"Life is way too short for boring cars,” said Chris Gerdes, a professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University.
A recent Ford Motor Company study measuring the enjoyment of different human activities found that driving a high-performance vehicle ranks high up on the list of things that make people happy.
Driving a sports car is like no other driving experience. Most of them are fast, but the handling and cornering are the characteristics that seem to give the most pleasure.
For those enthusiasts who must own one of these vehicles, the price for a new sports car may not be within their budget. A Porsche 911 Turbo S with a base price of $190,700 is perhaps a tad out of reach, but a previously owned sports car could be a better option.
While they cost less to purchase, secondhand sports cars come with some risks. They can be more expensive to maintain than newer cars. However, because they have been around for a while, plenty of data exists to flush out the best and the worst among them.
Here are twenty cheap sports cars you should avoid like the plague.
20 2003 Acura TL Automatic, $3,525
Both the conventional 225-hp 3.2-liter V6 and the 260-hp Type-S model Acura TL have problems with the 4-speed automatic transmission.
One owner wrote, “I asked the dealership about [the transmission] issues and was assured these few incidents were operator errors and not an Acura problem. Two replaced transmissions later [confirmed] a costly error…I was duped into purchasing an overpriced piece of metal.”
19 2003 Mini Cooper, $5,700
The 2003 Mini Cooper was a popular choice in the U.S. for its maneuverability and quickness. Equipped with 1.6-liter I-4 engine and 6-spd manual transmission, it produced 163 horsepower and 155 lb-ft of torque.
The Mini Cooper offered plenty of power and small size, ideal for meandering through city traffic. However, according to Consumer Reports, the Mini was an enjoyable car to drive when new, but with age and mileage, it suffered from reliability issues.
18 1997 Honda Prelude 5th Gen Automatic, $3,500
The Prelude came equipped with an aluminum-alloy 2.2-liter twin-cam in-line four cylinder that produced 195 hp @ 6600 RPM and 156 lb-ft of torque @ 5250 RPM. Motor Week recorded an acceleration of 0 to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds with the manual transmission.
Preludes fitted with the automatic were a bit slower, if they even managed to make it to the finish line. Reliability plagued the automatic. The Honda is a decent sports car to purchase used, but only with a manual transmission.
17 2010 Golf MK6 GTI, $6,500
Volkswagen once had the slogan, “Fahrvergnügen: It's what makes a car a Volkswagen." Translated from German, it means “driving enjoyment.”
For most of their products, the slogan is accurate. Most experts believe Volkswagen to be the maker of exceptionally reliable cars in all vehicle classes. However, the Volkswagen Golf MK6 GTI made from 2010 to 2013 is the exception. The MK6 received poor reliability ratings that made it less than “enjoyable,” and only models with diligent maintenance programs escape breakdown issues.
16 2005 Mazda RX-8, $6,600
While the Wankel rotary engine was a novel idea with some success in the RX-7, it was less well-received when installed in the RX-8. The engine produced more than 200 horsepower, but it gained the reputation as a gas-guzzling, oil-burning power plant that required frequent maintenance to keep it operating properly. Unless the previous owner was meticulous about upkeep, the RX-8 is best avoided as a used car purchase.
15 1984 Pontiac Fiero, $3,500
Although the Pontiac Fiero was a sales success when it was launched in 1983, the model was discontinued five years later due to engine problems that led to fires.
The New York Times wrote in 1990, “The General Motors Corporation will recall 244,000 four-cylinder Pontiac Fieros – every one ever made – because of a nagging engine-fire problem that contributed to the company's decision to stop making the two-seater.”
14 2001 Mitsubishi Eclipse Automatic, $2,900
The Eclipse models made in the early 2000s included a 4-speed automatic with a manufacturing defect. A small, inexpensive part of the transmission frequently failed, causing damage to the oil filter and pump. When it occurred, the entire gearbox assembly drained of oil and the transmission locked up.
The 2001 Mistubishi gearboxes experience the failure more often than the transmissions in other model years.
13 1990 Mazda Miata, $2,950
The 1990 Miata suffers from three problem areas. First, the convertible is susceptible to water leaks due to dried out seals and plugged drainpipes. Second, a defective idle speed control valve causes a fluctuating idle on the 1.6-liter engine. And last, the Miata is prone to rust underneath the car and on the body. Noise level is also an issue at speeds over 50 mph.
12 2009 Nissan 370Z, $9,995
The 2009 Nissan 370Z employed a 3.7-liter Nissan V6 engine, tuned for 332 hp at 7000 RPM and 270 lb-ft of torque at 5200 RPM.
Popular mechanics wrote, “…this new car has a veneer of refinement that is born more of control integration and balance than actual Lexus-like levels of sound or ride quality. The engine feels snappier [and] more responsive…”
However, the car experienced a faulty steering lock column from the factory, putting a damper of the pleasure of driving the high-performance vehicle.
11 2006 Chevy Cobalt SS, $1,995
The Chevy Cobalt SS is an inexpensive vehicle that is fuel-efficient. It is relatively roomy inside, given its outside dimensions. The vehicle is entirely devoid of luxury appointments, and it has been recalled several times for minor issues and routine maintenance. Although no single defect is enough to avoid purchasing the cobalt SS, the vehicle is just plain boring, which is reason enough to steer clear.
10 2006 Pontiac Solstice, $7,990
Despite its sporty appearance and BMW-like grille, the Solstice lacks performance and has experienced severe safety issues with its faulty ignition switch.
CNET.com reports: “The 2006 Pontiac Solstice is a car for teenage girls with a love of cosmetics or midlife-crisis guys happy to get a budget boy-racer image without the performance to back it up. Those wanting a real roadster experience should look elsewhere.”
9 2009 Saturn Sky, $11,999
Although the Saturn Sky has a stylish design, the engine is underpowered, runs rough, and is too loud for most drivers and passengers.
However, it is the poor ergonomics that prevent this sports car from beating the competition. The seats are narrow and uncomfortable, the steering wheel doesn’t telescope, flimsy cup holders are placed in odd locations, and window switches are placed where elbows usually touch the armrest.
8 2000 Porsche Cayman, $14,499
The 2000 Cayman suffered from the same defect with its M96 engine, as did the Boxsters and 911s. The intermediate shaft bearing (IMS) would break down when the grease dried up after prolonged engine use, causing catastrophic damage to the engine.
The 2000-2005 single-row bearing engines in all Porsche models experienced as much as a 10% failure rate.
7 1973 Ford Mustang II, $9,450
Motor1 claims the 1973 Ford Mustang II was the “smallest, slowest, and ugliest Mustang in history.” Perhaps the claim is a bit exaggerated, but the Mustang II, introduced during the U.S. fuel crisis, stricter emission standards and safety regulations, and rising insurance rates, was a reaction to all three.
The base engine produced a pathetic 90 horsepower, and the V6 wasn’t much better at 107 hp.
6 2000 Toyota Celica GT-S, $3,995
Toyota cars have a reputation for being well-designed and reliable. However, some models are less reliable than others.
Drivers of the 2000 Celica complained about a hesitation when accelerating, followed by sluggish performance. The automatic transmission occasionally shifts incorrectly at higher speeds, and the power steering pump and hoses are prone to frequent leaks. While these defects are minor, they are enough to encourage a buyer to look for a different model.
5 1969 Porsche 914, $13,950
A joint effort by Porsche and Volkswagen, the 914 was built by Karmann using VW air-cooled four-cylinder engines and Porsche six-cylinder powertrains. Launched in 1969, the flatly styled body and twin luggage compartments were a sharp contrast to the sleek 911 coupe.
While it handled admirably on curvy roads, acceleration of the mid-engined, two-seat roadster was pathetic even for the ’60s, needing at least 13 seconds to reach 60 miles per hour.
4 2017 Ford Focus RS, $28,880
Owners of the Focus RS are warned of engine problems when they first notice a plume of white smoke exiting the exhaust. A smoking exhaust is seldom a good sign.
During an interview with Autocar, Ford representatives confirmed the Focus with a 2.3-liter engine is susceptible to a problem that causes the engine to consume coolant fluid. The issue has been identified on early Focus RS models, and even affects cars with less than 6,000 miles on the odometers.
3 1979 Volkswagen Jetta, $7,590
The Jetta has suffered from numerous problems. According to Repair Pal, these are the top five: automatic transmission shifting issues that require an entire replacement, engine misfire caused by either a failed ignition coil or defective spark plug, power windows malfunction due to a failed window regulator, general electrical issues that have been very difficult to diagnose, an odor from HVAC vents caused by condensation in the heater case, and HVAC system.
2 1979 Datsun 280ZX, $12,995
Although the 1979 Datsun 280ZX offered in both two-seater and 2+2 configurations was more luxurious and refined than the previous Z models, it was a disappointment. The new version was heavier and even with 145 horsepower, slower. Datsun later (1981) added a turbo to make the sportscar faster than the original 240Z.
1 1980 Corvette 305 "California," $7,500
Perhaps no other American muscle car suffered more from the effects of the 1970s fuel crisis, stricter emission standards, and improved safety regulations in the U.S. than the Corvette.
In the 1980 Corvette, the marginally acceptable 350 cu.-in. small-block was replaced with an entirely unacceptable 305 V8, producing a mere 180 horsepower. A Corvette enthusiast looking for some performance is better off choosing a different year.
Sources: autowise.com, motor1.com, thedrive.com, topspeed.com