Welcome to Depreciation Appreciation! Every month, your pals at autoTRADER.ca dig up an instance of how depreciation can make for an extraordinary used-car deal.
This month, it’s all about affordable access to one of the purest modern sports car models on the scene – which looks like a reliable used-car bet, and one that’s built to put a smile on the faces of enthusiast drivers without breaking the bank.
The Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S (later renamed Toyota 86) are mechanical twins, and both machines are cheap to run, fun to drive, easy on the eyes, and massively everyday driveable. If you’re after an affordable and down-to-earth sports car on a relative budget, a few-year-old copy of either of these machines will fit the bill nicely.
Best of all, you can find used copies of either machine in the used market with reasonable miles and plenty of life left for $15,000 or less, all day long.
These Japanese brothers from different mothers share a high-revving 2.0L flat-four with a tick over 200 hp, a standard six-speed manual transmission that’s a joy to shift, and rear-wheel drive.
Unlike so many of their competitors, the FR-S and BRZ were designed as sports cars from the ground up, rather than high-volume commuter cars with go-fast parts added after the fact. Balance, weight, and driving dynamics all reflect this compromise-free approach. Small, slim, light, and balanced, these are some of the best affordable sports cars going today.
The real joy of driving these machines becomes apparent during hard driving: the rowdy little flat-four works best when spinning fast, and the lightweight construction really shines when you dial up the speed in fast corners. Bigger, fatter sports coupes see excess flubber and weight flying around like a Jerry Springer stage brawl, but the BRZ and FR-S feel trim and lean all the while.
Feature content included a touchscreen infotainment system with available navigation, push-button start, xenon lights, Bluetooth, heated leather, automatic climate control, and plenty more.
Approximate New Value
The FR-S and BRZ both commanded starting prices ranging from the high twenties to low thirties, depending on the year and equipment level. Several special-edition models, like the BRZ Inazuma for instance, commanded a few extra bucks in exchange for a suite of cosmetic and feature content upgrades. Let’s call this one a $30,000 car, in terms of new car pricing.
Approximate Used Value
Stand by for deals! Search out a used FR-S / BRZ / 86 at somewhere around half its original price, and you’re in for a treat. Models like this and this are available all day long with mileage in the 60,000 to 80,000 kilometre range, for about half their original price, often at just a few years old and without any wintertime use. Here’s another example.
You can do very well in a used copy of one of these light and frisky little sports cars for about $15,000.
If you’ve got a few more bucks to spend, consider a model like this, which has mileage in the low 20,000 kilometre range with an asking price that tickles $20,000.
Test Drive Tips
Get those used sports car shopper hats on, folks! First, approach any used FR-S / BRZ / 86 assuming that it needs new tires, new brakes, and a new clutch until you, or a technician, proves otherwise. Assuming that the seller would prefer that you (not them) would fit the bill for an upcoming repair is a great way to save money.
Confirm that the model you’re considering has been consistently and continually cared for, in terms of maintenance and tune-ups, through its life. If you’re unclear of the service history of the model you’re considering, budget for a full tune-up and fluid change, including new filters, oil, transmission and differential fluid, brake fluid, a fuel system flush and clean, and new coolant, just to be safe. Ensuring your new sports car is running a full complement of fresh fluids is a great way to help extend its durability and reliability for the long haul.
Next up, be on the lookout for modifications. It may be difficult to find a used copy of one of these machines that hasn’t been modified in some form or another, and some light modifications are typically no cause for alarm. Just be careful of models with modified electronics, non-stock stereo or lighting provisions, non-factory suspension components, non-factory wheels, and (especially) non-factory engine parts. Some modifications are fine, others can cause headaches, and others still can turn your drivetrain inside-out, causing wallet-crushing damage in the process. The average shopper is best to stick to a model that’s completely stock, or modified very lightly.
Be on the lookout for Check Engine lights, especially accompanied by a rough, sporadic, or violently fluctuating idle. This may be the result of some problem within the engine’s valve timing system, which requires new software and/or hardware to fix. In many cases, owners who have experienced this problem (most haven’t), have had it fixed under warranty.
Bad speed sensors, knock sensors, and fuel pumps are not unheard of, and these issues can typically be detected by a simple pre-purchase inspection or electronic diagnostic scan by a professional technician, which is strongly advised. Note that an electronic diagnostic scan can reveal issues that may not cause a Check Engine light to appear, so consider having this very revealing scan performed, even if you don’t see a warning light.
Other checks should include a look for rear taillight condensation, and clunking noises during low-speed, sharp-turning manoeuvres, perhaps while turning into a parking space. The latter could indicate a worn-out suspension part, like a bushing, sway-bar link, or ball joint.
Confirm all windows, and the trunk release, are in proper working order, too. Finally, have the engine on earlier models inspected for signs of oil leakage from the front of the engine, which may require some (potentially expensive) repair and re-sealing of the timing cover.
So far, the FR-S, BRZ, and 86 seem to be solid performers as a used sports car buy, with most reported problems being minor in nature, and not reported with enough frequency to cause much alarm. For maximum peace of mind, have any model you’re short-listing inspected by a professional technician, ideally at a dealership, before you buy.