You can’t beat the driving thrills offered by a rear-wheel drive car, so we’ve put together this list of the 7 best rear-wheel drive cars to buy on a budget, and they’ve got plenty of modifying potential, too.
If you’re a car enthusiast, you’ve got to own a RWD car at least once in your life. The feeling of having the front wheels free to do nothing but steer, giving you pure feedback through the wheel, and having power heading to the rear delivers an incredible sense of balance and enjoyment. Then, of course, there’s the appeal of being able to get the back out, honing your driving skills and learning all about car control.
The best thing is that you don’t have to spend a fortune to get yourself behind the wheel of something rear-wheel drive, and we’ve chosen seven of the best rear-wheel drive cars you can buy for under £10k that will be fun to drive and give you the perfect taste of rear-wheel-drive motoring.
Here are the seven best rear-wheel drive cars on a budget:
1. Mazda MX-5 – from £1000
Of course, there had to be an MX-5 on our list, it is the go-to bargain RWD car of choice, and there are plenty of reasons why they are so popular. First of all, they are very cheap and so popular that the market is positively overflowing with second-hand examples, which means that finding one to suit your budget is an easy task. Secondly, the MX-5 is one of the best-handling RWD cars out there, especially for the money, and, thirdly, it’s pretty much the perfect beginner’s introduction to rear-wheel drive. The main reason is down to the fact that it’s a small, light car with low power, so you can really throw it around and get a feel for rear-wheel drive without worrying that the rear will step out on you every time you so much as touch the throttle.
MX-5s are very capable and huge fun to drive on track, even in stock form. With some poly bushes on board, a set of coilovers and an LSD (some models got one as standard), plus some minor brake upgrades like rotors, pads and fluid, you’ll have a car that’s track day-ready and will be huge fun to drive, more than capable of holding its own against far more powerful cars on circuit. For the money, the MX-5 really can’t be beaten, which is why it sits on our list of the 7 best rear-wheel drive cars on a budget.
2. Mazda RX-8 – from £2000
Our second Mazda entry on our list of the best rear-wheel-drive cars to buy on a budget is the RX-8. Not only do these start cheap, but around £3k will get you a tidy-looking example, and you’ll struggle to spend more than £8k on one, so there’s a huge amount of choice and something to suit every budget. The RX-8 had a bit of a tough job on its hands, having to follow the universally loved Mazda RX-7, and its more sensible four-door body and NA engine made it a very different prospect. High oil and fuel consumption put a lot of people off, and the rotary engine suffers from a few issues that also scare people away, but if you do your research and go in prepared, there’s no reason you won’t have a great time with an RX-8, and they have a very dedicated fan base.
The one to have is the 231hp six-speed model, and while it’s not going to set your world on fire in terms of performance, the tiny, lightweight rotary engine is something you’ve got to experience. It loves to rev and is insanely smooth and makes the RX-8 very different to drive compared to anything with a regular engine. With some chassis upgrades, they make fine fast-road and track cars, and there are plenty of performance mods out there, including turbo kits.
3. BMW E87 130i – from £3000
Naturally, you would expect to find at least one BM on this list of the 7 best rear-wheel drive cars on a budget (we’ve squeezed in two), thanks to the fact that the vast majority of cars that the Bavarian manufacturer has produced have been RWD. While there’s a wealth of awesome M cars out there to salivate over we’re keeping things a little more grounded, and we’re jumping in with the E87 130i. While BMW’s first true attempt at a hatchback (we’re going to swerve the E36 and E46 Compact models) may have been a little visually challenging, in M Sport form it gained some welcome styling enhancements. The range-topping 130i added the lightweight 3.0-litre straight-six N52 engine up front making a healthy 265hp and driving the rear wheels via either a six-speed manual or auto gearbox (skip the latter and stick with the manual).
Out of the box, it’s an impressive performer with a decent turn of speed and an eager chassis, but a few choice upgrades will make a world of difference. The M Sport suspension is very bouncy and makes the car a handful on bumpy roads, so a decent set of coilovers will sort the handling and the ride height in one go. 265hp is also more than enough to overwhelm the rear tyres, and there’s no limited-slip differential on board, so get a Quaife installed, and you’ll really be able to enjoy the power in all conditions. Beyond that, we’d be looking at a BBK, like the M Performance offering for the front axle, plus a sports exhaust, and that will give you a seriously sorted RWD hot hatch that will be a blast to drive. If you want to buy a good one, check out our 130i buyer’s guide.
4. BMW E92 335i – from £5000
Once upon a time, if you wanted a twin-turbo straight-six under your bonnet, you had to look to Japan, but these days it’s a BM badge on the bonnet that will satisfy your forced induction desires and at the kind of bargain price that will leave your wallet unharmed. The E9x 335i must surely be one of the greatest modern performance bargains you can get your hands on, delivering 306hp and 295lb ft of torque. With no fewer than four body styles and three gearboxes to choose from across the car’s production run, there’s a turbocharged 3 Series out there for everyone. Our pick would have to be a manual E92 (that’s the coupé) – the slick six-speed ‘box is the perfect partner for the engine, be that the cheaper twin-turbo N54 or the later single-turbo N55, while the two-door body is long, low and sexy.
In terms of mods, you’re spoilt for choice. As we’re on a budget, we’d be looking at an N54-powered car, and once we’d sorted the less reliable aspects of the engine (coil packs, HPFP, rod bearings), you’re free to go wild with the mods. We’d be looking at a pair of high-flow downpipes, an uprated charge pipe as the stock plastic one can crack, a larger intercooler for better cooling, a pair of intakes for improved flow and awesome sucking noises, a sports exhaust (no power gains here, but it will sound awesome), and we’d top that all off with a map. That will get you over 400hp, which is going to be plenty to be getting on with. If you want more than that, you’ll be looking at hybrid turbos or a big single and some meth injection as well. Naturally, we’d be looking at a good set of coilovers to sort the handling, an LSD to help put the power down and a BBK for stopping power that matches your horsepower! Need help tuning it? Take a look at our 335i tuning guide.
5. Porsche 986 Boxster S – from £5000
Don’t think you can buy a Porsche on a budget? Well, think again! Porsche’s first-gen 986 Boxster is now a conspicuous bargain, and you can park a piece of Stuttgart performance metal on your driveway for just £5000. We’re swerving the lesser models and diving in with the S, powered by a 3.2-litre flat-six making 250hp in earlier models and 258 from 2003. The S came with a six-speed manual (stay away from the lacklustre Tiptronic), red calipers with vented cross-drilled discs, stiffer anti-roll bars and springs, leather seats, white gauges and climate control, plus of course, that more powerful flat-six tucked behind the seats. We’re not going to tell you that a £5k Porsche is ever going to be a cheap car to own and run. There are some potentially expensive issues (cracked bore liners, Variocam guide rails, IMS bearing failure and RMS failure, plus roof issues), so do your research and don’t just jump on the first car you see.
The 986 is superb to drive, even in stock form, which is not surprising as Porsche knows a thing or two about making cars handle. Naturally, there are plenty of suspension upgrade options available out there, like coilovers as well as air. In terms of performance, while there’s not much available in terms of NA mods (though an exhaust will make it sound awesome), you can slap a supercharger on there for a healthy power boost if your pockets are deep enough.
6. Honda S2000 – from £8000
There’s a lot to love about the Honda S2000. From the aggressive, long-nosed roadster styling to the soaring VTEC motor that loves to rev, mated to a snappy six-speed manual gearbox, and with a, um, ‘lively’ chassis, it’s a car that doesn’t shy away from delivering big driving thrills. You tend not to see that many about these days (we can’t recall the last time we saw one out on the road), but they have plenty of devoted fans, and owners often hang onto them for years and pile on the miles, which is definitely an encouraging sign. That screaming VTEC under the long bonnet is a big part of what makes the S2000 so appealing, and while it’s a little short on torque like any NA VTEC is, the engine’s eagerness to run up to its 9k rpm redline at any given opportunity makes up for that.
Early cars are notorious for being snappy, with the rear end letting go with little provocation. This is down to a combination of stiff suspension, a standard-fit LSD and lack of traction control (it wasn’t even an option until 2006), and Honda softened the chassis off a touch for the 2004 facelift. Needless to say, it’s the suspension you want to be sorting first, be that with lowering springs or coilovers plus anti-roll bars, and, beyond that, we’d be looking at an intake and exhaust combo to enhance the soundtrack, while an off-the-shelf supercharger kit will give you a healthy power increase. And if you’re looking to get hold of one yourself, check out our S2000 buyer’s guide.
7. Nissan 370Z – from £8000
Nissan’s V6 bruiser has been a huge hit ever since it first appeared in 350Z form, but we’re pushing the boat out and going for the revised 370Z for the final entry on our list of the seven best rear-wheel-drive cars to buy on a budget. It’s a big, two-seat coupé with a big, 3.7-litre V6 under the bonnet making 328hp and 268lb ft of torque, sending power to the rear wheels via either a six-speed manual gearbox or seven-speed auto. It’s lighter and stiffer than its predecessor, and while it’s not exactly a nimble
sports car, it is an excellent all-rounder that can cruise on a long journey and entertain on a B road, and that V6 serves up loads of torque and an impressive turn of speed when you need it. While the interiors are a little dated on early cars (they are over 10 years old now), the 370Z still looks good from the outside, and they are well built and generally reliable, too. For the money, it’s an excellent buy, and this slick six-cylinder coupé is guaranteed to put a smile on your face every time you get behind the wheel.
In terms of modding, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to styling, wheel options, suspension and brakes, meaning you can really go all-out and really turn your 370Z into something special. Naturally, we’d kick things off with an intake and exhaust to really be able to enjoy that V6 soundtrack at its best, and then we’d throw on a set of coilovers to sort the handling. If you want some serious power, you can pick up a supercharger kit for around £7k, or go wild with a twin-turbo kit for £10,000 which will turn your 370Z into an absolute beast.
Words: Elizabeth de Latour