10 Great Rear-Wheel Drive Cars You Can Buy on a Budget
Rear-wheel drive is generally considered to be the best powertrain layout for handling, and while all-wheel-drive devotees might disagree, the fact remains that RWD is the choice for purists.
Here are 10 rear-drive cars you can buy while staying on a respectable budget.
Mazda MX-5 Miata
The Miata is one of our favorite rear-drive cars for about a thousand reasons. Among them: They are simple, reliable, well balanced, and huge fun to drive, taking advantage of all that rear-wheel drive has to offer. And with a quarter-century of production, there is literally a Mazda Miata for every budget, from $1,500 runners to $20,000 late-model third-gen cars—and even some brand new ones on eBay at attractive prices.
The Nissan Z family is huge, and you can choose from a classic 240Z, one of the twin-turbo terrors of the mid-90s, or a contemporary 370Z. If you’re looking for bang-for-buck factor, we’d go with the 350Z; though not exactly the prettiest car, it offers lots of power and a lot of grins from behind the wheel. You’ll find plenty of them, both coupes and convertibles, trading between $3,000 and $20,000.
Hyundai Genesis Coupe
Hyundai doesn’t get enough credit for building a sports car on a rear-wheel-drive platform. Shame, because the Genesis is a well-balanced car that delivers plenty of rear-drive action. Driven properly, the Hyundai will give a Nissan Z a run for its money on the track. We found plenty of late-model, low-mileage Genesis Coupes selling between $10,000 and $20,000.
The Lexus IS first arrive on our shores in the early 2000s with a pair of smooth inline-six engines and optional manual transmissions. But most importantly, this compact luxury sedan came with rear-wheel drive. Since then, there have been three generations of IS with various engine and transmission combinations. It remains one of the better used luxury bargains.
Ford’s iconic Mustang has had its good years and its bad years, but it’s always known which pair of wheels should get the engine’s power. With millions made and plenty kept on the road, buyers have plenty of choices, and you might be surprised at how cheap they come: Even classic first-generation Mustangs – decent running ones, mind you — can be found for less than $5,000. Browse and be amazed.
The Mazda RX-8 was about as unconventional as a car could when it was released in 2004. It came standard with double rear half doors, show car styling, and of course that high-revving rotary engine. The latter suffered from reliability issues early in model’s run which has forever tarnished its resale value. The good news is Mazda fixed the problems a few years and has backed the car with a killer warranty. Good condition RX-8s can be had for very little money.
Like the Mustang, the Camaro has always been rear-wheel drive (and at times, that was the most endearing thing about the car). History has been kindest to the more desirable Chevrolet Camaros; the most collectible versions can sell for $50,000 to $75,000, but if you only have, say, seven grand to spend, you’ll be surprised at what you can buy — there are plenty of V8-powered second- (1970-81) and third-generation (1982-92) cars at that price, and even a few first-generation fixer-uppers.
The modern-day Charger (2005 and later) puts paid to the idea that a family sedan must be a boring front-drive box. The Charger stubbornly sticks to rear-wheel drive, and you’ll find plenty — including ex-cop cars — ranging in price from $2,000 to $20,000. Oh, and if it’s a classic Dodge Charger you want, don’t give up — while fully restored cars go for $25,000 or more, there are serviceable classic Chargers in the $10,000 to $15,000 range and a few projects to be found for five grand or less.
BMW 3 Series
The BMW 3 Series is a bit of a cliché, and for good reason: It’s a great-handling car that exploits the advantages of rear-wheel drive. There are plenty for sale in all conditions for all sorts of prices; we’ve seen some selling for under a grand, though we’d recommend these for buyers who aren’t afraid to throw some wrenches around. Bump up your budget to $6,500 or so and you’ll find plenty of Threes with less than a hundred thousand on the clock.
Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ
This is another car (or perhaps we should say pair of cars) that emphasizes the chief advantage of rear-wheel drive: Balance. The Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ use a modest engine, but a skilled driver can make use of its well-balanced chassis to drift like a pro—and an unskilled driver can quickly build their skills with a few afternoons spent autocrossing. These are fairly new vehicles and buyers aren’t getting rid of them in droves, but you can find nice used examples for less than $20,000.
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Updated test to include Lexus IS300 and Mazda RX-8. Updated images for accuracy.
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