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.
No, we haven’t put this car on the wrong list — though the Cherokee is known best as an off-roader, Jeep built rear-wheel-drive versions that are surprisingly competent handlers. They are small and relatively light, and when powered by the stout four-liter straight-six, they go like stink—and you can even find ‘em with manual transmissions. We vividly (and bitterly) remember having our BMW’s butt kicked by a rear-drive Cherokee at a 24 Hours of Lemons race.
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.
Not only does the MR2 use rear-wheel drive, but it mounts its engine in the middle, the optimum setup for balance and handling. These cars were made in three very different generations; the second-gen (’89-’99) cars were, arguably, the prettiest and best performing, though the first- and third-gen cars have their charms as well (especially the third-gen’s convertible top). Prices: two grand or less for a running first-gen car up to mid-to-high teens for a second-gen turbo or a late-model third-generation Toyota MR2.
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.
The Wise Guide team writes about things we think you’ll like, introducing you to great products, services and special deals. We do have affiliate partnerships, so we may earn revenue from the products and services you buy.