If you’ve got $50,000 burning a hole in your pocket and a strong desire for a sports car, there’s no denying that you’ve got options. Options so good as a matter of fact, that trying to make sense of them will likely give you heartburn. Nearly every major auto manufacturer has a sports car in that price range – some good, some great, and some worth not even considering. Not even for a moment. Luckily you’ve stumbled upon DriveAndReview.com though, because I (Scott, founder and author) have been a car guy since the beginning and I know a thing or two about the best sports cars under $50k.
Setting reasonable expectations for a $50,000 sports car
First of all, $50k is a really good budget for a sports car. At that price, you will end up with something fun and extremely satisfying. No matter whether you want something with face-melting accleration or something that’ll carve corners better a $3000 Ginsu knife, chances are pretty good you’ll find a car you like in that price range which offers both.
Keep in mind that $50k is not Lamborghini or Ferrari money (unfortunately). Ok, maybe there’s an odd chance of finding a high-mileage 20 year old example with a salvage title, but trust me – I’ve been around sports cars long enough to know that a clapped-out Ferrari or Lamborghini is not what you want. If the horrible reliability doesn’t make you frustrated, the high-dollar maintenance bills will. When it comes to the best cars under $50k, there are far better choices!
For the sake of organization, I’m going to break down this list into several sections:
- Cars that handle well
- Cars that accelerate well
- Cars that can do both well
I’m also going to mix in both new and used cars together since there are some pretty good (safe and reliable) options going back about 20 years or so.
Best sports cars under 50k that handle well
Starting this list off with a 15 year old used car says a lot about how much I believe in my #1 pick. There’s a reason why clean (unmodified) examples of these “vintage” Honda S2000’s are selling for over $20,000 these days. To put it simply, it’s one of the best balanced and best handling cars of all time.
It’s light weight combined with near-perfect weight distribution is intoxicating. You have to drive one to understand it, because on paper, it really doesn’t sound all that impressive. 237 horsepower? Sounds weak. Convertible top? Sounds flimsy. Cheesy digital dashboard? Sounds…well…really cheesy. But just 60 seconds behind the wheel of the S2000 will make you understand why it’s highly regarded as one of the best sports cars of all time.
The best part? After spending $20,000 on the car, you’ll have $30,000 left over to pour into light mods and making it as perfect as can be.
If the thought of buying a 15 year old S2000 (and the potential maintenance bills that could come with it) scares you, the Subaru BRZ (and the Toyota 86) is the modern equivalent you’re looking for. Just like the S2000, it’s incredibly light and nimble – and hilariously fun to thrash around corners. As a matter of fact, it’s so easy to toss around that many regard it as the perfect car to learn to drift in.
Not only is the Subaru BRZ nimble just like the S2000, it’s not very fast in a straight line either. I’ve already argued my reasons for why the BRZ needs more power, so I’ll spare you that. But no matter – the suspension on car is so perfectly balanced and tuned from the factory that you’re likely not going to want to make adjustments right away. You’ll be having too much fun finding the limits of the BRZ just as it came right out of the box.
However, because you’ve got $50k to spend, you’ll still have $20k left over once you buy a nicely optioned BRZ (or Toyota 86) right off the dealer lot. Spend $6000 on an Edelbrock supercharger, $2000 in wheels and tires, $3000 on serious suspension upgrades, and…well…you’re going to have an amazing car with plenty of money to spare. Just look what TJ Hunt did to his! The BRZ simply defines what a sports car is, and with the right mods, it’s incredibly competitive.
Mazda Miata (any year)
Did you really think I wouldn’t include the Miata in my “best sports cars under $50k” list? The amazing thing about this car (besides how well it handles) is how varied the prices are. It’s possible to pick up a clean early example (1990’s) for under $5k, but it’s also possible to spend near $50k on a fully loaded one right off the dealer lot. And there is a whole heck of a lot in between!
If your definition of “sports car” is something raw and loud, look no further than any Miata 1999 and older. Then, mod the bejuezus out of it. However, if you also want the comfort of heated seats and the safety of airbags protecting every square inch of you and your passenger, look no further than the latest models.
It’s important to note that the Miata is a car that is not easy to make fast in a straight line, so look to the S2000 or BRZ if you want a car that responds well to engine mods.
Best sports cars under $50k that accelerate well
Ford Mustang GT
Ok, I know. Technically, the Mustang isn’t classified as a sports car. It’s a “Pony Car”, which is basically a useless term for “muscle car”. I suspect that I’ll get a lot of hate from the purists for a statement such as that, but this is my blog and I’ll say what I want to say. So there. Nobody but hardcore car people know what the heck a “Pony Car” is anyway, so for the sake of argument, I’m making things simple by calling it a muscle car. Because everyone knows (and respects) what that is!
If you’re looking for the best sports car under $50k that can accelerate well, a brand new muscle car (like the Mustang or Camaro) is how you’re going to get the most bang for your buck. How does a 0-60 time of 4.2 seconds sound? The quarter mile comes in at 11.2 at 121mph, so this is a seriously fast straight-line car in stock form.
It’s very easy to pick up a brand new Mustang GT with all the options for well under $50,000. Even better deals can be had if you wait until the end of the model year and pick one up on clearance.
If you’re not opposed to buying used, it’s really hard to beat a Hellcat for obnoxiously fun straight line acceleration. However, I can’t recommend it lightly. It’s so fun (and so obnoxious) that it’s *not* a car for drivers who have no experience with a high-horsepower cars.
The Challenger is unlike anything else on the road (as I personally found out in a 2018 R/T) and it demands 100% of your attention. It’s big, heavy, and requires practice getting all that power put to the ground in a way that won’t make you blush for looking like an idiot who doesn’t know how to drive.
The Dodge Hellcat is such a powerful (and difficult) beast that I had some doubts about including it in this list of the best sports cars under $50k. But if acceleration (and not much else) is what you really want, this might be the car your really need.
Best sports cars under $50k that accelerate and handle well
Of all the sports cars on this list, a brand new Corvette Stingray is easily the best sports car under $50k there is. Period.
The really nice thing about the Corvette is that it was built from the ground up to be a car that can compete with sports cars from all over the world (which cost up to 5 times as much). The engineers at Chevrolet worked tirelessly to get the suspension tuning right, the powerband nothing short of exhilarating, and the driving position nailed. Everything about the Corvette screams “perfection”, and I can say that with absolute confidence considering that I drove one from San Diego to Washington DC several years ago with a huge grin on my face the entire way.
Jaguar F Type
Ok, yeah, I know. These go for over $61,000 without any options, and quickly approach $90,000 with a decent list of options. But luckily for you (the buyer who wants one of the best sports cars under $50k), Jaguar depreciation is a very real and glorious thing. Without hardly any effort at all, it’s really easy to find lightly used F Types for sale (under $50k) on websites such as AutoTrader and cars.com.
Those of you familiar with my background and car preferences will know that Jaguar is not a brand I’ve been fond of. It was only during my recent test drive of a 2018 XF that I kind of (sort of) changed my mind on the Jaguar brand. But the F Type has always been appealing to me, and I’m proud to include it in this list.
Think of the F Type as a Corvette for people who have a thing against American cars (whatever that “thing” might be). It’s just as fast, just as sleek, and it’s 5.0 liter V8 sounds better thanks to some really brilliant exhaust tuning.
I say again – a $50k Lamborghini or Ferrari is something you need to stay away from
Even though I’ve already touched on the fact that buying a highly used Italian super car in this price range isn’t recommended, I suspect some of you are still leaning that way. After all, $50,000 is a lot of money (no matter who you ask) and having that much to spend on a car naturally makes some people want to “go big”. Why buy an S2000 when high-mileage salvage title exotic cars pop up on the markets for tempting prices every now and then?
The problem with cheap exotic cars is upkeep. Exhorbantly high maintenance costs are something that most new (and naive) Lamborghini and Ferrari buyers don’t know much about, and it’s the reason why I’m not including these cars in my best sports cars under $50k list. In all honesty, a $50,000 Lamborghini or Ferrari is going to cost $20-30,000 a year to keep running.
Don’t believe me? Check out this ferrarichat thread about service nightmares. Or this article about the Cost of Ownership of an Exotic Car. Not only that, a salvage title car is likely to be as troubled as an addict who just can’t get off the pills – no matter what kind of treatment they receive. There will be issues, no doubt. Most of them will be incredibly annoying. All of them will be very expensive.
Creating a detailed list of the best cars under $50k isn’t easy for a variety of reasons. First of all, we all have different tastes and I’m quite sure that there are some of you who may not agree with my choices. Second, it wouldn’t be a “list” if I included every single sports car under $50k and wrote an objective opinion on every one. My goal with this list was to filter all the possible choices into a group of really fun cars that I would enjoy having in my own garage.
All of this filtering was sifted through my personal experiences and observations with these cars. I recommend them because of the positive experiences I’ve had with them over the years, and that’s what I believe makes this list legitimate. I’m not just a 10-year old kid pulling ideas out of my head based on what I (and my limited experiences) thinks is “cool”.
Finally, just because I didn’t include your favorite car doesn’t mean that I don’t think it’s worthy of being one of the best under $50k. Chances are I would come up with a slightly different list a year from now if I have any noteworthy experiences with other cars I’ve never had the chance to try before. Tastes and preferences chance over time, and that’s all part of the fun of being a car guy (or gal).