hardly an exhaustive list that includes every good sports car under $20K, but it’s a good start and will likely generate ideas for other cars if you’re in the market.
And like we said on the podcast, it’s always a smart idea to have a trusted mechanic give the car a once-over before fronting the cash. Even if problems don’t exist on your car in question, it’s always a good idea to know the typical problem areas of that particular model.
So without further rambling, click past the jump for our list of cheap kicks. Oh, and don’t forget to leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below. It might just get covered in the next podcast.
Click past the jump for our list of cheap kicks
Find yourself lusting after the new 2014 Chevrolet SS but don’t have $40,000 to spend? Look for a 2008 to 2009 Pontiac G8 GT. It’s basically the same car built on the same platform, but with a slightly different interior. The G8 GT is powered by the older, 361-horsepower, 6.0-liter V-8 rather than the SS’ 420-horse, 6.2-liter mill, but the fact it’s a GM small block LS engine remains and the aftermarket community is rich with power-producing add-ons. Still, with 361 ponies under the hood, the G8 GT hits 60 mph in just 5.3 seconds on its way to a 13.8-second quarter mile. Unfortunately, the Pontiac only comes with a six-speed automatic transmission.
It’s basically a four-door Corvette for half the price
If your budget is slightly larger than $20K, opt for the Pontiac G8 GXP that features the larger, 6.2-liter V-8 making 402 horsepower in that application. Another bonus is the addition of a six-speed manual trans to the mix. With either car, you’re getting a BMW M5 fighter powered by a Corvette engine and room for five.
The Camaro has long been a favorite of those looking for cheap thrills wrapped in an attractive American package. Now in its fifth generation, the current Camaro design is already four years old, yet it hasn’t drastically changed since its introduction in 2010. That means you can snag an older car that looks just like the one sitting in the showroom at a bargain.
The Camaro is a fun car to toss around and remains pleasing to look at
The Chevy comes with several engine options, but the ones that count are the 3.6-liter V-6 making 312 horsepower and the 6.2-liter making a respectable 426 horses with the six-speed manual trans and 400 horsepower when mated to the six-speed automatic. In 2012, the V-6 got a power bump to 323 horsepower.
With either engine, the Camaro is a fun car to toss around and remains pleasing to look at. If you’re looking for greater performance, stick to the V-8-powered SS version. It has upgraded suspension components, larger wheels and tires, a meaner exhaust note, and of course 400-plus horsepower. What’s not to love?
Rounding out the trio of General Motors products is the Chevy Corvette C5. The fifth-generation `Vette spans between 1997 and 2004, and features some pretty snazzy tech that helped bring the `Vette nameplate into the 21st century. A hydroformed box frame aided in structural rigidity, while the conventional transmission was ditched in favor of a rear-mounted transaxle connected to the 5.7-liter V-8 via a ‘torque tube.’ This gave the Vette a perfect 50/50 weight balance. Both a four-speed automatic and a six-speed manual transmission were available.
Get past the cheap interior and the car is a great performer
The Vette’s 5.7-liter V-8 originally made 345 horsepower, but in 2001, power was slightly increased to 350. Like the other GM small-blocks covered in the article, the number of aftermarket and performance parts is nearly limitless. With only a few hundred dollars invested, that 350-horsepower output rating can quickly edge toward 400.
Of course, the C5 Corvette doesn’t come without its quirks. A cheap interior with low-budget plastics and unsupportive seats are an overriding problem. Get past that, and the car is a great performer. But it’s likely a wise choice to steer clear if you’re looking for performance and luxury.
Still American but coming from a different town in Michigan, the Ford Mustang GT represents a very solid buy for relatively cheap, rear-wheel-drive kicks. Though any Mustang GT is a good choice, the 2011 model represents the first year with the powerful 5.0-liter Coyote V-8. It produced 412 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque, the five-o is a beastly engine with a gnarly exhaust rumble. Available with a six-speed automatic or manual, the GT accelerates quickly and handles rather well for having a solid rear axle.
The 2011 model represents the first year with the powerful 5.0-liter Coyote V-8.
Now being a 2011, the Mustang GT teeters darn close to the $20K mark for this list. Hitting a dealership at a month’s end might result in a good deal. If the GT is out of your price range, the 3.7-liter V-6 still offers a respectable 305 horsepower and manages to get 31 mpg on the highway. Of course, the previous model Mustang GTs still offer good performance with a solid engine growl. The 2010 and prior models were powered by the venerable 4.6-liter V-8 making 300 to 315 horsepower, depending on year.
Regardless of which Mustang you chose (except for the miserable 4.0-liter V-6), you’re ending up with a solid performer for not much scratch.
The Genesis Coupe is perhaps one of the more obscure choices on our list simply because it seems Hyundai hasn’t done too well selling them. Nevertheless, used examples are out there for the taking — and for cheap. The Genesis Coupe comes with two powertrains: a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder and a naturally aspirated, 3.8-liter V-6. Both strictly power the rear wheels through your choice of automatic or manual. Depending on year, the car came with either a five-, six-, or eight-speed automatic unit. The manual has stayed with a six-speed design.
The Genesis Coupe is a great buy for those looking for something less mainstream.
Both engines make decent power, with the four-pot turbo spooling out 210 horses while the free-breathing V-6 makes 299 horses. Depending on whether you’re into the tuner market or not, the 2.0-liter turbo might make a good choice, as a turbo swap, intake and exhaust upgrades, and a hotter engine programming will make this Hyundai into a Honda killer. Dropping a turbo onto the 3.8-liter V-6 wouldn’t hurt things either.
Honestly, it’s almost impossible to go wrong here. The MX-5 Miata is a solid choice for a perfect all-around sports car that is cheap to buy and maintain while giving plenty of thrills along the way. The Miata’s only major downfall is its lack of outright power compared to some of the other vehicles in this list. But that’s no matter once you toss its lightweight chassis down a curvy road or around an autocross course.
As for what year to look for, the 2009 represents a good, late-model choice that comes in below out $20K budget yet still affords that (semi) new car smell. Don’t want to spend $20 grand? Just find an older, well-maintained model for the same driving pleasure for literally half the cost. First generation Miatas (1989 through 1999) can be had for under $5,000.
Honestly, it’s almost impossible to go wrong here.
All Miatas are powered by a four-cylinder engine and can be had with either a manual or automatic transmission. In the case of our 2009 example, it comes powered by a 2.0-liter I-4 making 166 horsepower and lays down 0 to 60 times of roughly seven seconds.
It’s hard to quantify or explain the Miata in mere words. The car provides such a visceral experience while driving it. You become part of the car as it hugs you within its cramped cockpit while you blaze down a winding road with the top down, hand on the manual shifter, and feet dancing a jig atop the three pedals.
Debuting as a 2002 model, the 350Z came as a continuation for the famed 300ZX. Power came by way of a 3.5-liter V-6 making 306 horsepower and 268 pound-feet of torque sent through either an automatic or manual transmission. The car handled well and its looks were rather striking for 2002, so it sold reasonably well until it was replaced in 2010 by the 370Z.
A laundry list of aftermarket parts is available for those who what to wrench on their new ride.
The Nissan does have some interior issues with fit and finish not lasting long at its original quality. If you can get past a worn interior, the 350Z is an enthusiastic car to go hooning in. Like the other cars here, a laundry list of aftermarket parts is available for those who what to wrench on their new ride. For those looking to buy a Z-car of that era, it would be wise to find an unmolested.
Ah the Porsche Boxster. It represents an inexpensive entry into one of the world’s most revered sports car brands ever to live. Picking up an early model Boxster is a great way to experience the iconic brand and a more premium feel than the less-posh options here.
Power comes from a 3.2-liter flat-six-cylinder mounted out back and powering the rear wheels. A six-speed manual is the driver’s choice for getting the true Porsche experience. The flat six is rated at 250 horsepower and is adequate for back country road cruising. Some folks say the Boxster is underpowered, but like the Miata, its true calling is carrying momentum through the corners rather than straight-line drag races.
The Boxster represents an inexpensive entry into one of the world’s most revered sportscar brands
The grandeur of the Porsche does have its downsides, however. Parts are harder to come by and once found, usually command a premium price. Having a Boxster checked out by a mechanic is definitely a smart idea before purchasing. Despite steep repair costs, the Boxster is a sweet choice for a pre-owned sportscar under $20,000.