There used to be a time when the sports car was something that you could only drive if you had worked your whole life for it. What’s the point of waiting until you’re older to enjoy the feeling of speed? Unfortunately, many sports cars tend to be a little too steep to afford for many of us, but there is always the used car market.
Whenever you bring up wanting to buy a used car, you probably have that one friend who will go on for ages about how you should buy it new. Unfortunately, you won’t be getting a new Porsche for anywhere near 30,000 dollars, but you will undoubtedly be able to find one used for a similar price.
Over the course of today’s guide, we are going to be looking at some of the best used sports cars that you can find for under $30,000. We’ll be going over a varied selection of vehicles from various manufacturers so that you can get the right car for your needs (and even your preferences).
While these cars may be lacking some of the bells and whistles you’ll find in their modern counterparts; they are still impressive pieces of engineering. Without any further delay, let’s get into some of the best used sports cars on the market.
Best Used Sports Car Under $30K – Our Recommendations
Porsche Cayman/Boxster 986 (First Generation)
- In production: 1996 to 2004
- Engine: 2.5 to 3.2L flat 6
- Transmission: Manual or automatic (5- or 6-speed)
- 0 – 60 mph: 6 – 7 seconds
- Top speed: 160 mph
- Horsepower: 200 to 250 hp
For those that are looking for an affordable sports car, few options will be able to match the Porsche Boxster or Cayman, both of which are essentially the same vehicle in a different form. First off, the Boxster is a two-seat roadster (meaning it has a convertible roof, for our non-auto lovers).
On the other hand, the Porsche Cayman has a bit more of a conventional layout, being a fastback coupe. While most coupes will feature a defined line where the trunk begins, a fastback takes inspiration from the vehicles of the 30s and 40s with a streamlined rear window that almost blends into the trunk.
Enough about the differences between these two cars, however, as they are similar in nearly every other aspect. Being a Porsche, this car features their typical inline six configuration for the engine, producing anywhere between 200 and almost 260 horsepower, which is quite a bit for such a light car.
While you would expect the Boxster to be lighter than the Cayman, you may be surprised to find that the two models are quite similar in weight. This is due to the additional chassis reinforcement that is needed in a roadster due to the amount of longitudinal stability that is lost by the omission of the roof.
So why would you want to drive this car? You’d have a harder time finding reasons why you wouldn’t want to. First of all, it’s a Porsche, and while they may have higher maintenance costs than American or Japanese cars, they are a little more reliable than some other German makes.
Of course, reliability often comes down to the car itself. If you look around long enough, you may even find an Alfa Romeo that has never had any problems (but don’t hold your breath). Taking that into consideration, you will have to be prepared to pay a little bit extra to keep your car maintained.
While maintenance costs won’t reach anywhere near the levels you can expect to pay for a 928 or one of Porsche’s similarly old models; you will still have to allocate a budget. Other than keeping the car running, you won’t face too many problems with a Porsche 986, whether it is a Boxster or a Cayman.
Maserati Coupe/Spyder (Tipo M138)
- In production: 2001 – 2007
- Engine: 4.2 L Ferrari and Maserati F136 R V8
- Transmission: 6-speed manual
- 0 – 60 mph: 4.9 seconds
- Top speed: 177 mph
- Horsepower: 390 hp
With the Maserati Coupe and Spyder, we are moving into real sports car territory. While many will look at the Porsche Boxster as a sports car lite, one glance at the Maserati Coupe will not give that impression. Of course, a car’s looks don’t determine how good of a sports car it is, but we’d be lying if we said they weren’t important.
The Maserati Coupe and Spyder share the same relationship as the Porsche Cayman and Boxster, being essentially the same car, with the former having a hard roof and the latter being convertible. While the Spyder is more sought-after, you will have to consider that the roof is a possible point of failure when it comes to reliability problems.
This car represented a fundamental shift for Maserati. In the early 2000s, the company had a tough transition from the automotive icon that they used to be to a brand that no one really remembered. The Maserati Coupe and Spyder helped bring the company back from the edge.
If it wasn’t for this car, it is entirely possible that Maserati would have been shuffled into another company, much like many other legendary names in this industry. With a combination of aggressive styling, impressive performance, and Italian build quality, the Coupe and Spyder are excellent vehicles.
Perhaps the most impressive part of this car is the engine, which was designed in conjunction with Ferrari, so you know that it is made to some high standards. The F136 is an iconic engine, and it has been used in cars ranging from the Maserati Quattroporte all the way to the Ferrari 458 Italia.
If you are lucky, you may be able to find the Gran Sport version of this car for a more reasonable price. Featuring improved performance and a redesigned interior, this special edition was produced for the last few years of this model’s run, and it is what directly led to Maserati’s legendary GranTurismo.
As with most other sports cars, you can expect to pay a hefty bill for maintenance when issues arise, though the continued support of F136 engines means that it won’t be that bad. Keep in mind that these are relatively popular cars on the resale market and they didn’t have that large of a production run.
Lotus Elise Series 2
- In production: 2001 – 2011
- Engine: 1.4 L Rover I4 or 1.4L Toyota I4
- Transmission: 5- or 6-speed manual
- 0 – 60 mph: 5.7 seconds
- Top speed: 124 mph
- Horsepower: 118 hp
British automakers have had a tough run of things when we look at the past 30 or 40 years. From a once-proud industry, it is almost as if British car factories have gone the way of their empire and disappeared faster than you can blink your eyes. Thankfully, there are still some holdouts, like Jaguar, Bentley, and of course, Lotus.
Lotus has always been a well-known name in the automotive world for many reasons. From their Esprit S1 that was used to make the submersible Wet Nellie driven by James Bond to their long and storied history in motorsport, Lotus is an exceptional company, and so is their Elise.
The first series of the Lotus Elise did not last very long, and that is due to a change in European crash safety regulations. Once the car was redesigned, it was released as the Series 2, which is still arguably the most iconic variant of the Elise, and the most recognizable one.
When it comes to looks, the Lotus Elise is a somewhat divisive car, with some claiming that it resembles a bug, while others praise its squat, sporty appearance. The car’s small size isn’t just so that it can look cute, however, as it plays a crucial role in the vehicle’s performance and design philosophy.
So what does this mean for the car? First of all, the handling of a Lotus Elise feels more like a racing cart than a full-blown car. Keep in mind, however, that this little speed demon can go 124 miles an hour at full power, so driving flat-out in this car is not an experience that you will forget any time soon.
Due to the lower weight of this car, the acceleration is impressive even though the engine isn’t all that powerful. If you should choose to purchase this car, don’t underestimate it when you first step into it, as it just might surprise you with how responsive both the throttle and the steering wheel are.
BMW M3 (E46)
- In production: 2000 – 2006
- Engine: 3.2L S54B32 I6
- Transmission: 6-speed manual or 6-speed SMG (paddle)
- 0 – 60 mph: 5 seconds
- Top speed: 155 mph (limited)
- Horsepower: 333 hp
Of course, in a list of the best used sports cars, we would be remiss not to include the most iconic affordable sports car ever. The BMW M3 is well-known to automotive enthusiasts for being priced reasonably and being capable of some serious performance, but which generation is currently the one to buy?
While the E36 series is a favorite (if unreliable) option, most will agree that the E46 improved on it in every possible way. This car is an excellent option for someone who isn’t looking to spend too much money up front, though you may have to dispense some cash on keeping the vehicle running, as with any BMW.
The M3 is the performance model of BMW’s 3 Series coupe, which is an excellent vehicle in its own right, if not a little boring (especially compared to the M3). Once BMW’s M Division gets around to a car, however, everyone knows that it’s going to change immensely, and that was the case here.
The 333 hp engine in this vehicle gives it significant acceleration for what looks like an unimposing car. If it were not for the electronic limiter in this car at 155 mph, it would be able to make it to around 170 mph. Many people are shocked to find that a car that externally resembles a 3 Series can go so fast.
The choice of transmission is a bit of a challenge for some drivers, though we prefer the traditional manual with clutch. You also have access to the SMG transmission which is a flappy paddle gearbox, for those of you that prefer to have an electrohydraulic system managing the clutch.
Usually, the first part of the M3 to go is the internal electronics, so don’t be surprised if the windows sometimes jam up or some of the buttons stop working. When looking over a car, you may buy, pay particular attention to the interior and whether or not everything works.
Keep in mind that if you can’t find an E46 in your area for a reasonable price, there is nothing wrong with opting for an E36, but you will have to be even more diligent when overlooking the car. Older cars are more likely to have reliability issues, so it always helps to be eagle-eyed.
There is a wide range of affordable used sports cars on the market, and what we have presented is but a slice of what is available. If you are looking for the most affordable option on this list, it will likely be either the M3 or the Porsche 986 (either variety) because of how common they are compared to the others.
We hope that at least one of these cars has caught your eye, as we chose a varied mix of vehicles to ensure that our readers would each find one thing they like. Feel free to leave any other affordable sports car recommendations in the comments below.