Almost everyone knows that a high-performance exotic sports car like a Ferrari, Lamborghini, or Porsche cannot be purchased for under $5,000 no matter how old they are or how poor their condition. In fact, some of the most expensive models of these supercars are the oldest. A rare 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO sold at auction in 2018 for a mere $48.4 million.
However, for those who dream of driving and owning a high-performance sports car but have a limited budget (very limited at no more than $5,000), there are options. Granted, these cars are not in the same class as the supercar exotics, but they have surprisingly good performance and are fun to drive.
Many of these used cars are 15 to 20 years old and have high mileage, some over 100,000 miles. But, by doing ample research, avoiding an impulse purchase, and choosing a car with a diligent maintenance record, a buyer can avoid getting stuck with a cheap fast car that becomes a total nightmare.
Here are nineteen of the sickest sports cars that can be purchased for under $5,000 and one that should absolutely be avoided.
20 Second Generation Mazda MX-5 Miata (NB) ($4,999)
The Miata, equipped with a 1.8 naturally aspirated in-line 4-cylinder engine, is not a speed demon but has lively handling characteristics. It produces 138 bhp and a maximum torque of 119 lb.-ft. at 4500 rpm. With a manual transmission coupled to the rear wheels, the sporty vehicle accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h (62mph) in 8.0 seconds.
The Miata won’t leave any Porsche 911s in the dust, but it is a fun car to drive.
19 Toyota MR2 Spyder (W30) Last Generation ($3,850)
Toyota’s MR2 Spyder returned to a smaller design for the third-generation edition. The light weight allows a peppy performance from the 1.8-liter mid-engined four-cylinder sports car. The lean design makes it just as appealing as the Miata, but the mid-engine gives it better handling.
At under $5,000, the Spyder is a bargain and a wise investment. The out of production car will most certainly become a classic.
18 2004 Nissan 350Z ($5,000)
Nissan built the 350Z with a “midship” engine design. Placed behind the front axle for better overall balance, the 3.5-liter V6 produces 287 hp and 274 lb-ft of torque. It powers a 5-speed automatic transmission connected to the rear wheels.
Models that resale for $5,000 or less are those with over 100,000 miles. Lower mileage versions will bring a slightly higher price.
17 1998 Ford Mustang GT Sports (or Pony) Car ($4,990)
Experts often debate the classification of a Mustang. Is it a muscle car, a sports car, or a Pony car? The iconic vehicle introduced in the 60s is considered by most to be the original Pony car but has developed into much more since then. The 1998 Mustang GT, with its 4.6L V8 that generates 225 hp, is reliable, fun to drive, and a terrific value at under $5,000.
16 1999 Porsche Boxster ($4,999)
Although some sports car enthusiasts label the Porsche Boxster a “chicks” car, the performance would suggest otherwise.
Powered by a flat six-cylinder engine displacing 2,480 cc and generating just over 200 horsepower, the Boxster accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in a respectable 6.7 seconds. The mid-engine gives it excellent handling. At less than $5,000, who cares which gender drives this slick sports car?
15 2000 Mercedes-Benz Slk230 Supercharged ($4,900)
Brand new, the 2000 Mercedes-Benz Slk230 Supercharged sold for $40,000. Anti Lock brakes, side-impact airbags, traction control, and the Electronic Stability Program (a skid-control system) came standard. The sports car was offered with a V6 or a supercharged four-cylinder.
Although it has been criticized for loud engine noise during full acceleration, the SLK230 is reasonably quick and a steal at $4,000.
14 1999 BMW M3 Convertible ($5,995)
Okay, so it is slightly above the $5,000 limit, but the price may be negotiated to something near $5,000.
Cars.com consumer reviews gave the M3 an overall rating of 4.9. One owner wrote, “The 1999 BMW E36 M3 coupe is the car for the everyday driver who demands integrity in a product, confidence in its capabilities, and prestige beyond the reaches of average sports cars.”
13 2005 Chrysler Crossfire ($4,888)
A rear-wheel-drive, two-seater sports car, Karmann of Germany produced the Crossfire for Chrysler from 2004 to 2008. The car screams for attention with its unique and stylish appearance.
The 3.2-liter V-6 engine generates 215 hp giving it plenty of power, but the handling might be even more impressive. One owner wrote, “It handles like it's on rails and gets 21 mpg on the highway.”
12 2001 Audi TT 1.8t Roadster Terrifically Topless ($4,995)
Motor Trend called the 2001 Audi TT 1.8t Roadster “Terrifically Topless.” It is equipped with a 225-horsepower 1.8-liter DOHC four-cylinder and the Quattro all-wheel-drive.
The power increase over previous models is produced by a larger turbocharger, twin intercoolers, performance camshaft, higher-compression pistons, higher-flowing dual exhaust system, and an improved engine computer.
This model competed for the Motor Trend “best roadster” title.
11 1999 Mitsubishi 3000 GT ($5,800)
Another sports car just over the $5,000 limit, the 1999 Mitsubishi 3000GT featured the normally aspirated engine in the base and midrange models developing 222 hp. The VT-4 twin-turbo generated 300 horsepower and was available with a 6-speed manual.
Autoblog.com wrote “The Mitsubishi 3000GT VR-4 is a neck-snappin', head-turnin', pavement-grabbin', road-shreddin', turbo-spinnin', six-gear shiftin' machine with all the right moves, and all the right curves.
10 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Supercharged Coupe ($4,999)
At first glance, the Chevrolet Cobalt SS seems like most other sports sedans, but it boasts one feature that suggests otherwise: the huge rear wing. Indeed, the 205 supercharged horsepower is more than ample for a 2800-pound compact coupe.
Motor Trend claims, “…the car builds speed fast, almost stealthily, and carries it well. There's no coming on the cam feel, just rich, electric torque… across the rpm band courtesy of a Roots-type Eaton blower pumping 12 psi of boost.”
9 1999 Mitsubishi Eclipse GS ($3,995)
Some car manufacturers attempt to gain maximum market share by concealing performance with conservative styling. Others, like Mitsubishi, flaunt it. The Eclipse GS-T boasts an aggressive stance and sleek lines that make it appear as though it is traveling a hundred miles an hour when it’s parked in the driveway.
The turbocharged 210-hp engine powers it off the line like a slingshot, accelerating quicker than an Acura Integra GS-R or a Honda Prelude. A remarkable buy at under $5,000.
8 2001 Volkswagen GTI GLX ($2,488)
The GTI version was offered in two trims: the GLS and the GLX. Although the GLX doesn’t look like a sports car (it is a hatchback after all) the compact sedan boasts some impressive sports car-like features. It is equipped with a 2.8-liter narrow-angle V6 that produces 174 horsepower.
Volkswagen called it the world's best-loved hatchback. It is quick, corners well, has a comfortable ride, and it's practical.
7 2003 Mazda Rx-8 Sport ($4,399)
A silky-smooth rotary engine that offers excellent performance with an acceleration of 0 to 100 kph in 6.6 seconds, powers the 2003 Mazda Rx-8 Sport. The engine in the four-door sports coupe sits behind the front wheels giving it superb balance. Coupled with admirable steering, the design makes the Rx-8 handle like a more expensive high-performance sports car.
Like all rotary engines, it likes to drink fuel, but the performance is worth it.
6 2000 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible RWD ($3,500)
Like the Ford Mustang, the Chevrolet Camaro is a Pony car, but we include it here for its sportscar-like features. It accelerates from 0-60 mph in a brisk 5.7 seconds. A satisfied owner commented,
“Best car I've ever owned. ‘A corvette with a back seat.’ [you] cannot find performance like this for the money…It is just beautiful. It can be sporty, a muscle car, and it can be classy all at the same time. Great for everyday driving, or for just cruising around.”
5 2007 Mini Cooper S ($4,750)
Although the Mini Cooper’s small size makes it a breeze to park, even in the tightest spots, it is the car’s performance that shines. BMW purchased the brand in 2001 and has maintained the original cars look and feel while improving the engineering.
The 2007 Mini beats all the competition for performance, including the Mazda3 and the Volkswagen GTI. It is an excellent choice at under $5,000.
4 1989 Nissan 240SX SE ($3,100)
The original two-seater Z-car introduced in 1969 shook the automobile world and placed Nissan at the top of the list of economical, high-performance sports cars. However, the company lost its way for several years until it regained its momentum with the 1989 240SX. It featured a twelve-valve, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine housed in a lighter weight and better handling car. It is a bargain at $3,100.
3 2003 Mitsubishi Lancer ($4,495)
Although it looks like a fast car, the 2003 Mitsubishi Lancer won’t win any impromptu street drag races with its 2.0-liter I-4 engine that produces 120 horsepower. However, it makes up for its lackluster acceleration with sporty handling.
One owner wrote, “It is affordable, comfortable, handles great, gets good gas mileage, great in the snow, overall looks good, and is surprisingly spacey for [such a small car].”
2 1996 Chevrolet Corvette C4 ($4,499)
The 1996 Corvette was the last of the C4 era and is the best edition to purchase. Powered by the LT1 5.7 OHV 350 V-8 Sequential-Port Fuel Injection engine, it produces 300 horsepower and 335 lb-ft of torque.
A solid feel, the car handles well, enjoys a fuel economy around 30 mpg, and was rated higher than the Dodge Viper for 1996. At less than $5,000, the Vette is very affordable for a sports car that sold for over $40,000 new.
1 Completely Avoid: 1984 Pontiac Fiero ($2,990)
Although the 1984 Pontiac Fiero boasted a sporty look, it is one of the most disappointing cars of all-time. It was poorly built, grossly underpowered, and a maintenance nightmare. But perhaps the most devastating blow to the failed car was its reputation for catching on fire. The engine ran hot, produced oil leaks, and burst into flames when the liquid dripped on the exhaust manifold.
The Pontiac Fiero is one car to avoid.
Sources: motor1, cargurus.com, ultimatespecs.com, motortrend, carsforsale.com