Fun and affordable used cars for less than $3,000

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A black 1983 Volkswagen GTI hugging the curves.

A 1983 Volkswagen Rabbit GTI (Photo Credit: CC /Mike Musto/RideLust)

Getting your money’s worth when it comes to purchasing a used car can be a tricky proposition. Older vehicles may be cheaper up front, but they may not give you the fuel economy of a newer car and may require more frequent repairs. However, there are some gems to be found out there that give consumers economy, dependability and engine performance. Thanks to Popular Mechanics, here are some suggestions for finding fun, affordable used cars that cost less than $3,000. Think mid-to-late 1980s, perhaps the early 1990s. Look for them when you search online and visit your local dealers.

The Volkswagen Rabbit GTI is boxy fun

Good handling and maneuverability plus the economy of a 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder fuel-injected engine bring fans of the Volkswagen Rabbit to the table. However, the surprising power the 90-hp engine directs to the wheels makes the Rabbit sassy fun all-around. VW made these from 1983 through 1985.

BMW E30 3 Series: Well balanced, with horses

Finding a 3 Series from between 1984 and 1991 may be a challenge as Popular Mechanics indicates, but the payoff is satisfying. A six-cylinder brings 168 horses in the “i” variation, which means real performance. Most of the 3 Series are rear-wheel drive, but AWD models are also available, but they’ll cost you at least $5,000. The real highlights of this German engineering is a well-balanced frame that aids the handling and lots of cabin space.

Toyota MR2: a car that goes boom

The year is 1985. Start with a 112-hp DOHC engine that can hit 7,500 rpm, and you know you have some power in your Toyota MR2. Add small size and smooth shifting, and you have a mini adventure whether you’re headed for the grocery store or on the highway. Three years later, Toyota added a supercharger that upped the horsepower to 145. Small cars in 1988 never had it so good.

Jeep Wrangler: wrangle some off-road adventure

From 1987 to 1995, the Jeep Wrangler YJ 4WD is great for off-road excursions, so long as potential buyers watch out for rust. That’s what happens when mudders are “ridden hard and put away wet,” says Popular Mechanics. This model was available in 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder and 4.2-liter inline six-cylinder.

Pontiac Fiero: First mid-engine car in America

The two-passenger Fiero coupe was built from 1984 to 1988, and it boasted America’s first mid-engine design. It’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine was up to the task of 40 mpg, which gives any modern hybrid a run for its money. By 1988, sports car suspension and four-wheel vented disc brakes brought Fiero to the mountaintop of quality, but GM discontinued the Fiero immediately following that high point.

Mazda Miata: ‘The Gold Standard’

In Popular Mechanics’ estimation, the Mazda Miata of 1989-1994 is the most fun you can have with a used car for $3,000. Mazda made lots of them, so consumers can find them with low mileage. Shifting is crisp, and the body is tough. Plus, the 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine provides admirable fuel economy.

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