Top 4 Affordable Manual Sports Cars

With the SUV apocalypse well and truly here, it seems to be getting harder to find a cheap, manual sports car. So what vehicles tick the checklist?

First, we’ll need to set a budget. While $70,000 is expensive for a lot of people, it’s not supercar territory, and frankly, a comprehensive list wouldn’t be possible without it. Second, we’ll need to define ‘sports’ car. The strict definition is a two-door, two-seat convertible. However, so few cars match that criteria these days so we’ve opened it up a bit to cars primarily designed with two people in mind. Still, no hatchbacks or sedans though.

4. Nissan 370Z

The 370Z is still on the market, after launching in Australia back in 2009. The 2020 model starts at around $51,000 before on-road costs, and is pretty similar to the model that launched in 2009.

Fans of the Fast & Furious series will love the relatively huge 3.7L V6 engine. You get a choice of either manual or a seven-speed sports automatic – with the auto you can expect to pay a slight price premium. The 370Z puts out a decent 245kW and 363Nm, and with a relatively light weight, it is a lot of fun to drive.

Fast Facts – 2020 Nissan 370Z
Engine: 3.7-litre V6
Output: 245kW@7000rpm / 363Nm@5200rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Drive type: Rear-wheel drive
ANCAP: Not tested
Kerb weight: 1467kg
Official fuel economy: 10.6L/100km
Starting price: $53,490

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3. Subaru BRZ / Toyota 86

Subaru developed the engine, while Toyota did almost everything else. So, in the end, each manufacturer put out their own versions of the same car – they are virtually the same vehicle. It’s technically a ‘2+2’, meaning there’s four seats, but the rear two are basically unusable.

It is one of the cheapest vehicles on this list, with a sub-$50,000 drive-away price. And for that you get a two-door coupe with a 2.0L four-cylinder engine. Consequently, it is also one of the slowest vehicles in this list, with a 0-100km/h time of around 8.0 seconds. However, a 2.4L version is reported to be on the way in 2021, which is expected to offer more power but will inevitably attract a slightly higher price.

Fast Facts – 2020 Subaru BRZ
Engine: 2.0-litre boxer four-cylinder
Output: 152kW@7000rpm / 212Nm@6400-6800rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Drive type: Rear-wheel drive
ANCAP: Five stars
Kerb weight: 1242kg
Official fuel economy: 8.4L/100km
Starting price: $38,520


2. Ford Mustang

The Mustang created huge waves here when it first landed on our shores a few years ago. While arguably the least ‘sports’-type car on the list – more of a muscle car – it still has two doors and the availability of a manual. And with a $70,000 limit, you actually have a choice in models.

As it’s a Mustang, you can of course expect a huge 5.0L V8 engine, and for that you’ll be paying around $64,000 before on-road costs, which would bring it up to right on the $70,000 mark. The cheaper version, the turbo four-cylinder ‘Ecoboost’ variation still packs a punch though. You can find Ecoboost models for less than $61,000 drive-away.

Both engine options come with either a 10-speed auto or a six-speed manual, and both are in a two-door, four-seat coupe variation, with a convertible roof an option as well.

Fast Facts – 2020 Ford Mustang 2.3
Engine: 2.3-litre turbo four-cylinder
Output: 236kW@6200rpm / 448Nm@3800rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Drive type: Rear-wheel drive
ANCAP: Three stars
Kerb weight: 1705kg
Official fuel economy: 8.8L/100km
Starting price: $50,990


1 . Mazda MX-5 (Miata)

The undisputed king of modern roadsters, ‘Miata Is Always The Answer’. The new MX-5 comes in two engine sizes; 1.5L or 2.0L. Both are naturally aspirated i.e. not turbocharged. They also come in two forms; convertible soft-top, or retractable hard-top called RF. It’s also one of the few cars where a manual transmission looks to be the preferred option – you can of course opt for a six-speed auto with paddle shifters, however.

It won’t set the world ablaze with straight-line speed, but it is one of the best ‘bang for buck’ handling vehicles out there, and one of the most balanced with its rear-wheel drive system. The 2.0L model comes in at just under $50,000 before on-road costs, while the 1.5L edition is slightly cheaper.

Fast Facts – 2020 Mazda MX-5 2.0L
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder
Output: 135kW@7000rpm / 205Nm@4000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Drive type: Rear-wheel drive
ANCAP: Five stars
Kerb weight: 1087kg
Official fuel economy: 6.9L/100km
Starting price: $41,200


Lightly Used Sports Car Options

Buying used opens your world up to a whole new bevy of options. Some honourable mentions include:

  • BMW M2 F87: Around mid-$60k used, up to four years old. 3.0-litre, inline-six turbo, 272kW/465Nm
  • Porsche Boxster 981 (MA122): Around $70k used, up to seven years old. 2.7-litre flat-six, 195kW/280Nm
  • Aston Martin V8 Vantage: Around $70k used, up to 12 years old. 4.3-litre V8, 283kW/410Nm

Harrison is a finance journalist with a keen interest in cars, the car loan market, and industry rumours. He loves 1980s BMWs, and persists with driving a manual even while living in inner-city Brisbane.