Buying a rear-wheel drive (RWD) car is not a easy as it once was. A report by Edmunds.com suggests that over 70 percent of the vehicles sold today are front-wheel drive (FWD). The vast majority of RWD vehicles available are trucks or used cars. The switch to a FWD model makes sense for a manufacturer required to meet government fuel economy requirements, but car enthusiasts (like us) lament the understeer, torque-steer, and general lack of “tail-happiness” that is often associated with FWD models. For those of you looking for a little more pep and a RWD vehicle that you can possibly afford on a limited budget, here are four options. We will skip over minivans and full-sized sedans and go straight to respectable used cars.
First introduced in 1988, the 240SX is a RWD sport-compact that has long been a favorite among enthusiasts. You have the choice of two generations: S13 (1989 to 1994) or S14 (1995 to 1998). First generation models were powered by the KA24E, a 2.4 liter inline 4 with a single overhead cam (SOHC) producing around 140 horsepower. Second-gen models had the KA24DE, a similar motor but with dual overhead cams (DOHC) and 155 horsepower. The KA-series motors were known more for torque than top-end performance, being utilizing in a number of Nissan’s trucks and sport utility vehicles like the Pathfinder and Xterra.
Still, a 240SX with a 5-speed manual has enough pep and torque to make for entertaining city driving. If you need more power, the 240SX is a popular platform for the SR20DET swap, a 200-ish horsepower turbocharged motor that came in the Japanese-spec Nissan Silvia and 180SX–close cousins of the 240SX. The cost of such swaps is $2500-3000, and given the gray-market nature of the engine, a lot of research into local DMV regulations is recommended.
Ford Mustang (Fox Body)
First introduced in 1978, “fox-body” Mustangs are the third generation of Ford’s famed pony car. Like all Mustangs, they are rear-wheel drive. Available body styles include the notchback (coupe) or fastback (hatchback), and there are two major styling versions within this generation: early fox-bodies with quad-headlight setup, built from 1979 to 1986, and no-grille cars built from 1987 to 1993.
As a RWD enthusiast, you will be most interested in the 302 cubic-inch “5.0” motors, rated at up to 225 horsepower and 275 lb-feet of torque. These are some of the most popular motors in the aftermarket industry ever created, and getting more power out of them is almost criminally cheap. In 1993, Ford introduced the Mustang SVT Cobra, rated at 235 horsepower with a low-13 second quarter-mile time. However, these cars have become quite expensive due to their popularity among collectors.
BMW E30, E36
BMW has largely ignored the transition to FWD vehicles, continuing to produce well-handling RWD “ultimate driving machines” for which they are known. Among enthusiasts, the BMW 3-series produced from 1982 to 1991 is known as the E30, and those produced from 1992 to 1999 are the E36. Encompassing both coupes and sedans, both four- and six-cylinder engines, these sporty little “compact executive cars” are known for their taut handling, proud racing pedigree, and strong owner’s community. In fact, the E30, like the Miata, enjoys its own SCCA racing class (SpecE30), a testament both to the car’s on-track prowess and affordability. And, like the 240SX, the E30 has become a popular drift car platform.
Popular models include the 325i and 325iS, powered by a 168-horsepower M20 inline 6 known for its durability. The 318iS is a 4-cylinder model praised for its light weight, peppy M42 straight-4, and near-perfect weight distribution–often known as the “poor man’s M3″ for its semblance to the legendary E30 M3. As the writer of this article, I must admit that I myself own an E30, a 1985 BMW 325e to be exact, which I purchased for a mere $900 and currently use as a daily-driver.
The Miata takes a lot of flak, regarded as a “chick’s car” by legions of ignorant males. In reality, the Miata is a modern incarnation of the lightweight British roadsters of the 1960s. In fact, Jeremy Clarkson of BBC’s global hit Top Gear, who represents the epitome of four-wheeled machismo, has declared of the Miata:
The fact is that if you want a sports car, the MX-5 is perfect. Nothing on the road will give you better value. Nothing will give you so much fun. The only reason I’m giving it five stars is because I can’t give it 14.
Critics have complained that the Miata lacks sufficient umph under the hood, but this is easily rectified with a wide variety of aftermarket forced induction solutions that are battle-hardened, road-tested, and hardly wallet-draining. The car has engendered its very own racing class in the United States, Spec Miata, and with near 50:50 front/rear weight distribution, it is one of the most balanced track cars ever built. If you are man enough to swallow your ego and drive a Miata, you will be rewarded with one of the most fun RWD cars ever created.
In Conclusion: Choosing the Best RWD Car
All four of these vehicles have two things in common: they cost less than five grand and enjoy an inexpensive aftermarket. The Fox Body Mustang has the biggest aftermarket in the group. The standard 5.0 engine will not set any records, but you can really juice the engine for less than $2,500. Couple that with a few weight reduction strategies and you have a great little hot rod on the cheap, especially if you are into straight-line “strip” performance. The BMW is, arguably, the classiest and handsomest car in the list, offering a great blend of fun and class. If all-out track or autocross handling is your top priority, you can’t go wrong with the Miata. To find one of these models for sale in your area, check out cheap car search functionality. You’re bound to a find a set of wheels that fits your needs.
All in all, it depends on your needs and wants. No matter which car you choose, we at AutoFoundry.com applaud you for keeping your drive wheels where they should be…in the rear!
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