Four of the best sports cars under $60k

Moving Well | Tim Nicholson | Posted on 23 June 2020

Time to scratch the sports car itch? Try these joy rides for size.

A sports car represents the pinnacle of automotive excellence. From the design and silhouette to the engine and performance, few vehicle types evoke the passion of a sports car, and the enduring success of brands like Ferrari and Porsche are proof of that.

Over the years sports cars have changed dramatically. There is a greater focus now on fuel efficiency and reducing emissions, so increasingly performance models are powered by an electrified powertrain. 

Today’s sports models don’t look anything like they did 30 years ago either. Who would have thought one of the biggest growth segments would be performance-focused SUVs?

Given sports cars are usually a luxury item, they can be expensive. But there are some spicy offerings out there that needn’t break your bank. We’ve highlighted some of the more affordable models on the market – all under $60,000.

Mazda MX-5

The MX-5 is still one of the most thoroughly enjoyable drives.


Toyota 86

Toyota took a minimalist approach to the 86.



Mazda MX-5 ($35,890 to $49,900 plus on-road costs)  

The word icon gets thrown around a lot these days. Is Dua Lipa really an icon? Or is she just a very good pop star? Back in the automotive world, there are a few cars that deserve this description and the Mazda MX-5 is one of them.  

Arriving on the scene in 1989, the lightweight, rear-wheel-drive MX-5 with soft-top roof, beautifully balanced chassis, and affordability made it an instant classic. 

After the third-generation NC MX-5 was criticised for being too heavy, Mazda pared it all back for the fourth-gen ND MX-5 that landed in 2015. Retaining the nimble nature of the first model, the MX-5 was praised by purists and motoring press alike. 

Offered with a choice of a 1.5 or 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine, and a soft-top or retractable hard-top roof, the MX-5 is a two-seater and can feel a little cramped for taller or larger folk.  

A six-speed automatic is available, but the manual is the pick. It might not be the most practical car on the road, but the MX-5 is still one of the most thoroughly enjoyable drives on the market today. And if you’re the social type, the state-based MX-5 clubs are huge and well organised. 

Thumbs up: Revvy petrol engines, top-down motoring at its best.  
Thumbs down: Cramped cabin for taller folk, flimsy cupholders. 

Toyota 86 ($31,440 to $38,940 plus on-road costs) 

Toyota shattered its drab reputation for reliable but beige motoring in 2012 when it launched the 86 coupe. Suddenly, the Japanese car-maker had one of the most thrilling cars on the market. You could call it the anti-Camry. 

About a decade ago, Toyota’s global boss Akio Toyoda issued a directive to his engineers that all new models must be fun to drive, and the 86 was the first evidence of that. 

A rear-wheel-drive, lightweight, pared-back driver’s car, the 86 was also shockingly affordable when it arrived, starting at $29,990. These days it’s only $1500 more than that for the base GT manual. Like the MX-5, an auto is available but the manual is more engaging. 

To keep costs down, Toyota teamed up with Subaru to develop the 86 and its twin-under-the-skin, the BRZ. 

In another cost-saving measure, Toyota took a minimalist approach to the 86. There was no fancy audio or infotainment system, or indeed any high-tech safety features. Not that potential buyers cared. Toyota has since added more safety kit. 

Toyota has confirmed it is working on a replacement to the brilliant 86, but the next-generation version won’t have the free-revving 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. Instead it will gain a turbocharged unit.  

The rear-wheel-drive Toyota 86 coupe might be getting on in years, but it remains one of the most engaging sports cars on the market today. A modern classic. 

Thumbs up: Playful dynamics, point-and-shoot steering. 
Thumbs down: Lo-fi cabin tech and low-rent cabin materials.

Ford Mustang High Performance 2.3L

The Mustang is available as a coupe and a convertible, for those who prefer top-down motoring.


Honda Civic Type R

The Type R’s rear wing, bonnet scoop, 20-inch wheels and other styling set it apart from its rivals.


Ford Mustang High Performance 2.3L ($50,990 to $60,290 plus on-road costs) 

The new-generation Mustang turned up at the perfect time for Ford. The company was set to shut its local manufacturing plant in October 2016, and it needed a replacement for its Aussie-built rear-wheel-drive performance models like the Ford Falcon XR8. 

And it worked. The Mustang has been the most popular sports car in Australia since it sprinted into showrooms back in late 2015. 

While most people are familiar with the brutal 339kW V8 GT, Ford offers a less rowdy Mustang for people who prefer to be seen and not heard.  

The Mustang High Performance uses Ford’s exceptional 2.3-litre EcoBoost turbocharged petrol engine – also found in the Focus RS pocket rocket – tuned to 236kW and 448Nm, paired to a six-speed manual or 10-speed auto. 

The turbo Mustang might be quieter than the V8, but it still offers impressive rear-drive performance, as well as undeniable road presence. As part of a 2020 update, Ford’s clever engineers squeezed a few extra kilowatts and newton metres out of the engine. It also got a styling tweak and some new interior touches.  

The four-pot Mustang is available as a coupe and a convertible, for those who prefer top-down motoring. 

Thumbs up: American muscle car style with a more economical engine. 
Thumbs down: Misses out on that delicious V8 rumble.  

Honda Civic Type R (from $51,990 plus on-road costs) 

No one says sports cars have to be coupes, and the huge uptake of hot hatches in Australia is proof of that. From Volkswagen’s perennial Golf GTI, to the Renault Megane RS, Aussie buyers are spoilt for choice in this segment. 

But a newish competitor shook things up a couple of years back – Honda’s wild Civic Type R. Looking like a boy racer’s fantasy, the Type R’s huge rear wing, bonnet scoop, massive air intakes, 20-inch wheels and other styling flourishes set it apart from its more sedate rivals. 

Thankfully, the out-there design is backed up by incredible performance. The Type R’s 228kW/400Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine sends power to the front wheels only via a six-speed manual gearbox – there is no automatic option. It can complete the 0-100kmh dash in less than six seconds and has grip for days. 

The Civic’s size and boot space ensure a level of practicality that you won’t find in a coupe or convertible, or indeed many of its hatchback competitors. 

So good is the Civic Type R that it came within a whisker of toppling the reigning Australia’s Best Cars Best Sports Car Under $62,000 – Hyundai’s excellent i30 N – in last year’s testing. 

Thumbs up: Breathtaking performance in an eye-catching package. 
Thumbs down: No automatic transmission available.
 

Top tip

Sports cars are usually a household’s second vehicle, something to take on weekend getaways. But if you’re after practicality in a sporty model, like a decent boot or a back seat, do your homework. Convertibles generally have tiny boots and a lot of coupes have no back seat. A four-door hot hatch or sports sedan might be a better fit.