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Car Corner
Affordable (?) Sports Cars

December 1, 2010
By Scott Lewis

Let me start this off with one thing... this article is not strictly about sports cars. It is actually about two seaters. There will be at least a couple of cars below that people will not think of as a true sports car. Maybe more.

The point of this article is to look at cars that are affordable and reliable for daily transportation, but only seat two occupants. By affordable I mean initial cost and the cost to maintain it... which should go hand in hand with reliability. The more reliable the car the more affordable to maintain it.

Last month I mentioned I might buy a 4 door sedan to have an extra car that my son can drive. This is about a year away from happening... if it even does happen. With a second car that opens the door for me to get a two seater for myself. At present my Mini Cooper is getting to be a tight fit when taking long trips with my boys... long is as little as the 1.5 hours to Austin. The sedan would be used anytime I had both boys with me. But when I am alone... or with just one of my boys... I have a chance for a two seater.

The cars below are cars that I like... and I think will be reasonably reliable. Due to my budget, I need a price point pretty low. I also need to stay low on the mileage of these cars. Sure, I could get a Miata with over 150K miles for next to nothing. But how long would it last.

I set a price ceiling of $12K, but in reality I am probably going to have to limit the price I spend to closer to $10K. Here are the cars I will consider next summer... if this plan starts to happen.

2000 - 2005 Mazda Miata

You have seen this car on many of my desirable lists of cars. This car is not fast, but it is a lot of fun to drive. In fact, the Mazda is close to the same performance as my Mini Cooper S. I should be able to have just as much of a blast in the Miata as I do in my Mini Cooper. Miatas are everywhere and many nice examples show up on AutoTrader for under $10K. So it will just be a matter of finding a good clean one with low mileage and a good top. The sample below had surprisingly low mileage.

Sample: 2003 Mazda Miata - $9,999, 38,983 miles. LS pkg., 1.8L-4cyl, 5-speed manual, black leather interior, factory Bose CD, all power options, tilt, cruise, factory keyless entry, and more!

2004 - 2007 - Chrysler Crossfire

This is a car nobody thinks of as a sports car. But that is not the point. This car is for the looks. The chassis and drive train of this car are right out of the first generation Mercedes SLK. Road tests put this car at 0-60 in about 6.5 seconds. More than fast enough, because this car is for looking good while driving. And since we are into looking good, we don't need a manual transmission. An automatic works best here. Besides, I heard the manuals in these (and the 1st gen Benz) where not very good. I would definitely stick with a coupe... for that show car look... and I would pop the fuse for that dorky rear spoiler that raises at speed. Note: I listed this car in my New Millennium Collection list back in Feb. 2009.

Sample: 2004 Chrysler Crossfire - $9,950, 64,546 miles. 2004 Chrysler Crossfire LTD coupe, 3.2L V6 FI 18V RWD, 64K original miles, leather, heated seats, 4 brand new tires. This crossfire is in mint shape inside and out and is very well maintained.


2000 - 2004 Mercedes Benz SLK320

If I can put the Crossfire on this list why not the Benz that it is built off of. This is the car that got the retractable hardtop movement going. Prior to this there was the extremely expensive cars (Mitsubishi 3000GT & Lexus SC430) or the really old (Ford Slyliner). Unfortunately this really is a chick's cars. More so than the Mini Cooper S or the Miata. I would not settle for the four cylinder SLK230. I checked and the revamped SLK350 is still too expensive to be had for under $12K. The sample below is a little over $12K, but I did not find a nice one with a nice picture on the day I was looking. And a picture is worth a thousand words.

Sample: 2001 Mercedes-Benz SLK320 - $12,920, 76,835 miles. Crowd stopping looks. This vehicle's elegance will keep you riding in style. This vehicle is luxurious inside and out.



2006 - 2009 Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky

These cars are a little too new to be under $10K, but I have seen a few under $12K. These don't have a track record for reliability yet, but I have not heard bad things either. I might have to look these up with Consumer Reports. These cars are less refined than the Miata, but they have the looks. Having listed them in my New Millennium Collection list I expect these to be collectible in 25 years. Buying one now would be with a partial intent to keep it in nice condition as a future show car.

Sample: 2006 Pontiac Solstice - $11,950, 70,000 miles. Look at this wonderful convertible that is being offered to you.




2001-2005 Ford Thunderbird

I dogged this car when it first came out. It was a soft, slow two seater convertible with a parts bin interior that sold for over $40,000. When buying a new convertible for almost twice the price of the average new car you are either single with a lot of money, or you are older and getting a second car and you have a lot of money. Buyers affluent enough to afford the Thunderbird (when new) as a second car wanted either performance (think Porsche 911, Boxster or Corvette) or they wanted luxury (think Mercedes SL). The Thunderbird had neither. But as a used car getting under $15K it could make for a cool looking cruiser. Our sample has over 100K miles, so the reliability might be an issue if it starts needing frequent repairs. But it shows us that we have a viable option here.

Sample: 2004 Ford Thunderbird - $9,900, 118,000 miles. This one is a must see! Perfect for driving with the top down on a sunny day! Looks and run good. Upgraded Pioneer Stereo System with iPod connection, one owner, non-smoker.


2000 - 2006 Audi TT

Hey, another car from my New Millennium Collection. The original Audi TT was never taken seriously as a sports car... along with the 1st gen Mercedes SLK. So be it. As a two seater for commuting it is a cool looking car. Plus, the turbo engine can easily be "chipped" for more performance.

Sample: 2003 Audi TT Roadster - $10,590, 71,000 miles. Can not buy this nice of TT for the money!!!! Must see!!! Performs and drives better than most, a very stunning car. Audi TT Quattro Convertible, Very rare dark blue with medium blue top, Bose Premium Stereo, 4 cylinder turbo, with Quattro all wheel drive, highway miles.


2000-2009 Honda S2000

I like the S2000, however it is a hard car to drive. Not hard as in difficult, but hard as in it's 8500 RPM engine has to be driven hard all the time to enjoy the performance that car can provide. It will feel like a dog slogging through traffic on a daily commute. Fortunately I don't have a lot of traffic on my commute, but you still can't really enjoy this car without getting in trouble with the law.

Sample: 2003 Honda S2000 - $8,995, 68,321 miles.




2003 - 2009 Nissan 350Z

The Nissan is the performance champ in this league. I must admit that I am torn here. The 370Z looks a lot better than the 350Z. If I had a 350Z would I be jealous every time I saw a 370Z drive by? Or would I just love the car and wait for the time I could trade it in for a 370Z when they are affordable. That's something to think about, especially with the 370Z on my Cars Worth Waiting For list.

Sample: 2003 Nissan 350Z Enthusiast - 10,900, 37,664 miles. 37K miles, black exterior, black interior, factory radio, CD player, manual transmission.



1990 - 2004 Porsche Boxster

I am reluctant to put a Porsche on this list. After all... Porsches are not affordable. Granted, they can be reasonably affordable. But affordable below $12K with minimum maintenance costs? Not going to happen. Even if we assume we can get a nice example for a low price (the one below looks great). You still need to budget between $1000 - $2000 per year for maintenance. If you have to save $100-200 a month for the regular maintenance this car will require, you should budget that in with your payments. Doing that pushes the monthly car budget a bit high. But this car in particular was very nice looking, had low mileage and was priced very nice. I just had to include it here. Without a doubt... the car below would make a great second car.

Sample: 2000 Porsche Boxster - $11,200, 52,000 miles. VERY LOW MILEAGE!!! This car is in incredible condition and only has 52,000 miles. It runs and drives like new and everything is tight and responsive. Interior is immaculate! Also has upgraded sound system with intergraded iPod connection allowing full use of iPod menus and controls through the stereo. It is an absolute blast to drive and taking corners in the road feels like you are riding on rails!

Conclusion

Having found so many nice looking two seaters for under $12K gets me lusting for another car. Now I need to see if I can start saving to make this happen.
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