Best Sports Cars Under $30K

Best Sports Cars Under $30K: 15 Amazing Cars You Can Actually Afford

Wanting some weekend fun without hurting the back pocket? Here are 15 of the best sports cars under $30K.

The best way to enjoy classic cars is by driving them, and that being said, sports cars are definitely ones to have. With their performance-oriented character and racing prowess, classic sports cars are among the most coveted collector pieces, and many icons have already gone north of $30K. 

Still, that doesn’t mean one can’t enjoy owning and driving a sports car priced below that price threshold, as the world of classic cars is vast and full of hidden gems, both among collectible cars and future classics. So, we have consulted various ads around the US to develop the 15 best sports cars under $30K in no particular order.

The 15 best sports cars under $30K are:

  • Ford Mustang
  • BMW 2002tii
  • Datsun 280Z
  • Chevrolet C4 Corvette ZR1
  • Mercedes-Benz R129
  • BMW E24 635 CSi
  • Maserati Coupe GT
  • Honda S2000 AP2
  • Dodge Challenger
  • Lotus Elise
  • BMW E46 M3
  • Porsche 987 Boxster S or Cayman S
  • Chevrolet Camaro
  • Subaru WRX STI
  • Audi TTS

1. Ford Mustang

Starting off big with the greatest all-American icon, the Mustang. In continuous production since 1964 as the original American sports car, the good ol’ Mustang offers a lot of options within the budget. 

1966 Ford Mustang GT 289 Hardtop
1966 Ford Mustang GT 289 Hardtop. Source: Bonhams

Having said that, the amount of money will buy you a classic first-gen Mustang with the venerable 289 V8. On the other hand, if you prefer something a bit more modern but still traditional, you can go with a low mileage 5.0 Foxbody with 5-speed manual transmission.

Finally, 21st-century Mustangs also fit the bill, where you can go for a low mileage SVT Cobra just under the $30,000 mark. Finally, a 2007-2009 Shelby GT500 will get you the most bang for your bucks, bringing 500 horsepower to the table, courtesy of a supercharged 5.4-liter Modular V8.

2. BMW 2002tii

If you’re inclined towards something more straightforward, more nimble, and European, a classic three-box BMW 2002 2-door sedan might be the sports car you’re after. Powered by a 2.0-liter, 128-horsepower fuel-injected M10 inline-four and with 4-speed manual transmission, but also weighing just 2,262 lb, the 2002tii was the car that really put BMW under the spotlight during the early 1970s.

1973 BMW 2002tii
1973 BMW 2002tii – Source: Hagerty

While pristine examples have witnessed quite a price bump over the last few years, there’s still a market for sub-$30,000 BMW 2002 Tii, but chances are you’ll have to settle for a post-1973 facelifted model with a blacked-out grille and rectangular rear lights.

With or without round taillights, the BMW 2002 Tii is what engaging driving should be all about: unbothered by any numbers and statistics and focused on a wholesome experience of genuinely belonging to the roads beneath you.

3. Datsun 280Z

The third Datsun Z-car is as good as 1970s import motoring can get. Back when American power succumbed to the 1973 oil crisis, Datsun produced the perfect answer in the shape of the 240Z. Fast forward almost half a century, and this car is witnessing a surge in value precisely due to its historical prowess, leaving latecomers with one of its indirect successors, the 280Z.

Datsun 280Z
Datsun 280Z- Source: Bring a Trailer

The 280Z might not be as attractive as the primordial 240Z due to some imminent changes and federal bumpers. On the other hand, it also had 170 horsepower, 2.8-liter fuel injected straight six, and optional five-speed manual transmission.

On the classic sports car market, $30,000 will get you a well-kept example in original or subtly modified condition, and if you’re lucky, you can even get your hands on a more scarce five-speed one too.

4. Chevrolet C4 Corvette ZR1

The C4 famously brought power to the Corvette nameplate, and as the ultimate example of its generation, the ZR1 got a Lotus-designed 5.7-liter, 375-horsepower LT5 V8. Mated with a six-speed manual transmission, the 32-valve powerhouse was potent enough to propel the ZR1 Corvette to speeds north of 175 MPH.

Chevrolet C4 Corvette ZR1
Chevrolet C4 Corvette ZR1- Source: Bring a Trailer

Needless to say, the C4 ZR1 was a generation-defining sports car, not only for America but the whole world. More importantly, it made America’s original sports car back on par with its competitors and even cars from the highest automotive echelons.

Truth be told, not many ZR1 Corvettes can be found within the price range. Yet, every now and then, a decent example pops out for that money, and you better act quick as the C4 ZR1 Corvette will only rise in value in the next few years.

5. Mercedes-Benz R129

A plush Benz convertible exclusively offered with an automatic transmission might not perfectly fit the sports car formula. Still, the R129 generation 500 SL is a phenomenal driver’s car even without three pedals in its footwell. 

Mercedes-Benz R129
Mercedes-Benz R129. Source: Bring a Trailer

The 5.0-liter dual overhead camshaft, 32-valve M119 V8 is a work of art with 322 horsepower on tap, more than enough when you decide to do more than cruising. When it comes to pricing, $30,000 will get you a low mileage example from a reputable dealer, but you can get a decent one for way below that mark. 

When it comes to the 500 SL, parts and labor could be very costly, so our advice is to search for the cleanest example and reap all benefits of 1990s German (over)engineering.

6. BMW E24 635 CSi

A successor to the legendary BMW E9 coupe had big shoes to fill, and it did more than well, as the E24 was a product of a new blossoming BMW. The new coupé shared underpinnings with the 5 Series sedan and Paul Bracq’s design ditching the pillarless feature. 

Here you can find the best sports cars under $30K
BMW E24 635 CSi. Source: Bonhams

Due to the ongoing fuel crisis, the North American version wasn’t on par with cars sold in Europe, so the car you should be after is the 1988 to 1989 635 CSi. The punchiest non-M variant for the American soil was powered by a 3.4-liter M30B35 straight-six and packing 208 horsepower and 225 lb-ft of torque. Alternatively, if you’re in for a comfier ride and a grand touring experience, the 182 horsepower M30B34-powered luxurious L6 will do you just fine.

Given that the original 6 Series was produced from 1976 all the way to 1989, primarily thanks to the demand from the US market, there’s a decent number of them all across America. Moreover, colossal price discrepancy means you’ll stumble onto pristine low mileage examples way above our mark, yet that also means there’s a lot of them priced below it as well.

7. Maserati Coupe GT

Finding an affordable Ferrari is impossible in this day and age, with prices of prancing horses from Maranello skyrocketing in recent years. But what if we told you there’s an attainable Ferrari-powered sports car under $30K?

2002 Maserati Coupe Cambiocorsa
2002 Maserati Coupe Cambiocorsa. Source: Bring a Trailer

Maserati Coupe GT uses the 4.2-liter F136 R, a powerhouse jointly developed by Ferrari and Maserati and a close relative to the screaming V8 you can find in the F430. In this coupé, though, it is placed upfront, while a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automated manual transaxle gives it a near-perfect weight distribution.

If you’re not afraid of high maintenance bills, this Maserati is a stylish 385-horsepower grand tourer that’s a blast to drive and noisy in all the good ways. Definitely a worthy contender for making our best sports cars under $30K list.

8. Honda S2000 AP2

JDM collector cars are somewhat of a new concept compared to established classics from the domestic or European markets. Still, some cars are worthy of both driving and collecting for investment purposes, and Honda S2000 is just a perfect example, with prices of the first generation already crossing the $50,000 mark.

Honda S2000 AP2
Honda S2000 AP2. Source: Bring a Trailer

That leaves us with the AP2 generation produced from 2003 to 2009, featuring an enlarged 2.2-liter inline-four and six-speed manual transmission. Sadly, due to increasing the displacement via increasing the stroke, this engine had its redline set lower at 8,000RPM, yet it produced the same 237 horsepower.

Though not as rev-happy as the original one, the S2000 AP2 is a car worth considering as it’s still a rewarding driver’s car, especially for ones preferring open-top motoring.

9. Dodge Challenger

The longest-running start of the muscle car revival has been around since 2008 and has endured numerous tweaks, culminating in the 840-horsepower SRT Demon.

What are the best sports cars under $30K
Dodge Challenger GT

On the more practical side of the spectrum, which is pretty much everything below this street-legal dragstrip behemoth, Dodge Challenger can be a rewarding modern American sports car. 

 When it comes to pricing, sums in the neighborhood of $30,000 will get you a recent low mileage model R/T, R/T Plus trim, boasting the 5.7-liter HEMI with 375 horsepower, 404 lb-ft of torque, and 6-speed manual transmission.

10. Lotus Elise

The quintessential modern Lotus is one of those cars every enthusiast needs to experience at least once in their lifetime. Provided you don’t search for any practicality, and you’ve also come to terms with the lack of creature comforts, the Lotus Elise could be your next sports car for more than just that one life-altering drive.

1998 Lotus Elise
1998 Lotus Elise- Source: Silverstone Auction

The Elise revived Lotus founder Colin Chapman’s philosophy of adding more lightness, so this charming mid-engined sports car is devoid of any unnecessarily heavy features like electric windows and is entirely driver-focused.

Behind the spartan cabin is a modest 1.8-liter DOHC Toyota four-cylinder, and while that sounds pedestrian, believe us, it isn’t. The engine’s got Yamaha-designed heads and variable valve timing, rating it at 189 horsepower. Pair that up with 6-speed manual transmission, stiff chassis, and curb weight of 1,896 lb, and you’ll get a truly exceptional sports car. 

11. BMW E46 M3

Now at a very similar price point, the E36 and E46 generation M3 are among the hottest modern classics on the pre-loved sports car market, and we’ve decided to go for the latter. The reason behind that is pretty simple: the US-bound E36 didn’t offer as much as its European counterpart, while the E46 was the same on both sides of the Atlantic.

what are the best sports cars under $30K

Powered by the revvy 3.2-liter S54 straight-six and preferably mated with five-speed manual transmission rather than paddle-shifting SMG automated manual, the E46 is arguably the best all-round M car there is.

While low mileage examples will pass the $30,000 mark, you’ll be able to find well-cared examples in the neighborhood of $20-$25,000 both in coupé and convertible body styles.

12. Porsche 987 Boxster S or Cayman S

Some years ago, we would have gone with the Porsche 996 Turbo. Still, as this Mezger-engined 911 is getting increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to get below the $30,000 mark, the affordable Porsche sports car you should go after is the 987 Boxster S or Cayman S.

Porsche 987 Boxster
Porsche 987 Boxster. Source: Porsche AG

The 987 generation was in production between 2004 and 2012, and you’ll be able to find both pre and post-2009 facelift models within the price limit. Starting from the 2007 model year, the 987 was powered by a 3.4-liter engine producing either 295 or 310 horsepower, depending on whether it was a model from before or after the mid-cycle revision.

The pair of mid-engined Porsches offer completely different driving dynamics than the 911 but are paired with that famous 6-cylinder boxer sound.

13. Chevrolet Camaro

As it was with the Mustang, the Camaro also offers a wide array of cars below $30,000. From the classic IROC-Z F-Body cars to contemporary interpretations of the classic 1st generation silhouette, there are plenty of V8-powered Camaros to choose from.

find out what the best sports cars under $30K here
2012 Camaro ZL1. Source: GM

If you’re going for a modern Camaro, the sixth-generation 2SS will be the closest to the price limit, but for maximum power, you can also find a fifth-generation ZL1 with 580 ponies coming out of a 6.2-liter supercharged V8.  

14. Subaru WRX STI

As the only four-door car on the list of best sports cars under $30K, Subaru WRX STI is indeed in a league of its own, and its peculiarities don’t end here. Compared to other entries, the WRX STI might lack collector value at this moment, but what can’t be denied is its sheer performance.

2015 Subaru WRX STI
2015 Subaru WRX STI. Source: Subaru

The VA generation manufactured from 2014 was the first to be offered as a standalone model, although it was still based on the Impreza chassis. The bodywork, though, was thoroughly revised, as well as vital mechanics. To top it off, the WRX STI got a 2.5-liter turbocharged flat-four putting out 305 horsepower, close-ratio six-speed manual transmission, and Subaru’s trademark parallel all-wheel drive.

Subaru’s rallying credentials made the Impreza an absolute rallying legend, leading to some Impreza-based WRX STI models commanding six-figure sums. For our budget of $30,000, though, you can get a stock WRX STI with less than 50,000 miles on the clock, making it a decent enough candidate to be included in the best sports cars under $30K list.

15. Audi TTS

Courtesy of hot hatchbacks, compact sports coupés are a dying breed of sports cars, but Audi holds this niche segment alive thanks to the TT. The original Audi TT caused a revolution when it showed up in 1998. Due to its Bauhaus-influenced looks, it is now universally regarded as one of the most successful automotive designs of the late 20th century.

2010 Audi TTS
2010 Audi TTS. Source: Mecum

In its third generation, a current Audi TTS hits way above the budget, but that leaves us with the TTS produced from 2008 to 2014. The sporty variant of the Audi TT was powered by a pumped-up 268-horsepower 2.0-liter TFSI four-cylinder paired up with 6-speed manual transmission or six-speed S-Tronic. At the same time, the torque is distributed to both axles via the Haldex-type Quattro system. In addition to bumping the power, Audi’s engineers revised other internals, fitting the TTS with larger and more efficient brakes, Audi Magnetic Ride, and ESP as standard.

On today’s second-hand sports car market, sums close to $30,000 can get you a later model both in roadster and coupé body style, and the general rule of thumb is to go for a well-kept low mileage example and enjoy this street-legal go-kart to the fullest.

Did we miss your favorite ride worthy of being in our ‘Best Sports Cars Under $30K’ list? Comment below.

Show Comments (8)

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  1. IMO, you missed 2 relatively cheapies. The Nissan 350/370Z coupes/roadsters & the Chrysler Crossfire SRT6 & the lower hp roadster.

  2. A few sub $30k sports cars that will give a real sports car experience are the Miata (any generation), the BMW Z3, and the first gen BMW Z4.

  3. Lotus Elises (and Exiges) are as much fun as advertised. But as a buyer of these cars, good luck on finding one for under $30K, especially with a Toyota 1.8. Maybe a few years ago, and maybe with a branded title. Be thinking +$40K with today’s prices. At the least.

  4. Among vintage imports, you can still get a very nice MGA or a mint Austin-Healey Bugeye Sprite for under $30,000, the latter with intelligent upgrades that include a later 1275-cc Four and a better, overdrive five-speed trans. Ditto for Triumph TR2s, TR3s, TR4s, and TR6s–the latter of which offers at least some of the visceral appeal and performance of the Big Healeys for far less. Want to fork over less still? Options include the ubiquitous MGB, the relatively unsung Sunbeam Alpine, and even a 70s-era TVR. How about a Datsun 510 or 2000 roadster? Both remain surprisingly very affordable.

    Among the Detroit iron, how about a 1963 through 69 Dodge Dart or Plymouth Barracuda? Both offered superb 273 and 318 V8s, and–eventually–Mopar’s high-winding 340 small block and even its 383 for those willing to trade cornering ability for straight-line urge. Like the earlier Mopars with pushbutton transmissions and fins? Many early 60s models with Chrysler’s bulletproof 318 polyhead V8 remain both affordable and fun, thanks to a happy combination of low-end torque and reasonable fuel mileage for the era. You can also get into a four-door version of some truly interesting cars for a fraction of the usual price. And early 60s full-sized Chryslers as well as mid- and late 60s full-sized Dodges and Plymouths remain dirt-cheap, yet provide gobs of character and performance for the price.

    I’d also keep an eye on AMC and–if you’re a Mopar Challenger or Cuda fan, models from 72 on, which share their lusty good looks with earlier E-bodies, are still pleasant performers even with the standard 318 wedge, and can be upgraded to your heart’s content. And while I confess that I’ve never been a fan of the Mako Shark ‘Vettes, if you like ’em, models from the ’70s remain very affordable while also being easily modifiable.

    I’ll end this little editorial with what I consider one of the best bangs for the buck: The late 1980s through ’93 Fox body Mustang, which was–and is–a brisk performer in purely stock form, boasts honest and uncomplicated square-rigged styling, and can be readily improved in both the handling and power department right out of the Jegs and Summit catalog, among others. Prices are rising fast on this little pony, but you’re still in for well under the Thirty mark. Happy hunting!

    1. Thanks for a comprehensive comment Bob! You mentioned some great out-of-the-box bangers and my personal favorites are definitely the Bugeye Sprite (love its fascia), the TR6 and the Fox Body Mustang I briefly mentioned when laying out all Mustangs $30k can get. Still, every other car you proposed as an alternative would be a sound choice and there’s definitely space for a follow-up top 15 list!

  5. Porsche 944 would also be a great choice. Produced from 1982 – 1991 these cars continue to compare well with later & current sports car models. Apart from their attractive sporty looks and reasonable fuel consumption (except turbo model) the 944 offers excellent handling & road feel, acceleration & breaking capabilities. They have a large and loyal owner following world wide and many on-line owner sites to assist both owners. Most 944 owners are fastidious in looking after their cars – so don’t be put off by high mileage provided car comes with good service/parts documentation history.

  6. In Greece nowadays you can find BMW Z4 and Porsche Boxter between €12,000 and €15,000 (I don’t know years of manufacture but in the showrooms they seem in immaculate condition)