S2 Lotus Elise
Price When New: $40,780
Expect to Pay: $30,000-$40,000
Model Years: 2005-2011 (in the US)
Horsepower: 217
Weight: 2,055 lbs

Think of all the mid-engine cars that typically fill dream garages: Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Porsches, old and new. You’ll quickly realize that prices for most live well above the $200,000 mark and are unobtainable to the average enthusiast. But, there are cars with mid-ship-mounted engines that also come with a more down to Earth price tag. The Lotus Elise is the most respected of the lot. It doesn’t churn twelve, ten, eight or even six cylinders — it makes do with an inline-four. Lotus adheres to a lightweight, moderate-power philosophy; consequently, the Elise is one of the best handling mid-engine cars you can get for under $40,000.

Released in ’96, the first-generation Elise used a mostly fiberglass and aluminum architecture to keep its weight down to a hair under 1,600 lbs. Since the 1.8-Liter engine didn’t have to worry pull much heft, its 118 horsepower, fed to the rear wheels, was more than enough. Its featherweight characteristics also helped a achieve an insanely low center of gravity which made handling the Elise’s biggest strength.

Fast forward to 2005. In its second generation, the Lotus Elise was finally legal on US roads. The engine in the middle 2q switched to a Toyota 1.8-Liter inline-four good for 189 horsepower. Its 0-60 mph time was an impressive 4.9 seconds despite the new generation tipping the scales at 1,896 lbs. Lotus continued to refresh the Elise, adding new trim levels and special, higher-powered editions until 2011 when they introduced the third generation. That car got even more power but was only available in the US for its first production year after which federal regulations ended our stateside fun.

Ued Elises can be had for comfortably under $40,000 – these are mostly earlier examples of the second generation, from between 2005-2008. And, as far as mid-engined exotica goes, the Elise’s four-cylinder Toyota engine makes it damn reliable and returns a respectable MPG. Drawbacks? There’s a reason the mileage is curiously low on almost every Elise of this vintage: the stiff suspension, incredibly short wheelbase and visceral driving experience make it more suited for the track than everyday driving. If you’re willing to sacrifice comfort, spending less than $40,000 is a small price to pay to taste top-tier sports car performance.

CarGurus: 2005 Lotus Elise w/ 29,000 miles $29,999
Ebay: 2008 Lotus Elise, w/ 37,344 miles$32,980
CarGurus: 2005 Lotus Elise, w/ 24,181 miles$34,995
Carfax: 2005 Lotus Elise, w/ 19,296 miles$37,970