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Of course, not all of us are lawyers or doctors, and so price is as much a part of the decision-making process as power and performance. Luckily there are plenty of fun and affordable options out there ranging from hot hatchbacks to cool coupes for those in the market for a new sports car. So without further ado, here’s a list, in no particular order, of some of the best sports cars you can buy for less than $30,000*.
Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ
Forget for a minute the complaints you’ve heard about Toyota and Subaru’s twin coupes being underpowered and in need of turbocharging, because when it comes to good old fashioned driving fun, these two are hard to beat. The jointly developed Toyo-baru is a throwback to the lightweight, driver-focused sports cars of yore, forgoing mounds of power in favor of a nimble and balanced ride.
Output hovers around 200 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque, which isn’t all that impressive, but both the BRZ and 86 more than make up for it with tons of fun at every turn. The Subaru starts at just $25,495 ($27,995 in Canada), while the Toyota has a starting sticker price of $26,255 ($29,580 in Canada).
Ford Fiesta ST
For a car that makes about as much horsepower as the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ, the Ford Fiesta ST feels a whole helluva lot faster — and maybe even a bit more fun. Part of the credit goes to the Fiesta ST’s go-kart-like proportions and torquey turbocharged engine, which help liven it up to another level compared to just about anything on the market. But the best part about the Fiesta ST is that it’s a ton of fun this side of the law. Tossing it into a corner at 30 miles an hour is rewarded with the same exhilaration that most cars need much higher speeds to accomplish, which should help keep tickets to a minimum. Racking up a few tickets shouldn’t, however, break the bank. The tiny ST starts at just $21,240 ($25,948 in Canada), leaving plenty of room in the budget for, um, incidentals.
Ford Focus ST
Cut from the same two-letter cloth as the fun-loving Fiesta is the Ford Focus ST. While slightly more portly, the Focus ST makes up for it with a ton of additional output. With 252 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque on tap, the Focus easily hides its extra pounds with that added power. But best of all, it does so without sacrificing fun. In fact, some may prefer the raw attitude the larger Focus ST brings to the table, forcing drivers to fight a little more to harness its full potential. It’s also far more family-friendly than the Fiesta for just a few grand more. Pricing starts at $24,775 ($33,198 in Canada).
Mazda MX-5 Miata
There might not be a better sports car on the planet regardless of price than the Mazda Miata. It’s just a bonus that it’s so damn affordable. If you think the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ are underpowered then brace yourself, because the Miata’s only got 155 ponies and 148 lb-ft of torque pushing it around. Thankfully it doesn’t need any more than that, with that meager output proving more than enough to rocket the droptop around corners like a slot car.
ALSO SEE: 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Review
Pricing for the soft top version starts at a very reasonable $24,915 ($31,900 in Canada). Unfortunately, the drop-dead gorgeous RF hardtop convertible version doesn’t make the list thanks to a premium that pushes the price tag above our threshold, but at $31,555 ($38,800 in Canada) the starting MSRP isn’t outlandish.
Fiat 124 Spider Abarth
Deserving of its own spot on the list is the Fiat 124 Spider. But we’re not talking about any old Fiata here. Instead, it’s the 124 Spider Abarth that’s worthy of your hard-earned dollars — only about 28,000 of them, in fact. Output from the tiny 1.4-liter turbocharged engine under the hood is still restricted to the same 184 lb-ft of torque to go along with 164 horsepower, but it’s the transformation it makes from wine-country cruiser to autocross extraordinaire that makes the Abarth so spectacular. Pricing starts at $28,195 ($35,495 in Canada) for Fiat’s performance-focused roadster.
The next car on our list is the tamer of the two versions of Subaru’s road-going rally king, but make no mistake: The WRX still packs quite the punch. Its 2.0-liter boxer engine makes a healthy 268 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, all of which heads to the pavement through all four wheels. That’s a far cry from the 305 horsepower and 290 lb-ft of torque made by the WRX STI, but the infection-free version is equally adept at rocketing around roads with reckless abandon — and it’s far more useable as a daily driver. The Subaru WRX starts at $26,695 ($29,995 in Canada).
Volkswagen Golf GTI
And of course, what list of sports cars would be complete without the Volkswagen Golf GTI. This is the hot hatch that started it all, and the GTI continues to be a shining example of fun affordability. There’s also an argument to be made that the GTI is a better buy than the hopped-up Golf R, but we’ll save that for another day. Volkswagen has consistently found a way to build a car that can be fast and fun while still feeling every bit as user-friendly as the base commuter version of the Golf, and that tradition continues more than 40 years since the GTI’s introduction. Pricing starts at $25,595 ($29,495 in Canada).
A lot of folks are quick to judge the four-cylinder version of the Camaro as being underpowered and overweight, but it can easily prove otherwise. This base Camaro, along with the four-cylinder Ford Mustang, epitomizes the modern-day muscle car.
ALSO SEE: 2017 Chevrolet Camaro 1LE Review
The bow-tie clad Camaro gets its power from a 2.0-liter turbocharged motor that’s good for 275 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, which is more than enough to motivate the hardtop version to 60 mph in something around 5.5 seconds. Getting into one costs a reasonable $25,905 ($29,495 in Canada).
Like the Camaro, the Mustang uses a turbocharged mill to make its power. The 2.3-liter is the same one found in the outrageous Focus RS, and makes 310 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque, helping it sprint to 60 mph in about the same amount of time as the Camaro. Of course, some will say it’s V8 or bust in a muscle car like the Mustang, and those people are what I like to call … probably right. But this Mustang is far more affordable, starting at just $26,195 ($29,398 in Canada).
Honda Civic Si
And finally, we can probably go out on a limb and assume the new Honda Civic Si will easily find its way onto our list. The last version of the Si was far from spectacular, and Honda’s hoping to change that this time around. The pending Si uses the same 1.5-liter turbo engine available in the rest of the Civic lineup, with output cranked up to 205 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque. It also gets a bunch of other performance upgrades intent on amping up the whole experience. Expecting pricing in the neighborhood of the Ford Focus ST.
From coupes to convertibles and compacts, our list shows there’s something for everyone in the market for a sports car that won’t break the bank. But best of all, every one of our Top 10 is available with a manual gearbox. Not all of them are exactly practical — those coupes and convertibles are probably going to fare poorly when it comes to family duty — but they’re all a blast to drive, and prove there’s still plenty of affordable options out there.
(*Disclaimer: In the interest of fairness to Canadian sports car enthusiasts the price cap for this list was increased to $36,000. Doing so would have been unnecessary just a few short years ago, but a fluctuating exchange rate has seen the price of certain cars increase substantially as of late.)