Not only are manual sports cars becoming extinct, but automatic gearboxes have already been relegated to the majority — but not all — of the good ones. Most owners today prefer the convenience of an automatic or don’t know how to drive a stick at all, therefore manual sports cars are a vanishing breed.
Many automobiles no longer have manual transmissions, but whether a buyer is shopping for a new or used vehicle, there are still plenty of options available.
Manual sports cars don’t have to be expensive, either: they can be found for under $30,000, and occasionally even less. They’ll all provide a far more engaging driving experience than an automatic, and they’re a lot of fun to drive around a track or merely on a regular basis.
Let’s take a look at ten of the top options available right now for people who believe a manual transmission is unbeatable.
BMW M3 E36
The E36 M3 is now the most affordable M3 version on the market, however, why is a mystery. It’s largely considered as one of the best-handling M3s, and it has that nostalgic nostalgia that collectors adore.
It’s also a classic that’s appreciated in value. It’s a popular choice among project car builders, therefore most of the less expensive vehicles will have undergone some type of aftermarket work. Even much nicer examples are unlikely to exceed $30k, therefore they’re the ones to get.
The nice thing about the Ford Mustang is that, due to its popularity, there are a lot of used cars to choose from. While there are a few model years to avoid, finding an excellent secondhand manual Mustang for under budget shouldn’t be difficult.
They’re also some of the easiest sports vehicles to own, as they’re generally well-built and require little maintenance. A Mustang isn’t going to be the most eye-catching car at a car show, but for an easy-yet-fun sports car experience, it’s hard to beat.
It’s easy to see why the Miata is one of the most popular sports cars of all time. It’s a winning combination of low-cost, entertaining, and long-lasting. It’s also one of the most adaptable sports vehicles, with anything from track-day variants to off-road Miatas available.
Convertible Miatas start at $26,580, making them another choice for staying within the coveted $30,000 budget. Alternatively, purchasers can find a used example for a lower price and then modify it to their preferences with the money left over.
Honda Civic Type R
The Honda Civic Type R is a family hatchback with sports car performance that has long been a favorite among JDM and track day enthusiasts. Every version of the car has improved upon the previous, but even the earliest models are still a blast to drive.
A new Type R will cost roughly $38,000, which is significantly beyond the $30k mark. However, it only takes a few years for these Civics to depreciate to the point where they are no longer affordable.
The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine sends power to the front wheels only through a six-speed manual transmission. Although it’s FWD, the Type R manages to have outstanding handling even when pushed on a track, which may be a turnoff for some customers.
The BRZ is one half of Subaru and Toyota’s joint sports car efforts, and it’s an all-around terrific alternative. It’s cheap, cool, and destined to become a future classic.
It’s one of the most cheap sports cars on the market, and a new 2020 model year car can be had for just $28,845.Used models keep their value well, and BRZs can often clock over 100,000 miles without needing major repairs, thanks to Japanese reliability.
The only caveat is that a new generation of the BRZ is expected to arrive in 2022, so if purchasers can wait a few months longer, it might be worth it to stick out for that.
The Nissan 370Z has been on the market for quite some time, with the first model year being 2009. In some ways, it’s showing its age, with a dated cabin even in the most recent models.
It is, nonetheless, a good alternative for anyone looking for an old-school sports car experience.
It drives a lot more like a car than many of its competitors, and it still has a 6-speed manual transmission. Older model years of the 370z can be found for less than half of the $30,000 budget, leaving plenty of money for maintenance and normal operating expenditures.
BMW M Roadster
The BMW M Roadster was a high-performance version of the Z3 and Z4, produced in two generations. A manual transmission and a 3.2-liter I6 engine were standard on both models.
They’ve received a lot of praise for their handling and performance, and in 2000, they were crowned Top Gear’s “Best Driver’s Car.”
Today’s examples are easily found within budget, however, like with many of the other cars on this list, it’s preferable to spend a bit more for a car in excellent condition for the best resale value and reliability.
The 911’s smaller brother is an amazing beast in its own right, capable of taking on vehicles costing twice as much. Cayman’s first generation debuted in 2006, and those early versions may currently be found for much under $30,000 on the used market.
Even later models won’t break the wallet, but each generation will be equally enjoyable to drive, particularly with the manual transmission. The Cayman is mid-engined and available in RWD or AWD, which is perhaps the ideal configuration for a lightweight sports vehicle.
Finding a Lotus Elise for around $30k will be difficult, but with some clever haggling, you can obtain one secondhand for less. The Elise’s formula hasn’t altered much since the car’s debut in 1996, and that’s because it hasn’t needed to. It’s a basic, no-frills car, yet it’s one of the most exciting drivers’ cars in recent memory.
The Elise won’t be as quick as many other similarly priced sports cars, but it’s difficult not to enjoy the experience of rowing through the gears on rural roads and putting the Toyota engine to its limits.
Since its introduction, Honda’s high-revving sports car has cultivated a devoted following, owing to the fact that it provides an experience unlike any other. It isn’t the fastest car, and its handling is a point of contention among aficionados. When it loses grip, some say it’s overly sharp, especially on early models.
However, many owners believe that the compromise is well worth it because the engine is one-of-a-kind. The redline is set at 8,800 rpm, and drivers are compelled to use all of those revs whenever they have the opportunity.
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