The Top 5: Cheap RWD Cars

Front Engine, Rear Wheel Drive
Front Engine, Rear Wheel Drive | Source

Why Rear-Wheel-Drive (RWD)?

Cars these days are classified as FWD (Front Wheel Drive), RWD (Rear Wheel Drive), or AWD (All Wheel Drive). As you probably know, these refer to which wheels are the "drive wheels" - the ones receiving power from the engine.

In any case, you'll find that the vast majority of cars on today's market are FWD - in fact, an Edmunds.com article tagged this figure at 70%, and things have been this way since the early 90's. There are a variety of reasons for this: weight-savings, space-savings, and mpg-savings, as well as better traction in adverse conditions (due to the weight being over the drive wheels) and manufacturing advantages.

However, most people interested in performance will lament this trend. That's because RWD has a variety of performance advantages. First off, rear-wheel drive vehicles typically have better weight distribution, and their weight-transfer characteristics are superior. After all, the weight of the vehicle shifts toward the drive wheels under hard acceleration, improving traction. Torque-steer is not an issue, and in the hands of an expert a RWD car generally handles better. For those with a lead-foot, RWD is the way to go for burn-outs, drifting, power-slides, and other activities that make for great Youtube videos :)

It's no wonder that traditional sports cars like the Corvette and 911 are RWD, as are muscle cars from the '60 to today (Camaros, Mustangs, Chargers, Challengers, and others of the 8-cylinder ilk).

Best RWD Cars That Won't Break The Bank

Since we're talking about cheap rear wheel drive cars, we're talking about used ones. Now, cheap is a relative term. But for the purposes of this article, I'm talking less than $3000 or so. I think that fits most people's definition of cheap. Also, I'm mainly interest is (relatively) fast RWD cars. Sure, a Buick Roadmaster are Astro van are both rear wheel drive, but if you're reading this, I'm guessing you want something a little more...sporting. So that's what I'm giving you!

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Nissan 240SX

The Nissan 240SX is one of the few RWD Japanese imports of recent decades (that won't cost you an arm and a leg, like a used Toyota Supra). Although the original truck-based engine has sufficient torque, many enthusiasts choose to do engine swaps, swapping in venerable turbo-charged "JDM" motors like the SR20DET. In any case, there's a good chance you can find a 240SX in your area for cheap, cheap, cheap - though the second-gen versions are much better-looking (according to many), and will cost you a bit more.

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Fox Body Ford Mustang

Mustangs always have been - and always will be - RWD. If you want a cheap Mustang, I suggest the Fox Body, 3rd-gen versions (1979-1993). Of course, if you're performance-minded, and you probably are if you're intent on rear wheel drive, then the "5.0" version is the way to go. The 302 ci V8 might not make a great deal of power stock, but the 3rd-generation Mustang enjoys one of the most plentiful, affordable aftermarkets there is. Translation: you can make one of these fast...for cheap.

My personal E30, an '86 325e.
My personal E30, an '86 325e. | Source

BMW E30

The E30 range of BMW's includes the 325e, 325i(s), and 318i(s). There were coupe and sedan versions. Either way you go, these are classy, good-looking cars whose 4 or 6-cylinder engines send the power through the rear wheels (excluding the rare AWD 325ix). These cars have a fantastic online community of enthusiasts, and you can often find one for $1000-$3000. Unfortunately, these cars can be difficult to find in any condition but BAD. Odometers have a tendency to break at 180K miles, and it's not uncommon for see E30's for sale with 200,000+ miles.

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Mazda Miata

Outside of the enthusiast community, Mazda Miatas get a bad rap as a "chick car." However, anyone interested in road-racing or autocross knows that the Miata enjoys nearly perfect weight-distribution and handling - and you can buy a first-generation model for next-to-nothing these days. Sure, they may not have the horsepower of a 6 or 8-cylinder car, but they're lightweight and their Fun Factor is off the charts. Spec-Miata is one of the most affordable ways to get into road-racing. Go to any SCCA AutoX event in your area, and I guarantee there will be Miatas screeching between the cones. These are a fun, quick (if not fast), and definitively cheap RWD car - plus they're plentiful, something that can't be said of Honorable Mentions like the Toyota MR2.

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Comments 2 comments

Pkittock profile image

Pkittock 4 years ago from Minnesota

great list! Agree with everything (although I'm not a huge mustang fan, and find the fox-body particularly ugly). I love the photo you found for the miata too!


BHPH profile image

BHPH 4 years ago from NC, USA Author

Thanks for the kind words, Pkittock! Yeah, I definitely agree that the Fox-body is no looker (and that's an understatement), and I'm not a huge fan of any Mustangs built after 1973. That said, I had to add it to the list just on account of its uber-cheapness and horsepower potential.

Yeah, that's one bad Miata in the pic!

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