Gone are the days when $10,000 would buy you a late-model sports model with a lot of equipment and tons of performance. But that doesn’t mean that a budget of $10K will relegate you to an econobox. Despite the escalation of used car prices, you can still get a very interesting sports car for that kind of money. But because the most recent vehicle on this list is seven model-years old, you have to be extremely careful about the condition and the care the car has received. A lot of these cars have been ridden hard, to say the least, so be meticulous about inspecting them. On the other hand, it is often possible to find examples of each of these cars that have been “babied” by doting owners. They can be absolute gems.
10 Best Used Sports Cars Under $10k
Photo Credit: Mazda
2011 Mazda RX-8 — $7,075
The 2011 Mazda RX-8 is an under-appreciated model from the Zoom-Zoom brand that can be either a blessing or a curse. When running properly the still-attractive rear-drive sports coupe is extremely rewarding because it is so balanced and agile. A big reason for that is its compact Renesis 13B-MSP 1.3-liter rotary engine that produces 232 horsepower and 159 lb-ft of torque. It can also produce major headaches because very few mechanics have any idea how to work on a Wankel engine. This implies you must inspect and road test carefully. Obtaining a properly maintained RX-8 can be a joy, because the vehicle is so much fun to drive. Snicking through the six gears of its short-throw manual is what sporty driving is all about.
Photo Credit: BMW
2011 BMW 1 Series — $8,675
While it might strike you as a bit too cute, the the 2011 BMW 1 Series is a true driver’s car. No, really. For confirmation, check the engine bay. What you’ll find is a naturally aspirated 3.0-liter in-line six cylinder that offers 230 horsepower or a twin-turbo 3.0-liter in-line six wringing out 300 horsepower. The latter powerplant might break your $10K budget, but even with the non-turbo the 1 Series is pretty sweet. For one thing, it is a BMW-tuned, rear-drive chassis and suspension. Then there’s the six-speed manual or six-speed automatic with paddle-shifters. Available as a coupe or convertible, the 1 Series offers front and side airbags, antilock brakes and an unobtrusive electronic stability control.
Photo Credit: Hyundai
2012 Hyundai Genesis Coupe — $9,000
Not to be confused with the current Genesis luxury-car brand manufactured by Hyundai, the 2012 Hyundai Genesis Coupe is a rear-wheel-drive sports coupe with good performance credentials. The base Genesis Coupe is powered by a 210-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that has enough go in it to make the Genesis Coupe a fun ride. Beyond that (but perhaps still within the $10K bogie) is the 306-horsepower 3.8-liter V-6 engine that really gets the party started. Both engines were paired with a standard six-speed manual transmission, but automatic transmission cars are likely to be more prevalent, and that isn’t a bad thing. The Genesis Coupe could be equipped with good stuff like xenon headlights, 19-inch wheels, navigation, premium sound system and automatic temperature control.
2011 Ford Mustang Coupe — $10,325
As you might remember 2011 was a big year for the Ford Mustang. After a period of dormancy, the Mustang was revived with a menu of new and renewed powerplants. Even the base Mustang coupe from that model year has a 305-horsepower engine going for it (in the form of the 3.7-liter V-6.) Because of its balance and relative economy, the V-6 Mustang of 2011 vintage is a good choice. But there are other options: The big 5.0-liter V-8 gives a taste of old-school American muscle with its 412 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque. The 2011 Mustang GT500 sports an aluminum 5.4-liter supercharged V-8 with 550 horsepower, but it will be a budget-buster in this context.
Photo Credit: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
2010 Dodge Challenger — $9,325
The original Dodge Challenger was a little late to the muscle car party, and it grew in stature even as muscle cars went out of fashion. Then Chrysler had the bright idea of reviving the Challenger, and the 2010 version of the re-do is a keeper. For one thing it is good looking. For another it will transport five adults. It handles better than the 1970 Challenger ever did. A base 2010 Challenger is powered by a 250-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. Yes, the trans seems antiquated, but it is not a bad choice at under $10K. Of course, if you can pry a 370-horsepower 5.7-liter Hemi V-8-powered version out of someone’s hands for $10,000, all the better.
Photo Credit: General Motors
2010 Chevrolet Camaro — $9,050
2010 was a banner year for domestic sports coupes. Mustang, Challenger and then there was the much-heralded return of the Chevrolet Camaro. After a six-year absence the nameplate returned on one of the most attractive Camaro models ever. The father of them all is the Camaro SS, complete with 426-horsepower 6.2-liter V-8. It’s unlikely you get a decent example of the SS for 10-grand, but a nice LS or LT with a 304-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 is a very competent all-around sports coupe. With either six-speed manual or six-speed paddle-shift automatic, you can tell yourself you have a V-8 under the hood. The car will do its part to fulfill your desires.
Photo Credit: Nissan
2010 Nissan 370Z — $10,800
If you’re looking for a pure sports car for $10,000, the 2010 or 2009 Nissan 370Z might be just the thing. First, there is no denying the 370Z is a sports car; it’s not a two-door with sporty intentions. Proof of that is its 332-horsepower 3.7-liter V-6. With either six-speed manual or seven-speed paddle-shift automatic, this is a great car to take through the gears. Its handling labels it as a sports car, too, with a purpose-built suspension that feels at home on the track. Oh, and then there is the 370Z’s styling. Inside and out , it is a car that turns heads. The key warning here: make certain you are buying a car that hasn’t been over-used or, worse, crashed and repaired.
Photo Credit: Mercedes-Benz
2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK — $9,675
A signature feature of the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class luxury roadster is its power-retractable hardtop. That fad has largely run its course, but the SLK of that vintage is still a terrific ride. The “base” SLK300, which isn’t so base, has a 228-horsepower 3.0-liter V-6 engine. It’s paired with either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed automatic transmission with manual shift capabilities. Moving up to the SLK350 nets a 300-horsepower V-6 with seven-speed automatic. Then there’s the much-too-expensive SLK55 AMG with a 355-horsepower 5.5-liter V-8. It’s cool but the smart money buys the SLK300 or SLK350. On top of everything else it has the three-pointed star.
Photo Credit: Infiniti
2010 Infiniti G37 Coupe — $10,450
Time might have slightly dulled the sheen of the Infiniti G37 Coupe, but as this decade began it was where the wise ones went to get luxury-performance at a price. The G37 isn’t an in-your-face performance design, but it is clean, handsome and has worn well. Its 3.7-liter V-6 engine produces 328 horsepower, and it offers the choice of a seven-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission. Designed to compete with the more expensive BMW 3 Series coupe, the G37 borrowed heavily from the Nissan 370Z, which accounts for its well-respected roadworthiness. Inside, it conveys luxury without being overbearing. A lightly driven version of this car is a steal at $10K.
Photo Credit: Mazda
2012 Mazda Miata — $9,650
Okay, we have to believe you knew this was coming. It is impossible to imagine a list of the 10 best sports cars under $10,000 that doesn’t include the Mazda MX-5 Miata. While it isn’t especially fast, the Miata is a blast to drive because it feels so agile. The steering is almost as direct as a go-kart, and the compliant rear-drive suspension soaks up minor imperfections while helping maintain solid contact patches. In all, you feel like you’re going fast without actually going all that fast. The 167-horsepower 2.0-liter four cylinder engine is the perfect enabler, and the six-speed manual transmission is the preferred choice. The six-speed automatic isn’t as on-point, although it is great if your sports car also has to do commuter-car duty. The 2012 model year is the most recent the is available under $10,000. A well-maintained older example is a perfectly acceptable substitute.