Mid-engine cars have the advantage of great handling and better weight distribution than other cars. This engine layout improves acceleration and performance. But this layout is usually associated with expensive supercars and few sports cars.
Today the cheapest new cars that have a mid-engine layout cost well over $60,000 which is quite expensive. At that price point, most front-engine counterparts are still more powerful. But looking at the used market brings some great options that cost less than a new Miata. They do not offer much power but they do have their engines in the middle. One even has gullwing doors found on cars with over $200,000.
1. Honda Beat
The beat is a mid-engine Kei car made from 1991-1996. Kei cars are a class of cars that specify a maximum vehicle size, engine capacity, and power output. They help owners enjoy both tax and insurance benefits. It was only sold in Japan when new and can now be imported into the US. It came with a tiny 656 cc (0.65 liter) 3 cylinder engine which made 63hp. This tiny engine could also rev to 9000rpm. The car came with a 5-speed manual transmission and rear-wheel drive.
There’s even an enthusiast community for this car. In 2010, they set a world record at the Twin Ring Motegi Circuit in Japan where owners gathered 569 Honda beats. There are not many available at any time and prices are slowly creeping past $10,000.
2. Porsche 914
The 914 is a mid-engine sports car originally built by VW but later taken on by Porsche from 1969-1976. It is the first mid-engine production Porsche and came as a Targa top. They came with either a flat 4 or a flat 6 engine powering the rear wheels. The most powerful flat 4 made almost 100hp with the flat 6 making 110hp. They were all standard with a 5-speed manual transmission or an optional 4 speed automatic for the flat 6. For the price of less than $20,000 though you’ll be getting only the 4 cylinders as the 6 cylinder variants cost a lot more.
The car has only 2 factory color options which are Siberia blue and Classic Red. Apart from the mid-engine layout the car also had Gullwing doors which is the cheapest car with these doors. They are also becoming very collectible with prices appreciating.
Pontiac Built the mid-engine Fiero from 1984-1988. It was powered by either a 2.5 liter inline 4 or 2.8 liter V6. The 4 cylinder was called the “iron duke” but even the most powerful car made 94hp. The V6 made a nice 143hp at most. Transmission choices is a horrible 3 speed automatic or a 4 or 5-speed manual.
Design-wise it is a good-looking car with its pop-up headlights. Its lack of performance compared to other American cars didn’t make it a favorite amongst car enthusiasts. The cars also had safety issues in almost 4 out of every 10 cars. It didn’t help that GM sold over 300,000 of them which escalated the issue. Engine issues exist which finally killed the Fiero. Today prices are well below $10,000
5. Fiat X1/9
Italian design house Bertone design this car and is one of the cheapest ways to get an Italian sports car. The early version has a 1.3 4 cylinder making 74hp, later models increase to 1.5 cylinders making 84hp. It has a Targa roof is quite a nimble car. Not many are available for sale but can still be found for under $10,000. You have to watch out for rust when buying one as they were prone to rust.
6. Toyota MR2
The MR2 is the first mid-engine production car from Japan. Every generation of the Toyota MR2 are great, fun, mid-engine sports cars that can still be had for well under $15,000. It was in production from 1984-2007. The name MR2 came from 2 abbreviations “Mid-ship, Runabout, 2 Seater” or “Mid-engine Rear-wheel drive, 2 seater”. They all had 5-speed manuals with early automatic and later 6-speed manual and all rear-wheel drive. Engine choices are between various 1.5-1.8 4 cylinder engines making between 112-140hp. They could also be had as convertibles for an open-air experience.
Porsche introduced the Boxster in 1996 as a cheaper and alternative version to the 911. It was designed from the ground up to be a roadster. Despite being the cheaper version it still had the driving dynamics of a Porsche. It has a mid-engine layout and came standard with 3 different flat 6 engines with power starting at 201hp and as much as 254hp. Transmission options are between a 5 speed automatic and a 5 or 6-speed manual transmission. The Boxster was released ahead of the 996 911 and its headlights, bonnet, front wings, and interior was shared with the 911.
Prices for the Boxster are under $15,000 with some even falling below $10,000.
The Cayman was introduced to the lineup in 2005 as the coupe version of the Boxster. It had the same mid-engine platform as the Boxster. The flat 6 has been increased to 3.4 liters and makes 291hp with a less power 2.7-liter making 242hp. Transmissions include a 5 speed automatic, 5 or 6-speed manual, and even a 7-speed PDK. Even being relatively newer than the rest they can be found under $30,000 with prices creeping under $20,000.
Proper mid-engine used supercars cost a lot more than these cars. But for a bargain, you get an engine that sits in the middle of your car.