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3 Mid-Engine Choices Under $30K If You Can't Afford a 2020 Corvette

Mid-engine sports cars have some great advantages. The new Corvette is a perfect example but starts at $60K. If you would love to have a less expensive mid-engine sports car we offer three choices here. One new and two used. All are under $30K.

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The new 2020 Corvette Stingray is an impressive new mid-engine sports car from General Motors. While the 2020 model year is new in almost every way, the fact that the car is mid-engine is not new. Corvettes have been mid-engine cars for generations. Some in the automotive media don't know this is not the first mid-engine Corvette. Because they don't know what a mid-engine car is.

What Is a Mid-Engine Car?
A mid-engine car is one in which the major drivetrain components are located between the vehicle's front and rear wheel centerlines, or between the axles if you will. That means that the engine is located not in the front engine bay ahead of the wheels as in many family cars like an Accord or Camry, but rather someplace else between the front wheels and the rear wheels. In the case of the 2020 Corvette, the engine is now located just ahead of the rear wheels. Thus, GM is marketing the car as a "mid-engine sports car." The image above shows a 2015 Corvette downward view of the running gear.

Mazda Miata cut-away image shows mid-engine layoutWhy Mid-Engine?
Mid-engine cars are generally preferred (but not always) by sports car fans because the layout usually translates to a 50-50 weight distribution over the two sets of wheels, front and rear. This layout offers advantages in both real-world and also on-track performance driving.

Without going into a diatribe on handling, cars with engines ahead of the front axle tend to understeer. In other words, they will plow ahead in the event they are sliding. Imagine turning on snow and the car does not turn, but instead continues in the same path despite you having turned the steering wheel. That is real-world understeer. The reason it is bad is that it makes the car feel less fun in performance driving. Automakers prefer it for safety reasons since it is less likely than oversteer to kill you if you lose control of the grip of the vehicle. As many muscle cars have proven, front-engine cars can be fun for enthusiasts. Cars with engines located behind the rear axle are much less common. The Porsche 911 is a classic example. As this example proves, mid-engine cars are not the only layout that enthusiasts like.

Mid-engine cars can be tuned to slide neutrally more easily by designers. This is good for many reasons on a track and they are also fun to drive in real-world situations. They also tend to brake better than cars in which the engine is ahead of the front axle.

Mazda miata mid-engine carTypes Of Mid-Engine Cars
The new Corvette is a rear-mid-engine car. That means that its engine is between the wheels, but located closer to the rear wheels. In this case, behind the driver. The second kind of mid-engine car is a front mid-engine design. Examples of this are the Mazda Miata, and guess what, the past few generations of the Chevrolet Corvette. That's right. The new 2020 Corvette is not the first mid-engine Corvette. It is not even the second generation of mid-engine corvettes. Need proof? Pop the hood on any Corvette built since the 1980s and look where the engine resides.

Like the new Corvette, the old Corvette, Mazda Miata, and Porsche Boxter/Cayman all have a 50-50 weight distribution. All have neutral handling. All are a blast to drive. And all are mid-engine cars.

Related Story: Pre-owned Porsche Boxster vs. New Mazda MX-5 Miata

3 Mid-Engine Cars Under $30K
The best new mid-engine car under $30K is the current Mazda MX-5 Miata. It can be purchased at any Mazda dealer in its Sport trim for under $30K new. If you would like to spend around $12K for a great mid-engine sports car the NC generation Miata that preceded this one (2015 back to 2006) was also fun to drive and had outstanding performance for the dollar.

A used Porsche Boxster is easy to find for under $30K. It won't be as new or as reliable as a new Miata, and it may not even be as fast. But it is a great mid-engine vehicle. If you prefer a hard-top get the Cayman version. Used Corvettes under $30K with a mid-engine layout are also easy cars to find.

If you need four-doors and want a mid-engine design, check out the 2020 Infiniti Q50. We just drove one this past month. When we popped the hood, we found the engine was behind the front wheels. A mid-engine sedan? Sure, why not. There is nothing magical about mid-engine layouts.

John Goreham is a life-long car nut and recovering engineer. John's focus areas are technology, safety, and green vehicles. In the 1990s, he was part of an academic research team that built a mid-engine race car from scratch. For 20 years he applied his engineering and sales talents in the high tech world and published numerous articles in technical journals such as Chemical Processing Magazine. In 2008 he retired from that career and dedicated himself to chasing his dream of being an auto writer. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American newspapers and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on Twitter, and connect with him at Linkedin.

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Digitaldoc (not verified)    January 28, 2020 - 1:13PM

I don';t think the purists will agree that the miata or the infiniti is a mid-engine car. You may be technically correct, but not really in most folks mind. I thought you should suggest the "Japanese Ferrari," better known as the MR2, as an affordable mid-engine car. You know, it has the engine behind the seats, where it should be for a mid-engine car.

John Goreham    February 4, 2020 - 2:56PM

In reply to by Digitaldoc (not verified)

The mid-engine MR2 was the first vehicle I ever wrote about. In college. I did a comparison of it to the Fiero. In this story, I tried to limit the cars to ones that are reasonable for a buyer to actually acquire right now. Those vintage mister twos and Fieros were great for the day! And your comment again illustrates that mid-engine sports cars are really not that uncommon or exotic. Thanks for the reminder.

DeanMcManis (not verified)    January 28, 2020 - 4:17PM

You are definitely going to get some push back from traditional car fans, but I totally agree with you. If the engine and transmission are between the axles, it's a mid-engined car. Of course the image that most car lovers associate with mid-engined cars are Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and other traditional rear-mid-engined designs. Often rear mid engined cars have a rear weight bias, but this aids in acceleration traction. Similarly, rear engine designs like the Porsche 911 have great acceleration as the engine's weight is over the driving wheels. But early 911s could be a real handful, especially the first 911 Turbo models that had bad turbo lag and would come on boost mid corner, lose traction and then go into an unrecoverable spin. But years of racing and skilled engineering have tamed the 911's handling, and newer models are judged among the most rewarding cars to drive. Front mid engined cars like the Miata, Corvette, and Viper are surprisingly good in the corners because of their 50-50 weight balance. In fact so serious racers will "corner balance" their car to have 25% of the car's weight on each wheel. Another big advantage of rear mid engined cars is the lack of driveline losses. Front engined, front wheel drive cars have lower driveline losses, but they also have the accelerating wheels also steering the car. One of the new Corvette's biggest performance advantage is due to it's quick shifting transmission being connected directly to the engine. The combination of the reduced power loss, seamless, quick shifting, and the engine placement explain how the new C8 Corvette can beat the C7 Corvette ZR1 to 60 MPH despite having 260HP less. Electric cars have even better weight balance with the motors in-between each set of driving wheels, and the weight of the battery between the axles and low in the car's body. Plus usually BEVs have no transmission and all motor torque available at zero RPM. The only downside for EVs is the huge weight of their batteries. Top exotic, mid engine hybrid cars like the Porsche 918 have two electric motors, one driving the front wheels, and one electric motor in parallel driving the rear wheels, plus a small battery, providing the best of all worlds, top acceleration, great handling, and the motors aiding both power delivery and braking. There are very strong rumors that the top C8 ZR1/Zora will have electric motors as well. Relatively affordable sports cars like the Miata, MR2, and Lotus Elise attack the idea of fast track times by weight balance, and very low vehicle weight. They can be surprisingly competitive on a circuit racetrack against performance cars with FAR more power, and even though the big boys run away in the straights, the lightweight, balanced sports cars catch up in the corners.

John Goreham    February 28, 2020 - 2:23PM

In reply to by Brad (not verified)

The Jeep Liberty (KJ) uses an in-line four-cylinder engine mounted longitudinally in the engine bay. Meaning the cylinders are in a row from front to back. The engine sits atop the midline of the front wheels. Not behind that point. The cylinder closest to the bumper is well ahead of the centerline of the front wheels. The engine is not located behind the centerline of the front wheels. So the Jeep Liberty has nothing to do with the definition of a midengine vehicle. It is a front-engine vehicle.

Pete Lew (not verified)    January 29, 2020 - 12:57PM

The Porsche Boxster/Cayman is a true mid-engine design like the new Corvette C8.
Its engine is mounted behind the front seats and in front of the transaxle.
Not like a Miata or the previous generations Corvettes.
You need to research Porsches more thoroughly before writing about them Mr. Goreham.

Allen (not verified)    February 4, 2020 - 12:13PM

How can you compare Mazda Miata to a mid engine layout and design. This not a good comparison on no platform whatsoever. But can you please help me understand this article.

John Goreham    February 4, 2020 - 2:52PM

In reply to by Allen (not verified)

Sure, Allen. The story provides a definition of what a mid-engine vehicle is. The story then shows an illustration of the Miata. As you can see, the Miata, with its engine located in the "middle" of the vehicle, fully behind the front wheels, meets the definition. The Miata's engine is just as much in the middle of it as the engine is in the middle of a new Corvette.

Travis (not verified)    February 19, 2020 - 6:27PM

In reply to by John Goreham

It's not about how "close" it is to the wheels, it's about whether it's "between" the wheels. And whether they are the "driven" wheels makes no difference either way.

For instance, a classic VW Beetle (or 911) has the engine VERY CLOSE to the (driven) rear wheels. However, it is still rear-engined, because the engine is "behind" the rear wheels, not "between" the front and rear wheels.

Travis (not verified)    February 19, 2020 - 6:18PM

In reply to by Vince white (not verified)

I'm sorry, you are just wrong. Mid-engine has a definition, and it is that the engine is located between the wheels.

That said, I realize that nobody ever calls vehicles with engines mounted just behind the front wheels "mid" engined. That's basically the point of this article--to point out that those can *technically* be mid-engined as well.

Justin (not verified)    February 27, 2020 - 6:26PM

The whole point of this article seems obvious. To sound edgy on a technicality while hoping it gets argued. But the writer misses out on another pretty substantial technicality. There is a clear difference in automotive technology terminology. There's a "mid-rear" mounted engine and a "mid-front" mounted engine. Calling a mounting position "mid" doesn't define position at all. It's either one of the 2 front or rear.

S (not verified)    March 1, 2020 - 8:55AM

How could you talk about front-mid-engine cars and not list the Honda S2000 as a good option? They can be had for under 30 grand.