Owning a car is expensive. Depreciation, maintenance, fuel, and insurance add up quickly especially - it seems - on cars that are the most fun to drive.
The good news is that depreciation, typically the largest expense in owning a car, is significantly less in several exciting cars because the enthusiast community builds such strong demand. We’ve assembled five great cars that should see much less depreciation and maintenance over the next few years. Get them while you can!
997.1 GT3 Photo credit: Silver Arrow
In 1999, Porsche switched their flagship 911 car from an air-cooled rear engine setup to a rear engine water-cooled setup for the new 996 911. Air-cooled 911 fans were quite upset as Porsche had kept the air cooled legacy since the first 911. Upon the 996’s release they were quickly converted thanks to the fantastic driving dynamics of the new 996. Seven years later, the 997 improved on many of the driving dynamics of the 996 and was highly acclaimed by publications of the time.
The 997 911 came in four models: the base Carrera, the Carrera S, the Turbo, and the GT3. All four models could be had with a manual or a PDK transmission. The “entry-level” Carerra had a 325hp naturally aspirated flat six engine, and included little in standard options. The Carrera S came with a 355 hp 3.8L engine larger brakes, lowered suspension with active suspension management, xenon headlights and a sports steering wheel. The Turbo came with a turbocharged 3.8L engine good for 473hp and the track-centered GT3, with a highly tuned, naturally aspirated 3.8L engine was labeled as the best handling car in America by Motor Trend in 2006.
The 996 did have a major - but rare - failure point in the IMS bearing. When it gave out, it caused catastrophic engine damage. The 997 911 was released and supposedly continued on with this flawed IMS bearing but was corrected in 2009+ years. This flaw did not affect the turbocharged engine, which had a different bearing design.
Many prudent owners changed out their bearings on affected cars, and the 997 remains one of the most balanced and enthusiast-centered platforms to this day The 911 doesn’t seem to depreciate after year three, with a reported depreciation of 0.1% over 2016 by CarGurus. Porsche also has a strong reliability track record, outside of the IMS bearing. Because of these traits, we highly recommend the 997 911 as the perfect enthusiast centered, financially responsible car.
2010 e90 M3
Diehard BMW fans were upset when the e9X (e90 for the sedan, e92 for the coupe, e93 for the convertible) M3 was announced. Traditionally, M3s of the past had naturally aspirated straight six engines.
The e9X was launched with a high revving V8 engine with 414hp and 295ft-lbs, considered blasphemous. Early models of the M3 were matted to either a clumsy DCT six speed transmission or a manual six speed. The coupe had an optional carbon fiber roof which saved an additional 40lbs... and looked really awesome.
Reviews were largely positive on the M3 thanks to the M3’s perfectly tuned chassis and engine that loved to play. Diehard fans quickly came around. Multiple comparisons across many magazines often had the e9x M3 in first place, ahead of the C63 AMG, and the Lexus IS F.
2009 models received upgraded iDrive. 2011+ models had the option to add a competition package which lowered the car by 10mm, added 19in rims, and remapped dampening and stability controls, improved Bluetooth connectivity, and included an ‘M’ button which allowed driver preferences for a host of steering, suspension and other options.
Being a BMW, the e9X M3 had a few engine-related issues that buyers need to be alert toward. The rod bearings in all model years are a failure point. When these go out, it typically means you need to replace your engine. Oil analysis will tell you if the bearings are a problem, but it may be prudent to just replace the bearings preventatively. Depending on your area, the bearing replacement may run up to $2,000. The throttle actuators can go out on these cars, causing a ~$1,000 - $2,000 issue though in the state of California these can be replaced under the 7 year emission warranty.
Given the two potentially major engine issues listed above, a pre-purchase inspection and historical maintenance records are your best friends.
The e9X M3s are the last of the naturally aspirated cars, and while BMW did make many of them, there are fewer that are pristinely cared for. A 2011 with the competition package is the pick. 2011+ has 4+ years of depreciation, features worthwhile upgrades and is hitting the end of the steep depreciation curve.
Photo credit: Audizine
Toward the late 2000s, the RS4 (Race Sport) was released to go head to head with the early e92 M3. In most comparisons it won due to its impressive naturally aspirated V8 engine, well tuned chassis, and excellent manual transmission. Sadly, the RS4 was put out of production in 2010.
Noticing a gap in its US line-up, Audi USA made the decision to import its B8 RS5 model to compete in the higher end sport sedan market. Complete with upgraded suspension, a naturally aspirated 444hp and 317lb-ft engine with a 8300rpm redline, larger intakes, and the stylish lines from the A5, the RS5 was considered a worthy competitor in the market.
The RS5 is certainly more of a ‘grand tourer’ than a track car. It weighs just over 4000lbs and, despite its performance-oriented suspension, is a bit to manage over many curves. The only available transmission is a seven speed dual clutch automatic.
The RS5 was imported from 2013 to 2015. The 2015 added optional red brake calipers, matte-black 20 inch wheels, and blind-spot warning on the technology package. All model years suffer from premature brake and rotor wear due to inefficient brake cooling. It’s recommended that you buy either the carbon ceramic equipped brakes or upgrade to Brembo GT rotors and pads.
Only a total of ~5,000 RS5 coupes were imported over the three years and the 2013/2014 years have hit their initial depreciation. Due to the rarity and uniqueness of the RS5, we expect depreciation to be light over the next several years. Just make sure to change out the brakes to save money.
Lexus IS F
When the IS F was first released in 2008, the car was meant to be an M3 killer. Armed with a 414hp and 327 ft-lb V8 engine, a sport-tuned suspension, and a luxurious interior, the IS F had a 0-60 time of 4.6s. But the 2008-2010 vehicle had too much body roll in curves and was 300lbs too heavy to be a competitor on the track.
The 2011+ model corrected all of these problems by retuning or changing out nearly every part of the suspension and adding in a limited slip differential. The interior was also received minor improvements to better match the LFA and features a sport button now on the steering wheel. Reviews pegged the 2011+ IS F as the car to defeat the M3, but few comparison articles made it to press to prove it.
Needless to say, the 2011+ model is the IS F to buy. The suspension changes are noticeably better and the Lexus fit and finish really makes a difference in the interior. Reliability is also substantially better than the C63 AMG and the M3, with the water pump being the major service item before 100k miles.
The IS F was last produced in 2013, and had a lower production quota compared to the M3. Depreciation on these models has slowed substantially and we anticipate future depreciation on these vehicles to be low.
The Volkswagen GTI has been an enthusiast staple since it was first released in the 70’s. Always fun to drive, with plenty of power, it has evolved into a practical car with an excellent engine sitting on a great chassis. Most car enthusiasts would say the GTI is the car to get under $30k.
New for 2014, the MKVII GTI has an upgraded 2.0L turbocharged engine with 210hp. The sport package adds another 10hp and further refines the suspension. The GTI also has a six speed manual option, in addition to the six speed dual clutch automatic. The GTI is incredibly fun on the backroads and has ample space for child seats or a family of four. The rear seats also fold down to enable nearly double the truck capacity, ensuring you can haul practically anything.
Though VW builds the GTI in Mexico, a plant known for problematic cars, reliability has largely been good. The biggest problem area is the water pump, which fails in just over 4% of cars.
Opt for the 2014 GTI, which has two years of depreciation, and saw only a ~5% dip in car value over the last year. Due to the enthusiast demand for the car, the GTI holds value incredibly well.