Sports cars are making a bit of stand lately. Increasingly costly to produce, manufacturers spent years culling sports cars from their line up due to dwindling (sometimes abysmal) sales. The growth of the hot hatch segment and especially SUVs, including ridiculously fast SUVs meant the sports car had a reduced deck of cards to play with.
Most of the luxury brands have continued to stay true to their ethos despite being pushed into offering SUVs to stay afloat while Japanese brands have mostly concentrated on their bread and butter at the lower end of the market.
Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there used to be a myriad of choices for cheap sports cars under $50,000 thanks to a healthy Japanese economy encouraging manufacturers to create their own take on the sports car.
Today there are very few dedicated sports cars left on the market under $50,000. But that doesn’t mean sports driving is dead, it’s just increasingly shifted under the hot hatch banner while we wait for the next wave of cheap sports cars to come our way. In the meantime, there’s still some cracking cars to be had. Read on!
Sports cars under $50,000
The Nissan 370Z is still a $70,000 AUD proposition in convertible and Nismo guise. Yes, this is a very old concept launched in 2009 but it’s still a fabulous sports car. Consider this: front engined, rear wheel drive, naturally aspirated in-line six-cylinder engine, manual transmission all under a fixed roof. Not even BMW can boast that and the next generation Nissan Z car won’t have a naturally aspirated engine either. It may not keep up with other cars or even hot hatches but in today’s world, there are increasing limits on just how fast you can travel anyway. A 0-100kph time of under 6 seconds is still rapid and with plenty of tuning opportunities that figure can be reduced.
It doesn’t have anywhere near the tech demanded by cars 5 years ago let alone today or in comparison to the new screen dominated interiors of next year’s cars. Retro fit a new Apple Car Play system or just leave it be and get on with driving because what the 370Z has become is a very fine GT car and very much the last of a generation.
It seems incredible then that a regular Nissan 370Z can be bought new for less than $50,000 AUD. When the new generation car comes out you can bet it’s not going to be $50,000—in fact it may be almost double given the price point of its natural competitor, the Toyota Supra. Grab one in manual today, and enjoy.
The Nissan 370Z isn’t here because it’s class leading, it’s because right now it offers a level of performance and experience no other coupe can at this price point.
Another car which is due to be replaced soon, the 86 falls comfortably below the $50,000 AUD mark depending on spec, leaving enough in reserve for modifications. This is where this cheap sports car starts to make sense as it’s an excellent platform to create something unique.
One of the greatest attributes of the 86 is it’s approachable nature. It doesn’t set the world alight in straight line performance (0-100kph in 7 seconds) yet it is immensely chuckable through corners bringing huge grins to the driver and a sick stomach to the passenger.
Like the Nissan 370Z, it features a front engine, rear wheel drive layout and naturally aspirated engine mated to a manual transmission (or sloshy auto if you must). You sit low in the 86, in an interior which has been improved incrementally over the years which many have complained and I don’t understand given the price point.
Do you wait for the new model? That depends on how good the new car is, what price the new car is, what you plan on doing (modifying etc) and of course your budget. With plenty of stock available in a range of colours now is the time to bargain hard and get yourself a great little sports car.
Toyota GR Yaris
Quite possibly the most anticipated and in demand sports car of 2020, the Toyota GR Yaris is far removed from its humble origins it kind of has to be considered a coupe, not a hatch. A lower carbon roof, wild bulging guards, all-wheel drive, manual transmission and a punchy 1.6L turbocharged engine make this into an exciting homologation special.
Yep, only 24,000 will be built to satisfy WRC homologation rules. There are apparently some slots left, and at time of writing Toyota haven’t pulled marketing or made announcements on their website so if you want to grab one, you’d better be quick! Also quick—the 0-100kph time of less than 5.5 seconds.
Test reports have been glowing making it a real contender for any Car of the Year award providing it’s the higher spec Rallye edition with limited slip differentials, and better wheels and tyres. The initial 1000 that were allocated here were the regular GR spec which were offered for an incredible $39,950. The Rallye editions due here next year are rumoured to fall just below the $50,000 AUD mark (plus on road costs). Being so new and so in demand, chances are there won’t be any deals to be made but this shouldn’t stop you from trying.
This is a real characterful car that is reminiscent of rally specials of old such as the Mitsubishi EVO.
With modern Toyota build and reliability and no doubt plenty of street cred, these give enthusiasts a real alternative to the regular hot hatch formula we’ve become so accustomed to.
The legend. A car that shook up the sports car industry and showed (once again) driving could be fun without the need for huge power figures. The current MX-5 has been around since 2015, yet it seems like yesterday it was launched bringing with it a return to form after a slightly bloated NC generation got caught up in early retractable hardtop land.
Falling below the $50,000 AUD mark is a brand new ND gen MX-5 with all the refinements amassed over the years. And we’re not talking the old entry level 1.5L model either, there are both the 2.0L convertible and retractable hard top RF versions under that price.
We can only speculate what the next generation NE Mazda MX-5 will be like due to little information coming out of the Mazda HQ. That leaves the current model very much in the spotlight.
The ND has been lauded for its return to lightweight engineering resulting in a pure driving experience. Straight line performance has thankfully been improved over the original 1989 NA MX-5 to do the 0-100kph time in 7.1 seconds but the MX-5 was never about the numbers, rather the enjoyment of driving which it always delivers.
With a huge worldwide community of followers the Mazda MX-5 should always be on your list.
Hot hatches under $50,000
VW Golf GTI
Over the years there have been numerous special edition Golf GTIs but the standard one is all you need to find that balance between everyday practicality and sports driving. It’s actually a rather difficult trick to pull off, and one competing manufacturers have been trying to get right for decades but have never quite matched the Golf for completeness.
There’s a new Golf GTI landing shortly, but until then there is a lot of existing mk 7.5 Golf GTIs from dealers ready to make a deal.
That includes DSG autos which fit the everyday duty requirements yet offer paddle shift fun when desired.
If you have to have one car to do it all, the Golf GTI should be top of the list.
Renault Megane R.S.
Renault knock it out of the park just about every time with their Megane. The previous generation was a Kardashian-like superstar of the hot hatch world yet when Renault pulled things back with the new car to play the same game as Volkswagen’s Golf GTI, it was a little disappointing.
However, this was a new and aggressive hot hatch with typical French flair that makes the Golf look dowdy in comparison. It’s sporting nature much more present than the Golf especially in Cup chassis trim where the car gets a Torsen mechanical limited-slip differential and other changes to stiffen the suspension. And it’s here where the Megane has the edge on the Golf.
0-100 kph takes a claimed 5.8 seconds which is plenty of punch.
The R.S. Sport falls below the $50,000 AUD mark but if you bargain a little you may just get an R.S. Cup under that figure too. Whether or not the firmer ride is a problem depends on how you’re going to use the car and what your tolerance levels are like (mine are super high!).
The i30N was well received when it launched for its chassis playfulness and balance most likely down to former BMW M-division boss Albert Biermann’s direction. It ticked almost every box out of the gate, save for a badge which is yet to resonate with performance car cognoscenti.
Who cares though when the car is this good. If fun driving is what you’re after and you’re a bit tired of the same old European cars you see everywhere then the i30N needs to be considered.
It doesn’t quite do the VW’s blend of bland and aggressive, nor does it have the Renault’s flair instead it has just enough aggression where needed.
Hyundai claim 0-100kph in 6.1 seconds which is a little slower than some others on the list but not by much and still a fraction faster than what the Golf GTI claims.
The i30N proves Hyundai can make quick and engaging cars and are continuing to prove their worth in the WRC. Soon, they will have all the cachet they need.
Ford Fiesta ST
The little pocket rocket that’s been setting Europe alight took its sweet time to get here. Lauded for its adjustable handling it comes with a limited slip differential and a hell of a lot of character. 0-100kph is a claimed 6.5 seconds. The Fiesta ST falls well under the $50,000 AUD mark at around $37,000.
MINI Cooper S
It’s hard not to talk about hot hatches without mentioning the Mini Cooper S. But it’s less sporting these days and if you really want to add decent levels of performance you’ll need to step up to the JCW variant.
Abarth 695 70th Anniversary Edition
There’s only 40 of these cute and quirky Italian micro hatches. A real hoot but just a few too many quirks and not enough features for the price though 0-100kph in 6.7 seconds is a laugh in a car this small.