What is your choice for the best used sports car?

Article and photos by Justin Pritchard

Forget paying full price like a sucker for that envy-stirring, high-powered sports model from Germany, Japan or the US of A. Thousands of shoppers are catching on: give that “gotta’ have it now” sports model a few years, and it’ll wind up on the used car scene for half its original price, and maybe even less.

Welcome to the used sports car marketplace – where GT-Rs, M3s, Vipers, Vettes and all other forms of lust-worthy, four-wheeled awesome-sauce sit in wait for a new human to take them home, wax them, love them, and drive them hard for grin after combustion-induced grin.

Here’s a look at some of the Autos.ca team’s favourite used car buys, what’ll attract used car buyers to them, and what checks you should make if you’re considering them for your next ride.

2001 to 2006 BMW M3

BMW M3. Click image to enlarge

What Owners Love: Holy sauerkraut! The E46 generation M3 advanced the go-to, go-fast 3 Series model heavily on all fronts towards an all-out assault on the senses of driving enthusiasts. The big attraction to the M3 is its gorgeous straight-six engine – a potent unit that belted out 333 suspiciously athletic horsepower, revved to beyond 8,000 RPM and was snarly as all heck. Manual or sequential manual (SMG) transmissions were on board, and all models got two doors. A convertible variant was available, too. As an M3, the E46 generation was also a car that was easy to live with every day (owners love its rock-hard ride), while packing exclusivity and bragging rights as one of the most beautiful-to-drive sports cars of its day.

What Shoppers Should Check: Electronics! German cars may mean German wiring issues with age. Fiddle with everything and anything in your used M3 candidate that runs on electricity and make sure it works without issue. Note that some models built between early-2001 and mid-2003 were recalled for a bearing and lubrication issue within the engine, which could cause engine failure if left unattended. Since nothing ruins a Sunday afternoon track session more quickly than throwing a rod through your crankcase, shoppers are advised to ensure the recall was carried out, or opt for a newer model. Earlier models should also have their rear subframes inspected for signs of cracking, or separation from the body of the car.

Useful: Take your used ride’s VIN number to its dealer service counter, and they should be able to tell you about its repair history, as well as any outstanding recall work on the unit in question – like the M3’s engine bearing recall, for instance.

Test Drive: 2003 BMW M3 Coupe
Test Drive: 2002 BMW M3 SMG convertible

2002 to 2007 Subaru WRX & WRX STI

Subaru WRXSubaru WRXSubaru WRX and Hyundai
Subaru WRX. Click image to enlarge

What Owners Love: No surprises here: the WRX and WRX STI are rally cars you can drive to work, to the grocery store, and to the Canadian Tire parking lot for a midnight donut session after a heavy snowfall. The WRX / STI haul like nobody’s business through weather conditions that’d see lesser two-wheel-drive sports models calling a snow day –and the boy-racer looks, capable performance and relatively strong reputation for reliable performance round out the package. Owners also like the utility, real-world drivability and built-in connection with a strong owner’s community. All WRX STI units came just one way— with a manual transmission, AWD, and a 2.5L Boxer turbo engine making up to 300 horsepower. WRX units had a 2.0L until 2006 when they too got the 2.5L.

What Shoppers Should Check: If you’re an enthusiast after one of Subaru’s rally rockets, you probably know someone that owns one. Bring him/her along for the test drive for a second opinion. Ask the seller to ensure the unit you’ll be test driving isn’t pre-warmed ahead of your arrival, as you’ll want to watch the tailpipes for smoke as the engine heats up to operating temperature, but before you drive it. White, oily smoke could indicate a bad turbocharger, and sellers may pre-warm the unit to conceal other issues, too. For protection against a well-documented piston ringland failure issue, be sure the model is stock in its engine tuning, and have a Subaru mechanic do a compression test to ensure all cylinders are healthy and gas-tight.

Useful: The WRX and STI, like many sports cars, are turbocharged. To be sure you aren’t investing in an imminent engine or turbocharger replacement, avoid a model with engine, fuel system or turbocharger modifications unless you’re a tuning expert.

Final Drive: 2002 Subaru WRX SportWagon
First Drive: 2004 Subaru Impreza WRX STi

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