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20 Retro Sports Cars That Can Compete With The New Nissan Z

Cameron EittreimSeptember 21, 2021

The Nissan Z is one of the most iconic sports cars of all time. However, on the heels of a new Z, it’s time to look at the competition. Contrary to popular belief, there are quite a few exceptional sports cars that can potentially eclipse the Z. While the Z gets a lot of credit, there are many other notable models.

Whether you love nostalgic driving or a modern experience, there are numerous sports cars that can potentially defeat the Z. The Nissan Z is a legendary sports car, but these other models are noteworthy themselves. Check out the sports cars that can give the Nissan Z a run for its money right here.

Photo Credit: Fiat

20: Fiat 500 Abarth

As surprising as this entry might be, the Fiat 500 Abarth is an impressive car. The performance comes from a 1.4-liter I4 engine. Coupled with an aggressive stance and a luxurious interior, the Abarth is actually quite the catch. You’d seldom think of a Fiat 500 as a performance car. But the lightweight design and quick acceleration beg to differ (via Car and Driver).

Photo Credit: Fiat

The Fiat 500 Abarth is affordable, much more affordable than other sports cars. For under 10k, you can get one of these with low mileage and still in reasonable condition. The Fiat 500 Abarth is by far the best cheap hatchback on the market. The spirited Italian performance and dazzling interior quality score high marks.

Photo Credit: Bring a Trailer

19: Mitsubishi 3000GT

The Mitsubishi 3000GT is a serious track car. Equipped with a twin-turbo engine, the 3000GT rivaled the Toyota Supra and Nissan Z. The car didn’t get the same reputation as the other two, which has made pricing cheap. The performance is nothing short of astounding for the price. The interior is upscale enough that even a modern driver can live with it (via Machines With Souls).

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The aftermarket community for the 3000GT is also deep. Enthusiasts like these cars a lot, and the performance numbers don’t lie. If you’ve ever wanted a car that can rival the Z without the price, this is it. Mitsubishi did an excellent job with the 3000GT. The car combined performance and luxury into a discreet package.

Photo Credit: Road & Track

18: Audi TT

When the Audi TT came out, it was a marvelous design. The turn of the millennium ushered in new car designs. The Audi TT built upon this modern design language. The performance was also solid. The TT can handle its own on the track or in city driving. A comfortable interior earned the TT high marks for quality (via Car and Driver).

Photo Credit: Road & Track

As with most Audi models, the Quattro is the way to go. The TT has depreciated quite like other luxury cars from the era. The performance can match a Nissan Z, and the cost is half of what you’d pay for a Z. Audi engineering isn’t anything to sneeze at either as the car is sharp and focused.

Photo Credit: BAT

17: Nissan 300ZX

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, and the original Nissan 300ZX is exactly that. The twin turbo-powered Nissan of the 1990s is an excellent car. There was a rare convertible version, and you could have the 300ZX with T-Tops. The ultimate in early 1990s performance design, the 300ZX can’t go wrong. The design is among the best Nissan ever built. A high-quality interior with lots of technology surrounds the driver in comfort (via Car & Review).

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The 2+2 design meant the 300ZX was practical. If you have children, they can theoretically ride in the 300ZX. The reliability of the twin-turbo engine is bulletproof, and the 300ZX is precisely as impure as the new Z. The 300ZX often gets the credit it deserves. The car was the first real competition for the Toyota Supra.

Photo Credit: GM

16: Pontiac Solstice

Remember the Pontiac Solstice? Many don’t. It was released alongside the Saturn Sky at the start of GM’s bankruptcy in the mid-2000s. Performance-wise, the Solstice isn’t quite a race car but it was spirited. Get it with the turbocharged engine, and you have the fun roadster. The styling was modern enough that it still holds its own today (via Motor Biscuit).

Photo Credit: GM

The Pontiac brand was the fun one in the GM portfolio. The Solstice is a roadster that still invokes emotion today. The styling has held up to the test of time, and the engine is one of the better GM powerplants. Plus, you get the prestige of driving one of the last Pontiac models to ever hit the market.

Photo Credit: BAT

15: Porsche 944

Used Porsches are cheaper than you’d expect. The 944 is one of the cheapest Porsche models drivers can get. Available with an optional V8 engine, the 944 is still an exciting drive today. Sure, the styling was quintessential in the 1980s, but that doesn’t matter because the car performs well above average. Porsche quality is found all throughout the 944, and the design is an iconic part of the decade (via Classic World).

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There is also a turbo model of the 944 that won’t break the bank either. No matter which model you get, the 944 is a stellar deal. The styling and design of this Porsche are solid in several ways. Collectors have flocked to the 944 because of the cheap parts and cost of repairs. There are sporadic Porsche models that handle and drive, like the 944.

2004 Pontiac GTO
Photo Credit: Pontiac

14: Pontiac GTO

In 2004, the Pontiac brand released a peculiar ride as the GTO was revived again. The new GTO was based on a Holden model. The Corvette-derived LS-series engine is quite the powerplant. The GTO is still powerful by today’s standards and can compete with modern muscle. From an off-the-line perspective, the GTO will easily compete with the Nissan Z (via The Drive).

Photo Credit: Edmunds

Critics panned the styling, but this was before the retro-themed muscle car styling took over. Pontiac only sold the GTO for a short time before it was discontinued. You can find a later model example with a huge amount of horsepower. The GTO is also economical when compared to other muscle cars.

Photo Credit: Chrysler

13: Chrysler Crossfire

Here’s another surprise, as the Chrysler Crossfire was a sports car sold for a short period. Based on the Mercedes Benz SLK, the Crossfire offered superior performance. The styling left a little bit to be desired, but who cares. The performance is what you want, and this car can perform well. The spirited V6 engine was designed by Mercedes and acted like it (via The Car Investor).

Photo Credit: Chrysler

The SRT variant of the Crossfire sported a stylish exterior and a boost in performance. Nowadays, the Crossfire can be had for a little bit of nothing. When you factor in Mercedes engineering and performance, you can’t go wrong. Chrysler didn’t sell many of these things, but they are fairly common.

Photo Credit: Toyota

12: Scion FR-S

The now-defunct Scion brand was once the hip new thing in the automotive world. Shortly before Toyota dropped the ax on the Scion brand, the FR-S hit the market. Designed in partnership with Subaru, the FR-S is a solid-performing sports car. The spirited engine will handle just about anything you throw at it. The styling still seems glorious to this day, and the interior is fairly modern (via Driving).

Photo Credit: Toyota

For the price, the FR-S has a brilliant rear-wheel-drive chassis. The FR-S is the final car to have a Scion badge. Toyota’s youth-focused brand fell out of favor as Gen X aged. Naturally, when you drive a car like the FR-S, you feel the urge to speed. The design is competitive with the Nissan Z, and the car has remained popular.

Photo Credit: Edmunds

11: BMW Z3

You just can’t argue with BMW engineering. The Z3 is the hidden gem of the sports car segment. The design was top-notch at the time it hit the market. BMW has a long history of performance and racing heritage. This technology and development went into the Z3. The compact roadster took all the fun elements of the M-Series. Combined with a luxurious interior, the Z3 performs well (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Edmunds

The Z3 has a zippy engine and a refined suspension. The depreciation of the Z3 means you can get an excellent price on one. The reliability is well-received and there weren’t many recalls with this model. There is also a rare M-Series model of the Z3 that’s worth considering if you have a little extra to spend.

Photo Credit: Car Domain

10: C4 Chevrolet Corvette

The C4 Corvette is an iconic part of the 1980s. The late 1990s model incorporated a new fuel injected engine and a modern interior. The Corvette has always been a performance icon, but the C4 especially fits the mold. The LT1 engine is one of the best to come out of Detroit. The lightweight design of the C4 ensures a quick off-the-line response. The handling is the best of a GM vehicle from this era (via Auto Trader).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

Whether you get the stick shift or the automatic, the C4 will perform well. The interior is only two seats, but the targa top is an excellent option. Cargo space is also abundant in the C4 Corvette thanks to the hatchback. Prices for the C4 Corvette have come down considerably, as the C5 is more desirable nowadays.

Photo Credit: Hot Rod

9: SN-95 Ford Mustang

The SN-95 is the last Fox-Body Mustang you can buy. The SN-95 hasn’t aged well and isn’t as popular as the previous model, which means you can get a great deal on one of these Mustangs. The GT model can be had for less than $10,000, and prior to 1995, there was a 5.0. The design of the SN-95 is modern enough that you can enjoy it for everyday driving (via Driving Line).

Photo Credit: Hot Rod

The SN-95 provides cheap thrills and power for half the price. The model is less popular than the GM F-Body from this generation. When it comes to performance and value, the SN-95 Mustang has it in droves. The off-the-line performance of the Mustang is better than many cars from this era.

Photo Credit: Edmunds

8: 2002 Subaru WRX

Known affectionately as the “bug eye”, the 2002 Subaru WRX is an unqualified value. The AWD design separates the WRX from the competition. The boxer engine is world-renowned for its quality and off-the-line performance. The reliability of this generation of the WRX is among the best in its class. Whether you buy the WRX to compete with a Z or you are simply an enthusiast, this car is as solid as it gets (via Auto Evolution).

Photo Credit: Edmunds

Subaru has come a long way in design since the WRX hit the streets. But the 2002 model is among the most coveted by collectors. The interior is cheap, but the performance you get for the price is unparalleled. The WRX is by far one of the best competitors for the Nissan Z, especially for the inexpensive price.

Photo Credit: Edmunds

7: Honda S2000

The S2000 was designed and sold by Honda at the start of the new millennium. It’s no slouch on the track and gives the Nissan Z a serious run for its money. The roadster is precision designed to conform around the driver. The engine is bulletproof, and its reliability is in line with what you’d expect from a Honda model (via Motoring Research).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The later models were scarce, and there was a refreshed design. The S2000 isn’t as expensive as you’d expect a Honda from this generation to be. Its build quality is top-notch, and the parts are cheap to replace. On the heels of a new Acura Integra hitting the market, there has never been a better time to check out the S2000.

Photo Credit: Mazda

6: Mazda Miata

With a little bit of ingenuity, the Miata can destroy a Nissan Z fairly easily. The Miata is a lightweight roadster, but you already knew that. But did you know that pricing on the Miata is cheaper than it has ever been? The Miata is built for the driver, and this tiny roadster hugs corners like you wouldn’t believe. Mazda designed the Miata from the ground up decades ago, and it has held the test of time (via Auto Evolution).

Photo Credit: Mazda

You can find a late 1990s early 2000s example of the Miata for a fantastic price. The build quality is top-notch, especially when you compare it to other roadsters from this era. The Miata is an excellent overall value for the price. There are very few sports cars that you can get for the price of a Miata that will perform as well as it does.

Photo Credit: Edmunds

5: BMW E36 M3

The E36 M3 is the forgotten member of the BMW family. The 1990s model is not the high-tech gem that the 2000s car was. But for the price, you can’t go wrong with the signature BMW performance. The E36 is fairly common when it comes to finding replacement parts for it. The interior is impeccable with high-quality leather and comfortable seating (via Top Speed).

Photo Credit: Edmunds

The four-door model is practical for a modern family, while it still performs well. The M3 is a hallmark of BMW design and engineering. The E36 stands out from the crowd for its timeless design. No matter what year of the M3 you get, the car has a lot of potential. A stock M3 can definitely give a Nissan Z a run for its money.

Photo Credit: Edmunds

4: BMW M3 (E46)

The next generation and more advanced of the M3 still offers bang for the buck. The E46 is the next generation of the M3 sports car. Also fairly affordable in price, you can find the E46 M3 on the used market easily. Depending on the year and model you want, the price will fluctuate. The E46 BMW was one of the most popular models. There was a pleasant mixture of modern technology and comfort in the E46 (via Spanner Rash).

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You can drive one of these today and not feel like you are driving something out of date. The M3 E46 is different than other sport sedans from this era. The naturally aspirated engine has stood the test of time. The E46 M3 had a unique blend of luxury and performance that still holds true today.

Photo Credit: Mazda

3: Mazda RX-8

The Mazda RX-8 was a sports car Mazda sold during the mid-2000s. It was released as the unofficial successor to the RX-7. There was a lot to like about the RX-8, most notably the unique styling and rotary engine. The RX-8 is the only sports car you can get with a rotary engine for an affordable price (via Car & Driver).

Photo Credit: Mazda

If you can’t afford an original RX-7, the RX-8 is an outstanding alternative. The hidden third passenger door makes access to the rear seating a breeze. Cargo space is also a lot better in the RX-8 than many other sports cars. There are few sports cars that can perform at the level that the RX-8 does.

Photo Credit: Edmunds

2: 2000 Porsche 911 (996)

If you can’t afford a new Porsche 911, why not go for an older model? The 2000 model is exactly as classy and fun to drive as a new one. The blistering performance of the 996 will put most cars, including a Nissan Z, to shame. You can find a Porsche 911 from this generation for a fairly cheap price tag (via New Car Test Drive).

Photo Credit: Edmunds

Generally speaking, these Porsche models have been well maintained over their life. You can find one with low mileage, and you still won’t break the bank. The timeless styling is quintessential Porsche, and it has aged well. The 911 was one of the best Porsche models ever to grace the roadways.

Photo Credit: Edmunds

1: Mitsubishi Eclipse

The Mitsubishi Eclipse is one of the best compact sports cars you can get. For next to nothing, you can get an Eclipse with a turbocharged engine. The Eclipse competes with the Nissan Z nicely and offers a tremendous amount of bang for the buck. There were multiple models of the Eclipse that were sold, which included the Plymouth Laser (via Car Gurus).

Photo Credit: Edmunds

With an all-wheel drive and a turbocharged engine, the Eclipse is a stellar deal. You can find a used Eclipse for far less than $5,000, and it will compete with the Nissan Z. There is also an enthusiast community behind the Mitsubishi Eclipse. With plenty of pep for the price and a modern style, the Eclipse is an excellent bargain for the price.

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