Fancy sampling the joys of rear-wheel drive, but find yourself on a modest budget? Look no further
There’s a sense of rightness to the way a rear-wheel drive car handles itself. With one set of wheels propelling you forward and the other left to the job of steering, RWD is in theory the ideal layout. Driving a thusly arranged car fast requires more from the squishy bit behind the wheel, which means the rewards on offer are greater.
The only sticking point is that scintillating rear-drive motors are in short supply on the used car market. Front-wheel drive is a considerably more common layout, so if you want the opposite, your choice is much more limited.
Do enough research, however, and you will find some real gems. To save you the leg work, here are six of the best RWD rides that you can pick up for under £5000:
1. Porsche Boxster (986)
The original version of this article has a 924 S sitting in this slot, but you’ll struggle to find one at all these days, let alone an example under £5000. For your cheap rear-wheel drive Porsche thrills, then, attention must shift to the 986 Boxster.
For this kind of money, it’ll be an early version of the mid-engined sports car, which means a 2.5-litre, naturally-aspirated flat-six producing a handy 201bhp. People who think they’re clever will immediately start banging on about IMS bearing failure when a Porsche of this vintage is mentioned, but the problem isn’t anything like as common as some corners of the Internet would have you believe.
£5000 is a bit of a stretch for one of these – at this price, expect a project. It doesn’t cost much more than our budget to get a tidy one, though.
2. BMW 330i (E9x)
Once upon a time, we’d have recommended an E36 3-series, but have you seen how few there are around? You’ll be hard-pressed to find one under £5k worth bothering with, but happily, there are plenty of newer BMW options to go with.
The company’s long-standing allegiance to putting power to the rear, which has only started to waiver a little bit in recent years, means plenty of choice. There’s the option of an E46 3-series, but they too are getting thin on the ground, and also old enough to be quite needy. E9x, on the other hand, might be just the ticket.
The 330i would be our pick. It has a 273bhp ‘N53’ engine – the most powerful non-M straight-six BMW has ever made. Most are mated to an automatic gearbox, but if you’re patient, you might well find a manual in the budget, and perhaps one with the coveted M Sport body kit too.
3. Toyota MR2 (W30)
It is still possible to buy a Toyota MR2 of any generation under £5000, but seeking out the third-generation car specifically will make your life much easier. There are still loads around, they still feel reasonably fresh, and they’re brilliant fun to drive.
This being a mid-engined, short-wheelbase car, they do require an attentive driver, particularly in the wet. As standard, they do ride quite high and relatively softly, though, so suspension modifications are worth thinking about. The revvy N/A 1ZZ 1.8-litre engine is a peach straight out of the ‘box, though, and the manual gear shift is a joy.
You can pick one up for less than a grand but don’t. Spend more and ideally get a post-facelift. Toyota fixed various things during the mid-life refresh, including the original car’s infamous, potentially engine-killing habit for pre-cat failure.
4. Mazda MX-5 (NC)
Yes, there are still plenty of NA and NB Mazda MX-5s around for under £5000, but you know what else you can pick up for the money? An NC. They’re more modern but still thoroughly old-school to drive, and are only a few suspension modifications away from feeling as good if not better than a lot of brand new sports cars.
You can have one with a folding hardtop roof that comes with pretty much no drawbacks, and for a fairly modest outlay, it’s possible to get 225bhp out of the 2.0-litre engine with no forced induction involved. Rust is far less of a problem than it is with the NA and NB, but be aware that these cars do still suffer from the tin worm.
Read our full NC Mazda MX-5 buyer’s guide if you want to take the plunge.
5. BMW 6-series (E63)
For the reasons set out a few paragraphs ago, a second BMW was inevitable. And for our next dose of Bavarian rear-wheel drive fun, we have the E63 6-series. One of the best GT coupe bargains out there right now, it’s very tricky to get something as handsome and classy for the money. We might have mocked the Chris Bangle design when it first came out, but this distinctive two-door has aged beautifully.
Although you will find ‘645Ci’ V8s for under five grand, it’ll be easier to find a tidy 630i for the money. An earlier one will have an N52 with 254bhp, while later cars got the same 273bhp N53 as the E9x 330i we talked about earlier. Both are tough, easy to work on, and are still capable of delivering ~six-second 0-62mph times.
Want to buy one? We have a full E63 BMW 6-series buyer’s guide for your viewing pleasure.
6. Mazda RX-8
Not entirely unfounded reliability fears plus the promise of high oil and fuel consumption mean the vast majority of RX-8s on the used market are under £5000. Some well under. So should you? First off, let’s look at the reasons for.
The 9000rpm redline of the 1.3-litre ‘Renesis’ two-rotor engine is addictive, and each upshift of the six-speed manual gearbox slides in beautifully. The NC MX-5-derived platform handles surprisingly well straight out of the box and only needs some light fettling to get the most out of it. Finally, all these years on, the RX-8 is still a great-looking car.
And the reasons against? Well, there’s the fluid consumption we’ve already mentioned, and also the difficulty of ensuring the previous owner has kept the oil topped up. In some ways, it might be better to go bargain basement and shell out a few thousand pounds on a rebuild, rather than spending a lot on an apparently nice one, only to be stung by problems further down the line. It’s important to note that apex seals aren’t the only weak point – RX-8s have plenty of other inherent flaws.
Whether or not the pros outweigh the cons is up to you.