Top 5 two-seaters for under £5k
5. W30 Toyota MR2
This 3rd and final generation of the MR2 has a 1.8l VVTi engine that puts out 138bhp through its rear wheels, taking it from 0-60 in 7.7secs. Not super quick, but it will certainly feel rapid with how small and agile it is. Although the W20 and W10 are far better looking in my opinion, the W30 is a fun, sporty, mid-engine car for a minimal price. You can even get it with a six-speed manual, rather than the standard five-speed for slightly improved gear ratios. Journalists often call the car the “every-man Lotus” because of its handling and low price point. Between 1999 and 2007 there were numerous changes year on year so when looking to buy one, consider looking at the year that best suits your fancy in terms of the features that are offered.
I always suggest that the optional LSD that was available from 2003 makes anything after that a slightly more interesting prospect, but each to their own. A founding principle of all of the mk3s is they were built on a simple shell with a smooth shape so that customers had the opportunity to customise them more easily. You can pick up a high mileage MR2 for under a grand for the broke car guy looking to get a two-seater sports car, this is a perfect option. But for £5000 you get a low mileage model from between 2004-06, with 20,000-50,000 miles on it, depending on the year and service history that is. Pretty decent for the potential sideways action you could have in this little beast.
Be careful though, as these cars are renowned for being a handful in the wet with the rear end sticking out maybe a little more than is comfortable for a few owners in terms of reliability, one key issue with this car come from the precast exhaust manifold breaking up, and the debris being sucked into the engine is obviously not ideal. However, it isn’t if that can be avoided if you were DK exhaust, which is around 180 pounds for not the end of the world earlier models are also particularly renowned for consuming considerable amount of oil, so be wary of this, and a few Motorhead a significant issue whereby the crossmember was subject to corrosion, which can cost in excess of a grand to fix, in terms of the general liability. However, from what I can see from owners forums, the car is pretty strong. Overall, then a great cause just off the top five, which provides some serious sports car fine for a very low price, just don’t expect to pay anything in the beat.
4. Mazda MX-5 (NC)
Also known as the Miata in the US market, the Mazda narrowly beats the MR2 to fourth in this list. This is the 3rd generation of a well-loved line of Mazda 2.0l inline-fours that puts out 157bhp through its two rear wheels, taking it from 0-60mph in 7.6 seconds. Although the NC is my least favourite MX-5 based on looks, you can’t deny its ability to blast around B-roads. Reviewers of the car noted significantly improved usability when compared with its predecessors although the NA and NB are maybe more ‘raw’ in terms of their offerings with many suggesting they handled better than the NC, the NC offered similar amounts of sportscar fun with a quicker 0-60mph time and way more creature comforts in order to appeal to a wider market, like the hardtop convertible roof for example.
Despite its looks, the car was still able to win the Car Of The Year Japan award and made Car and Driver’s 10 best list 2006-2013, What Car Magazine named it thier used Car of the Year in 2014 as well as their Best Fun Car, so Mazda are doing something right. In terms of additional comfort, certain options of the car come with luxuries like heated seats, an LSD, steering wheel controls and a bunch of other far more modern features to make your sporty experience a little bit more chilled. If you’re looking to get one on a very low budget, you can get one of these for under two grand if you’re lucky. But for £5000 you’re looking at it 2006-08 model, with around 50-80,000 miles on it depending on condition.
In terms of reliability, like the MR2, the NC is renowned for using oil pretty quickly, so it’s important that you keep on top of it. According to an MX-5 expert I found, the only problems they see iin their garage is when a customer hasn’t kept on top of those oil levels. This relates directly to the engine, gearbox differential and clutch in particular, which also suffer significantly from lower levels. One other point to note is that the callipers are prone to seizing, so if you own one, do some hard breaking to see if the car pulls to one side. Otherwise, as with many Mazdas, the NC is generally quite a reliable car, and plenty of people run them as dailies, even if I have my gripes with the looks, you can’t deny the history and fun that comes with an MX five, so it thoroughly deserves its place in this list.
3. BMW Z4 Roadster
Here we’re talking specifically about the 3.0l inline-six model which puts out 231bhp, taking it from 0-60mph in 5.7 seconds. Dropping below six seconds in a chilled out convertible car is not bad at all, particularly when you consider the comfort you get in a Z4 as well. This includes disc brakes on all four wheels, electronic stability control, and both ABS and traction control incorporated. One feature that wasn’t so well received was the electric power steering, which has been criticised for lacking feedback. If you want hydraulic power steering, you have to shell out a lot more money and get a hold of a Z4M, which is undoubtedly far superior in pretty much every way.
The Z4 picked up where the Z3 left off, with a stiffer and larger chassis, and that 3.0l engine is the M54 block that you find in the E46 330i amongst a few other BMWs. Although I personally really liked the Z4 overall, it must be said that I would always opt for the more expensive and rarer coupé, as it is not only far better looking in my opinion, I believe it will be a much better investment in the long term. Just look at how well the Z3M coupé has done and how that has dragged up the price of the standard coupé with it. If history repeats itself with the very popular Z4 you could stand to make a profit in the long run, probably nowhere near as much as with a Z3, but just look at the prices of classic ‘Z cars’ and they all seem to continue going up. If you’re willing to settle for a very high mileage model, you can get a 3.0l Z4 for as little as £2.5k but for £5k you’re looking at getting a 2003 motor with around, 80-90,000 miles on the clock, quite high compared to some of the other cars in this list.
As seems to be a common theme with two-seater sports cars, the Z4 uses a lot of oil, and as with all engines, there can be significant damage if it has been running dry. Some engines run a little rough, which usually means an ECU update is in order. One ridiculous issue is failed automatic wipers, which tends to be because of a faulty sensor, but requires the entire windscreen to be replaced! Owners do suggest that the M54 engine is notoriously reliable though, so hopefully if you have to replace the windscreen, you’ll make up for it in the engine running solidly for many miles. In addition to this, I would just mention that a six-cylinder 3.0l model has significantly higher running costs than the four-cylinder equivalent, so bear that in mind when you make a decision to buy a Z4. Either way, I really love the Z4’s personally, and even though I would definitely go for the more expensive coupe if possible, for £5k it offers you some real fun alongside some decent comfort on a hot sunny day with the roof down cruising along country lane, you’ll feel amazing.
2. 986 Porsche Boxster S
Often called a hairdressers car, I can still see it growing in popularity over time, especially given the fact that this model single-handedly saved the Porsche brand when they were going through hard times and falling sales in the 1990s. The 986 stimulated a commercial change in the way that Porsche ran its business as, after consulting Toyota, they began to share parts more widely across models. After displaying the Boxster concept at the North American International Motor Show, and gaining a huge amount of media attention, Porsche reinvigorated the brand and brought a whole new clientele that was able to afford the Boxster, but not the more famous 911. The 986S is a 3.2 litre flat-six engine that puts 252bhp through the rear wheels, taking it from 0-60mph in a Z4 equaling time of 5.7 seconds. Very nice for a car that arrived almost five years before the Z4.
A key benefit of the car is the engine placement, while the 911 is renowned for being a rear-engine car, the 986 is mid-engined, allowing for a low centre of gravity, near-perfect weight distribution and neutral handling, meaning an incredible driving experience for the money. I agree with the majority of people in that the Boxsters have generally gotten better looking over time, and the 986 is a bit bubbly, whereas the 987 gets a little more aggressive and the 981 and 718 reach new levels of cool, but without the 986 and its success, those cars might not even exist. A high-mileage example will set you back just under £4k and for £5k you’re still looking at 80-90,000 miles for one of these. If you can’t stomach the mileage, going for the 2.7l or 2.5l non-S versions won’t help that much as they also have around the same miles on them although you can get a cheaper one for around £3k.
In terms of reliability, the first line of 986s had a significant issue with their engines failing, resulting in cracked or slip cylinder liners, this was very quickly dealt with by the 1999 models, but be wary of this on a 1998. There are further potential issues in terms of cracked ball liners, worn chain tensioners, failure of the intermediate shaft bearing, and oil leaks are quite common as a result of the rear main oil seal failing. Misfires are often a result of ignition packs being incorrect, and there are numerous other engine related issues to watch out for. A key area to look at when buying one is the clutch, if it’s light, you’re good, but a heavy clutch could mean a lot of trouble. Other issues are related to corrosion of the brakes and joints in the suspension. But a key point with a Boxsters is that it’s not impossible to get one with a very good service history, find one that’s been consistently serviced by a Porsche dealer to keep your mind at ease.
Anyway, this Porsche, which will no doubt one day be a classic based on its popularity when new, is a great entry into two-seater sports car ownership from a slightly more premium brand. I personally would want to save a little further and go for the 987 S, but each to their own.
1. Nissan 350Z
This is a 3.5l V6 engine putting out 276bhp, taking it from 0-60 in, (yes!) 5.7 seconds. Renowned as the poor man’s GTR, this Japanese beast is the fifth generation of Nissan’s ‘Z car’ line, which include the particularly famous 240Z. It comes in both coupé and roadster variants. I would suggest going for the coupé given the better handling you can expect and I also personally think it is a little bit better than a soft top, but that’s just my opinion so feel free to ignore that. The car has a bit of a reputation for being bought and riced but it’s actually a very nice, offering if you find one that hasn’t been modified. Certain models, like the ‘Touring’ also come with some surprisingly comfortable features like a Bose sound system with subwoofer. The 350Z was designed to be a clear member of the Z-family with features like the long bonnet, short deck design emulating previous cars, with a sloping fastback-style roof as well as obviously being a front-engined, two-door, two-seater sports car.
Over the years it was in production, the Nissan received consistent updates including two facelifts and additional driver aids for different packages. In its initial form the base model did not include features like traction control, LSD, and cruise control, so you’d have to upgrade to an Enthusiast Edition to get a bit more performance out of the car. Of course, Nissan’s performance tuning house, Nismo, also released versions of the car, but don’t expect to get your hands on one of these for under five grand, they’re generally intended for track races, so much so that plenty of the Nismo versions actually void the Nissan factory warranty, so even if you bought the car new, you didn’t get a warranty with it.
A high mileage example will set you back around £3000, or with £5k you’re looking at a 2003 model with between 70 to 90,000 miles on the clock depending on the condition. The 350Z suffers in particular on the interior side of reliability with materials not having a great reputation for durability. Bolsters of seats, electric windows, and the gas struts that hold up the rear hatch are all known to wear out very quickly. The oil pressure sensors are also quite prone to failure, so you’ll have to watch oil levels yourself. The engine is known to be pretty solid and reliable in and of itself though, but expect to change the clutch with the flywheel every 40,000 miles to be safe.
Regardless of reliability though, there are a couple of things to bear in mind when buying this sportster. Firstly, gears 1 to 3, are power limited for safety, which you might not notice but it seems a bit annoying you don’t get to use all of the power. Secondly, because the car is front engine and rear-wheel drive, the handling just can’t be as good as some of the other cars in this list with mid-engine layouts, like the 986S. Either way, it’s super powerful for the price, a great platform for mods, and part of a unique line of ‘Z-cars’, a solid Japanese performance two-seater.
So to recap, I’ve given you my take on the top 5 two-seater sports cars that you can buy for under £5000. Let me know in the comments if you would have included any other cars in this list.