A good rear-wheel drive car is hard to beat. Here’s our pick of 7 of the best value RWD cars to buy and tune…
E￼￼veryone loves a bargain, especially when it comes to cars, but bargains don’t hang around long. Not only do under-priced cars get snapped up in minutes by lucky buyers, but any type of car that’s great value for money doesn’t stay that way for long.
Go back a few years and the good old Nissan 200SX was as common as muck and a total bargain if you wanted a tunable, turbocharged, rear wheel drive fun, but now? Well, prices have doubled on average. The same goes for R32 and R33 GTS-Ts; days of cheap Nissan Skylines are now behind us. Even the E36 BMW, which until recently was considered a sub £1000 bargain RWD car, is now rapidly rising in price.
Regardless of why and how, the low to then high prices of cars happens to nearly every model, even legendary cars like the Toyota Corolla AE86 and Mk2 Ford Escort RS2000 were once sub £1000 bargain bangers. So if you want rear wheel drive fun while the prices are low, here’s our current pick. But we’d be quick, prices are set to rise!
￼1. E46 BMW – from £1000+
Once upon a time, the E46’s predecessors, the E30 and E36, were also considered RWD bargains, but now they’re verging on modern classics, with price tags to match, but thankfully for us, the E46 has taken over their position at the bottom of the pile.
Anything from a 325i upwards is a decent performer with 190bhp+ from the factory, great handling, a ton of cheap tuning parts available, and all can cost under £1500, even in decent condition. The best performers of the bargain bunch are the 330i and 330d, both of which are worth bottom dollar at the moment, and are ripe for a few tweaks.
For both the 330i and 330d, a remapped ECU makes a massive difference, turning the 330i in to something that’s far more revvy than the standard car, and turning the 330d in to a serious torque-monster. A set of coilovers and uprated top mounts massively improves the handling on any E46, and lowering the gearing slightly by fitting the rear diff from the automatic model (of which ever engine you choose) transforms the acceleration and makes these machines feel like sports cars rather than the cruisers they were intended to be.
2. MAZDA MX-5 – from £1000+
Thanks to how common they are, combined with their reputation of being a bit girly and slow, the Mazda MX-5 has been a performance bargain for some time now, and while Mk1 prices are rising slightly, the prices of the arguably better Mk2 model are at rock bottom, and pound for pound, there’s honestly no better handling RWD car.
While MX-5s aren’t powerful, once you get used to them you can drive them on the almost unbelievable ragged edge (on track!), which makes them a seriously quick car when corners are involved. Some people think that their lack of power makes them useless for drifting, but the reality is, while they’re no smoke machine, with a good driver they’re actually awesome drift cars, perfectly capable on even the fastest tracks. On both conventional track days and drift days, an MX-5 with a good driver will often have big power cars holding them up, as they’ve got the amazing ability to drive and drift at quite ridiculous speeds that others cars don’t.
With turbo conversions common and surprisingly cheap (that can easily double the standard engines power), not to mention a huge amount of suspension tuning parts available, there’s no end of giant killing fun to be had with this ‘girly’ car…
3. NISSAN 350Z – from £4500+
Yes, as crazy as it may seem to someone who’s not looked at car prices for a few years, the Nissan 350Z has dropped in price hugely recently, to the extent it’s now often cheaper than the RWD bargains of recent Nissan past, the 200SX and the Skyline GTS-T, despite being ten to twenty years newer.
With good looks and a beefy 3.5ltr V6, it’s a car that anyone can tell means business, but many don’t realise it’s actually also a great handling motor, featuring the same sort of multi-link suspension that the 200SX has. It almost has as many tuning parts available for it too.
With over 270bhp as standard, they’re no slouch, although being naturally aspirated means power gains from tuning isn’t as easy as it was for its turbocharged predecessors on the bargain RWD Nissan list. Having said this, they’ve become hugely popular worldwide, so if you’ve got the budget for it, the potential for 1000bhp+ is there!
4. E55 AMG – from £3,000+
Despite being hugely expensive cars when new, Mercedes have poor used value in the UK, and while this is bad for anyone who bought one new, it means you can buy an absolute beast for very little money. As production cars go, for BHP per pound it’s hard to beat an E55 AMG right now, both the earlier (W210) naturally aspirated versions, and the later (W211) supercharged versions.
While W210 prices are rapidly rising after being as low as £1000 a few years ago, £3000 can get you a tidy one with a long MoT, and considering that’s a car with a claimed 355bhp (but usually far more on the rollers) and almost 400lb/ft coming from a 5.4-litre V8, it’s one hell of a mover for the money. If you’ve got a bigger budget, the later Kompressor versions have almost 500bhp as standard and will only cost you about 10k.
Yes, these cars are huge and have automatic gearboxes, but trust us, they’re far sportier than you’d imagine, have crushingly fast acceleration, and an awesome V8 soundtrack. Buy one and thank us later!
￼5. BMW 335I – from £8,000+
Starting at around £8000, the BMW 335i is a great car for the money, with good performance, tidy looks and, as bargain buys go, it’s quite a new car. But there’s more to the 335i than that. For us, the reason the 335i is a bargain at the moment, is that we predict this car will soon be the modern day equivalent of the legendary Toyota Supra twin turbo in tuning terms.
Packing an incredibly tunable 3.0-litre twin turbo engine that’s mated to a strong six speed transmission, it’s a power- hungry owner’s dream. Countless upgrades are already available, including huge single turbo conversions!
As soon as more people realise the potential of these already fast cars, we expect prices to rise, so grab a good one before everyone jumps on the bandwagon!
6. TOYOTA JZX90/100/110 – from £5000+
As mentioned earlier in the feature, the days of cheap Nissan Skylines are long behind us, but for now at least there’s an alternative, as long as you don’t mind a four door that is. The JZX series of Toyotas are, if we’re honest, better performing, more tunable, more reliable, nicer to drive, and arguably better looking than the equivalent Nissans, and at the moment they’re cheaper too.
With a turbocharged 2.5-litre straight six 1JZ lump and strong RWD manual box, it’s common to see them pushing over 500bhp – even on standard engine internals! This unsurprisingly, is the number one reason people buy these relatively unassuming looking saloons. While JZX100s are the most commonly found in the UK, they’re also the most popular, so you’re more likely to spot bargains in the form of the slightly unloved JZX90 and the still fairly unknown JZX110.
But regardless of model, they share the same basic underpinnings and you’re getting a hell of a lot of car for your money. They’re one of those cars that many people don’t consider, but after one drive, even hardcore Nissan fans usually fall in love with them.
7. MAZDA RX-8 – from £500+
It’s crazy to think a modern rear wheel drive performance car is just so cheap, almost worthless in fact, but it’s true; running and driving RX-8s can be had from just £500! The reason for the amazingly low price isn’t because they’re bad cars, but because they have such a terrible reputation for reliability, even though this is mainly caused by user-error. Most people are now afraid to own one, making prices incredibly low for what you get.
There are two versions available, the 190 and 230, and even though the power levels they’re said to produce seem a little optimistic, the 190 model isn’t slow. Still, it’s definitely the six speed 230 model you want. Thanks to the naturally aspirated rotary engine they’re not exactly torque monsters, so you’ll have to rev them hard to accelerate well, but they’re great handling cars and good overall performers.
Poor fuel economy and questionable reliability might make them far from an ideal daily driver, but people have great success with them as track cars. And thanks to tidy examples with blown engines costing no more than a few hundred quid, they’re also without doubt the best value base car for a wild engine conversion too!
Words Stav Photos various