The term “sports car” is a blanket under which several configurations can fit. Suffice it to say, sports car refers to a performance car or, a car designed to be fast in the corners which means sharp and precise handling and balance. While it’s common for sports cars to be rear wheel drive, this is not required. If the prerequisites of having sharp handling and balance are met with a front wheel drive layout, then it’s a sports car. It’s different from other FWD cars like a Honda Civic, which is made to be a car that people commute with and is designed to last several hundred thousand miles.
Sports cars are designed to be quick around a corner, and that’s pretty much it. They aren’t typically designed for gas mileage or comfort, and not even designed to be powerful, necessarily. If you have a cost cap of $20,000 and are looking for a decent sports car, the possibilities are virtually endless. Especially in the land of used cars, $20k is like being Bruce Wayne in a candy store. In other words, money is no object.
We found several Boxsters from the early 2000s selling for as near as makes no difference from $10,000 to 15,000. The Boxster is a flat-six equipped, mid-engined rear wheel drive sports car that is a convertible, makes 240-horsepower and handles with point-and-click precision. It’s certainly no 911 Turbo, but it’s a Porsche for less than $20,000 so can you really complain? They are fun cars that do their job well but beware, you better have some money set aside somewhere because they aren’t the easiest cars to fix, and more often than not purchasing a used Porsche can come with lots of shop time.
The MX-5 has long been the example of an outstanding sports car. It's the embodiment of perfect weight distribution, handling, tight braking and can even spin in a circle, as long as you try hard enough. This newest generation is probably one of the most attractive ones as well, and now that they're used you can find one for less than $20,000. They might feel down in power, but as long as you utilize all of what it has to offer you probably won't feel anything is lacking threading your way through corners.
For nearly $10,000 you can purchase a C5 Corvette, and for a little bit more, about $5,000 more, you can get a C6 which is a lot newer. Either way, you’re getting a Corvette. It’s a coupe with two seats and a massive V8, the perfect sports car combination. The C5/6 Corvette also has its engine mid-mounted, but unfortunately, that doesn’t guarantee Porsche-like handling. The Corvette won’t handle as well, but it has a V8 and lots of power so the Corvette makes up for it.
It’s hard to get more sporty than a Subaru BRZ or Toyota FRS. We found several of both for sale less than $20,000, all from 2013 which means they aren’t as old as the Porsche or Corvette will be. The biggest drawback of this car is its power, which sits at 200 out of a 2.0-liter boxer 4-cylinder engine. Because of how its tuned the BRZ/FRS doesn’t get its power until the very end of the power band, so it feels sluggish but nevertheless, it is a car built for quick handling so it fits our criteria of a sports car. Its engine is in the front, but the car is very light in comparison to the Corvette, and since it’s Japanese it’s likely to be more reliable.
Possibly one of the best well-rounded and balanced sports cars is the Honda S2000. There were two variants, the AP1 which ended in 2004 and was improved with the AP2 from 2004 until the production ended. You can’t really go wrong with either one, but if more power is something you want, go for the AP2. Both can be gotten for less than $20,000 and like the Porsche and Corvette has its engine mid-mounted so the handling is exceptional. AP2s had improved suspension but cost a lot more than AP1 so you’ll have to decide if whether or not it’s worth the extra money.
Dripping with exquisite handling, intoxicating power, and irresistible depreciation the 2007 BMW 335i is one of the best dollars per horsepower cars you can get. That means you get a lot of bang for your buck. 2007 is the final year of this particular N54 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline six and depending on when in 2007 your engine was made, it could have forged pistons. In stock form, it'll deliver a whopping 300 horsepower, and with a linear torque curve, the power doesn't stop. You can find one of these for $10,000 or less, at least you should be able to based on how much they are worth. Be advised, these 335i owners know what they have so a lot of them will be grossly overpriced.
Competiton for the Subaru Impreza WRX STI prowls the streets in the form of a monstrous, aggressive entity known as the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, the 9th iteration. It uses the same engine as previous Evos, but everything is better this time around. The Evo 9 glides around corners with minimal effort, and it'll bomb its way across the pavement screeching like a wild banshee. Evo 9s are not very comfortable, they have a horrific turning radius, and their 6-speed transmission is made out of glass, but they are also extremely nimble and fast. This car's price could stretch all the way to that $20,000 limit but it's worth every penny.
Possibly the most interesting car on this list is the somewhat rare 2006 Pontiac GTO. Based off of a Holden Monaro, an Australian sports car, the GTO can come with a 6.0-liter V8 engine producing 400 horsepower. This car is more old-school muscle as it’s heavy and has its engine mounted in the front. While this car isn’t strictly as much of a sports car as the others on this list, as it’s made primarily to be powerful, the fact that you can find one for less than $20,000 is not something you’d want to ignore.
Sports cars fit into all kinds of layouts and variations, but the bottom line is they perform well. Remember they aren’t designed to last as long as a commuter vehicle like a Civic or Camry, but they are designed to be quick. Like we said earlier, for $20,000 you have some more than stellar options.
Avid Formula 1 fan and motorcyclist, I enjoy chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and long rides to the beach.