This one is an article more for the newer people in the car community; especially the ones without too much cash in their pockets. In the search for a cheap starter enthusiast car (which is most likely gonna be an inline four cylinder), these new enthusiasts often are looking at the old Civic hatchback or a Mazda Miata. By being so laser focused on finding that known good deal, they are missing out on a few good options that could actually be just as inexpensive and more fun than the old Civic or Miata.
These four are just a sampling of what can be found for under $7,000 dollars if you’re willing to look for it.
NOTE: There are other model years for some of the cars on this list, but I have chosen the selected years either due to price, performance, or other factors.
1 – Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V (2002-2006) $2,200 – $4,000
This is probably one of the best examples of a forgotten performer on this list. The Spec V filled Nissan’s compact front-wheel drive performer slot that was meant to compete with Honda’s Civic Si, but never really got the level of stardom in the community that Honda’s hot hatch did. But just because it was less popular, doesn’t mean it wasn’t a performer.
From the Spec V’s inception in 2002 it came with a larger engine than any other Sentra models (2.5L I4 putting out 175hp), a stiffer performance tuned suspension, a six-speed manual transmission (in F#*king 2002!), and a limited slip differential. The car’s light weight of around 2,500 lbs (closer to 2,700 for the 2004 update) made the Spec V’s 2.5 liter engine more than effective at making it haul ass, while the performance tuned suspension allowed it to be an efficient canyon carver at those speeds.
The Spec V is also easily modifiable, as the aftermarket is fairly large. It obviously isn’t as large as the Honda Civic aftermarket, but there is plenty to choose from when deciding on how to further improve your compact sport sedan.
2 – Dodge Daytona Turbo/ Chrysler Laser Turbo(1984-1993) $3,000 – $6,000
This is the Daytona that everyone seems to have erased from their memory. Everyone remembers the 1969 Daytona with the enormous wing, but people tend to forget about the smaller Daytona that was around from the 80s to the 90s. This little FWD fastback isn’t the muscle car that the old Daytona was, but it really is a performer in its own right.
This wasn’t just some commuter car that Dodge slapped a muscle car name on (looking at you Dodge Dart). This was a car specifically designed to compete with the new era of performers that had come along with the oil crisis that put gas hogging V8 race cars on the back burner.
You can find the under-powered naturally aspirated Daytona and still probably have a good time, but the real fun comes from the Daytona Turbo and Laser Turbo; both of which can still be found for a fairly reasonable price. The small turbo four bangers were putting out 142hp out of a in their 1984 premiere, but did eventually max out their power at around 175hp and 200 lb-ft of torque in 1987. That might not sound like much power, but it’s low weight (around 2700 lbs) and performance based suspension would allow this car to be a performance machine. V6 models were made in later years, however those are incredibly hard to find and likely won’t be as inexpensive as the others.
These cars may be a little harder to find than the others on this list, but when you do, they’ll probably be for a price you can’t afford to pass up. If you’re looking for a fun FWD sport car with a turbo for your first or next performance car, you could do a helluva lot worse than a Daytona or Laser.
3 – Toyota MR2 (1984-1999) $2,500 – $7,000
When car guys ask for the best example of a lightweight, RWD, four cylinder sport car, most are going to say the Mazda Miata. The Toyota MR2 is another prime example of that formula though, with the added bonus of being mid-engined as well. That may not seem important, but it’s probably one of the only mid-engined sports cars that most of us can afford, so it definitely gives the MR2 a few points in the cool category.
Before 2000, when it decided to compete with the Miata to see how many metrosexual hairdressers would buy it, the MR2 was a sturdy performer in its class. Both the first and second generations of the MR2 were widely praised for their handling and performance (minus the 1990 models, which had a teensy problem with snap oversteering into guardrails). While not speed a speed demon, the (usually) precision handling of the lightweight runabout rightfully earned the MR2 its place as one of Toyota’s best sports cars. It’s obviously not as recognized or sought after as the Supra, but that’s why it’s on this list.
Naturally aspirated first and second generation MR2s can usually be picked up in driving condition from between $2,500 and $5,000. You might also be able to find one of the turbo models, but those generally go for a little bit more. The lowest price for a running MR2 Turbo is about $6,500, so it’s not quite as cheap as the NA models. Either way you go, you’ll end up owning an exceptional mid-engined sports car, and definitely something with a little more personality than the usual Honda hatchbacks that speckle the roadways.
Speaking of Honda though…
4 – Honda Del Sol Si or VTEC (1993-1997) $1,500 – $6,000
If you want to jump on that FWD Honda-bro life, but love two seaters with targa tops, then do I have some good news for you. The Honda Del Sol, the successor to the popular CRX, is here to scratch that itch. While it’s designed like a mid-engined RWD roadster, it is basically just a Honda Civic with wearing a fancy sport coat. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. With the Del Sol you get the standard reliability of Honda, along with something a bit more unique than the EG hatchbacks and Integras that are commonly found.
The horsepower in the Del Sol only topped out at 160hp (in the VTEC trim) before the end of production in 1997. But if you want to increase that power and maybe improve the handling too, there are abundant ways to do it, because every engine, transmission, suspension (,etc…) mod that can be done to the Civic trims of that generation, can also be done to your Del Sol. Since the Honda aftermarket is so flooded, you’ll have options on top of options that you can utilize to make this Honda a competitor with modern FWD performance cars.
This is also probably the cheapest car you will find on this list. While the others are going to end up costing at least $2,000 for a running example, you can find multiple running and driving Del Sols for as low as $1,500. Yea, you’ll end up paying closer to the $6,000 figure for already modified and built Del Sols, but a fairly low mileage example that is bone stock probably won’t cost you over $3,000. And for a platform that is so easily modifiable and tunable, you really can’t beat the price.
Ford Escort GT/ Ford Escort ZX2 – $2,000 – $5,000
Mazdaspeed Protege – $3,500 – $5,500
Saab 900 Turbo – $2,500 – $6,000
If you’re interested in additional car related content, check out our other related articles found below. And check out our friend over at Carful Planning for other new and interesting car articles.