Formerly flying under the Scion FR-S nomenclature (and still available as the Subaru BRZ), the Toyota 86 was a breath of fresh air to this category. Powered by a 2.0-litre flat-four engine delivering a modest 205 horsepower, the compact, rear-wheel-drive two-seater channels the essence of driving pleasure that for years you could only get your hands on via a modern Mazda MX-5 Miata, or by fishing through classifieds for gems from the 1980s and early 1990s. With the current variant, its sub-$30,000 price tag will get you a three-pedaled variant with well-bolstered seats, a dual exhaust, a touchscreen infotainment system and just enough space in the “back seats” for your duffel bag and a small dog.
2019 Nissan 370Z — $29,998
It’s hard to believe the Nissan 370Z has gone effectively unchanged in a decade, yet it’s a good example of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra. Priced within dollars of the above Toyota 86, the competition between the two rear-wheeled sports coupes is tighter than you’d think. With the Nissan, you gain in performance, upping the horsepower to 332 thanks to its 3.7-litre V6 engine, but you lose in “passenger” space as it only has two seats. You also lose that passenger space as storage capacity, because otherwise the listed cargo capacity for both cars is equal, coming in at 195 litres. The interior design of the Z is getting a little long in the tooth compared to the 86, but if your focus is on both power and handling — and who will outrun whom at the end of the day — the Z maintains an upper hand.