Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and California are armed with a legislative battleaxe and they’re bringing it to bear against the automotive industry. Fuel economy regulations are hitting like a war hammer, disrupting the market and crushing carmakers. In a mad dash to meet upcoming CAFE standards, manufacturers are dramatically shifting their product offerings. Downsized vehicles, hybrid drivetrains and diesel engines are some of the tools in their defensive arsenals.
One unfortunate victim of this efficiency stampede is rear-wheel drive. Slowly but surely, over the past 30 years, automakers have made the switch to front-drive, a layout that’s more economical in a number of ways. But not everyone is content driving a Nissan Sentra, or getting by in a minivan. For enthusiasts who care about performance, rear-wheel drive is king, but it’s a monarch that’s under siege. Keeping the dream alive, here’s a list of the Top 10 (reasonably) affordable RWD cars on the market today. Act fast before they’re gone in a puff of tire smoke.
2017 Chevrolet SS
GM has been back in the rear-wheel-drive, large sedan segment for a few years now. Their lust-worthy Pontiac G8 may be a distant memory, but The General is not deterred by its market failure. The curiously named SS (Is it a ship? Is it the Nazi Schutzstaffel? We kid, we kid!) packs a fire-breathing 6.2-liter V8 engine that delivers 415 horsepower with an equal measure of torque. Throw a six-speed automatic transmission into the mix and this car should be able to scamper from a standstill to 60 miles an hour in about five seconds; a manual with the same number of ratios is also offered. Unfortunately, all of this creamy goodness does not come cheap. Base price including shipping and handling as well as the gas-guzzler tax is nearly $49,000! Also, you’d better act fast as this car is going to be discontinued by the end of 2017, which makes us sadder than a clown with no face paint, but what can you do?
2017 Nissan 370Z
Now, let’s depart Detroit and head across the Pacific toward Japan, an island nation teetering on the Eastern fringe of Asia. It’s home to origami, sushi and, oddly enough, rear-wheel drive. One true-blue performance machine to come from this country is Nissan’s Z car, a well-respected thoroughbred that’s nearly as old as the Ford Mustang. Today’s iteration is the 370Z. As its name implies, it’s powered by a 3.7-liter V6 engine. It belts out 332 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque. The fancy NISMO model is even more potent, delivering 350 ponies! Either way you slice it, this car can be had with either a quick-shifting seven-speed automatic transmission or a tried-and-true six-gear manual. For all you bargain hunters out there, base price is around $30,000, which isn’t too bad.
2017 Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger
Next up, a duet of large sedans, and a vehicular class that used to be a staple of the American roadscape. Unfortunately, the traditional rear-wheel-drive, full-size car is an endangered species today. But continuing the tradition and proudly waving the banner for both Mopar fans and auto enthusiasts alike are the popular LX cars. The Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger are exciting offerings from Auburn Hills. They’re available with a wide variety of engines ranging from a smooth-running Pentastar V6 to a 707-horsepower supercharged Hemi V8 in the Charger Hellcat. Who says you can’t have fun and be (reasonably) responsible?
2017 Dodge Challenger
Getting some mileage out of its rear-wheel-drive architecture, Chrysler also builds the Dodge Challenger on a modified version of its LX platform. This Pentastar pony car is perfect for doing smokey burnouts and getting sideways. Like the Charger and 300, it’s offered with a variety of different engines ranging from a base V6 to a hopped-up Hemi. As you’d expect – and as there should be – a manual transmission is available. The Challenger starts at about $28,000, which gets you a 305-horse stable and an eight-speed automatic transmission.
2017 Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ
When it comes to affordable fun it’s hard to beat the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ twins. These sporty rear-wheel-drive coupes are a modern take on a classic formula. With these cars, engineers made driving dynamics a top priority, and it shows. They’re both about as much fun as you can have for around 27 grand. Any more would probably be illegal in the lower 48 states. Both of them are powered by a 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder engine that delivers 205 horsepower and 156 lb-ft of torque when paired with the standard six-speed manual transmission; automatic-equipped models are slightly less muscular.
2017 BMW 2 Series
Next up, the BMW 2 Series. This little coupe is responsive, refined and most importantly, rear-drive. In base 230i form, it’s motivated by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that’s good for 248 horses and 258 lb-ft of torque. You can also nab a ridiculously smooth force-fed inline six with 335 ponies and 369 lb-ft on tap. All-wheel drive is also on the menu. Upping the fun factor, a six-speed manual transmission is offered, as is an eight-speed automatic. Base price is around 34 large, including delivery fees. #Bargain? #HellYeah!
2017 Mazda MX-5
Mazda’s MX-5 Miata is probably the most iconic roadster ever built. It combines fun, efficiency and, more importantly, reliability in a compact, lightweight package. Of course, it’s also rear-wheel drive and is available with a manual transmission. In the hands of a skilled driver, this affordable droptop can slice through corners with the speed and elegance of a samurai katana. This car was all new for 2016 and sports a significant weight loss that makes its modest 155 horses extremely effective. The Miata starts at around $25,000.
2017 Chevrolet Camaro
Chevy sells a pretty popular model in the pony-car segment; perhaps you’ve heard of it. The Camaro is the bow tie’s affordable hooligan, and it’s happy to smoke its tires clear across any unsuspecting parking lot. Buyers can opt for an efficient turbo-four, a screaming V6, a naturally aspirated Small Block or even a supercharged V8 in the Camaro ZL1. Making dreams come true, a full complement of transmissions is also available: read automatic and manual, plus the car is even offered as a convertible. What’s not to love? Even the price is most agreeable, kicking off in the 27-grand range.
2017 Ford Mustang
Credit goes to Ford for inventing the pony car segment when it introduced the Mustang in 1964. This long and low two-door struck a chord with young people growing up in the flower-power period, and America’s youth has snapped ‘em up by the truckload ever since. The car has provided five decades of delinquent rear-wheel-drive behavior and it shows no sign of stopping. The company nailed it when they introduced Mustang all those years ago, and fortunately the car has stayed true to those roots. A decent V6 serves as the entry-level engine, while a 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder is optional. Capping off the “normal” Mustang range is a silky smooth 5.0-liter V8, which delivers up to 435 horsepower. Naturally, special-editions of this car are even more muscular; the Shelby GT350 pushes out 526 ponies!
2017 smart fortwo
Bet you didn’t expect to see a smart car on this list, but believe it or not, Daimler’s little runabout is actually rear-wheel drive. It also features an aft-mounted engine, just like the Porsche 911. But that’s where the similarities between these two vehicles end. Zuffenhausen’s legendary sports car is just that, an automotive icon, but the smart is anything but. The previous version was abominable, with a driving experience that bordered on infuriating. Fortunately, the car is all new for 2016. It’s grown in width and sophistication, and most importantly its repugnant automated manual transmission has been exorcised. In its place is either a dual-clutch self-shifter or a five-speed manual, either of which are worlds better. A new sub-1.0-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine puts out 89 horses and 100 lb-ft of torque, which give this little runabout surprising squirt. If nothing else, the 2017 smart fortwo is worth a test drive.
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