Time was, practically every car was rear-drive. These days, in the “affordable” category front-wheel drive predominates, so there are few cheap rear-wheel drive cars. By the way, we’re defining “cheap” as commanding a starting price below $32,000. And no, we haven’t lost our minds—we know cheap means different things to different people. According to our friends at Kelley Blue Book, the average new car transaction price for September 2014 (this being written in October of 2014) was $32,500. So we’re considering anything starting under $32,000 to be priced below average and for the purposes of this discussion, cheap. Yes, that’s a tall figure, but the good news is most of the cars here can be had for considerably less.
The Cheapest Rear-Wheel Drive Cars
Quintessentially American, and one of the most famous nameplates on the planet, Chevrolet’s Camaro is both a legend and a performance car bargain. Granted, to stay under our $32,000 price cap, you’ll be looking at a V6 powered model, rather than one of the fire-breathing V8s. However, this still nets you 323 horsepower and 278 ft-lbs of torque from a 3.6-liter V6. A six-speed manual transmission is the standard offering, while a six-speed automatic is a $1,295 option. Other standard features include automatic headlights, keyless entry, cruise control, and Bluetooth. What’s more, you can get 19-inch alloys, leather, a rear parking sensor array, and a Boston Acoustics audio system and still come in under the cap. Pricing starts at $24,700.
A full-size luxury car priced under $32,000? Chrysler’s 300 is a bargain any way you look at it. With a legacy dating back to the 1950s, Chrysler’s flagship is in many ways a throwback to the large rear-drive American sedans that once ruled the roads in this country. However, unlike those land yachts of yore, this Chrysler corners and stops just as well as it goes. Yes, you’ll be foregoing the 5.7-liter V8 to stay under budget, but the 3.6-liter V6 churns out 292 horsepower and 260 ft-lbs of torque, and is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Plus, you’ll get keyless entry and ignition, a touchscreen interface, and dual-zone automatic climate control—as standard equipment. Pricing starts at $31,395.
While the big news accompanying the 2015 Dodge Challenger is the debut of Chrysler’s awe-inspiring 707-horsepower Hellcat engine, most Challengers sold will be equipped with the 305-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 with 268 ft-lbs of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission is paired with it. Yes, one can get V8 power at a starting price under the cap, but destination charges will push you over it. Still though, even with the V6, the Challenger is an engaging automobile with entertaining dynamics, a long performance history, and excellent street cred. Standard features include keyless entry and ignition, cruise control, and automatic climate control. Options like foglights, automatic headlights, heated seats, and Bluetooth can also be had under the budget’s cap. Pricing starts at $26,995.
OK, so let’s say your job requires you to drive clients around from time to time. Further, your family situation consists of a spouse and couple of tweens. You love the feel of a responsive automobile, but your budget says you have to stay under $30,000. A spacious interior, good handling, and a reasonable amount of power in a package with some presence are among your must haves. Two words, Dodge Charger. At this price point, power comes from a 292-horsepower, 3.6-liter V6 with 260 ft-lbs of torque teamed with a five-speed automatic transmission. Standard equipment includes a set of 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, and a touchscreen interface. Pricing starts at $27,995.
Speaking of street cred, an entire genre of performance cars gets its category name from Ford’s Mustang. The original pony car; an all-new iteration of the Mustang debuts for the 2015 model year. Even better news; Mustang can be had in coupe or convertible form and still gallop in at a price nicely under our $32,000 price ceiling. Once again, you’ll be going with a V6 to keep things affordable. In this case it means you’ll get 3.7-liters, 300 horsepower, and 280 ft-lbs of torque—with a choice of a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic. You’ll get xenon headlights, keyless entry and ignition, cruise control, blind-spot mirrors, Sync voice control, and a limited slip differential. Pricing starts at $23,600.
Hyundai Genesis Coupe
Hyundai is a brand known for delivering outstanding value for the dollar, and the Genesis Coupe thoroughly lives up to that reputation. For the 2015 model year, Genesis Coupe will be offered only with the 3.8-liter V6, the 2.0-liter turbocharged four has been dropped. This means you’ll get a 3.8-liter, 348-horsepower V6 with 295 ft-lbs of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard equipment, while an eight-speed automatic is offered as a $1,200 option. Standard features include automatic headlights, LED taillights, keyless entry and ignition, automatic climate control, and Bluetooth. Hardcore performance drivers can get the 3.8 R-Spec version of the Genesis Coupe with a more aggressive suspension system, Brembo brakes, and a limited-slip differential. Pricing starts at $26,750.
Mazda MX-5 Miata
At the Paris Motor show, Mazda finally unveiled the 2016 MX-5 Miata. Though we haven’t been told much about the car, we do know it has been confirmed the lovely new fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster, which was revealed back in July, will come the U.S. with a 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G four-cylinder engine, as well as Mazda’s Skyactiv-MT manual transmission. This makes it potentially similar to the powertrain in the current iteration of the world’s favorite two-seat roadster. All the folks at Mazda are saying for sure at this point is the powerplant will be using ultra high-compression, which means it’s probably producing more than the 155 horsepower Mazda currently gets out of the engine. Pricing has yet to be announced.
Here’s another car with a rather lengthy heritage going for it. Nissan’s 370Z is the most affordable two-seat rear drive sports car available with a V6 engine. Fast, agile, handsome, and nicely equipped, the 370Z has a lot going for it—though we’ll be the first to admit the current model is starting to show its age. Power comes from a 3.7-liter V6 producing 332 horsepower and 270 ft-lbs of torque. A six-speed manual transmission with rev-matching technology to automatically blip the throttle on downshifts is standard equipment. A seven-speed automatic is optional. Standard equipment also includes a set of 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights, keyless ignition and entry, cruise control, automatic climate control, and Bluetooth. Pricing starts at $29,990.
Scion FR-S Coupe
Think Miata coupe and you’ll be pretty close to what the Scion two-seater is all about. Terrific fun to drive, it’s responsive, agile, and infinitely tossable. Yes, the engine could use a bit more punch, but the car handles so well it’s fun to drive nonetheless. Best of all, it comes at a terrifically reasonable price point. Power emanates from a 2.0-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine producing 200 horsepower and 151 ft-lbs of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is the standard offering, though the Scion sports car also features a six-speed automatic as a $1,000 option. The FR-S standard features list includes automatic headlights, air conditioning, full power accessories, and Bluetooth audio streaming and phone connectivity. Pricing starts at $25,670.
Subaru BRZ Coupe
Taking full advantage of all of the best attributes of a rear-drive powertrain, the lithe Subaru BRZ absolutely devours twisty roads. Closely related to the Scion FR-S coupe with which it was co-developed, the Subaru BRZ is the first true rear-wheel drive sports car from Subaru any of us here can recall. Granted, with 200 horsepower and 151 ft-lbs of torque, the flat four doesn’t punch out a lot of power, but at just under 2800 pounds, we’re talking about a pretty lightweight car too. Standard equipment includes automatic xenon headlights, a limited-slip differential, a 6.1-inch touchscreen interface, Bluetooth, navigation, smartphone integration, and voice controls. Options include keyless go, dual-zone automatic climate control, and heated seats. Pricing starts at $25,695.
For most shoppers, the packaging efficiencies of front drive—along with its typically better fuel economy, are big draws. Because of this, it’s becoming more difficult to find moderately priced rear-drive models, as this powertrain configuration generally only has appeal for the small subset of car buyers known as enthusiasts. The good news is the handling and power management benefits of rear-wheel drive can still be had at a relatively affordable price point. Further, if the cost of acquiring one of these vehicles new is prohibitive, their used counterparts can also be had for a moderate amount of money. However you get to it, all enthusiasts should own at least one rear-wheel drive car at some point in their career.