Bang for your buck: 10 of the best sports car bargains for under $20,000

Photos / supplied

Being a motoring enthusiast is often considered to be a game exclusively played by the wealthy. But, that simply isn’t the case. There are dozens upon dozens of wonderful four-wheeled options out there for those who want a fun daily or weekend sports car.

To celebrate the cheap and cheerful driver’s car, we thought we’d assemble 10 of our favourites currently listed on Driven — from Europe’s best to some collectable Japanese nostalgia. Lay your peepers on them below, and ask yourself; which would you take home?

1. 1997 Porsche Boxster

The Porsche Boxster was panned initially for ‘not being a real Porsche’ — criticisms that blighted the Cayman some years later, as well as the 924 and 944 in the decades prior.

But, over time the majority of Boxster critics flipped 180 degrees (much like critics of the similarly budget-orientated Ferrari Dino in the 1960s), and these days they’re considered to be one of the smartest and most value-packed second-hand buys on the convertible market. It might not be a 911, but its 2.5-litre flat six certainly bellows and leaps into action in an unmistakably Porsche manner.

Second hand Bosxters can be had for close to $10,000 if you shop around (and perhaps bring realistic standards to the party), but this deep burgundy Boxster is no 10 grand Boxster. It’s instead perhaps one of the best examples in the country today. Its paint and black leather cabin appear pristine, and that’s supported by an odometer reading of just 45,213km. It’s priced accordingly at $18,999, but that’s still cheaper than a Toyota Yaris.

2. 2008 Nissan 370Z

Look, I know what you’re thinking. ‘A Nissan 370Z? On a $20k budget? Are you nuts?’

Well, maybe I am. But the point is that this Auckland-based 2008 370Z is listed for $19,980 — and has a sensible 81,000km on the odometer. Granted, it’s perhaps a little rough around the edges, but it’s a hell of a lot of rather modern muscle sports car for the coin.

Granted, the 350Z is a decent second place. For this money, you’d be able to nab up a sound, 6-speed manual 350Z (like this rare manual HR convertible). It’s worth noting too that while the 350Z and 370Z look very similar, the 350 has a more commodious cabin.

Regardless, this 370Z makes for solid sports car buying.

3. 2007 BMW 335i

Back to European drop-tops for a second, with this E93-generation BMW 335i.

It may not be a bonafide M-badged example of Bavarian performance. But this Beemer still sports one of the firm’s unmistakable all-aluminium 3.0-litre inline sixes, making 225kW of power and 400Nm of torque.

This Auckland-based 335i caught our eye with its sensible 92,00km reading, and its attractive combination of tan leather, wood, and a white exterior. A lot of car for less than $16,000.

4. 1997 Toyota MR2

In the background, prices on well looked after second-generation Toyota MR2s have started to climb. It shouldn’t come as a surprise of course, given the growing interest in all Japanese sports cars from the period — but it’s still interesting to see given that for a time these were a dime a dozen.

But, there are still a few cheapies out there … like this non-turbo red example. It’s a newer model, which means slightly different lights, rare factory wheels, and a body-coloured rear fascia. It’s clearly seen a lot of New Zealand roads (as evidenced by the chipped-up front splitter and the 189,695km on the clock), but the interior has clearly been well maintained and at $4500 you can’t really go wrong.

Or alternatively, $18,000 can buy you this mint manual MR2 GT Turbo.

5. 2007 Audi TT 3.2 V6 Quattro

When it debuted in the ’90s, the Audi TT wowed the automotive world with revolutionary styling. Some labelled it a ‘tarted up Golf’, but its flagship variants always packed a fair bit of punch. And, for $20,000 there are plenty of fine options out there.

Well maintained first generation models should set you back around $10,000. This black 2005 1.8-litre Turbo S-Line listed in Hamilton was our pick of the original Audi TTs listed on Driven. However, for $20,000 the second-generation model is well within reach.

Well looked after entry level and mid-tier models are plentiful in budget, but those wanting something with a bit of bark would likely dig this Auckland-based 2007 example — fitted with Audi’s potent 3.2-litre V6 and Quattro all-wheel drive. It’s recently had its price dropped too, from $19,995 to $17,995.  

6. 2004 Jaguar XK8

It admittedly might not tick the boxes for reliability and parts accessibility, but there’s no denying that the Jaguar XK8 has plenty of presence. It’s been more than two decades since it debuted, and its styling still divides crowds today.

Compared to most on this list it’s perhaps more of a grand tourer than a sports car, but what it may lack in athletics its 224kW/420Nm 4.2-litre V8 in this facelift model makes up for with grunt.

Listed in New Lynn, this rare facelift model XK8 has less than 100,000km on the clock, and is rather dashing in its black-on-black form. British luxury with a rorty V8 bark.

7. 2005 Mercedes-Benz SLK-350

The Mercedes-Benz SLK was a bit of a puppy when it was first released. But, the three-pointed star worked on it over subsequent generations — refining the product and adding some new performance-orientated models along the way. Included in those models; the 350.

Debuting in the second-generation SLK (best identified by their Formula 1–inspired from grilles), the earliest 350 had its engine-bay filled with a 3.5-litre V6 making 200kW of power and 350Nm of torque. Facelifted models from 2008 onwards scored a tweaked 3.5-litre that had 224kW/360Nm.

With low kilometres (47,035km), this black example in Christchurch is one of the best in the country and sneaks into budget with a dollar to spare. Save a few bob with a higher mileage version like this slightly newer silver 350.

8. 2011 Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk6

We didn’t really want to put any hot hatches on this list. But, if it had to be one, it may as well be the most quintessential hot hatch of the lot.

The Mk6 Golf GTI took the fifth-generation model — a massive return to form for the marque — and refined it all round. A sharper and more reliable DSG automatic (a wet-clutch system as opposed to the Mk5’s dry-clutch system) and more rounded styling were among the big improvements.

Given how common Mk5 GTIs are in New Zealand, a Mk6 like this low-km example in Auckland is likely to stand out just that little bit more. We also like the optional two-tone wheels.

9. 2011 Mazda MX-5

You cannot come up with a list of cheap sports cars without sliding a Mazda MX-5 into the equation somewhere.

While those shopping on a budget will get a more raw thrill out of a first (NA) or second (NB) generation MX-5, the third-gen NC is more commonly found for sale here thanks to the sheer volume that come here as imports.

Early NCs with healthy odometer readings can be found for well under $15,000 (like this red 2007 manual), but a $20,000 budget should mean a facelifted NC is well within reach. This burgundy model has covered a lot of miles, but appears mint and — most importantly — is fitted with a 6-speed manual.

10. 1995 Nissan Silvia S14

Lastly, we have a Japanese classic that’s value is seemingly increasing by the day.

Nissan Silvias, like the aforementioned MR2s, were once very common here. However over time their popularity with drifters and modified car enthusiasts means that reasonably clean original examples — particularly turbocharged SR20DET like this black S14 in Auckland — are tough to find. Priced at $21,350 it’s a smidge outside of budget, but it ticks all the boxes of a potential collector. It’s turbo, it’s original, and it’s only got 86,415km on the clock.

Those wanting to stick under $20,000 will likely need to aim for a non-turbo SR20DE model like this low-km 5-speed manual ‘Kouki’ S14. Non-turbo Nissan Silvia S15s are also easy enough to find in budget, like this decently turned out manual. Shop around further and show some patience, and a low-km non-turbo S15 in budget isn’t outside of the realm of possibility.