As we enter a new year, it's time to see how much fun you can get for your money.
While a $40,000 car isn't cheap, it's an attainable goal still for many people despite rampant inflation. However, you don't have to spend the entire budget to get something entertaining, quick, or both. You can even get into something really fast now that horsepower is relatively inexpensive, and that's an important distinction when you talk about sports cars. For this list, we're defining a sports car within the strict parameters of a two-door coupe (with one exception) and a price over $30,000. Sub $30k cars are another list. For now, these are our top sports cars under $40,000.
At the time of writing, the Nissan Z just about squeezes in as one of the new sports cars under 40k, and it's fast. For $39,990, you get a true two-seater sports car making 400 horsepower from its twin-turbo V6 engine. An updated Nissan Z car has been a long time coming, and the new generation is fantastic. However, it's worth noting here that the sub-40k base model doesn't come with a limited-slip differential (LSD) and suffers a little for it. The base model is the one Nissan expects tuners will buy, knowing the aftermarket will be huge and owners will be able to build out their car to suit them perfectly. However, you can choose between the six-speed manual or the nine-speed automatic transmission at no extra cost. Just beware of dealer markups.
Make no mistake - the Mustang is now a world-class sports car. While you don't need to go down the V8 route for a fast Mustang anymore, the GT is the purist's choice. It comes with 450 hp and 410 lb-ft of torque out of the box but, like the Nissan Z, it doesn't come with an LSD in its basic form. For that, you need the GT Performance Package for an extra $6,700. However, for $38,495 at the time of writing, it's one hell of a lot of car for the money. You can still get the S550-gen 'Stang for another year before the 'all-new' model arrives in showrooms for 2024.
Speaking of world-class American sports cars, the Camaro qualifies with flying colors. The LT1 packs a whopping great 6.2-liter V8 with an Active Rev Matching manual transmission for $37,495 or with a paddle-shifting auto for $39,090 at the time of writing. Unfortunately, it comes with all-season run-flat tires, while the $40,995 SS comes with summer tires and Brembo brakes. Still, the LT1 is a little monster making 455 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque, and one of our favorite fast cars under 40k.
Unfortunately, the Honda Civic Type R has priced itself off this list, but the Veloster N is still a ton of fun and over $10,000 cheaper. But there are caveats, one of which being this hatchback is a unique three-door oddity rather than a strict coupe, and the other is that it's discontinued for 2023. You can still pick up a new one from leftover stock at dealers, however.
The FWD hot hatch's turbocharged four-cylinder makes 275 hp and its hatchback design makes it a practical everyday driver. For $32,500, you get something quick with a manual transmission (an eight-speed dual-clutch auto is optional) that delivers amazing agility and grip straight off the dealer's forecourt.
There are good sports cars under 40k and a great sports car for under 40k out there. If you can stomach the maintenance costs, we file the 996 Generation Porsche 911 under great. The youngest you'll get now is going to be around 20 years old, and it's a much-underappreciated generation of the 911. For your $40,000, you'll get a 3.6-liter flat-six engine making around 300 hp, and the kind of grip and handling $40,000 shouldn't get you. Thank the Porsche snobs for disliking that the German brand moved to water-cooling a 911 and the fried-egg headlight styling for that.
Depending on how many miles you don't mind on the clock, you can vary up the trim level on one of the best sports cars for under 40k out there. The benchmarks here are that you should be able to pick up a sub-50,000 mile 2006 model for $40,000 or a 10-15,000 mile garage kept regular Grand Sport model in the high 30s. We're going to regret this punt when we go car shopping with cash in hand next year, but a used C6 generation Corvette Z06 is crazy value for money. The only issue is that the 7.0-liter LS7 V8 is crazy thirsty, and the gas companies aren't going to loosen their grip on high prices and profit margins anytime soon. If at all.
Want a BMW M3 with a V8 under the hood instead of a straight-six? Well, the E92 is now a consistent contender for sub-40k fun. It fits in the sports cars under 40k slot on this list as the E9X generation M3 came before the German brand branched the coupe version off and labeled it the BMW M4. It's worth knowing the E92's V8 isn't renowned for its reliability, so do your research before buying but also remember a lot of the complaining about it comes from people buying them cheap with high miles and as third or fourth owner. For $40,000, you should be able to pick up one that hasn't had maintenance deferred or ignored and hasn't been thrashed. The E93 model is the convertible version and also fits this list, although we would stick with the coupe if we planned to use it for track days or autocross.
This two-seater sports car sneaks under the radar as one of the best deals out there. You can pick up a 2012 Audi TTS for around $35,000 with under 30,000 miles and jet around in a quick, nimble, and luxurious sports car. The engine is a turbocharged four-cylinder with 265 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. It's an upgraded version of the under-appreciated Audi TT and came standard back then with Audi's magnetic ride system. As far as sports cars under 40k go, the TTS one hell of a buy.
It's an old model, but it checks out. You can pick up one about four or five years old with around 40-50,000 miles on the clock. It's not a perfect car, but it's a quick, fun one. The Nismo badge means it's been tuned by Nissan's motorsport and performance arm. It's not perfect because it's on the heavy side, and the 370Z came to market in 2009, meaning the 2019 models are a ten-year-old design. The 370Z Nismo is quick and a blast around a track, but it's pretty basic in the infotainment department - even if you buy a 2022 model.