The five cars surveyed are top-shelf examples. Their condition and mileage would qualify them for sale as Certified Used Cars. The prices given for them are derived from the NADAguides’ “clean retail” category. In each case, I adjusted the car’s vintage and mileage until the “clean retail” price came in under $20,000.
Let’s take a look at our quintet, bearing in mind that you can get nice but somewhat less exemplary examples of these models for less money. With the exception of the Honda roadster, these cars are offered with an automatic transmission as well as a manual. 2009 Mazda MX-5 Miata (Touring model, $19,725, with 50,000 miles).
The Miata has been on the case for more than two decades and is the senior citizen of the compact sports cars. But don’t let that senior status fool you; it hasn’t lost its youthful insouciance.
Perfectly balanced and only 157.3 inches long, the Miata is ultra-agile and just a joy to throw around. Since it weighs only 2,511 pounds, its 2-liter, 160-horsepower engine is able to move it along briskly and deliver EPA mileage ratings of 21 city and 28 highway.
The Miata is available with either a cloth roof or a retractable hardtop.
2009 Pontiac Solstice (GXP model, $19,975, with 50,000 miles).
This is the last year the now-defunct Pontiac Division built this delightful little roadster. That’s sad since it’s such a good-looking little funster.
The GXP suggested here uses one of my favorite GM engines — the 2-liter, 260-horsepower turbocharged 4 found in cars like the current Regal GS. This engine makes a 2,996-pound GXP a fast car.
You could buy the base model, powered by a normally aspirated 2.4-liter 4 that develops 173 horsepower for $1,900 less, but why would you? That car has 83 less horsepower and gets worse mileage than the GXP turbo (19 city and 28 highway).
The Solstice, which is mechanically and structurally identical to the Saturn Sky, is available as a cloth top.
2007 Nissan 350 Z (Enthusiast Model, $19,500, with 70,000 miles).
This is the big guy of the group, about a foot longer than its compadres and weighing in at a relatively portly 3,580 pounds. It’s also the most powerful thanks to its 306-horsepower V6. That good oomph is joined by adroit handling and grabby styling.
Despite its weight and engine size, the 350Z earns respectable EPAs of 19 city and 26 highway. It is available as both a convertible and coupé.
2006 Honda S2000 (1 model, $19,950, with 50,000 miles).
Honda doesn’t make the S2000 anymore, which is a shame because this is one high-spirited, purebred sporting machine.
The S2000’s engine squeezes 237 horsepower from a mere 2.2 liters, and does it without the help of a turbocharger. That engine adds to the excitement by redlining at 9,000 RPMs, which is about half again what your family sedan tops out at.
Run this guy up to its redline and you’ll have Formula One fun fun fun till Daddy takes the S2000 away.
2006 Audi TT (roadster model, $18,450, with 75,000 miles).
This little cutie benefits from distinctive styling, and qualifies as the only front driver at our party.
Slick and smooth, the athletic TT obtains its motivation from a 1.8-liter 4 that develops 180 horsepower. The TT matches the S2000’s city EPA of 20, but raises it two on the highway — to 28.
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