Latest Reader Question: The Best Sports Car for $15k-ish?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Mike asks: I am looking for a fun-to-drive second car, not a daily driver, and have these criteria: Price, $15-20k. Ragtop. Manual transmission. Reasonable cost of ownership (I can do basic maintenance like oil changes, tune ups and brake jobs). Any make or model, any year. What are your top three picks to fit these specs?

My reply: I have one pick for you, mike – a Mazda Miata. Because it’s the pick. The car meets all your criteria and mine. They are abundant, incredibly durable – as in several hundred thousand miles durable – and track day-capable while being just as good as a commuter car you can drive every day. Great gas mileage. Easy and inexpensive to modify, if you wanted to.

There really is nothing else comparable – not for $15k or so, at any rate.

You might look for an older Nissan Z car, but it’s a more complex and expensive car to keep up and your budget won’t allow you to find a really nice one, probably. Another (better) option is a Toyota MR2 – which is mid-engined and, being a Toyota, generally an excellent car. But there aren’t many out there in between thrashed – and pristine – condition.

The affordable ones will probably need work – while the ones that don’t won’t be cheap.

On the other hand, your budget will allow you to get an excellent, recent-vintage Miata, with low miles – one that will put a smile on your face every day for the next ten years, at least.  And it will be easy to find one, because they made them in huge numbers… and are still making them. They’re everywhere. You will have your pick, on your terms – and for the right price.

Go for it… and I mean, today!

  • There is also the Saturn Sky/Pontiac Solstice – and you could probably find one for a song… because they depreciated almost as fast as Enron stock. There is a reason for that. They are pretty but clumsy cars, poorly built, with many small but significant flaws. A Miata or any of the cars mentioned above would be a better choice.

. . .

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  1. My dad bought a lightly used 350Z a few years ago for about $15K from a dealership. It had about 15K miles on it, no scratches or other damage. I know he got a really good deal, but sometimes just keeping an eye out for a good deal for 6 months makes all the difference. It way out-performs a Miata and the extra weight is nice too. Also, since there are fewer of them on the road than Miatas, and you get a lot more complements because people think they are more “exotic”…. but they aren’t really. Eric is right on the higher upkeep costs, but I think the performance difference is worth it. Just a really fun car to drive. Oh, and it fits a large set of golf clubs in the trunk or a full-size suitcase, making it great for weekend trips.

  2. For that amount of money you could buy just about any Miata that you want.

    The 90-93 models are 1.6 and 94-05 are 1.8. The first generation (NA) has the pop-up headlights and second gen (NB) integrated headlights. The NC and even ND models can be had for that price range. Also, they’re easy to work on(at least the NA/NB which I own). A basic set of tools is all you need to work on them. And, when I say basic I mean 8, 10, 12, 14, 17, 19 & 21mm sockets/wrenches can do about 99% of any work you need done. If you need major work done, engine rebuild and such, there are Miata experts all over the U.S. With the number of Miatas that are raced there is most likely a great shop near you that can do a truly professional job if needed.

    Some resources for info…

    • Thanks for chipping in on this, Mark!

      It’s hard to go wrong with a Miata… whether for a toy car, a commuter car or a race car… or all three at once!


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