Do you have $30,000 (but no more) dog-eared for your next vehicle and are looking for something that’s as fun as it is affordable? Not too long ago, your options would have been pretty limited. Not anymore, though — automakers have recognized that there’s a real demand for affordable cars that won’t sacrifice power, performance or speed for affordability.
We recently wrote about some of the fastest cars under $20,000 and $25,000, but when you allow for an extra $5,000, the menu gets even more interesting. More and more automakers are catering to young buyers who want an affordable vehicle that’s cheap to maintain and own but doesn’t necessarily give up its fun factor. Cars like the Volkswagen GTI and Chevrolet Camaro have long been bargain nameplates that don’t sacrifice one for the other, and while the base models start in the mid-20s, things start really to heat up around the $30,000 mark.
We checked out speediest cars under the $30,000 threshold that offer the most fun (and speed) in their segment, and found 10 models that really stand out.
10. Subaru WRX Premium
Who says you can’t have a world-class performance car that isn’t practical? The 268 horsepower Subaru WRX is legendary for its all-wheel drive performance and easy to modify powertrain. With its available six-speed manual transmission, high-revving 2.0 liter turbocharged boxer-four, and aggressive looks, it’s a rally car disguised as a family car. The best part? The well-appointed Premium model starts at $29,690.
9. Honda Accord Coupe EX-L
It’s hard to get worked up about a sensible, down to earth Accord sedan, but take a couple doors off of it and things start to get exciting. Accord EX-L is one of the last remaining sedan-based coupes on the U.S. market, and can be optioned as anything from a personal luxury coupe to a sporty car with real performance potential. In its base form, The $28,995 EX-L produces a hearty 185 horses from its VTEC inline-four and is perhaps one of the most comfortable, easy-mannered cars in its segment. It’s definitely worth the upgrade to the EX-L V6 with its 278 horsepower and a standard six-speed manual transmission – but that will put you a cool $775 over the threshold.
8. Scion FR-S
The sleek and sporty Scion FR-S has become a favorite driver’s car thanks to world-class handling characteristics, a healthy aftermarket culture, and performance that rivals much more expensive cars. The FR-S (and the nearly identical Subaru BR-Z) brings plenty of fun and speed to the table, getting 200 horsepower from its 2.0 liter, four-cylinder engine paired with six-speed manual or automatic transmissions. For $27,200, drivers get one of the most exciting and underrated cars on the road, and while Scion won’t live beyond 2016, the FR-S will carry on as the Toyota 86.
7. Volkswagen GTI SE
About to enter its fourth decade, the Volkswagen GTI is still a leader in the hot-hatch segment it helped create. While many vehicles go up and down in terms of quality and performance over the years, the GTI has aged remarkably gracefully, and today it’s among the best picks for a well-built, fun, and capable hatchback. Power for the two-door SE model comes from the familiar turbo-charged 2.0 liter inline-four, and all 210 horses’ worth of power can be mated to either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. The SE also comes with standard amenities like a touchscreen infotainment system, backup camera, and sunroof. For pricing, it squeaks just under the threshold at $29,520.
6. 2016 Mazda Miata Club
After over a quarter century of delivering some of the purest driving experiences on the planet, the all-new for 2016 Miata is arguably better than ever before. Don’t let the little 155 horsepower, 2.0 liter four fool you; this car is one of the most thrilling sports cars on the planet, and is almost unstoppable in the corners. This gem of a car starts at just $24,915, and in performance-focused Club trim, comes in at just $28,600.
5. Dodge Challanger SXT Plus
The Challenger is the largest of the American pony cars, and while the base Challenger starts at under $27,000, Dodge offers the mid-level SXT Plus by declaring “a little luxury never hurt anybody.” Well, why not? For $29,995, The SXT Plus shares its 3.6 liter Pentastar V6 tuned to 305 horsepower. Inside, the Plus gets a touchscreen infotainment system, backup camera, 20 inch wheels, heated and cooled seats, fog lamps and a spoiler. Even at under $30,000, it’s a steeper buy in than the V6 powered Camaro and Mustang, but Challenger diehards would argue that it’s more than worth it.
4. Ford Mustang EcoBoost
All-new for 2015, Ford’s living legend is now available from the noteworthy starting price of $22,510. While the base car comes with a 305 horsepower 3.7-liter V6 engine, the highlight of the Mustangs’ mid-$20K range is the turbocharged inline-four EcoBoost model. From $25,645, the unassuming four-banger puts out 310 horsepower, takes the car from zero-to-60 in the low-five second range, and still gets a combined 25 miles per gallon. While the V8-equipped GT starts just over $31,000, the EcoBoost has more than enough muscle to have you flying down the road with a huge smile on your face.
3. Nissan 370Z
Now in its sixth year, Nissan’s 332-horsepower 370Z sneaks in at $29,990, and is a lot of car for the price. Like its Z-car ancestors, even the base 370Z can do battle with some of the most formidable American muscle cars on the road. Zero to 60 comes in a short 5.1 seconds, and the red line sits at 7,500 RPM. Also like the Americans, options on the Nissan can add up quick – a well-optioned 370Z NISMO comes in right around the $50,000 mark.
2. Chevrolet Camaro 1LT
Topping the list of pony cars offering the most speed and fun for under $30,000 is a true muscle car classic: the Camaro. All-new for 2016, the 1LT version is the base model, but it’s by no means a consolation prize. It’s available with Chevy’s 2.0 liter turbocharged inline-four, or 3.6 liter V6 (a $1,495 option), but either engine will keep you well below that magic $30K mark. Drivers are in for a treat from the 335 horsepower V6 engine, which can also achieve a combined 20 miles per gallon. At $26,995, the turbo four model also has amenities like 18-inch wheels and a backup camera. For car buffs seeking American muscle with a bold look, the Camaro will give you a lot of bang for your buck.
1. Hyundai Genesis R-Spec
At $29,900, the Hyundai Genesis Coupe sits right on the threshold of the $30,000 mark. But get this: it packs a whopping 348 horsepower thanks to its 3.8 liter V6. That’s twice the power of a Fiat 500 Abarth, for just $7,000 more. Hyundai has long built its name on value and offering more than you pay for, and the Genesis Coupe R-Spec is a perfect example of that.
From muscle cars to sport sedans, there’s more than enough excitement in the sub-$30K price range to keep most performance junkies happily occupied. Sure, most world-class performance cars can cost two to three times as much as these cars, but for affordability, daily driving duties, and great performance, these 10 can’t be beat.
Additional reporting by James Derek Sapienza.