Best Sports Cars for under $5,000

There is something about a two-seat sports car, preferably with no top, that is special. The thrill of speed, the rush of the wind, and the ability to escape away for a weekend in wine country or at the track. But sadly many people can't drive a small two-seat sports car for their everyday car and therefore they choose a larger car, crossover, truck, or SUV for their daily driver. 

But if you have the space and a little extra money, a number of modern, inexpensive sports cars can be found. Sure you might have to really dig on Craigslist, eBay, or AutoTrader to find the right car, but after spending some time hunting around online here is my short list of the best sports cars you can buy in the USA for under $5,000. 

The criteria for selection was it had to be a modern two-seater, with a manual transmission option, and rear-wheel drive. 

1998-2005 Mazda MX-5 (NB)

When launched in 1998 the second generation of the Mazda MX-5 or Miata built on the original concept of the NA MX-5, even though it did pick up over 300lbs along the way, it did also pick up more horsepower than the first generation coming in with 140hp. In 2001 the 6-speed manual became an option.

The 2004-2005 Mazdaspeed Turbo is by far the most desirable with its 178hp, 6-speed manual transmission, and other performance parts and unique styling cues.

These and other generations of MX-5 can be found for well under $5,000. But like any used car, it is best to buy the best one you can find.

The only issue these are known for is some clutch issues on early models, however, it is likely that the car may have already been serviced. Another thing to check is the condition of the radiator as the plastic end tanks may develop leaks. Other than those minor issues, there is little to worry about when it comes to the MX-5.

By rumpleproofskin - originally posted to Flickr as Nissan 350Z, CC BY 2.0
2003-2008 Nissan 350Z

Offered as a coupe and later a convertible, the 350Z would go on to offer several levels of performance over its five years in production, including a NISMO edition which had specially tuned suspension developed in conjunction with Yamaha, Brembo brakes, and RAYS forged alloy wheels, as well as other performance enhancements. The least expensive NISMO I could find was just under $10,000, but most a trading in the $12,000-$15,000 range.

Obviously, most of the cars you will find for under $5,000 will be the base model which depending on the year produced between 287-306hp with a 5-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual transmission. The 350Z has been a great platform for motorsports, but it is also an excellent grand touring car.

Known issues with the 350Z including a failed crankshaft position sensor and/or camshaft position sensor that can cause the engine to stall. A bad fuel damper can produce a ticking noise that can be heard at idle.

By nakhon100 - BMW Z3 M Roadster, CC BY 2.0
1995-2002 BMW Z3

Offered as a convertible and later as a three-door hatchback, the Z3 is a unique and exciting car for the money. Built in several configurations over the years a Z3 can range from 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 114hp to a 3.0-liter six-cylinder with 228hp. The cars also came with a 4-speed automatic or 5-speed automatic, and a 5-speed manual transmission, depending on the year.

All across the country, BMW Z3 roadsters can be found for under $5,000, coupes generally demand a premium from enthusiasts.

Weak points on the BMW Z3 are the cooling system, plastic convertible rear windscreens, window, and top leaks. In higher mileage or cars drove hard the differential mount and trunk floor welds can break causing major issues.

1996-2004 Porsche Boxster

The Boxster is an interesting car in the Porsche line up, generally dismissed by Porsche enthusiasts not a real Porsche (since it is not a 911), but it is still the car that saved Porsche from bankruptcy, because of that commercial success there are a lot of used 986 Boxsters on the market. The flat, mid-engine layout provides a low center of gravity, near-perfect weight distribution, and excellent handling.

Depending on the year the Boxster ranges between 201-258hp and all offer a 5-speed or 6-speed manual or a Tiptronic automatic transmission. 2002 models got a minor facelift and also recieved a glass rear window, earlier models had a plastic rear window which will likely need to be replaced.
Finding a decent Boxster for under $5,000 may require a little more hunting, but they are out there.

Known issues to watch out for, early engines had issues with castings and should have been repaired by Porsche. Also, the Intermediate Shaft Bearing is a known issue and the source of much debate in the Boxster community as not all cars developed an issue, but a replacement can cost over $2,000, while a new engine can cost a lot more.

That's my short list, what car would you buy? What car do you think should be on the list? Let me know in the comments down below.