Rear-wheel drive cars are prized for their purer handling when compared to many front-wheel drive models. They also offer more balanced performance when it comes to power delivery, since the front tires aren't asked to steer and accelerate at the same time. With a good set of tires, they are typically just as good in the winter as a front-wheel drive car, and of course, there's no doubt that the drift scene has in some way influenced the purchase patterns of younger buyers looking for a rear-wheel drive model. Not all rear-wheel drive cars are sports cars, but there is a certain crowd who prefers to be pushed, rather than pulled down the road. Let's take a look 10 cheap rear-wheel drive cars that are waiting to be discovered on both the used and new vehicle market.
1) Ford Crown Victoria
Leading off this list of cheap rear-wheel drive cars is the Ford Crown Victoria, a model known primarily for its presence in police and taxi fleets across the country. In fact, the Ford Crown Victoria was discontinued in 2011 after the Blue Oval decided that fleet sales weren't enough to sustain the model's decades-long production. There are a boatload of these ex-Police Interceptor full-size sedans sitting out there on the used market, offering huge interior room, rugged construction, and 224 horsepower and 272 lb-ft of torque from a 4.6-liter V-8 engine. Inexpensive straight-line performance and a decent aftermarket - not to mention a comfortable ride - have kept secondary sales of the Crown Victoria brisk.
2) Mazda MX-5 Miata
For 2015, the Mazda MX-5 Miata soared toward its fourth generation. The Mazda MX-5 Miata is the most successful roadster in history, and it can lay much of its success at the feet of its simple formula: a rear-wheel drive, light curb weight, two-seat convertible design. The Mazda MX-5 Miata might not boast a ton of power (current designs boast 167 horses and 140 lb-ft of torque from a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine), but by working the car's available six-speed manual transmission to keep the revs up and by maintaining the Miata's momentum through the corners, it's possible to turn in great lap times at almost any road course. A reputation for performance plus an affordable purchase price have made the MX-5 Miata the learning tool of choice for track beginners.
Photo Credit: Hyundai
3) Hyundai Genesis Coupe
The Hyundai Genesis Coupe surprised a lot of people when it was first introduced in 2010 due to its willingness to party in the curves. One generational revision later and the early cars have fallen in price to the point where their rear-wheel drive layout and tunable drivetrains have become appealing to a wider range of budgets. Power from the base 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine starts at 210 ponies, but the aftermarket can easily boost that to nearly 300. A heavier, but heartier 3.8-liter V-6 engine is also available with the Genesis Coupe, which can put out either 306 or 348 horsepower, depending on the trim level. If you don't mind paying a bit more money, then the latest edition of the Hyundai Genesis Coupe is much more robust right out of the box while still offering affordable pricing and more compelling styling.
4) Nissan 350Z
The Nissan 350Z - which was superseded in 2009 by the 370Z - was a welcome ray of light from a Japanese brand that had stayed out of the rear-wheel drive sports coupe game for far too many years. The Nissan 350Z is a great all-around performance car, delivering decent power (306 horsepower and 268 lb-ft of torque from a 3.5-liter V-6 in its final version), an excellent six-speed manual transmission, and brakes and a suspension system that are up to the rigors of track duty. The 350Z only seats two, which restricts its practicality on a daily basis, but prices have fallen far enough that it's reasonable to have one sitting in the driveway as a second, weekend car.
5) Honda S2000
The Honda S2000 can be thought of as a weaponized Miata - a two-seat roadster that adds a bit of weight compared to its Mazda competitor but makes up for it in the horsepower department. A full decade of production gave us two drivetrains in this very quick convertible: a 240-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder unit, and a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder motor that produced essentially the same number of ponies in its second generation. More recent versions of the car are easier to drive at speed, thanks to a few suspension tweaks made by the factory, but first-gen Honda S2000s are great bargains on the secondhand market.
6) Ford Mustang
The Ford Mustang has always been a stalwart representative of cheap rear-wheel drive cars. New or used, the Ford Mustang only ever commands a premium when found in one of its several special editions. Sticking with a base 2015 Ford Mustang can see you drive home with a 300-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 under the hood for less than $24,000, and if you want even more power at a great price then head to the used market for a choice of V-8 engines ranging from 315 ponies all the way up to 435 from its latest-and-greatest 5.0-liter mill. You can even find the Ford Mustang in convertible form a small premium over the four-seat coupe, which is a bonus for sun-loving rear-wheel drive fans.
7) Subaru BRZ
Introduced in 2012, the Subaru BRZ is a model of inexpensive rear-wheel drive performance. The Subaru BRZ's chassis has been designed from the get-go to offer sublime communication between the driver and the road, and its ability to snake through the corners with authority stems from its low-mass chassis and low center of gravity afforded by its 2.0-liter, horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine. 200 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque are modest figures for a modern engine but they translate into significant fun when the car is pushed to its limit, as its standard six-speed manual transmission and supportive sport seats make the vehicle extremely engaging for enthusiasts.
8) Dodge Charger
Like the Ford Crown Victoria, the Dodge Charger is a full-size sedan. In almost every other important respect, however, the Dodge Charger is infinitely more modern in its design. A unibody platform, an independent rear suspension system, and a range of engines that includes a 5.7-liter, 370-horsepower Hemi V-8 are some of the Charger's hallmarks. So much motivation for what is marketed essentially as a family car has of course opened up the eyes of more performance-oriented buyers, creating a strong following for the Dodge Charger in the aftermarket. For 2015, Dodge has several super-high-performance special editions available, too.
9) Smart Fortwo
The Smart Fortwo was introduced to the American rear-wheel drive scene in 2009, but since it's still one of the cheapest new cars that money can buy, it makes this list almost by default. The Smart Fortwo is a city car, which means that its tiny dimensions and equally restrictive cargo space make it better suited for scooting around town that traveling across the country. Its fuel economy of 36 mpg combined is respectable, although when examining its 1.0-liter, three-cylinder engine (capable of generating 70 horsepower and 68 lb-ft of torque) one wonders why it isn't a teensy bit more frugal.
10) Toyota MR2 Spyder
The Toyota MR2 Spyder is a compact roadster that was last sold in 2005. It differs from the S2000 and the Miata in that while it's rear-wheel drive, it's also mid-engine, which means that its four-cylinder motor is mounted behind the driver. 138 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque are produced by the car's 1.8-liter mill, and transmission choices include either a five-speed manual or a five-speed sequential manual transmission (that doesn't actually feature a fully-automated shift mode). The MR2 Spyder was well-loved by owners, but it never enjoyed the broad appeal of earlier MR2 generations, possibly due to its low power. This makes the car somewhat rare on the used market.