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10 best used sports cars under $20,000

Buying a used car instead of a new one is a rational decision, one based one necessity and pragmatism. It doesn’t have to be.

There are many fine sedans, crossovers, and minivans on used car lots, but what if you want something more entertaining? What if you want a sports car?

Buyers with limited budgets shouldn’t have to be limited to cars that have more than two doors and usable rear seats. In fact, a little perseverance can yield a decent used sports car for under $20,000.

Remember that sports cars are built in much smaller numbers than other vehicles, and the supply of used examples will reflect that. 

Also keep in mind that these cars can be a bit more delicate than the average bulletproof family sedan, and that they’re more likely to have been driven aggressively by previous owners.

Nonetheless, sports car bargains are out there. Here are 10 models to add to your short list.

2003 BMW Z4 

When BMW decided to replace the retro Z3, the world was in for a shock. The first-generation Z4 was anything but retro, yet it had all the ingredients for a good sports car, including silky-smooth BMW inline engines.

The first-gen Z4 is a minnow compared to the model now in BMW showrooms, and harkens back to a time in the not-too-distant past when Bimmers didn’t need heaps of technology to be enjoyable.

In the hands of Clive Owen, it was also apparently faster than the Devil.

2011 Chevrolet Camaro

Is it a sports car, or a muscle car? It doesn’t matter: the world of two-door performance cars is shrinking and the Camaro has grown much more sophisticated since its 1960s birth. 

The Camaro made a triumphant return for the 2010 model year with styling that was referential but not retro, and powerful V6 and V8 engines; nabbing a sophomore model should help avoid any new-model issues.

That styling is still current four years later, and the Camaro is still a great performance car, with plenty of upgrade options available from the aftermarket.

2000 Chevrolet Corvette

Sure, you can buy a sports car, but what about “America’s sports car.” A new Corvette is considered a performance bargain, but only the C5 generation can be easily found for under $20 grand.

That means bargain shoppers will be faced with the usual pre-Stingray Corvette bullet points: powerful small-block V8 engine, lightweight bodywork, terrible interior.

Sports cars are about driving pleasure though, not luxury, and the Corvette’s legions of fans indicate that it’s a pretty pleasurable car to drive.

2011 Ford Mustang

For the 2010 model year, Ford gave the Mustang its last refresh before a full redesign (set to hit showrooms later this year). However, it forgot to overhaul the engines.

That oversight was taken care of for 2011, when the Mustang received new V6 and V8 engines that were more powerful and fuel-efficient. If you’re looking for an inexpensive car with plenty of performance out of the box, this is the one to get.

2002 Honda S2000

The S2000 is the best of Honda design philosophy applied to a sports car. 

From the clean and handsome exterior to the high-revving four-cylinder engine and manual transmission, this car has everything you need, and nothing you don’t. 

The S2000 struck a balance between the fun-but-slow Miata and more powerful, more complicated cars. That made the Honda roadster a hit when it was new, and still makes enthusiasts pine for its resurrection.

2011 Hyundai Genesis Coupe

The Hyundai Genesis sedan may be the Korean carmaker’s version of the Lexus LS, but the Genesis Coupe is its version of the Mustang.

It’s hard to believe that this rear-wheel drive two door, with turbocharged four-cylinder and naturally-aspirated V6 power, wears a Hyundai badge, but that’s just the interesting times we live in.

The Genesis may not seem as obvious a choice when there are Mustang and Camaro models on used-car lots, but that could work to a buyer’s advantage when negotiating a deal.

2008 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2014, the Miata is the most basic expression of what a sports car should be.

Most car enthusiasts know that the Miata was inspired by classic British sports cars of the 1960s, but doesn’t hemorrhage oil like them. Still, many people find it hard to take the tiny roadster seriously.

You should, though. Miatas are plentiful, cheap, reliable and, most importantly, fun.

2004 Mazda RX-8

It’s got a rotary engine and a pair of rear-hinged suicide doors. Is there anything else to say?

Mazda apparently thought everyone who drove an RX-7 in the 1980s and ‘90s had grown up, so for its rotary sports car for the 2000s, it emphasized practicality alongside performance.

That means the RX-8 wasn’t a fire-breather like the final, FD RX-7, but it also means the RX-8 could conceivably be used as a daily driver. With the ability to rev to 9,000 rpm, it would be a very entertaining one.

2006 Nissan 350Z

The original Datsun 240Z was a Japanese counterpart to established small European sports cars, but its descendent had a little more muscle.

The 350Z featured the “VQ” V6 that seemed to be under the hood of every Nissan in the early 2000s, making it as fast as some more expensive performance cars.

It also had styling that made the “Z-car” stand out from everything else on the road.

2001 Porsche Boxster

The term “entry-level Porsche” seems oxymoronic, and for new models it really is. However, it is possible to find a used Porsche within a used-car shopper’s budget.

The Boxster was meant to evoke 550 Spyders like the one James Dean drove, but it’s really just a modern small sports car designed with the attention to detail only Weissach can lavish on a vehicle.

Like (nearly) all Porsches, Boxsters are great to drive, and expensive to repair. Make sure to find an example that’s been well cared for.