The Best Sporty Cars for Under $30,000
For less than the average price of a new car in America, you can have one of these decidedly above-average cars.
The average price of a new car in America keeps inching up, so that now it sits just over $30,000. Luckily, for that $30K average price, one can afford a car that's anything but average. Here we've gathered 15 sporty cars (arranged in alphabetical order) that deliver driving satisfaction and general fun, and all of them have prices that start under $30,000.
Chevrolet Camaro | Base price: $25,995
It's almost impossible to look at the Chevrolet Camaro and think it's anything other than sporty. This pony car has two doors, a long hood, and a roofline so low it's actually rather annoying (outward visibility is an issue)—a far cry from the tall, SUV things taking over America's roads. In its most entry-level guise, the Camaro delivers a basic recipe for sportiness with rear-wheel drive, a six-speed manual transmission, and a 275-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Buyers can even opt for the uplevel 335-hp 3.6-liter V-6 engine (also with a six-speed manual) for less than $30,000, but forget the SS trim and its mighty 455-hp V-8, which starts at nearly $40,000.
Dodge Challenger | Base price: $29,590
Big cars can be sporty, too. Take, for example, the full-size Challenger coupe. Unlike the other pony cars on this list—and many of the four-doors, too—it can seat real, adult-sized human beings in its rear seat. Yet it also comes standard with a 305-hp V-6 engine, rear-wheel drive, and badass retro muscle-car looks. Its price just squeaks in under our $30K cap, but hey, if your budget doesn't allow for one of Dodge's V-8-powered Challengers, which offer up to 797 horsepower, the V-6 model hardly is a dog and looks basically the same.
Fiat 124 Spider | Base price: $26,935
Fiat's two-seat roadster wears an old name and retro bodywork evocative of the original 124 Spider's, but it is a thoroughly modern sports car underneath. In fact, its chassis and body structure are shared with Mazda's MX-5 Miata. Fiat-specific bits include the 160-hp turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine, the seats and steering wheel, and all the sheetmetal below its window line. What the 124's turbo engine gives up in zingy excitement to the Miata's rev-happy 2.0-liter four-cylinder, it makes up for in mid-range torque; you can leave this Fiat in third gear and hit your favorite back road—or skip downshifting when traffic slows on your morning commute.
Ford Mustang | Base price: $27,765
Ford prices its Mustang higher than Chevy does the Camaro, with the least-expensive Mustang coming in at $27,765—just up under this list's $30,000 price cap. For that sum, Ford sells you a Mustang with a 310-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a six-speed manual transmission. The more powerful version of the same engine, which makes 330 horsepower and comes as part of the High Performance package, pushes the price over the $30K mark, as does the Mustang's available 5.0-liter V-8 engine.
Honda Accord Sport 1.5T | Base price: $27,460
What is a midsize family sedan doing on a list of purportedly sporty cars? Well, the Honda Accord Sport not only has the word "sport" in its name, it also is genuinely sporty, with crisp steering and handling. Using the same 192-hp turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine as other low-level Accords (a 2.0T was once available), the Sport adds subtle visual zest in the form of 19-inch wheels, a lip spoiler, LED fog lights, and chrome exhaust tips. (A more powerful 2.0-liter turbo engine is optional, but pushes the Accord's price beyond $30,000.) For no extra cost, Honda will even sell you an Accord Sport with a six-speed manual transmission, which completes its secret-sport-sedan vibe. We recommend you select this version; the alternative is an entirely acceptable—but boring—continuously variable automatic transmission.
Honda Civic Si | Base price: $25,930
Take your pick: coupe or sedan. When it comes to Honda's 2020 Civic Si, the next-sportiest Civic next to the 306-hp Civic Type R, door count doesn't matter. Honda will sell you an Si coupe for the same $25,930 as it will a four-door sedan. Either one is a steal, what with the Si's 205-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine (a spicier version of the same 1.5-liter that powers the Accord Sport), limited-slip differential, electronically adaptive dampers, and quick steering. A six-speed manual is the only transmission offered. If everyday comfort matters to you as much as sportiness, also know that the Civic Si rides with civility and includes niceties such as heated seats and automatic climate control.
Hyundai Elantra Sport | Base price: $24,730
If you thought the Honda Civic Si sedan was cheap, consider the similarly sized Hyundai Elantra Sport—it's even less expensive! Though the Elantra's spec sheet reads a lot like the Civic's, there are some differences. The Hyundai doesn't deliver quite as sharp a driving experience as does the Honda, and its turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine makes slightly less horsepower (201 instead of 205). Hyundai also recently nixed the Elantra Sport's manual-transmission option, leaving a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic as buyers' lone choice.
Hyundai Veloster Turbo/Veloster N | Base prices: $24,070/$28,320
Rather than battle the Honda Civic Si and Type R, along with the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Golf R head-on, Hyundai took an oblique route with its latest Veloster hatchback. In this case, different is better—at least when it comes to pricing. The 201-hp Veloster Turbo is less expensive than either the Civic Si or the Golf GTI, while the higher-performance 275-hp Veloster N undercuts the Civic Type R and the Golf R by thousands. Sure, the Hyundai is slightly smaller than those competitors, and it only has one door on the driver's side (in an unusual arrangement, there are two doors on the passenger side of the vehicle), but the Veloster delivers almost-there driving satisfaction and performance for less. For a sporty car under $30K, you could do much, much worse.
Kia Soul GT-Line | Base price: $21,335
Don't worry, this is a list of above-average cars. Even though the Kia Soul appears to be a box on wheels—and a box being among the most average of shapes—it's hardly boring. The latest Soul is refined, stylish, and roomy, and in its range-topping Turbo guise, it's even a little quick. That's because the Turbo replaces the 2.0-liter four-cylinder and continuously variable automatic transmission used in every other Soul with a 201-hp 1.6-liter four-cylinder and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. It also includes GT-Line trim goodies such as a retuned suspension, 18-inch wheels, full-LED exterior lighting, and more, plus genuinely smile-inducing handling.
Mazda 3 | Base price: $22,420
Despite its recent move upmarket, the Mazda 3 remains a sporty conveyance—if perhaps a low-key one. This is because Mazda has toned down most of the 3's rawer edges with this latest sedan and hatchback models. The engine's noises are muted, its thrust merely adequate. You can only find a manual transmission on the top-level trim; the rest of the lineup is automatic-only. And even the steering ratio has been slowed down for less twitchiness, though the steering still operates with a wonderful, liquid smoothness. No, you must go beneath the 3's elegant sheetmetal and newfound refinement to delight in Mazda's excellent chassis tuning abilities. There, you'll be reminded—however faintly—of the 3's familial link to Mazda's iconic Miata sports car.
Mazda MX-5 Miata | Base price: $26,650
Affordable sporty cars under $30,000? How about an affordable sports car—no "y" about it. The Mazda MX-5 Miata is among the standard-bearers for sports cars at any price, thanks to its intoxicating "fling-ability" on curvy roads. The Miata is lightweight, rear-wheel-drive, not super powerful (although its engine received an infusion of horsepower for 2019 that makes for pretty quick acceleration), and tiny. Yet within that small footprint, it packs plenty of fun. The roof goes down; the exhaust makes funny farting sounds; and its little face appears to wear a maniacally happy grin all the time.
Subaru WRX | Base price: $28,395
The 2020 Subaru WRX is an all-wheel-drive, turbocharged sport sedan without a direct competitor. Its onetime nemesis, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, is no more, leaving behind only tangentially competitive vehicles such as the Volkswagen Golf R for the WRX to chase. Unlike the Subie's all-wheel-drive and turbocharged proxy competitors, however, the WRX remains affordable—at least in base form. For just under $30,000, you can relish in its rally racing heritage and all-weather traction.
Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ | Base prices: $28,330/$29,745
Dig Mazda's MX-5 Miata, but wish it were a little bigger and had a permanent roof? Enter the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ twins. These rear-drive, four-cylinder sports coupes were co-developed by Toyota and Subaru and deliver plenty of ass-out handling antics along with a (tight) four-seat cabin, all under our $30,000 mark. For owners keen on racing or taking their BRZs or 86s to the track, there is enough room inside the cars for a full set of extra wheels and tires. Simply fold the rear seat down.
Volkswagen Golf GTI | Base price: $28,490
You simply cannot have a list of affordable sporty cars that does not include Volkswagen's GTI. This is the original hot hatchback, with a punchy turbocharged engine, playful handling, and a usefully square-ish body shape. The GTI is appealingly under-the-radar, and over the years it has grown up and become as refined as an Audi. Go for the standard six-speed manual transmission or opt for the optional quick-shifting dual-clutch automatic. Either way, you're getting a fun everyday vehicle.
Volkswagen Jetta GLI | Base price: $26,890
Interested in the Volkswagen GTI but can't handle the hatchback thing? The Jetta GLI is nearly the same car, merely in sedan shape. The GLI uses the same turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, the same manual and dual-clutch automatic transmissions, and as of late, even uses the same MQB chassis architecture as the GTI. It's a baby sports sedan, and as a bonus, it costs nearly two grand less than the GTI, putting it comfortably under $30K.
Surprise! Jeep Wrangler | Base price: $29,790
There is something undeniably different about a modern vehicle that costs nearly $30,000 yet has a fabric roof, four-wheel drive, and lacks air conditioning. Is the Jeep Wrangler sporty? Let's call it characterful—able to deliver smiles just as a sporty car can, but purely though its old-world uniqueness among a sea of group-think modern cars and crossovers. So, skip the $1295 air conditioning. If you get hot, take the Jeep's roof and doors off. Ditto the available automatic transmission—everything about the Wrangler should be about taking yourself back to a different vehicular time, so you should shift for yourself with the standard six-speed manual. In the Wrangler, your hands and feet and brain always have something to do. Just try to ignore that, in general, that task is keeping the bouncy, short-wheelbase 4x4 on the road.
Best Sporty Cars Under $30K
- Chevrolet Camaro | Base price: $25,995
- Dodge Challenger | Base price: $29,590
- Fiat 124 Spider | Base price: $26,935
- Ford Mustang | Base price: $27,765
- Honda Accord Sport 1.5T | Base price: $27,460
- Honda Civic Si | Base price: $25,930
- Hyundai Elantra Sport | Base price: $24,730
- Hyundai Veloster Turbo/Veloster N | Base prices: $24,070/$28,320
- Kia Soul GT-Line | Base price: $21,335
- Mazda 3 | Base price: $22,420
- Mazda MX-5 Miata | Base price: $26,650
- Subaru WRX | Base price: $28,395
- Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ | Base prices: $28,330/$29,745
- Volkswagen Golf GTI | Base price: $28,490
- Volkswagen Jetta GLI | Base price: $26,890
- Jeep Wrangler | Base price: $29,790