Japanese car manufacturers brought something new to the auto world – sports cars that were just as reliable as the regular family cars from the Land of the Rising Sun. There are plenty of budget-priced Japanese sports cars available for car enthusiasts who prefer to drive their cars rather than spend 80% of the time wrenching their vehicles.
While there are cheapish new sports cars, there are some real bargains to be had for those who are willing to spend some time scouring the web – and that's before even talking to the seller, at which point, it's often possible to knock off another couple of hundred bucks.
Need a hint as to what Japanese sports cars are available? Here are some of the nicest ones you can pick up for less than 10 grand today – and some of these have already started increasing in value.
25 Acura/Honda Integra
Just forget about the Integra Type R right away. The poster child for front-wheel-drive cars with exceptional handling is way too expensive for our 10K budget. The good news is that you can pick up a really clean version of the lesser models well within budget. You'll have enough left over to slap on some quality parts and actually create something to rival Honda's own efforts.
24 1st Gen. Toyota MR2
Launched in 1984, the featherweight sports car subscribed to the simple and lightweight, back-to-basics principles we associate with Lotus today. Crash damage and/or rust issues are the main problems – the main concern with all Japanese sports cars of this era.
Take your time to find a good one and you’ll be treated to one of the greatest Japanese sports cars of all time.
23 Mitsubishi Lancer Evo
The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution line started out in the early nineties, but the first Evo offered in the U.S. was the VIII (2003-2005). Just like its rival, the Subaru Impreza WRX, the Evo was a road car with rallying pedigree, featuring a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine and 4wd.
Incredibly, these are cars available within our budget – as long as you don't mind high mileage.
22 Honda Del Sol
Based on the Honda Civic, the Del Sol was a true 1990s sports car. It had compact 1.5-liter and 1.6-liter engines that sent their power to the front wheels. It had a targa top and a fancy electrically operated retractable rear window. It's an entertaining vehicle with precise handling, good braking, and enough power to attack corners on curvy roads. Aftermarket parts are plentiful due to its Civic heritage.
21 Toyota Supra
The 4th generation Supra is well out of budget – even the non-turbo cars. However, older Supras like the 3rd gen. cars can still be had for reasonable money. It's even possible to find turbo versions around the 10K mark.
The Supra offers Toyota reliability with supercar performance. They're great tourers in stock form, but if you want a reliable cruise missile, there are plenty of aftermarket solutions.
20 Mazda RX7
If you want the gorgeous third-generation twin-turbo RX-7, you'll probably have to triple the 10-thousand dollar budget. However, you can get the first two generations for under $10,000. The rotary engine can be a tricky one to maintain, but you probably won't care once you get out on the open road and floor the throttle.
For $10,000, you can get an old 240Z in need of a lot of work or a surprisingly decent 280ZX. Both are great cars if old school, rear-wheel-drive performance cars sound like your idea of a good time. After all, the 280ZX was Motor Trend’s Import Car of the Year in 1979.
Once restored, just sit back and watch its value increase tremendously.
18 Mazda RX8
The RX-8's Wankel rotary engine does have some problems. Its oil thirst doesn't seem like such a big deal when compared to its need for frequent rebuilds, which is a shame because the 231 hp 1.3-liter really is an incredible power unit. The RX8 looks amazing, it's fantastic to drive and even vaguely practical – just make sure you find one in immaculate condition.
17 Nissan 300ZX
This is the right time to purchase one of these 90s icons. Unfortunately, 10 grand isn't enough to buy the 300 horsepower turbo version. While the standard 222-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 doesn't provide neck-snapping performance, it offers plenty of backroad cruising fun.
The car handles like a dream and its swoopy interior offers plenty of space up front, making it a great grand tourer.
16 Nissan 350Z
Thundering performance and an addictive soundtrack make this an appealing driver’s car. It has a big front-mounted V6, rear-wheel-drive, and macho, beefed-up looks. Some versions suffer from too stiff of suspension. Also, correct tire choices are really important for the 350Z.
It’s worth shopping around for the best car that you can find. Double the normal prices are already being asked for mint condition ultra-low-mileage examples.
15 Nissan 370Z
In 2009 the Nissan 350Z got updated, and also changed its name to 370Z. The 370Z never found the same popularity that the 350Z enjoyed, but it's spent the last decade forging a reputation as a tough, dependable sports coupe. However, you will have to put up with a fuel economy of 26.6mpg that drops below 20mpg around town, and servicing it every 9,000 miles to keep it in good health.
14 Honda S2000
All S2000s look similar, but Honda did make changes throughout the 10-year production run, resulting in three distinct models – known as AP1, AP2, and CR. Cars available for $10K will mostly be AP1 versions. That's the most famous one, powered by an all-aluminum 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that revs to nine grand and produces 240 horsepower at 8300 rpm.
In 2004, the AP2-generation was released – it received a 2.2-liter engine but still made 240 hp.
13 Mitsubishi Eclipse
The 1999 Eclipse GS is the last year of the second generation, which is arguably the best-looking and best-driving generation of them all.
These cars can be picked up for next to nothing now, meaning you'll have plenty of money leftover to modify it. There's no shortage of parts available, seeing as the Mitsubishi Eclipse is one of the most popular Japanese cars to modify.
12 Mazda MX5 Miata
Not only is the MX5 Guinness Record-certified as the world's best-selling two-seat sports car, it's also a popular choice for racers.
Mazda claims that on any given weekend, more Miatas are racing than any other single type of car. Forget those who call it a hairdresser's car, the little Mazda is a cool toy with its rear-wheel drive, lively handling, rev-happy engines, and delightful manual gearboxes.
11 Subaru Impreza WRX
With so many used cars available and a slightly sketchy reputation, the WRX is now becoming a real steal. With its turbocharged 2-liter boxer engine, that wonderful Impreza chassis and four-wheel drive, it’s hard not to consider this one of the great performance car bargains of our time.
We found some 2013 models with the Premium Package within our $10K budget.
10 7th Gen. Toyota Celica
The model you'll really want is the GT-S, which has a wing, and, more importantly, the 2ZZ-GE engine, which revs to 8,000 rpm and produces 180 hp. This is the same engine that Lotus used in the Series 2 Elise, albeit with different software.
In addition to the fantastic engine, the Celica has all the practicality of a hatchback. Another thing to keep in mind is the legendary Toyota reliability.
9 Nissan 240SX
The 240SX was criticized by some when the S14 arrived. The reason was that they found it too bland in the looks department, offering not enough visual drama to go with its sublime chassis. Speaking of the chassis, the 240SX loves nothing more than some extreme sideways action.
Buy now before the prices go up though, as the 240SX’s drift-machine reputation will make prices skyrocket.
8 Mitsubishi 3000GT
In the beginning, the 3000GT was sold as a rebadged Dodge Stealth. The 3000GT sold well in the United States, but not well enough to keep up production. It had a DOHC V6 engine that produced 219 horsepower, while the twin-turbo version had a 276-horsepower engine.
The 3000GT was very technologically advanced for its time, which can sometimes translate into trouble as the car gets older.
7 Honda CRX
It's easy to see why CRXs have seen an upswing in popularity in the last couple of years. The lightweight two-seater CRX Si aligned perfectly with the Honda engineering ethos: lightweight, compact, fun, efficient and reliable.
There are endless aftermarket performance upgrades available, so you can turn this baby into one serious pocket rocket capable of leaving much more powerful machinery in its dust on twisty mountain roads.
6 Acura RSX
The Acura RSX, also known as the Honda Integra DC5, is the fourth and last generation of the Honda Integra. Acura discontinued the RSX back in 2006 – perhaps one of the biggest mistakes the company has ever made.
The RSX Type-S version came with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder VTEC engine producing 201 horsepower, more than enough to provide some fun. As an added bonus, it's really practical too, as far as coupes go.
5 Scion FR-S/Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ
The car was sold under different brands, but they're all the same. They offer sports-car agility on a budget and features excellent driving dynamics for a manageable price. Only one engine is offered—a 200-hp 2.0-liter flat-four—with a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. Definitely a car to consider if you want a newer rear-wheel-drive Japanese car that's tons of fun while remaining sensible and reliable.
4 Toyota MR2 Spyder
The last generation MR2 was a pure, unadulterated blast from start to finish. It turned on a dime, exhilarated with a raspy, throaty engine note, and it was a convertible. It was also a better driver's car than the Miata!
So what if it looked a bit like a squished Porsche Boxster? From behind the wheel, you’d be smiling too much to care anyway.
3 Honda Civic SI
The EP3 Honda Civic Si was somewhat controversial and unloved by enthusiasts, and the arrival of the RSX Type-S meant the EP3 was generally ignored. It packs a K20A3 that produces 160hp paired with a five-speed manual with a dash-mounted shifter.
Since they're Honda Civics, there aren't many mechanical pitfalls to look out for on these, so you get to spend money on aftermarket parts instead of repairs.
2 Mazda Speed 3
The 2.3-liter turbo engine in the Speed 3 pushes out a healthy 256 hp through a six-speed manual gearbox. The interior and extra room afforded by the hatchback body style, meanwhile, makes it a good choice for a daily driver without sacrificing your need for speed. It handles great, is comfortable on the highway and gets up and goes when you need it to.
1 Mitsubishi Starion
The Starion packs a turbocharged engine under the hood, and like the similarly-styled Porsche 944, the Starion puts its power to the rear wheels.
They're a little tough to find for sale, but when they do pop up, prices start as low as a few thousand dollars for a well-used one, to tens of thousands for a pristine low mileage wide-body example.
Sources: Autotrader, Cars For Sale, Bring A Trailer, Car Throttle, Motor1, Car & Driver