8 Underrated Used Sport and Performance Cars Under $30k

8 Underrated Used Sport and Performance Cars Under $30k

With the average new car price at record highs, it’s no wonder that many of us are seeking used alternatives to seek our thrills. Used sports cars, when chosen carefully, are great alternatives to their new counterparts. After all, if you’re buying a new car off the lot, you can expect to see a decrease in your car’s value by up to 20-30%!

If you’re like me, then that depreciation is not worth it, especially when you add the upfront costs of owning a sports car. Depreciation, maintenance, and insurance are all reasons you should be looking for a used sports car.

So, what really makes the cars on this list underrated? Well, these were either made in low numbers, aren’t practical or they just have yet to catch on with current car culture. Let’s venture out into the used car market to see what underrated sports cars will keep your pockets heavy and the pedal down.

1. Audi TT RS (Second-Generation)

Design and Features

The Audi TT is now on its third generation, making its initial launch back in 1998. It takes its name from the British Isle of Man TT (Tourist Trophy) motorcycle race. (In case you get one of these, you now have a fun fact to share with all your friends). That early Audi TT generation was also nominated for North American Car of The Year award for 2000 and it’s by no surprise. It sported a unique exterior design language coupled with a special powertrain – Both of which are characteristics found on the Audi TT RS.

Now, the first generation did not offer an RS model, so we must go to the second generation to find it. It features a similar design language to the first generation, however, on this second-generation RS model, you’ll find a 2.5-liter inline-5 turbocharged engine, a 0-60mph time of 4.5 seconds, a fixed rear spoiler, Recaro “RS bucket” seats and some other goodies. If you’re a fan of a 2-seater sports car with lots of character, then the Audi TT RS is for you.

The Audi TT RS In The Market

Due to limited production numbers, the Audi TT RS second-gen is a pretty hard car to come by. Be prepared to set alerts on all the car sites online. Make sure to cover all your bases here like your social media networks (Facebook Marketplace), established websites like Cars.com and not so established websites such as Autotempest. You must also be prepared to travel far and wide, especially in the US where production for the second-gen Audi TT RS did not begin until 2012 and units sold were in the 1,000’s. Here’s what you can expect to find on the market:

Why The Audi TT RS Is Underrated

It’s no surprise that the Audi TT RS is often underrated or overlooked. With its limited production numbers, it’s hard to come by. It makes the hunt for one of these dedicated only to those who really really want one. With the other choices on this list, it’s understandable that many don’t want to wait around.

If you do get your hands on one of these, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a performance bargain "limited" production model that you’ll be sure to stand out in.

2. Jaguar XK/XKR (Second-Generation)

Design and Features

The Jaguar XK is considered a grand tourer, but its V8 growl, sleek design and sportiness puts the XK on this list. Production for this Jag model started back in 1996 and ended recently in 2014, having been replaced in the lineup by the F-Type. The first-generation XK’s are now approaching or have surpassed the 20-year-old mark, so it’s not recommended to look into these. The second-generation, however, is where you’re going to want to look.

The Jaguar XK sports an all-aluminum body designed by Ian Callum, who had a hand in designing a few Aston Martins. In its interior, you find yourself sitting in luxury with some classy wood trim and leather, but don’t let this fool you because that big V8 can purr. Depending on what year and model you get, you’ll be propelled from 0-60mph in about 5 seconds.

The Jaguar XK/XKR In The Market

Like the Audi TT RS on this list, the Jaguar XK had a low production volume run with only 54,000 units produced. Unlike the TT RS, however, you can find a wide variety of used Jaguar XK and XKR models online. If you want to fork over as little as possible for your next used sports car, then you can find examples of the early second-gen XK with the smaller sized V8 going for under $20k.

If you want to go big, then you’ll find more recent Jaguar XKR models going for a hair over $30k, with less pristine samples under the $30k mark. Not bad for a British grand tourer.

Why The Jaguar XK/XKR Is Underrated

You may have heard stories of early 90s Jags being plagued with electrical gremlins or that they were too expensive to maintain, so over time people have tended to stay far away from Jaguars. With an initial starting price of $70k+ and with some of the latest tech for its time, it’s no wonder that many don’t want to burden themselves with a used Jaguar XK.

However, when you go on many forums online now, you’ll find that the Jaguar XK or XKR with the later engine revisions are one of the most reliable Jaguars on the road today. You’ll still have to fork up on maintenance and tires, but it’s no big deal compared to the smile it’ll put on your face.

3. Pontiac Solstice GXP

Design and Features

Initially released in 2005, the Pontiac Solstice run was rather short lived. Due to unfortunate timing, GM discontinued the Pontiac brand following the 2008 recession, leaving the Pontiac Solstice with only a 5-year model run.

The GXP version of the Pontiac Solstice was powered by a 2.0-liter inline-4 turbocharged engine that came initially only as a convertible but was later offered as a targa coupe.

By the way, if you’re looking for a targa coupe, you’re going to have to fight for it as GM only recorded a total of 1,266 units, some of which were pre-production models.

It had a rather bulbous design, which made it polarizing. If you can get passed that, you’ll be surprised by the 5.5 second 0-60mph time or the fact that it came with a limited-slip differential. Also, if you’re a fan of opulent interiors, just know that the Solstice sports the typical interior quality that GM was known for in the early 2000’s (Not glamorous!).

The Pontiac Solstice GXP In The Market

Be ready to have your alerts set up because Pontiac Solstice GXP listings are few and far between. Luckily for you, when a GXP goes on the market, the price is not too unbearable and could be yours for a few thousand under the $30k mark. The targa coupe GXP option will run you over that budget, but the convertible should not be too hard to live with.

Why The Pontiac Solstice GXP Is Underrated

The primary factor here is in the brand, Pontiac. Being that the car and the brand are no longer in production, original parts are going to be hard to find, and that may be a turnoff to some.

Luckily for us, Pontiac was a GM brand and there are plenty aftermarket parts makers and interchangeable parts to keep it running. Also, if you look hard enough, you may find yourself in the hands of a dealership-tuned GXP that boasted 290bhp.

4. Saturn Sky Redline

Design and Features

If we’re including the Pontiac Solstice GXP on this list, then it can’t be without it’s “twin”, the Saturn Sky Redline. Built on the same platform that the Pontiac Solstice ran on, the Saturn Sky boasted a more “manlier” and “sharper” design. If it looks a little bit like the Tesla Roadster, well you have a good eye because it was designed by the same person. Unfortunately, like its Pontiac counterpart, Saturn was axed by GM after the 2008 recession.

Like the Solstice GXP, the Saturn Sky Redline also had the 2.0-liter inline-4 turbocharged engine sporting 260hp. But with its minor differences, the Sky Redline was able to scoot to 60mph in a faster 5.2 seconds. Overall, you were getting a similar car on the inside, with some drastic differences on the outside.

The Saturn Sky Redline In The Market

For those that prefer the looks of the Saturn Sky when compared to the Pontiac Solstice, you’re in luck. Saturn seems to have sold around 35,000 units of the Sky Redline, making this the more affordable twin. Closer the $30k mark you’ll find some pristine examples with unique color variations:

However, if you’re willing to make some sacrifices on the mileage and the condition, then you can start to find these in the low $10k’s:

Why The Saturn Sky Redline Is Underrated

The Saturn Sky suffers the same fate as the Pontiac Solstice. The car and the brand are no longer in production, and it had some interior quality issues that kept it back. But we’re talking about a used car here, and when these can be had for $10k with an optional dealership tune that puts it close to 300hp, this one is a no brainer.

5. Fiat 124 Spider Abarth

Design and Features

The Fiat 124 Spider Abarth has a lineage spanning back to the late 60’s and serves as the successor to those early models after being out of production for 40 years. In a collaboration with Mazda, FCA debuted the 124 Spider for the 2016 model year and is based on the fourth gen Mazda Miata.

Although it shares some interior bits and mechanicals with its Mazda counterpart, the 124 Spider Abarth hails an FCA engineered turbocharged MultiAir engine, which gives it some much needed low-end torque and grunt. The factory exhaust, although a bit muted compared to its Fiat 500 Abarth brother, really brings this car to life. You’ll also find some Abarth badging, which replaces the normal Fiat badging, leaving bystanders guessing what you’re in.

The Fiat 124 Spider Abarth In The Market

The 124 Spider Abarth is in a unique situation. It’s production recently ended, and Fiat’s future is in the balance, so people don’t really know the true value that this car can hold. It did not sell as well as Fiat would like, so the units were really limited. As of now, these models are selling close to what they were worth brand new.

Why The Fiat 124 Spider Abarth Is Underrated

With production only spanning about 4 years, the Fiat 124 Spider Abarth has the potential to be a future classic—Or at least has the makings of one. Many people prefer the Mazda Miata, leaving the 124 Spider Abarth on the wayside. For those that like to be unique and stand out from the “miata is always the answer” crowd, this one might be for you.

6. Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG (Third and Second-Generation)

Design and Features

The Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class was initially released in 1996 and ran through three generations until production recently ended in 2020. Offering many variants, the one that you’re going to want to go after is the SLK 55 AMG. And there’s no better way to describe this beast other than referring to it as the luxurious V8 Mazda Miata.

The SLK 55 AMG came in both the second and third generations, although you’ll have to pay a pretty penny for those later model years. The second generation sports a more “rounded” design language, many of whom feel it’s a bit feminine, whereas the third generation is a lot more angular and has sharper edges. Whichever you decide to seek out, you won’t be disappointed. You’ll be intoxicated by that V8 growl and being pushed back in your seat as you hit 0 to 60mph in just 4.3 seconds.

The Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG In The Market

Now is not the best time to try and find a third generation SLK 55 AMG, but with a little bit of haggling and some not-so-good examples, you’ll find yourself close to that $30k mark.

The second generation, however, is probably the one to get if you’re on a tight budget. Being that it’s approaching almost 20 years now, many are trying to get rid of them and you might find yourself with a bargain on your hands.

Why The Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG Is Underrated

Typically referred to as a “hairdressers” car, the SLK 55 AMG was thrown to the wayside by the auto enthusiasts. No one wants to get their manhood questioned.

Also, the second generation offered a lackluster automatic transmission that is really starting to show its age, so you may be convinced to fork a little bit more for the third gen. But hey, if you’re just looking to cruise and drive around town, there’s no better alternative.

7. Maserati Ghibli S Q4

Design and Features

Although not a true sports car, we had to sneak the Maserati Ghibli on this list. It’s a 4-door executive sedan with a twin turbo V6 that’s built by Ferrari, what more can you ask for?

Now this one may be a controversial pick on this list, but if you want speed, interior room, and affordability to match—This one is for you. You can choose between the Ghibli S or the Ghibli S Q4, but for our choice we would recommend the Ghibli S Q4 as it's AWD, allowing it to shave a couple seconds off the 0-60mph time.

The Maserati Ghibli S Q4 In The Market

New Maserati owners have a big problem on their hands when it comes time to sell their car, which is good news for you. Maserati’s lose nearly 55% of their value in just 5 years, meaning that you can find some low mileage and relatively new examples for under $30k.

Why The Maserati Ghibli S Q4 Is Underrated

The Maserati Ghibli S Q4 is underrated mainly because it’s avoided. Not many people want to daily drive a car that costs $1,175 when it comes time for the dealership to service it. If you can stomach the costs, then you’ll be well on your way to owning one of the most underrated cars there is for the value it brings. After all, this is the only car on this list that can comfortably haul 4 people.

8. Mercedes-Benz SL 55 AMG (Fifth-Generation)

Design and Features

What you’re looking at here is the big brother of the Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG. The fifth-generation SL-Class sports a lot of the same features as it’s second-generation SLK counterpart. You’ll find a similar retractable hardtop, ABC suspension and some luxurious interior styling. What separates the SL 55 AMG, however, is that it has a big 5.4-liter V8. It also has what many consider to be a timeless design and could possibly become a future classic.

The Mercedes SL 55 AMG In The Market

Being that this is one of the oldest options on this list, you’ll find that depreciation has taken its toll on this gem. For the same cost as a Toyota Camry, you can find yourself sitting in a 493hp beast that can give you the thrills on the highway, but keep it classy strolling through the city.

Why The Mercedes SL 55 AMG Is Underrated

Like some of the other luxury options on this list, no one wants to see the cost of the maintenance bill. And people definitely don’t want to see what it costs to repair the ABC suspension when you inevitably have to get around to it seeing as the car is 20 years old now. But if you’re prepared to put that aside, you can find yourself in a car that can outrun an SRT 392 Charger when it comes time for it.