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Ranking the 5 Best Sports Cars Under $30,000 (Used)

At one end, there are those fortunate enough who can afford the sticker price on a brand-new vehicle. At the other end, there are those fighting depreciation and low budgets by turning to the second-hand market for their next sets of wheels.
Best Used Sports Cars Under $30,000 25 photos
Photo: BMW, Honda, Mercedes, Nissan, Porsche
BMW M3 E46BMW M3 E46BMW M3 E46BMW M3 E46Chevrolet CamaroChevrolet CamaroChevrolet CamaroChevrolet CamaroHonda S2000Honda S2000Honda S2000Honda S2000Mercedes-Benz SLMercedes-Benz SLMercedes-Benz SLMercedes-Benz SLNissan 370ZNissan 370ZNissan 370ZNissan 370ZPorsche 911Porsche 911Porsche 911Porsche 911
Deep down, most car enthusiasts, yours truly included, know that they’ll never be able to afford their dream machines, because as we grow old, we get farther from it with each day. The current market situation doesn’t help at all, as the price of used cars has hit new levels, but you could still find a ride that’s capable of getting your heart racing for a reasonable amount.

We’ll focus on the sub-$30,000 used sports car segment in this story, bending it a bit, as rules are made to be broken. The rides, presented here in random order, are still hot, even by today’s standards, and some of them could turn out to be wise investments, as long as you don’t put too many miles on their odometers. But hey, no one cares about the mileage here, as we only live once, and keeping them in the garage under wraps is only going to make their future owner enjoy it more.

Honda S2000

Honda S2000
Photo: Honda
Deemed one of the best driver’s cars ever made by Honda, the S2000 was introduced at the turn of the millennium. The Japanese marque made over 110,000 units of it. The roadster saw the light of day between 1999 and 2009, using a 2.0-liter four-banger, with a 9,000 redline, hooked up to a six-speed manual transmission. Depending on where it was sold, it had between 240 and 250 hp available at a hard push of the fun pedal.

One might argue that it’s not much by today’s standards, when we have family cars that are punchier, but there is no electric trickery here. Also, thanks to the lightweight construction, as it tips the scales at just over 2,800 pounds (1,275 kg), and the perfect 50:50 front/rear weight distribution, it was (and still is) a peach on twisty roads. This makes it a fine contender in the weekend car category in this price point and a great conversation starter with neighboring enthusiasts.

Nowadays, the most expensive S2000 cars out there are worth almost $50,000. However, you can still land one for under $30,000, with not that many miles under its belt and in good overall condition. Make that new Nissan Altima money, and we all know which one should be parked in the garage, don’t we?

Porsche 911

Porsche 911
Photo: Porsche
We simply couldn’t write about sports cars without mentioning something from Porsche, and instead of the original Cayman, or an older Boxster, we decided to shoot for the 911. You see, 911s are eye-watering expensive, or some of the most desirable models are, but if you’re willing to live with something that’s not that pretty, then the 997 could be the one for you.

Truth be told, it’s not the most appealing iteration out there, but at least it is a real 911. It was made between 2004 and 2013, being offered as a coupe, convertible, targa, and speedster. The engine is mounted at the rear, and depending on what type of 997 you go for, it could be either rear- or all-wheel drive. But we all know that the most affordable ones come with the tail-happy nature and the most basic engine, a naturally aspirated 3.6-liter, making a little over 320 hp when it was new.

Getting a 997 means having to live with an outdated interior, featuring a DVD-based navigation system, though that should not interest you that much. What you should pay attention to is finding that perfect example under the $30,000 mark, to love and cherish for many years. This is still a Porsche, and it comes with high maintenance, so do your homework before signing your name on the dotted line.

Mercedes-Benz SL

Mercedes\-Benz SL
Photo: Mercedes
Albeit more of a grand tourer than a sports car, the Mercedes-Benz SL is one elegant proposal here. For the aforementioned sum, you could land yourself the R231, which is the previous generation model made from 2012 to 2020. More realistically speaking, you are looking at an early example if you want to stay within budget, and you’ll also have to negotiate a bit for that.

With some design cues inspired by the iconic SLS AMG, the R231 generation of the Mercedes-Benz SL has a very classy interior that mixes the traditional buttons with an infotainment system mounted in the middle of the dashboard, between the central air vents, and a multi-TFT display in the instrument cluster. Go for a nicely-specced example, and you will even get massaging seats for relaxing journeys.

Realistically speaking, the 3.0-liter V6, with turbocharging, is a safe bet in this price point, as you will have to fork out much more for a V8. Just like the Porsche, the SL is high-maintenance, and sometimes accompanied by a few hidden issues, so, again, do your research before deciding to go with it.

Nissan 370Z

Nissan 370Z
Photo: Nissan
Deemed as one proper driver’s car, and with immense tuning potential if you’re into that sort of stuff, the Nissan 370Z is the predecessor of the current Z. Also known as the Fairlady Z in the Land of the Rising Sun, it came to life in its homeland of Japan from 2008 to 2021 and was offered in two body styles: coupe and roadster, both of them with rear-wheel drive.

This beloved sports car quickly gained the hearts of enthusiasts worldwide thanks to its great driving credentials, wrapped in a pretty body that resembles some of its iconic predecessors to a certain extent. The engine of choice here is the 3.7-liter V6, offered in various states of tune, from just over 330 horsepower to 350 horsepower when it comes to the Nismo. Two- and three-pedal versions of the car are looking for new homes at any given moment.

How much is a 370Z? Well, the finer examples exceed $30,000, but realistically speaking, you could buy one for anywhere between $15,000 and over $20,000. Mind you, we’re talking about nicely-maintained copies that have seen some action over the years.

E46 BMW M3 Coupe

BMW M3 E46
Photo: BMW
We bent the rules a bit for this one, as the initial choice was the Z4. But the older generation hasn’t aged that fine, this writer thinks, whereas the E46 3er has. Theoretically, I had $30,000 to spend on it, so I instantly went for the full-blown M4 model, because why not?

The premium compact sports coupe/convertible came with rear-wheel drive, because there was no such thing as rear-biased AWD systems at BMW M back then. The 3.2-liter straight-six supplied it with the firepower, churning out almost 340 hp and allowing it to hit 62 mph (100 kph) in just over five seconds. Transmission options included the six-speed manual and the less-desirable SMG.

Just like the Honda S2000, the value of the E46 BMW M3 has increased over the last years, and if it maintains this trend, then the most affordable examples will soon go over the $30,000 mark. For now, you can still land a nice one for roughly $25,000.

Bonus Entry – Chevrolet Camaro

Chevrolet Camaro
Photo: Chevrolet
We know what you’re probably thinking, that it’s a muscle car, and it is, but have you driven the sixth-gen? The bowtie brand has kind of made it behave like a real sports car. There are some visibility issues, nonetheless, and the latest iteration is not exactly pretty, but for less than $30,000, you could get a V8-powered Camaro. And that engine, combined with the fun-to-drive characteristics, would make it an affordable dream ride.

If you can fork out a bit more, then you could get one that’s only a few years old and still looks showroom fresh. Think of it as the blue-collar local proposal among the foreign machines that we mentioned above, and it starts making sense, especially when accompanied by that sweet V8 burble.

Before wrapping it up and calling it a story, which one would you go for? Would it be one of the above, or perhaps something that we didn’t mention at all, like the Audi TT? Work that keyboard in the comments area down below and let us know.
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About the author: Cristian Gnaticov
Cristian Gnaticov profile photo

After a series of unfortunate events put an end to Cristian's dream of entering a custom built & tuned old-school Dacia into a rally competition, he moved on to drive press cars and write for a living. He's worked for several automotive online journals and now he's back at autoevolution after his first tour in the mid-2000s.
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