These Fun, Affordable 21st-Century Cars Aren’t Classics…Yet

Mazda/Guy Spangenberg

Every so often, I engage in a particularly futile and depressing ritual—I shop for cars that I’ve foolishly let go. They’re cars that could have been feasible 10 years ago, but not today. I’ve been priced out of the market for virtually all of them. And while the market might be settling down at the moment, there are few signs of an out-and-out retreat to pre-pandemic pricing. Among cars from the 1970s through the early 1990s, there are precious few bargains. But go a little bit newer, where there’s even some depreciation yet to be done, and the picture gets more enticing. I’m talking cars from the 2000s to 2010s that are getting older, but still aren’t considered any kind of “classic” or “collectible” yet. Here are some highlights.

Fiat 500 Abarth


The 500 Abarth is the closest thing to a real hot hatch that Fiat has ever offered in the U.S., a market that is sadly short on real hot hatches. There were more interesting varieties of the Punto and Ritmo, but those were Euro-only cars that frankly weren’t very good compared to competition from Renault, Peugeot, VW, and Ford. As for the 500 Abarth, although it first arrived here in the early 2010s, the 160-hp pocket rocket feels more like a 1990s hot hatch. It’s crude, the ride is choppy, and a 10 year-old Fiat probably wears more like a 20 year-old VW. But it’s loud, analog-feeling, and fun. Most importantly, it’s cheap. Around $8000 to $10,000 buys one with under 50,000 miles. That’s tons of fun per dollar in a package that offers an old school driving experience in something that’s new enough to have most contemporary features and conveniences.


2010 mazdaspeed3
Mazda/Guy Spangenberg

Back in the days of the Zoom Zoom tagline, Mazda fielded the incredibly entertaining MazdaSpeed3. Offered from 2007-13, it’s a four-door hatch with 263 hp and 280 lb. ft. of torque. It’s exactly the kind of car enthusiasts and auto journalists beg manufacturers for, but rarely head to a dealership and actually buy.  Everyone who tested a Speed3 back in the day found the car fun, especially those of us who were entertained by the torque-steer. Car and Driver wasn’t, comparing driving the car to a game of tug-of-war. But, affordability and perfection don’t often go hand-in-hand, so for $10,000 to $12,000 at current prices you could do far worse than the powerful and practical Speed3.

C5 Corvette

C5 Corvette Front Country Road Action
Josh Sweeney

If hot hatches aren’t your jam, there’s always the bargain Corvette of the moment, the 1997-2004 C5. While some variants, most notably the Z06, sailed beyond true affordability in the last several years, a base manual C5 with somewhere between 75,000 and 100,000 miles can still be had in the $13,000 to $15,000 range. That’s a huge bargain for what was an utterly clean sheet design, one of the few in Corvette history, and more performance than almost anything in this price point. Interiors are standard 2000s GM, but livable. And the styling, over a quarter-century after it was introduced, is aging quite nicely.

2003-08 BMW Z4

2006 bmw z4 roadster front

The 2003-08 Z4 is a bit like the C5 Corvette in that it wasn’t universally loved when new, but is aging well. Available in 2.5- and 3.0-liter six-cylinder forms, the Z4 was larger and more practical than its predecessor, the Z3. Its odd surface detailing and Kamm-tail also look better now than they did 20 years ago. The Z4’s list of maladies is well-known at this point—the VANOS variable valve-timing system can give trouble (it’s often the solenoids), as can the cooling system. These are pricy repairs, but with nice cars available in the $9000 to $12,000 range, if you budget $2000-$3000 to sort things out, these can still be a compelling deal in semi-modern convertible German sports car.

2005-2014 Ford Mustang

2005 mustang convertible skyline beach
Ford Motor Company

You could argue that the 2005 Mustang was the first one to really look like a Mustang since maybe 1973. The brilliant Sid Ramnarace-designed S197 Mustang managed to look the part without being foolishly retro, a hard balance to achieve. Special editions, and certainly the Shelby versions of the S197 are not cheap, but a lightly optioned V-8 coupe or convertible is still one of the best cheap V-8 pony cars out there. Being a Mustang, there are always plenty on the market to choose from at any given time, and a decent manual transmission car can be had in the $12,000 to $14,000 range. 


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    I find the Mustang and C5 here are both higher priced for good examples. As much as $10K more. these are models with 20K-30K. miles and these prices are going up a bit each year,

    The BMW has not been doing as well as some of the mechanical costs issues. Fiat they hardly sold in the first place.

    This is a bit early to call these classics. They just to be over 20 years old and the prices are just coming back from bottoming out.

    It takes a bit more time 35 years to really be able to call something a classic or special.

    Many people want instant classics anymore but that is earned with time.

    The 60’s cars in the 80’s were nothing. They were cheap and just old cars. Then in the 90’s they began to take off and slowly appreciate. Some faster than others.

    None of these cars are going to be get rich cars. The Vette and Mustang had too many made but they will appreciate to the point most will not lose money on them. The rest well Time will tell if they will be worth what they sold for new.

    Have enjoyed my 08′ S197 since it was a year old. Seems like it is holding up well with 55k miles. Helps longevity (and the magnetic attraction to spectators/telephone poles very similar to late 60’s Mopar B-bodies) to not do burnouts at Cars and Coffee…

    What? No Boxster? I paid $14k for a 61k-mile S version a couple years ago, and it has been a hugely fun car with amazing mid-engined reflexes. They are easy to find, and most owners install improved IMS bearings when changing the clutch. I drove my down the Oregon and California coasts in 2022, and the car proved to be an excellent road tripper as well.

    I had a 2012 Mazdaspeed3 for 10 years as my year around driver. Fabulous car, gobs of power when needed and extremely reliable. I sold it (in bone stock condition) at 215,000 km at a very reasonable price to a 17 year old apprentice mechanic at my local garage. As you can imagine, he is thrilled.

    I find it difficult to imagine any vehicle of the past 15 years or so ever becoming a collectable classic. So many plastic components and multiple computers to support of countless vehicles. The plastics readily degrade and computers/firmware reach end of life. They are expensive, short lived and essentially disposable.

    i think the volvo c30 should be on the list especially in the R,SE,or polestar models one other plus on these models is the ease of conversion to four wheel drive

    Collectible status isn’t bounded by date. Significance (what makes it a disruptive presence) makes it collectible (or not).

    Cars that define a category are always collectible and considered classic when they (or their category) cease production.

    Pony cars are a great example. So are roadsters. Some sports cars (especially high end) are a class of 1 (Porsche 911) that nothing else can fully replace.

    Good luck on the MazdaSpeed3. They were great little hatchbacks and fun to drive and they had at least at the time a big aftermarket market. Most I knew got very modified, so like other imports of the day do your research on the “unmodified” car you are looking at which was likely modded back in the day,

    Regarding the Fiat and Mazda, beauty must be in the eyes of the beholder. The Mazda is another unattractive box but I just don’t understand why anybody would buy a Fiat in the first place. They got run out of the US in the 80s due to their poor quality but returned only because Chrysler and their dealer network was handed over to Fiat. But given their sales numbers, they’re about to be run out again. But Fiats might become collectible about the same time as Yugos.

    they are not classics nor will they ever be . they way haggerty uses the word classic makes me cringe .

    Cool, 2 potentials on my later-life fun list–a Fiat 500 Abarth (an eventual affordable handoff to my grandson, who really wants a Lamborghini) and a 2005-14 Mustang (a next step up from my old Fox body).

    The Fiat and Mazda aren’t my cup of tea and they are cheap built cars. The BMW is fun but the reliability and cost of parts and repairs can (and likely will) ruin the ownership experience for a budget minded buyer. The C5 Corvette is so much quality and performance for the money it is my first pick out of this litter. In addition, the cars are very reliable, get good gas mileage and can be repaired at most any Chevy dealer. Parts are readily available and for the most part, reasonable. The Aformentioned Mustangs are a close second for many of the same reasons outlined for the Corvette. The trick with both is to find one that hasn’t been beat to death or loaded with stupid performance modifications. Some tasteful, well designed and properly installed mods, like upgraded suspension, brakes, reversible ECM mods and so on can make them safer, faster, and more spirited.

    We ordered a 2010 Mustang GT red convertible, new from the factory, in the fall of 2009. We still have it, and it is my wife’s “daily driver”. Three years ago, we found an almost matching 2010 Shelby GT500 red convertible, and bought it as well. Now, we have the option to drive both to local car shows and park together with our “his and hers” versions of 2010 red convertibles…

    Not a bad list. Still I’d wager some now overlooked, less than desirable, 2000 and, will be all the rage someday. What that is I haven’t a clue but it’s happened before and history does have a way of repeating itself.

    C5 and mustang are likely the most fun for the maintenance dollar in the list.
    97 c5, 139k miles. Loads of fun. Easy to wrench in unless you need to get under neath it. Lots of aftermarket parts…does not look 27 years old. 30 mpg on highway……still looks relevant….best of the list…..and no causalities at cars and coffee

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