Mid-Engine Bargains: 1985 Toyota MR2, 1997 Porsche Boxster and 1991 Acura NSX

ACURA NSX

Honda is the most inscrutable of car companies. Even as its engines were dominating Formula 1 during the 1980s, Honda didn't bother building a serious sports car until the Acura NSX debuted in 1990. Then, after redefining the supercar with this technological and ergonomic masterpiece, Honda left the car pretty much as is until allowing it to expire in 2005, when it was long in the tooth and long past state of the art.The NSX wasn't just a shot across Ferrari's bow; it was a thermonuclear missile designed to obliterate the factory in Maranello. The most memorable of its many groundbreaking technical features were an aluminum unibody and a soul-stirring 3.0-liter V-6 that generated 270 hp while spinning to 8000 rpm. Long and low, with cab-forward styling and an integrated rear wing, it looked like a Le Mans prototype for the street. But the most revolutionary aspects of the NSX were its user-friendly controls and a supple suspension that made it not only a pleasure but also a breeze to drive at any speed, from crawling in traffic to really-officer-160-miles-per-hour? "The car is beyond comfortable," says Larry Bastanza, a lifelong Porsche guy moved to buy an NSX after driving one for five miles.

Although the NSX was our Automobile of the Year in 1991, it got no respect from Ferrari snobs and supercar masochists who dissed its derivative styling and dclass heritage. In '95, T-tops became standard, and '97 brought a bigger engine and a six-speed gearbox. As Y2K dawned, the NSX was the automotive splurge du jour for affluent techno-geeks, and it re-mains an enduring icon of the dot-com bubble.

If you want the best supercar bargain on the planet, find an early coupe. Plan on spending about $30,000 for a well-maintained NSX with moderate mileage. You can buy cars for less than $25,000, but these tend to be high-mile, highly stressed beaters. More expensive models, on the other hand, are usually garage queens. Most NSXs have been liberally customized; deal with it. Among the more ambitious upgrades, a shorter final drive is useful, and true believers opt for a supercharger worth at least 60 horses.

Timing-belt service is critical and the air-conditioning is an expensive fix, so check both of them. But rust isn't ever an issue, for obvious reasons. And as long as you buy a car that's been properly maintained, your Ayrton Senna-developed, littlest-supercar-that-could NSX will make you feel smarter than everybody else on the road.

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