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7 Best 2017 Cheap Sports Cars Under $30K

3. Nissan 370Z Coupe

Price as tested: $30,825
0-60 mph: 5.1 sec; EPA rating: 21 mpg city-highway combined
Hottest color: Chicane Yellow

Here’s an aging gem that echoes such sports-cars classics as the Jaguar E-type and Triumph TR6, the Big Healeys, yes, even the original Datsun 240Z. It puts a sizable six under a long hood, a short-throw shifter at your hand, and a smile on your face.

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Nissan’s current riff on this formula dates to model-year 2009, with launch of the fully redesigned Z car. It’s changed little since, and somewhere over the horizon is a remake that’ll shrink it, lighten it, and almost certainly replace the V-6 with a high-tech turbo four. When exactly the next-generation Z will bow, even Nissan may not know. The automaker’s focus is on updating its volume-sellers, particularly trucks, SUVs, and crossovers. In that context, the Z is a sideline. To cheap sports-car hunters, though, it’s a prime contender.

Our $30K barrier relegates us to the bottom rung of the Z-car ladder (it peaks at $50,235 with the Roadster Touring Sport). The $835 destination fee slips us over our limit by $825. But there isn’t a Nissan dealer in America who wouldn’t work with you to move one of these Z cars for under $30,000.

What you’ll get is a base-model coupe with few frills but all the essentials. The engine is a 3.7-liter with 332 horsepower at 7000 rpm, 270 pound-feet of torque at 5200. The engine is a proven performer, if not a scintillating one. The mulitport fuel injection certainly isn’t cutting-edge, and this engine — already phasing out of other Nissan and Infiniti vehicles — can get coarse when revs build. We’ve specified the standard short-throw six-speed manual, a companionable gearbox. Too bad you’d need to move up to the $34,405 Sport model to get the neat rev-matching downshift feature. Same for a limited-slip differential and uprated brakes with red calipers

But there’s something quite appealing about this base coupe’s frill-free honesty. The steering is direct. The aluminum-intensive suspension is nicely sorted, with double wishbones in front and a multilink arrangement in back. There are twin-tube shocks all around and black-finish alloy wheels clad in Yokohama Advan Sport summer tires, 225/50R18 front, wider 245/45R18 in back.

You get bi-xenon headlamps, LED daytime running lights, and clingy cloth upholstery. There’s Bluetooth, but amenities like leather, navigation, satellite radio, heated mirrors, and a rearview monitor are reserved for up-trim models. Still, you sit low before an analog gauge cluster with a big tach dead ahead. Looking out over the big bonnet, exhaust burbling, shifter trembling, this Z is your very affordable connection to a great sports-car tradition.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]