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A definitive list of the most well-rounded and thrilling sports cars for the everyman.
For this list, we won't be focussing solemnly on 50-year-old cars that barely run, and can barely keep up with traffic because of their whimsical, outdated engines, but rather on sports cars manufactured between 1987 and 2022, and don't worry, even the oldest sports car on our list is more than capable enough of slapping a silly smile on your face. And on the other end of the spectrum, not a single one of these cars are fitted with an electric motor—if you're looking for a fun EV, the BMW i4 is a great starting point.
If you've had the life-long dream of owning a dopamine-inducing sports car at least one time throughout your life, we have some good news, you've stumbled across the perfect article today. Let's jump right into it!
The first car, which is ironically also the most expensive car we have on our list today, is the brand-new Mazda Miata ND. Mazda has always been praised for there engineering prowess when it came down to the MX-5's driving experience.
It might only have 181 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque at its disposal, but because of its light weight, it feels like a lot more. A proper sports car, all of its power is sent to the rear wheels, and it comes offered with a 6-speed manual transmission. It handles magnificently—and of course, when you drop the top on a sunny day, all your senses get enlightened even more. We recently reviewed a retractable hardtop Miata, check it out!
Related: On-Track Fun With A Mazda MX-5 Miata And A Toyota GR86
The Boxster name is beloved in the mid-engined sports car world, after all, it still sells well today. In contrast to the modern Boxster that comes fitted with a turbo-four engine, the first-generation Boxster, the 986, came fitted with a mid-mounted naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter flat-six engine derived from the 911 which developed 201 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque.
Mated to its engine was a 5-speed manual gearbox that controlled the power which was sent to the rear wheels, and because its engine was mounted near the rear axle, its handling was superb as well. We found a '99 Boxster for sale on CarGurus that costs around $10,000—if you've ever wanted an affordable sports car, not to mention one built by Porsche, the ideal time is yesterday.
The new GR86 just went on sale a few months back, and it's a splendid little creature we had the opportunity to review, but as a result, the previous lightweight sports car Toyota produced, the 86, has steadily been dropping in value. On the one hand, that's not what you want to hear if you've bought one new, but on the other hand, that's nothing but music to your ears if you're in the market for a used one.
It is worth mentioning though that the 86, much like the Miata, isn't very powerful. Its naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter flat-four engine produces just over 200 ponies, but at least it too has a rear-wheel-drive drivetrain, as well as a 6-speed manual gearbox, so there is fun to be had despite its lack of brute strength. We'd recommend spending about $20,000 on a used 86 because you know in return, you'll get something close to new, but there are many other cheaper examples out there that have been thrashed a little bit more.
An older Ford Mustang is the ideal muscle car for someone who has yet to set foot in the muscle car scene but has no idea where to start. Underneath its hood beats a 4.6-liter naturally-aspirated V8 engine that's good for 300 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque, and you have the chance of finding a stick shift one, so you can have the most involving experience possible.
As time passes on, you might get used to the power, and crave more, but that's exactly what makes this specific Mustang such a gem. Its Modular V8 engine is up and ready for some upgrades whenever you feel it is necessary, so it's safe to say you won't get bored easily with this 'Stang. However, we have done some extensive research in regard to which models are worth buying, and which to stay away from, so we'd recommend having a look at it before making up your mind.
Related: How Ford Is Making The American Dream An European Reality Through The New Mustang California Special
The BMW Z3 is a rather oddball choice for anyone interested in buying a sports car. They usually give it one look, see there's no M badge attached to it, and continue their journey, but there's one key factor they're overlooking... its engine. The base model Z3 was powered by a 1.8-liter four-banger that made only 138 hp. But just before we reach Z3 M territory, there was a 3.0-liter straight-six engine called the M54.
It's called the M54 because it heavily resembles the S54 used in cars like the E46 M3, the M54 was only 200 ccs smaller and came with slightly less power, but its 228 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque was more than enough to catapult this lightweight Bimmer to 60 mph from a stop in 5 and a half seconds—not bad for a car that costs just $11,500 today.
Corvettes are seen as the perfect midlife crisis cars for old gents who got bored of their Mustangs, but older Corvettes, especially the underrated C4s, are much more than an old man's ideal choice of transportation. For just $7,500, you can buy yourself a timeless piece of sports car history that's fitted with a 5.7-liter V8 that produced 240 hp and 345 lb-ft of torque.
Hypothetically, let's say that's not enough grunt for you, and don't like the stock C4, what should you do now? Chevy did build an even more muscular version of the C4 'Vette, and it's called the ZR-1. Its V8 engine squeezed out 375 hp, however, it is not nearly as cheap as the base C4, but we thought it'd be appropriate to mention it at least.
Related: Why The Chevrolet Corvette C4 ZR-1 Was More Sports Car Than Muscle Car
Let's say you really want to own a used BMW E46 M3, but gas prices at this point in time, as well as your budget, don't allow you to own your own Bavarian-built M machine... hope might seem lost, but that's not entirely the case. Behold the original M-light car, the BMW E46 330Ci. It also came fitted with an inline-six engine, it's only 0.2-liters smaller in displacement and a few horsepower short of the earlier E46 M3.
For just $8,500 on CarGurus, you'd be receiving a 228-hp, two-door, rear-wheel-drive coupe that was offered with a 5-speed manual gearbox. It's significantly less expensive than an E46 M3, but in return, you'd still be driving a handsome-looking German-built sports car that you can actually afford to keep on the road.
The SLK55 is one of the pricier entries on our list today, but this one is well worth its $18,000 price tag on CarGurus. Underneath this tiny little roadster is a vicious, naturally-aspirated 5.4-liter V8 engine which puts out 355 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque, and do keep in mind, that it is only 161 inches long, 70.6 inches wide, and 50 inches tall, meaning it's even smaller than a Porsche Boxster, so it feels like a bat straight out of hell.
Combine that power with that petite body, and you're left with a 0-60 time of just 4.3 seconds, and one of the most exhilarating driving experiences ever at a fraction of the cost a new SL 43 would have cost you today. It might not be as agile as a Boxster when it comes to dashing around corners, but it excels in every other aspect.
With the release of Nissan's new Z-car, everyone's attention is shifting away from previous Z cars, and finally, we can afford a used 370Z, and just because it's old doesn't mean it's inferior in any which way. The 370Z was Nissan's last naturally-aspirated Z car, and its 3.7-liter powertrain developed a respectable 332 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque.
Another magical feature this Nissan's VQ engine has is tunability. So, if you were thinking of picking up a slightly more used 370Z, chances are you can find a run-down version for just over $10,000 and spend the rest of your cash modifying it to your exact wants and needs with the extra cash you saved.
Related: HotCars Exclusive: Here's What A New Nissan Z Roadster Could Look Like
The first-generation Audi TT is for many of us the first car that sucked us into the world of fun nippy sports cars. Unfortunately, for just under $9,000, you won't be able to buy a well-kept 3.2-liter V6-powered TT, but you can buy its baby brother which was powered by a 1.8-liter turbo-four.
It might have looked all cute on the outside, but its powertrain still evoked a respectable 222 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque which was communicated to all four of its wheels. This meant that 0-60 took place in just 6.2 seconds, and it still managed to achieve an average MPG rating of approximately 21 MPG—fast, functional, and cool-looking all in one compact package.
Marnus Moolman is a young aspiring automotive writer from South Africa who is making a name for himself, despite his young age. Currently, he is studying to obtain a Bachelor's Degree in Accounting to pursue his lifetime dream of running his own automotive detailing establishment.