Sports cars under $10K

By David Morley on 26 September 2016
The term 'sports car' is a pretty broad one these days. There are the mid-engined exotics we all think of, as well as traditional, nimble convertibles. And more recently, the turbocharged all-wheel-drive brigade has entered the pantheon of sports cars. The good news for second-hand car buyers is that there's at least one of each that falls easily within a $10,000 budget right now.

Toyota MR2 1990-1992

If there's one thing that defines a piece of exotica on four wheels, it's having the engine mounted where the rear seat would otherwise be. A mid-engined car has inherently good balance and that allows it to corner and brake like, well, like a sports car. That said, this particular piece of exotica is form Toyota, the same people that bought you the Camry and many other staunchly non-exotic cars. But forget about the philosophical arguments; this version of the MR2 (the second of three generations) is a great car.

Power comes from a two-litre engine which doesn't sound like much, but it's not moving a whole lot of car in the MR2, so it accelerates well. Even so, that's not the MR2's party piece. No, that would be its race-track handling.

But, like all elderly performance cars, you need to be very careful when shopping for a used MR2. Make sure the bodywork lines up and there's no mis-matched paint as the original buyers of these car were not incapable of crashing them. Also make sure you're not buying an ex-race-car. Check under the carpets where holes in the floor suggest a roll-cage was once fitted and a car with badly scarred rims on both sides (not just the kerb side) may have had a hundred tyre changes over the years (another sign of an ex-racer).

Check the compliance plate, too, to determine whether the car was an Australian delivered vehicle. Many were privately imported and are worth less money when they change hands. Be very wary, too, of an MR2 that's been modified for more power.

• Coupe, rear-wheel-drive, four-cylinders, 117kW, five-speed manual.
• Price from: $7000.

Mazda MX-5 1989-1997


One of the world's best-selling sports cars, the Mazda MX-5's popularity has grown for very good reasons. Mainly because it's just a delight to drive. We'd nominate the first shape as the one to have; the one with the pop-up headlights. And of those, we reckon the very earliest cars with the 1.6-litre engine are the sweetest, most free-revving of the bunch, too.

With just 85kW of power, the original MX-5 won't set any records away from the traffic lights, but to dismiss it for that is to completely miss the point of this charming little car. The engine sounds great, is smooth and really wants to rev. But it's the handling that makes the MX-5 such a standout. The steering is pin-sharp and the MX-5 really loves corners. Those attributes alone would be enough to get the MX-5 in to this list, but the bonus is that the car is a convertible with a simple-to-use but very effective folding roof.

Despite its deft ways, the MX-5 is actually a mechanically very rugged device. Don't be too put off by lots of kilometres as these engine are good for around 400,000km. The biggest potential glitch is caused by lazy mechanics. When changing the timing-belt, some workshops don't fully tighten the crankshaft pulley. If that happens the pulley can work loose and destroy the crankshaft. So check for a crankshaft pulley that wobbles instead of running true, indicating that it's already loose.

• Convertible, rear-wheel-drive, four-cylinders, 85kW, five-speed manual.
• Price from: $6000.

Subaru Impreza WRX 1994-1999

Subaru impreza

The all-wheel-drive Subaru created a sensation when it landed here. We'd seen all-wheel-drive, turbocharged cars before, but not at this price. The one to buy now is the first shape which is rapidly becoming a collectible car and won't be around at today's prices for too long.

The performance is, in a word, stunning. There's a mountain of grip courtesy of the all-wheel-drive and the engine delivers a real rush of power. The ride is firm and the interior plastics were never great, but this remains a seminal car and one that is still enormous fun to drive.

There are, however, a few WRXs we'd avoid when shopping. The first is one that has been driven hard all its life. If the seller is dressed like a Detroit rapper, give him (and the car) a miss. Secondly, be very wary of modified WRXs. These were very tunable cars, but modifying them for more power can spell an early death.

The gearbox and clutch on the WRX acted like a fuse; ie they were the first components to explode if the vehicle was abused. So make sure the car doesn't shudder on take-off, that the clutch doesn't slip in higher gears and that the gears select smoothly and without crunching noises. We'd also recommend a compression check for the engine as these are hard-working units. And don't buy a WRX without a full service record.

• Sedan/hatch, all-wheel-drive, four-cylinders/turbocharged, 155kW, five-speed manual.
• Price from: $6000.

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