If you leaf through a pile of car magazines from 20 or so years ago, scarcely an issue will go by without some news from the flourishing sports sedan segment. Comparison tests pit BMW’s 3-Series against the latest up-and-comer. Japanese brands took the step from economy cars to viable sports-luxury alternatives and began to legitimately thrive. Jaguar and Saab offered their own niche takes. And what’s this about Cadillac making a pivot to lively cars that handle?
Fast forward to today, and turn of the century cars like the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4, and Lexus IS300 haven’t taken to the collector world with quite the same gusto as when they initially debuted. Though many of them, even in base or mid-tier trim, excelled as driver’s cars and wore their manufacturer’s clearly-defined character on their sleeves, collectors have largely ignored them until recently, instead focusing on top-line badges like M, AMG, S or V. The rest can be had for a comparative song (but that may slowly be changing).
There are entirely logical reasons for this. First and foremost, these cars were designed to be fun appliances, not collector’s items. People enjoyed them (many via lease), and they often fell into disrepair in subsequent ownership, something Rob Sass refers to as third owner syndrome. As a consequence, finding a solid example may take patience and diligence.
What’s more, when a driver’s car becomes more affordable, the urge to take it to the track gets stronger. Go to any amateur track day, budget endurance race, SCCA or NASA weekend, and you’ll suddenly discover where all the E36-generation BMWs went. Head to a drift event and you won’t miss the distinctive sound of a Nissan VQ engine generating tire smoke from under an Infiniti G35’s fenders.
Still, there are good, older sports sedans out there in an array of flavors. In order to understand the extent of enthusiast interest in this segment, we cast a wide net over contenders from multiple continents and manufacturers. And because many of these vehicles are not tracked in the Hagerty Price Guide, we relied on average quoted value taken across model variants (for example, the data below for the C-Class Mercedes includes the base cars as well as AMG trims—the same goes for performance versions of Audi, BMW, and Cadillac).
As modern enthusiasts pine for more driving engagement and personality, cars from the 1990s and and 2000s (which generally have a more analog feel than new cars but also have modern performance and reliability) have seen an uptick in popularity, and the last few years have mostly been good to sports sedans as a result. Overall collector interest in this list of sport sedans is up 38% and quoted values are up 14% since January of 2021.
It's not surprising that the German brands, who were the segment's sales leaders since its inception, make up the lion's share of the interest from buyers calling for quotes, with BMW's 3-Series leading the way at 36 percent and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class coming in at 24% of the cars sampled here. Interest in the baby Benz is up 4% in the last three years, while the BMW has tapered 2% over the same period.
Overall collector interest in this list of sports sedans is up 38% and quoted values are up 14% since January of 2021.
Despite the popularity of the C-Class, the model's value is only 11 grand despite the inclusion of AMG variants. This illustrates that even the performance trims of the C-class see heavy depreciation—within our data, these cars have seen their average value drop 7% since Jan 2021.
Audi and Cadillac are the best of the rest as far as popularity, at 10% and 9% of inquiries, respectively, with the rest at or below 5%. That the Cadillac's value tops the list is likely influenced by strong values for its V models, and that the inclusion of the first and second-gen CTS means it's the model with the newest (at 10 years old) vehicles within the data set.
As we have covered in some notable sales, Saabs are on the rise. The Saab 9-3 makes up a very small portion of the collector sport sedan market but the values for ones we are seeing are increasing. Since Jan 2021 they are up 26%.
Jaguar's results are a mixed bag, with the more traditional and larger XJR seeing a 10% bump in average quoted value over the last three years, while its smaller S-Type and S-Type R are treading water with 1% percent decrease over the same time period. Like the Cadillac, the XJR is on the heftier side of cars in this group, but sports sedans mean different things to different buyers, and the last of the old-design big cats certainly has enthusiast appeal.
Similarly, while Supras, Integras, and other sporty nameplates have skyrocketed, Japanese sports sedans have met with varied interest from modern enthusiasts. Quoted values of the Acura TL and Lexus IS300 are both up, but the Infiniti G35 and G37 have receded dramatically, to the point where the average value of a first-generation Miata is higher than that of a G35.
To an extent, these quoted values reflect the quality and condition of the cars coming to market, but they also demonstrate that there's ample opportunity to get into a car with personality and practicality at a relatively reasonable price. As '90s sports cars get snatched up by folks looking for a taste of the last "analog" era, these sports sedans are only likely to get more attention. Regardless of the degree of sport you prefer in your four door, this segment likely has something that fits your needs, and at a lower price than other collector cars of the era. For now.