CAR

10 Best Sports Cars Under $30,000

Attainable performance thankfully isn’t a thing of the past, and for $30,000 or less, these excellent sports cars offer the most bang for the buck

With the car market continuing to spiral out of control, finding good deals on both, new and used sports cars is a tough business. Between the inflation and obscene dealer markups, it seems owning one of our favorite driver’s cars is becoming an ever-distant mirage. Luckily, there are still offerings out there that are, both, capable performers and won’t break the bank (too much). While spending $30,000 on a car may still seem like a lot for some, it’s typically the border price point where you can start finding serious sports cars.

Luckily, depreciation is your ally here as many great sports cars on the used market have plateaued in terms of their value, soon to go on the appreciation route. There are even a few brand-new options, which we included on this list. The entries on this list come from American, Japanese, and even European carmakers. There are even some entries from German premium brands, although you need to be especially careful with those since skipping maintenance on behalf of the previous owner may result in very expensive bills later down the line. If you are smart with your money and are looking for the biggest bang for the buck, you can even find a good example of the Chevrolet Corvette. With all that said, here are the best sports cars you can get for under $30,000.

10 Mercedes C63 AMG (204 Series)

Average Used Price: $25,700

2012 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG on display
Wikimedia Commons

Mercedes C63 AMG is the logical rival to the BMW M3, but the two cars showcase very different recipes for extracting performance. Back when AMG still had hair on its chest and didn’t mess with four-cylinder hybrids, the C63 AMG featured a thunderous, naturally aspirated V-8. In fact, the 204-Series C63 AMG is the only C-Class to feature an AMG-built, naturally-aspirated, V-8 engine. Despite the “63” designation, the M156 engine displaces 6,246 cc, making it a 6.2-liter mill.

Mercedes C63 AMG Specifications

Engine6.2-liter DOHC V-8
Transmission7-speed automatic
DrivetrainFR, RWD
Power450-487 hp
Torque442-450 lb-ft
0-60 MPH4.4-4.0 seconds

This is the reason why these cars are, now, going up in value, although you can still pick up a good example for as little as $22,000. The rest of the car is, pretty much, standard Mercedes business although the C63 does come with AMG-specific suspension and a tweaked transmission for sharper gear changes. The biggest thing to look for here is the cam adjusters, which are made of iron inferior to the rest of the engine components.

9 BMW M3 E46

Average Used Price: $26,180

2000 BMW M3 E46
Alexandre Prévot /via Wikimedia commons
 

The BMW M3 has been reverberating in the automotive world as one of the best driver’s cars and arguably, one of the very last pure sports cars from BMW’s M-division. The E46 generation of the Bavarian classic is still considered one of the best driver’s cars to have come out of the Bavarian carmaker. Its balanced chassis and sublime, S54 straight six are a sweet combination, especially when paired with the six-speed manual.

BMW M3 E46 Specifications

Engine3.2-liter inline-6
Transmission6-speed manual/ 6-speed SMG auto
DrivetrainFR, RWD
Power338 hp
Torque269 lb-ft
0-60 MPH5.2-4.9 seconds

The SMG automated manual is universally hated, but conversions are available. Moreover, it’s relatively easy to still find a manual-equipped M3 E46, even for less than $30,000. As great as the M3 E46 is as a practical sports car, M-cars are not known for reliability. Among the common problems you need to look out for are VANOS failure, rod bearings, and the various gaskets that tend to be leaking.

8 Chevrolet Corvette C6

Average Used Price: $26,200

Red 2006 Chevrolet Corvette C6 Z06
Mecum

For well under $30,000, you can grab an all-American icon. The Chevrolet Corvette has long been America’s definitive sports car and currently, the C6 generation offers the most bang for the buck. Prices are at an all-time low, with some examples being available for as little as $18,200. Those, however, have over 100,000 miles on the clock. Still, the C6 is a great platform, and with proven familiar mechanicals, they are reliable and easy to work on in case repairs need to be performed.

Chevrolet Corvette C6 Specifications

Engine6.0-6.2-liter OHV V-8
Transmission6-speed manual/ 4 and 6-speed auto
DrivetrainFR, RWD
Power400-430 hp
Torque400-431 lb-ft
0-60 MPH4.3-4.0 seconds

Even the slowest C6 Corvette is able to run a 4.3-second sprint to 60 mph and aftermarket support for the C6 ‘Vette is one of the best of any sports car out there. For under $30,000, you will have to settle for the base models. The Z06 and ZR-1 models will command a premium. Ideally, you want 2008 and newer since those models replace the LS2 engine with the more powerful LS3.

7 Porsche Cayman/ Boxster (987)

Average Used Price: $27,400

Porsche Cayman R side profile
Porsche

When Porsche introduced its entry-level, mid-engine sports car, back in 1996, no one expected it to be so good. In fact, the car, initially, known as the Boxster, was the unsung hero that saved the brand from bankruptcy. It offered 80 percent of the 911’s performance for half the price. A few years later, a hardtop variant arrived. It’s a known fact that Porsche sports cars hold their value exceptionally well, and the 987 Cayman/ Boxster is no exception.

Porsche 987 Cayman S/ Boxster S Specifications

Engine3.4-liter flat-6
Transmission6-peed manual/ 5-speed automatic/ 7-speed PDK
DrivetrainMR, RWD
Power295-320 hp
Torque251-273 lb-ft
0-60 MPH5.8-4.8 seconds

Despite early examples being more than 15 years old, you still need to prepare close to $30,000 to get one. Base versions are significantly more affordable, but you’ll have to settle for the smaller, 2.7-liter flat-six. As with almost any car, the Porsche 987 has its own list of common issues. The most important things to look for are the rear main seal, intermediate shaft bearing, and scored cylinder bores. Because of its mid-engine layout, a properly sorted Porsche 987 is considered, by many, to be an even better sports car than the flagship 911.

6 Mercedes SL550 (R230)

Average Used Price: $27,400

Red 2009 Mercedes-Benz SL
Mercedes-Benz

The Mercedes SL is something of an all-time classic. The brand’s luxury roadster dates back to 1954 and is currently in its seventh generation. If you want a piece of that heritage, less than $30,000 can get you a proper, V-8 Mercedes roadster. Beware, the R230 Mercedes SL is full of modern for its time tech and comes with its fair share of problems. Hydraulic leaks from the Active Body Control (ABC) system are relatively common. Pneumatics play a big role in the SL’s functionality and various pneumatic leaks may cause problems with the seats, trunk, or doors.

Mercedes SL550 Specifications

Engine5.5-liter DOHC V-8
Transmission7-speed automatic
DrivetrainFR, RWD
Power382 hp
Torque391 lb-ft
0-60 MPH5.1 seconds

The camshaft-adjuster solenoid is also prone to failure. Aside from that, you get a stout, M273, DOHC, V-8 engine, which works smoothly and provides great, mid-range punch. The Mercedes luxury roadster is already on the appreciation route so, if you want one, you better act quickly. $30,000 can get you a facelift model that’s 2008 or newer.

5 BMW 440i (F32)

Average Used Price: $27,800

2017 BMW 4 Series 430i Gran Coupe action shot
BMW

The BMW 440i may not be an M-car, but that doesn’t stop it from being a capable performer. The F32 generation is, essentially, a more refined variant of the E92 generation, with more modern tech. They even feature near-identical suspension geometry. However, the 440i replaces the old N55 with a more modern, more powerful, B58 engine, which can also be found in the GR Supra. The engines in the F32 are, generally more reliable and capable of even more power.

BMW 440i F32 Specifications

Engine3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6
Transmission6-speed manual/ 8-speed auto
DrivetrainFR, RWD/ AWD
Power326 hp
Torque332 lb-ft
0-60 MPH4.7 seconds

Most B58 common issues are typical for any BMW inline-six and include coolant loss, valve-cover gaskets, PCV valve, VANOS solenoid failure, and oil filter disintegration. Despite the sportier characteristics, especially when compared with the equivalent Mercedes C-Class, the BMW 440i is one of the most capable and practical grand tourers in the segment. You can choose between a six-speed manual or, for the first time, an eight-speed ZF automatic.

4 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Starting MSRP: $28,050

Red 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata
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It seems that the Mazda MX-5 Miata is, once again, the answer. It’s also one of the very few sports cars on this list that you can still buy brand-new. The Japanese sales hit from 1989 is now in its fifth generation, which is the best one yet, in terms of driving dynamics. With the ND model, we can actually talk about horsepower as the naturally aspirated four-banger kicks out 181 horsepower. The upcoming generation of the Miata will most likely utilize the same engine, but Mazda promises at least 100 horsepower per liter.

Mazda MX-5 Miata Specifications

Engine2.0-liter inline-4
Transmission6-speed manual/ 6-speed auto
DrivetrainFR, RWD
Power181 hp
Torque151 lb-ft
0-60 MPH6.2 seconds

More importantly, the MX-5 Miata still adheres to the original philosophy of lightness and simplicity, which so many other iconic models seem to have abandoned. If you have driven one, you would know this results in a pure and involving driving experience. Base models still come with an open differential, however. If you want a limited-slip differential, Bilstein dampers, and a front strut brace, you have to opt for the Club trim. That model, however, will set you back around $32,000.

3 Toyota GR86

Starting MSRP: $28,400

Red 2023 Toyota GR86
Drivetime Production LLC

The joint development between Toyota and Subaru spawned one of the most epic, affordable sports cars in modern days The Toyota GR86 and its technological twin, the Subaru BRZ, are spiritual successors to the Corolla AE86. While the next-generation GR86 will be developed without Subaru’s involvement, the current model is available for at least another year.

Toyota GR86 Specifications

Engine2.4-liter flat-4
Transmission6-peed manual/ 6-speed automatic
DrivetrainFR, RWD
Power228 hp
Torque184 lb-ft
0-60 MPH6.1 seconds

By now, you are likely, familiar with the rear-wheel-drive coupe’s nimble chassis and communicative steering, which make it one of the most fun-to-drive sports cars. Like the Mazda MX-5, the Toyota GR86 is one of very few modern-day sports cars that can be had for under $30,000. One aspect where the GR86 one-ups the Miata is the Torsen limited-slip differential, which is standard on all trims.

2 Chevrolet Corvette (C5) Z06

Average Used Price: $29,200

Yellow 2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 C5
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If you really want a Corvette Z06, you can still fit one in the sub-$30,000 budget, but it has to be the C5. The fifth-generation Chevy Corvette brought with it many innovations, among which a hydro-formed, steel chassis resulting in five times the structural rigidity of the C4 Corvette. The C5 Corvette was also the first mass-produced sports car with a heads-up display. But what really matters in a C5 Z06 is the performance. That comes from the generation two LS6 pushrod V-8 (not to be mistaken for the Chevelle’s LS6), which was an evolution of the C5’s base, LS1 engine.

Chevrolet Corvette C5 Z06 Specifications

Engine5.7-liter OHV V-8
Transmission6-speed manual
DrivetrainFR, RWD
Power405 hp
Torque400 lb-ft
0-60 MPH3.9 seconds

The philosophy was simple – more power, less weight, and chassis improvements. Because of this, the Corvette C5 Z06 matched and even surpassed supercars in the 0 to 60 mph department. This was, mostly, down to the sheet-molded composite (SMC) body panels, which dropped weight down to 3,119 pounds (1,415 kg), making it one of the lightest sports cars of its day.

1 Alfa Romeo Giulia

Average Used Price: $30,000

2021 Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce
Gabriel Nica / Shutterstock

Alfa Romeo Giulia is the brand’s first rear-wheel-drive sports sedan in 30 years. The model is also relatively new on the market, having debuted in 2017 so, don’t expect it to be the most affordable on the list. Still, early model years can be found for around $20,000 with later models typically being in the $30,000 to $37,000 price range, on the used car market. The Giulia boasts an exceptional chassis and a punchy, turbo-four engine that comes with forged internals from the factory and is capable of a lot more. At this price point, you can forget about the Ferrari-powered Giulia QV.

Alfa Romeo Giulia Specifications

Engine2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4
Transmission6-speed manual/ 8-speed auto
DrivetrainFR, RWD/ AWD
Power280 hp
Torque306 lb-ft
0-60 MPH4.9-5.2 seconds