12 Best Beginner Sports Cars That Are Perfect For First-Time Buyers

In a market where SUVs and crossovers are increasingly replacing all other forms of the automobile, sports cars offer a bright spot in the market for enthusiasts. The demand for sports cars is still very strong, and as such, there's plenty of choice out there for first-time buyers to sift through. Most enthusiasts will have a general idea of what kind of car they want their first performance purchase to be, but even then, it's easy to get bogged down by the vast range of choices available.

Do you pick an older model that's well-depreciated but may not have all the latest conveniences, or head straight for a dealership and pick up something fresh out of the factory? Is tech-focused German performance the best option, or would some tire-shredding American muscle be more fun? What's more important, raw power or handling prowess? There is no single right answer to any of these questions, so our roundup of novice-friendly sports cars aims to include something for every kind of performance car buyer. All of the cars below can be found for affordable prices, and they're all great choices for anyone looking to get their first taste of sports car ownership.

Nissan 350Z

For an affordable JDM car that's both reliable and easy to maintain, it's difficult to go wrong with a Nissan 350Z. The 350Z was designed to strip Nissan's Z line of cars back to basics, after the technologically-complex 300ZX grew too expensive and fell out of favor with buyers, eventually being axed without an immediate successor. Instead of focusing on supercar-rivaling technology, the 350Z offered a tried-and-tested 3.5L V6 engine, a well-balanced chassis, an affordable price, and virtually no superfluous extras.

Its simplicity proved a big hit among sports car buyers, and arguably single-handedly saved Nissan's sports car division. It also became a popular model for street tuning and drifting, and as a result, there's a huge aftermarket available for anyone who wants to put their own personal touch on their new car. Best of all, the car's sales success has meant that there are still plenty of decent examples floating around on the used market, so finding one within your budget should be no hassle at all.

Ford Mustang GT

The iconic Ford Mustang is one of the most revered nameplates in American automaking, and for good reason. Its long and storied history stretches all the way back to 1965, and throughout its life, it has remained one of America's favorite performance cars. The current generation of the car has proven exceptionally popular, taking the crown of the world's best-selling sports coupe seven years in a row between 2016 and 2022. Part of the reason for its success is undoubtedly how easy it is to live with, since it's one of the easiest sports cars to service and is generally very reliable, to boot.

Servicing and reliability aren't much good to sports car owners if the car in question isn't great fun to drive, though, and the Mustang more than delivers on the latter front. Although an EcoBoost engine is available, most enthusiasts are going to want the traditional 5.0L V8 engine that's available in the GT trim and above. Buying an example that's a few years old is a great way to save some money from the original retail price, but with the seventh-generation Mustang on the way later in 2023, buyers should be able to negotiate a good deal on new examples of the sixth-gen car that is still in showrooms.

Honda CRX

A far cry from the Mustang's modern conveniences and V8 power, the classic Honda CRX offers a mix of brilliantly analog handling, fuel-sipping efficiency, and boxy retro styling. It's built on the bones of the best-selling Civic hatchback, and in base-spec form, it's no more powerful than a standard Civic, with just 60 horsepower on offer. However, the main appeal of the CRX is not its straight-line performance, but rather the fun you can have at road-legal speeds, especially if your regular driving route takes you off the highway and onto winding backroads.

The car's rising resale prices mean that it isn't as easy to find a cheap example in good condition as it once was, but it's also good news for first-time buyers. If you can get your hands on a decent one and look after it, you're very unlikely to lose money when it comes time to sell it.

Porsche Cayman

It might not have the same star appeal as its older and faster lineup sibling, the 911, but the Porsche Cayman is a bit of an underrated gem. It strikes the perfect balance between being a lightweight track-ready toy and having enough creature comforts to be viable as a daily driver, and that's not an easy feat to achieve. SlashGear's review of the 718 Cayman T highlighted, in particular, the excellent six-speed manual transmission and crisp handling, all wrapped neatly in a good-looking package with that prestigious Porsche badge on the front.

Buying even the most base-spec new Cayman will push past what most people would consider affordable, with prices starting in the mid-$60,000 range depending on options. However, older examples can be found for a fraction of that price, and on the whole, even a Cayman that's 10-plus years old will still be just as rewarding to drive as a new one. Whether your budget can only stretch to an early-model Cayman or you've got the cash to splash out on a new example, the baby Porsche sports car remains a great choice.

Nissan 300ZX

It's often mentioned how the 300ZX has become too high-tech for its own good, ballooning in price past what most buyers were willing to pay and eventually being unceremoniously axed in the late '90s. Well, the good news is, depreciation has brought the car down to much more affordable levels, and it's now an unquestionably good value to used buyers. Sure, it's still one of the more complex '90s sports cars in terms of maintenance, and there are plenty of things to watch out for when buying one.

Find a good example and the 300ZX boasts both a level of performance that gets close to supercars of the era, and a design that's aged brilliantly. It's become a popular model to modify, and so there's a large aftermarket available if that's your thing. Buying a stock example, however, is almost certainly the best way to preserve the car's value over the long run. Much like the Honda CRX, resale values for the 300ZX are on the rise as the supply of good, affordable examples dries up. So, if you want to get your hands on a car SlashGear crowned one of the best Nissans of all time, it's best not to wait around.

Toyota MR2

Continuing the theme of affordable Japanese sports cars, the Toyota MR2 is about the cheapest way to get behind the wheel of a mid-engined '90s classic. All three generations of the MR2 are great for first-time buyers, but our top pick is the second-gen SW20, which can be found for less than $10,000 on the used market. The MR2 served as Toyota's entry-level sports car, and as a result, it's not particularly powerful in stock form.

That's great if you're a less confident driver, or prefer the fun of working through the gears at road legal speeds. However, like many of the other cars here, there's also a large aftermarket if you want to add extra power or some visual customization. The car's mid-engine layout gives it a naturally balanced handling profile, but be aware that adding any significant power boost may well negatively impact that balance. The cheapest examples can also suffer from serious rust issues, with the sills being a particular hotspot. The same as any older car, always make sure you carry out a thorough inspection of an MR2 before buying it.

Chevrolet Camaro

The Ford Mustang's main rival offers an equally compelling package for first-time buyers, with impressive amounts of power on tap and an affordable price tag when new. While it's tough to single out any one trim of the Chevrolet Camaro as being definitively the best for first-time buyers, the LT1 is the cheapest way to experience Chevy's signature 455 horsepower V8, so it's a strong contender. The V6 engine available in lower-spec trims makes a respectable 335 horsepower, so it's still a solid choice, while the base-spec four cylinder is best avoided if you want a proper sports car experience.

No matter which trim you pick, all Camaro buyers will find themselves driving a car that's both predictably rapid in a straight line, and surprisingly precise on windier roads. The current-gen Camaro is still very much one of the best performance cars in its price bracket, even if it's starting to show its age a little in some places.

Subaru BRZ

The second-generation Subaru BRZ addresses many of the criticisms levied at its predecessor, with the biggest change being a new 2.4L Boxer engine that makes 228 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. That's still not a huge amount compared to the car's American or German rivals, but it's a marked improvement over the original. Plenty of aftermarket parts are also available for anyone desperate to boost those figures. In terms of handling, the latest BRZ boasts significantly increased torsional stiffness and front lateral bending rigidity, helping it to feel sharper and more engaging than ever.

It's also very affordably priced, with prices starting at a fraction under $29,000 for the 2023 model year. It's worth noting that the BRZ might not be quite as cheap to insure as some of the other cars here, in part because it's one of the most popular models in America to get caught speeding in. If you'd prefer a Toyota badge on your new sports car instead of a Subaru one, the nearly-identical GR86 is another affordable-yet-fun option.

Mazda MX-5 Miata RF

We tested the Mazda MX-5 Miata RF in 2021 and found it was "a small car that rapidly turns into a big addiction," with its retractable hard-top roof adding an extra layer of everyday usability without compromising on the fundamental elements that make the Miata roadster so fun to drive. It's by no means the most original choice for a beginner's sports car, but the ND Miata is still one of the best in terms of pure enjoyment. It also remains one of the few sports cars that's truly affordable to buy new, and it's proven itself to be generally very reliable when maintained correctly.

The biggest selling point of the Miata is its ability to be great fun even at road legal speeds, with a poky four-cylinder engine that produces a relatively modest 181 horsepower, yet never feels underpowered. As with previous generations of the Miata, the manual transmission is a highlight, to the point where optioning an auto 'box is arguably missing out on the point of buying a Miata entirely. It's far from the fastest sports car on the market and it won't turn any heads on the street, but for anyone who wants a pint-sized performance car that's easy to daily drive, you still can't go wrong with a Miata.


If you prefer your pint-sized sports cars to be German rather than Japanese, then BMW's Z line of cars is the place to look. The Z4 is a solid alternative to the other cars on this list, but it's the older Z3 that we'd recommend for anyone on a tighter budget. Examples of this retro roadster in decent condition can be picked up for a fraction over $10,000, making them one of the most affordable classic BMWs on the market.

It's also probably the cheapest way to own a James Bond car, as its brief appearance as Bond's tricked-out ride in "Goldeneye" means it joins an elite list of classics including the Aston Martin DB5 and Lotus Espirit. None of the affordable Z3s on the used market will come with ejector seats, missiles, or any of the other usual Bond gadgets, but then that's probably a good thing. After all, it means beginner sports car drivers can check "accidentally pushing the wrong button and launching a rocket at the car in front of them" off their list of things to worry about.

Infiniti G37

When Infiniti launched the G37, it had a clear goal in mind. In an interview with Evo, vice-president Jim Wright claimed "we want to deliver BMW's driving experience matched with Lexus's customer care." While the G37 was hardly the roaring commercial success that the carmaker had in mind, it might have inched closer to achieving that goal than many would give it credit for. The car was capable of pulling 0-60 mph in a little over five seconds, and its top speed was limited to 155 mph, the same as most BMWs.

Whether its handling matched that of, say, an M3 of the era is debatable, but it was sharp and engaging to drive nonetheless. It was arguably one of the brand's best-ever models, but unfortunately, a lack of brand recognition stifled its potential, along with unfortunate timing. It was released just as the recession of 2008 began to bite, and buyers began looking for smaller, more efficient cars. Infiniti's loss is today's used buyer's gain, as the car has remained under the radar, and prices have remained very low. In fact, it's now one of the fastest cars you can buy for less than $10,000, perfect for the first-time buyer with a need for speed.

Audi TT

If there's one thing that any first-time sports car buyer dreads, it's unexpected bills. Most buyers want to spend as much of their capital as possible on actually purchasing their car, and might not have much reserve cash left in the bank if something breaks. To assuage those fears, it's best to buy something reliable as well as enjoyable, and a 2020 study by iSeeCars found that the Audi TT was the most reliable sports car of all. It also makes a great daily driver, with two rear seats that can fit children or smaller adults at a push, and power coming from a tried-and-tested 228 horsepower engine.

Buying a TT that's a few years old shouldn't mean compromising on reliability at all, assuming it's been looked after properly by its previous owner. It'll also allow buyers on a tighter budget to avoid breaking the bank. After all, there are few things that will take the fun out of sports car ownership faster than realizing you haven't got the money to fix your pride and joy should something need servicing.