Everybody loves a good time, and when it comes to vehicles, you’re talking about sports cars. They put a premium on power, performance, handling, and smiles per mile. And while they may not be the most practical choice for making a school run or a trip to the shops, they more than make up for that by planting a big grin on your face.
When talking about sports cars, it’s easy to think about high-end, expensive performance machines, but this list proves you don’t have to be a millionaire to have fun on four wheels. All the cars here offer maximum thrills for less than ten-thousand dollars, and that’s a recipe for excitement.
Ford Mustang GT
The Ford Mustang is at the top of the list of most popular sports cars in America. Low cost, durable, fast, good-looking and with an excellent V8, the Mustang is a great choice for anyone who wants a great all-round sports car.
The 2010 model year Mustangs have started to dip below the ten-thousand-dollar mark and for that, you get a 315-horsepower V8, a five-speed manual transmission and handsome retro-inspired styling. If you happen to be a fan of the older generations of the ‘Stang, then you’re in luck. Thanks to its popularity and massive production numbers, you’ll be spoiled for choice, with older cars priced considerably less than the 2010 Mustang.
If you’re into “out-of-the-box” sports cars, then the Mazda RX-8 is for you. It’s a front-engined, rear-wheel-drive sports car, that technically has four-doors and is powered by a 247-horsepower Rotary engine that can rev to 9,000 RPM. The RX-8 also has one of the best handling chassis from the early 2000s and makes for a good track-day and autocross car. And because of the rear doors “interlace” with the front doors, you can actually get access to the rear seats easily, making it a non-terrible choice for moving people around.
A solid well-kept example can be found for well under ten-thousand dollars, just keep some extra change in your pocket for repairs and maintenance, as the Rotary engines can be maintenance intensive.
First launched in 2004, the BMW 1 Series is a sub-compact luxury car that packs some serious fun into its diminutive size. Here in the U.S., you could have a 1 Series in either two-door coupe or convertible form with a choice of either a 3.0-liter naturally aspirated inline six-cylinder engine, or the much more punchy 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six-cylinder. The latter engine is the best choice for speed demons and thanks to a large aftermarket, it’s capable of producing big horsepower.
Both coupe and convertible can be found for under ten thousand dollars, and with an available six-speed manual transmission and BMW’s trademark handling, it’s a bucket of fun on twisty roads.
Hyundai Genesis Coupe
It’s not often that Hyundai springs to mind when talking about sports cars, but the Genesis Coupe is a gem a car that encourages you to find the nearest canyon road or drift-track. You can have the Coupe with either a turbocharged four-cylinder or a 3.8-liter V6.
Power goes to the rear wheels through an available manual transmission, and if you carefully scan the “for sale” listings, you can find one with the Sport or Track Pack that add goodies like a limited-slip rear differential. The best feature is the engine; it may only be a V6 but puts out 348-horsepower, more than the V8 in the Mustang GT of the same year.
The Nissan 370Z has been around so long that we’ve all forgotten about it. It hasn’t been significantly revised in over a decade, and while it may lag behind new vehicles, at the sub-ten-thousand dollar used car price point, it represents some of the best bang for the buck performance out there. These are the specs that matter: 3.7-liter V6 with 332-Horsepower, six-speed manual transmission, rear-wheel drive, and nimble handling.
The ride can be firm on the street and around town but show the “Z” a corner and the whole car comes alive with an athletic enthusiasm that makes you want to drive it harder, faster and better.
The Mercedes-Benz SLK is the pint-size convertible in the model line-up. It’s a fun, two-seat, front-engine, rear-drive sports car that comes with all the luxury and tech that you’d expect from Mercedes-Benz with a folding hardtop. No cloth convertible top here, a genuine retractable hardtop.
The SLK350 features a V6 with 300-Horsepower. A seven-speed automatic transmission is standard, and while not as engaging as rowing your own gears, it does a good job of keeping things sharp when you’re feeling sporty and comfortable when you aren’t. The baby-Benz may not be the ideal weapon for a track-day, but if you’re into top-down fun in the sun, it’s hard to go wrong with an SLK.
The Mazda MX-5 Miata should need no introduction. It is the picture definition of a sports car and has been one of the best for 30 years. Small, lightweight, with balanced handling and just enough horsepower to let you have fun, the Miata ticks all the boxes for sports car perfection and best of all, the top goes down!
Each generation has its pros and cons, but whichever you chose, you’ll get an enthusiastic four-cylinder engine with a manual transmission sending power to the rear wheels. Miatas are also ripe for tuning and modifying, and they are one of the most popular cars for racing, with several series dedicated to the brilliant little car.
BMW E36 M3
The second-generation BMW M3, the E36, may be the most under-appreciated M3. The lack of love shown to the Bavarian racer is like due to the tough act it had to follow, the original E30 M3. Where the E30 M3’s are highly collectible with prices bordering on “insane,” the E36’s are still extremely affordable and were some of the best handling sports cars of their era.
The M3 comes with an incredibly sonorous straight six-cylinder engine with 240-horsepower. That may not sound like a lot, but remember, the M3 isn’t about quarter-mile runs, its purpose is to slay lap times. During the mid-to-late-1990s, the E36 M3 was a dominant sports and touring car racer.
It’s hard not to like the Subaru WRX. Not only is it extremely personable, but it’s also a world-class rally car for the street. Subaru’s rally squad has been using the WRX to tear-up terrain and tarmac for decades and have had a hugely successful time doing it.
All the rally-inspired tech translates into a car that has 265-horsepower, all-wheel-drive, big Brembo brakes and a chassis that wants to be thrashed. It’s unique in that it’s perfectly at home on twisty roads, race track, gravel roads and snow. It might be one of the most capable and versatile sports cars on the planet.
Honda Civic Si
Don’t discount the Honda Civic Si, it may look tame and docile, but underneath the sensible exterior lies the heart of a racing car. The U.S. knows this car as the EP3 Civic Si, but the rest of the world knows it as the Type-R, a designation given by Honda to its hottest and most capable cars.
The Si benefited from a 160-Horsepower four-cylinder engine with a slick-shifting manual transmission that featured the gear level mounted in the dash. It sounds crazy but works extremely well. These cars were respectable out of the box, but true brilliance can be unlocked with some well-thought-out tuning. A canvas from which you can paint a sports car masterpiece.
The Pontiac GTO, known as the Holden Monaro in its native Australia, is part Corvette, part muscle car and all fun. Surprisingly, the GTO was a sales failure and was never really appreciated as much as it should have been. That oversight is a benefit for buyers today, as prices remain surprisingly cheap.
Early cars came with an LS1 V8 and 350-horsepower and later cars had the LS2 400-horsepower mill. Both could be had with a manual transmission and were at home cruising around town, running the quarter-mile or turning laps at the local track.
BMW’s Z3 was introduced in 1996 and stayed in production until 2002. It’s famous for being James Bond’s mode of transport in the film GoldenEye and is a great two-seat roadster that is both handsome and quick. The Z3 was available with an economical four-cylinder engine, but no one ever bought a sports car for the economy, the ones you want have BMW’s great straight six-cylinder engines. Torque-y and full of character, they’re powerful enough to have a ton of fun with.
Shrewd car shoppers will be on the lookout for the Z3M. Fitted with the engine from the M3, and with the suspension and brakes shared as well, it’s a seriously fast little car that can be found for under ten-thousand dollars.
When it comes to hot hatchbacks, few do it like Mazda. With a focus more centered on handling and chassis balance over outright straight-line speed, their cars were always quick around a corner but lacked the raw punch to keep up with the competition.
Mazda aimed to change that with the Mazdaspeed 3. Fitted with a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder, the five-door hatchback put 263-horsepower to the pavement. That was a lot for the time, making it the most powerful among its competition. The mighty Mazda is not without flaws but makes up for that by being a complete riot to drive.
Chevrolet Corvette C4 Generation
The C4 generation of the Corvette is often regarded as the least loved, but if you’re after owning “America’s Sports Car,” it represents good bang for the buck. First introduced in 1983, the C4 was a completely new car from previous generations. Its wedge design was full-bore 1980s styling at it’s finest. The C4 stayed in production until 1996 and really defined the styling direction of the following generations of Corvettes.
Early cars were fitted with anemic 250-horsepower V8s. They were slow in the 1980s and have prehistoric performance by today’s standards. The cars to buy come from the 1990s and received a host of upgrades including horsepower. 1994, 1995 and 1996 are the cream of the crop.
Volkswagen Golf R32
When it debuted in 2002, the Golf R32 was a revelation. A great sounding 237-horsepower 3.2-liter VR6 engine coupled to a Haldex 4Motion all-wheel-drive system meant this V-Dub could haul. But the truly astonishing characteristic of the car was the handling, and at the time was absolutely world-class.
Despite being a heavy car, the R32 had immense grip, tons of steering feel and great chassis balance. That all adds up to a car that gives the driver huge amounts of confidence. The Volkswagen Golf R32 is quickly becoming a legend among hot hatchbacks and with prices well below ten-thousand dollars, its a true bargain for the amount of performance it delivers.
Ford Fiesta ST
In 2014 Ford Motor Company brought out a hot version of their subcompact Fiesta hatchback. Creating a performance version of Ford’s car was no surprise, but what caught everyone off-guard was how good the Fiesta ST was to drive.
A turbocharged 1.6-liter engine making 197-horsepower gives the diminutive Ford plenty of shove, but it’s the chassis that is the star of the show. The suspension is firm, the tires are sticky and a host of trick technology keeps the Fiesta planted in the corners and a smile on your face. Prices for the Fiesta ST have started to dip below ten-thousand dollars and if you’re into big performance from small packages, the fast Ford is the perfect car for you.
You can’t talk about sports and performance cars without mentioning Porsche. And within Porsche’s vast catalog of great vehicles, the mid-engine Boxster stands out as one of the best. At the sub-ten-thousand dollar mark, we’re talking about the first-generation Boxster (1997 – 2004). Don’t despair, the early cars are just as much fun, with a torquey flat six-cylinder engine and a nearly perfectly balanced chassis, as the newer cars.
And if you opt for the “S” version (2000 to 2004), you’ll be treated to 250-horsepower, bigger brakes and a 0-60 mph time of 5.7 seconds. The car’s styling has been criticized for being plain, but there’s nothing plain about the performance and handling.
Audi’s performance sedan, the S4 may not seem like a traditional sports car, but the B6 variant (2003 to 2005) is packed with German muscle and athleticism. Beneath the understated exterior styling lies one of the greatest engines ever produced, the magnificent 4.2-liter V8. This engine would go on to power the R8 supercar, the RS4 super-sedan, and the over-engineered Volkswagen Phaeton.
In the S4, it puts out a healthy 340-horsepower, is mated to the Quattro all-wheel-drive system and makes one of the best engines noises on the planet. These cars can be maintenance intensive, so it pays to have them checked out prior to buying. Look for examples with extensive service and maintenance histories.
The Porsche 944 is another one of those great, underappreciated sports cars from the not-to-distant past. While the values of Porsche 911s and other models have steadily risen, the 944’s values have remained relatively steady and are extremely affordable, except for the 944 Turbo and Turbo S.
What you get with the 944 is a handsome coupe design with a proper Porsche designed four-cylinder engine in the front and an innovative transaxle assembly in the back. That set-up, with the transmission and differential at the rear, gives the 944 a 50:50 weight distribution with handling and grip for days.
Chevrolet Camaro SS And Z/28 4th Generation
If you’re into “pony cars” and dig Chevrolets, then you are looking for a Camaro. The natural rival to the Ford Mustang, the Camaro has been doling out big horsepower and burnouts since 1966. The fourth-generation cars, made from 1993 through 2002, are full of character, full of horsepower and are shockingly affordable.
It’s possible to find a low-mileage Z/28 with 310-horsepower for well under ten-thousand dollars. That will free up some extra cash for mods and the extra tires you’ll need after all those burnouts. If you can deal with the tragic ’90s GM interior components, the fourth generation Camaro is great pony car for not a lot of money.
Acura RSX Type-S
The Acura RSX was the follow-up model to the popular Integra and is an excellent handling, sporty coupe. The model to have in the RSX Type-S. Known elsewhere in the world as the Integra DC5, the U.S. version dropped the Integra name for Acura’s, now commonplace, alphabetic model designations.
The Type-S featured a 200-horsepower four-cylinder engine with a six-speed manual transmission and a sport-tuned suspension. Along with the power came a big rear hatch mounted wing that was lifted from the Japanese market RSX Type-R. A staple of the tuner car scene, the RSX Type-S is quick, versatile, fun, infinitely modifiable and a complete blast to drive!
Hyundai Veloster Turbo
If quirky is your thing then look no further than the Hyundai Veloster Turbo. Hyundai wanted a hot-hatch that could compete with the Volkswagen GTI, Ford Focus and others. What they made was a 200-horsepower funky front-wheel driver that looks like nothing else on the road. You’ll either love the look or hate it, but it’s definitely unique, and if standing out in a crowd is important to you, then the Veloster Turbo has you covered.
The Veloster Turbo has one of the most thoughtfully designed interiors in the game, with the infotainment system being the highlight. The exterior styling may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s a car that’s good on the commute and the canyon road.
Chevrolet Cobalt SS
The Chevrolet Cobalt SS is the 600-pound Gorilla of hot-hatchbacks. It doesn’t do dainty or subtle and represents Chevrolet’s first real attempt to tap into the tuner-car market. Early examples, 2005 to 2007, had a 2.0-liter supercharged four-cylinder engine that made 205-horsepower. Later cars, 2008 to 2010, had a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder mill that laid down 260-horsepower.
All of the Cobalt SS cars came with limited-slip differentials, big sticky tires, and performance suspension. As a nod to the tuner scene, Chevrolet offered “Stage Kits” which allowed owners to upgrade performance and customize their cars without voiding the factory warranty. A Stage 1 kit for the turbocharged SS brought horsepower up to 290.
When the Audi TT hit the scene in 1998, it made a big impression. Its styling was forward-thinking and edgy in a sea of bland-ish cars of that time. The “TT” stands for “Tourist Trophy” which is actually the name of the legendary motorcycle race on the British Isle of Man.
Available as either a coupe or convertible, the TT could be configured with a 1.8-liter turbocharged engine or the venerable VR6 engine. Base cars were front-wheel drive and the hottest version had Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system. The TT was never as sharp to drive as the Porsche Boxster, with which it was meant to compete, but it does offer a distinctive look, all-wheel drive and plenty of smiles per mile.
MINI Cooper S
MINI, as we know it today, is part of the BMW Group and gets much of its engineering from the parent company. These little pocket rockets handle like a go-kart and have all the retro charm you expect with a healthy dose of BMW comfort.
First-generation Cooper S cars came with a supercharged four-cylinder engine and with the second generation, MINI ditched the supercharger in favor of a turbo. If the 197-horsepower in the Cooper S isn’t enough for you, the John Cooper Works edition ups that to 210, and thanks to an expansive aftermarket there are plenty of performance add-ons to be had.
The BMW 3-Series has been the standard by which all sports sedans are measured for almost 40 years. It defined the genre and gave the world a template for what a sports sedan should be. You can get the 3-Series in coupe, sedan or convertible form with a wide variety of engines, transmissions and in either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
Among the vast array of options, there are a few that stand out. The E46 generation 330i ZHP and the E90 generation 335i. Both put a premium on sport, have enough power to get you into trouble and can be had for under ten-thousand dollars.
Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky
The Pontiac Solstice and its sister car, the Saturn Sky, were a complete breath of fresh air when compared to Pontiac’s existing plastic-y, snooze-fest offerings. It was introduced to reinvigorate the brand with a hearty dose of fun. Sure, Pontiac had the GTO already in its stable, but it didn’t have anything that could compete with the Mazda Miata or BMW Z4.
The base Solstice had a four-cylinder engine with around 177-horsepower on tap, but if you’re interested in maximum fun, then look for the GXP version as it came with the same engine as the Cobalt SS with a very stout 260-horsepower.
The Chrysler Crossfire was an interesting roadster that came about when Chrysler Corporation was a part of the Mercedes-Benz/Daimler Group. The Crossfire was badged and sold as a Chrysler, built by German manufacturer Karmann and was essentially a re-bodied Mercedes-Benz SLK 320.
None of that is bad, and in fact, the Crossfire is a greatly underappreciated car to this day. Base and Limited versions of the car had a 3.2-liter V6 with 215-horsepower, but it was the SRT-6 variant that got the muscle. It featured an AMG built, supercharged 3.2-liter V6 with 330-horsepower and could rip a 0-60 mph time of five-seconds.
Audi’s S5 is much more than a two-door version of the S4. It’s elegant coupe design with flowing lines and muscular proportions are matched by the excellent 4.2-liter V8 under the hood. You got 350-horsepower, Quattro all-wheel drive, and a six-speed manual transmission.
The interior is one of the nicest in the business, and this is a car that can just about do it all. It’s a composed all-weather commuter, a comfortable long-distance GT car, and a canyon-carving V8 sports car when you want it to be. It’s good at everything it does, and while that can tend to dilute the product, fear not with the S5, plant your foot to the floor and this car will rock!
If you dig old school cool Japanese sports cars, then the RX-7 surely has to be close to the top of the list. First introduced in 1978, the RX-7 was powered by the now-famous 13B two-rotor Wankel engine. With no pistons, the engine was lightweight, powerful and you could rev it to the moon. Variations of that engine would go on to power Mazda’s Le Mans-winning car and stay in production until 2002.
Sharp handling is the defining feature of the RX-7 and these cars make excellent canyon-carvers and race cars. Maintenance on the rotary engine is best described as “frequent” but few cars can deliver the experience, sounds and fun like an RX-7 can.
If you’re an out of the box type of person, then you need an out of the box type of sporty car. Look no further than Subaru’s weird vision of the future, the SVX. The car was styled by legendary designer Giorgetto Giugiaro and Subaru was hopeful that it would allow them to tap into the luxury sports car market.
The SVX comes with a 230-horsepower flat six-cylinder engine, all-wheel drive and one of the raddest ’90s interiors ever. Plus, you got the unique window within a window feature. The SVX didn’t set the world on fire when it debuted, but that benefits buyers now, as pristine examples can be found for well-under ten-thousand dollars.
The MG Midget is the “everyman” classic sports car and the inspiration for the Mazda Miata. Originally designed to be a basic, low-cost sports car, the diminutive Midget is the definition of what a British sports car was and is perfect for anyone looking to get into the classic sports car game without spending huge amounts of money.
Powered by the tried and true BMC A-Series engine, the MG gets 65-horsepower, which admittedly is not a lot, but thanks to a weight on only 1.620-pounds it’s enough to be a lot of fun to drive. The MG Midget is a peak British sports car and a great entry point for classic car collectors.
In 1970, Nissan/Datsun brought out a sleek two-door coupe to compete head-to-head with the established European sport cars makers. They strategically priced it on par with the MGB GT in the hopes of attracting buyers. Fitted with a 151-horsepower inline six-cylinder engine the 240Z proved to be quick in its day and was more than a match for anything that was being offered by the Europeans.
The handling is world-class and the styling still looks handsome today. This was the car that proved you could have performance and reliability. The 240Z is rapidly becoming a collectible so snag one before everyone else realizes how good this car is.
Fiat 124 Sport Spider
There’s just something about an Italian sports car. They feel, drive and behave in ways that other cars don’t, and you can tell that the engineers and builders actually loved the cars they were making. It doesn’t get more Italian than the Fiat Spider and with bodywork styled by Pininfarina and a rev-happy four-cylinder engine, its got all the zesty fun you need from a small Italian drop-top.
Granted, classic Fiats are not known for Toyota levels of reliability, but that’s all part of the adventure and experience with a classic Italian sports car. Life is too short to deny yourself the pleasure of top-down Italian motoring.
It doesn’t get much more British-y than the Triumph Spitfire. Named to honor the famous British World War II fighter plane, the Spitfire is what the roadster lifestyle is all about. The Spitfire is not powerful, but that is counter to the entire point of the classic British roadster. These cars are about handling, driving pleasure and top-down fun in the sun.
You get a snappy small-displacement four-cylinder engine, a manual transmission and car that fits you like a glove. If you get enjoyment from a twisty road and the wind in your hair, then the Triumph Spitfire is a great classic roadster that is surprisingly affordable.
The X1/9 is a small mid-engined two-door sports car from Italian manufacturer Fiat. The bodywork was designed by legendary design house Bertone and is typical of the styling trends of the 1970s and 1980s. Wedge design with pop-up headlights will always be cool and the little Fiat has both to go along with a removable hardtop and a peppy four-cylinder engine.
The X1/9 made do with a small displacement four-cylinder engine that in latter cars had 75-horsepower. Not a lot, for sure, but with the engine mounted in the middle, a lightweight body and great suspension set-up, the X1/9 was a killer canyon-carver.
MG MGB GT
The MG MGB GT was first introduced in 1965 as the coupe version of the MG MGB roadster. Production continued all the way to 1980, making it one of the most popular British sports cars built. The bodywork was designed by Pininfarina and the GT was fitted with a BMC B-Series four-cylinder engine that produced around 95-horsepower. Not massively powerful, but with classic good looks and excellent handling, the MGB GT is great fun to drive.
This was the car that Nissan/Datsun envisioned competing against with the 240Z. Front-engine and rear-wheel drive are always good and the MGB GT has fun built into its DNA.
Alfa Romeo Spider
Few car companies have the pedigree and history of Alfa Romeo. Their racing history stretches back to the early days of the automobile and today they’re known for beautiful, exciting and fun to drive cars. The Spider is one of the cars that helped build the legend of Alfa Romeo with a production run that started in 1966 and ran all the way to 1994. You might recognize the car from the film The Graduate with Dustin Hoffman.
As you would expect, early cars are extremely collectible and worth a lot of money. The later cars, with 126-horsepower from a four-cylinder engine, are underappreciated and represent good value for getting into the Italian sports car market.
Volvo might not be the first auto manufacturer you think of when talking about sporty cars, but their hot-rod station wagons are legendarily sporty along with the iconic two-door P1800 coupe. Introduced in 1961, the P1800 was initially designed to be a stylish GT car rather than an all-out sports car. Made famous by the television show The Saint starring Roger Moore, the P1800 had up to 130-horsepower from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine.
While it may have not been designed as a sports car, the P1800 is plenty sporty and with it’s Italian designed bodywork and television credentials it’s sure to turn heads wherever you drive it.
Volkswagen Karman Ghia
Available in either coupe or convertible, the Karmann Ghia was the fun, sporty car that was offered alongside Volkswagen’s more practical vehicles. The car is named after coachbuilder Karmann, who built the bodywork, and the Italian design house Carrozzeria Ghia, who designed it. Powered by the same air-cooled flat four-cylinder engines found in the Beetle and Volkswagen’s other cars, they started with 39-horsepower in 1955 and rose to a heady 60-horsepower by the end of production in 1974.
The Karmann Ghia is sporty out of the gate, but with a few tasty modifications, it can be made into a quick little classic German sports car from a company known for practicality and utility.