Among the car enthusiast community, the Mazda MX-5 Miata is almost always the answer to any automotive question posed by newcomers and veterans alike:
Which affordable rear-wheel drive convertible should I buy?
What’s a cheap drift car that’s not a 240sx?
I need a reliable, economical, fun-to-drive daily. Thoughts?
It’s easy to see why gearheads recommend the Miata to anyone looking to buy an affordable first sports car—it offers an eager engine, nimble handling, and stalwart reliability at an accessible price point. But there are other appealing options for those who want something different for their entry-level sports car.
1. 2020 FIAT 124 Spider
The FIAT 124 Spider may be based on the MX-5 Miata, but it offers a decidedly different driving experience that’s compelling in its own right. Exterior styling is more classic and understated than the Miata, and the interior features nicer materials. Powered by a turbocharged 1.4 liter four-cylinder producing 160 hp in Classica and Lusto trim levels and 164 hp in the Abarth model, the little FIAT droptop delivers punchy mid-range response. The chassis is tuned to provide athletic handling but with a more relaxed and comfortable ride than the Miata. Priced at just $25,390, the FIAT 124 Spider is a chic, well-mannered Italian alternative to the more frenetic Miata.
2. 2020 Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ
The Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ share the same platform and promise of soul-stirring performance that drivers of any skill level can exploit on the street or track. The 86 and BRZ deliver wonderfully communicative steering and spry handling typically found in Porsches costing more than double their $27,060 and $28,845 price tag. Acceleration is adequate considering the flat-four cylinder generates a modest 200 hp, but the 86 and BRZ are made for tackling twisty bits, not winning drag races. Throw in a superb driving position, decent cargo capacity, and solid dependability, and you have yourself the perfect first sports car.
3. 2020 Subaru WRX
Boasting a 268 hp turbocharged four-cylinder, a rally-bred All-wheel-drive system, and four-door practicality, the 2020 Subaru WRX is swaggering proof that a sedan can also be a sports car. The WRX delivers sharp turn-in and confidence-inspiring all-weather grip at the expense of a comfortable ride. 0-60 mph flashes by in 5.5 seconds, but the power delivery of the WRX is a bit peaky for daily driving. Raucous road manners aside, the Subaru WRX packs rally-car performance in a truly usable $27,495 four-door package that will bring out the inner hooligan in even the most responsible of drivers.
4. 2020 Nissan 370Z
Although the Nissan Z platform has been largely unchanged since its debut in 2002, the 2020 370Z still offers frugal shoppers plenty of thrills for just $30,090. A 332 hp V6 engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission delivers enough grunt to move the 370Z from 0-60 mph in a scant 5 seconds flat. Powerful brakes, ample grip, and easy-to-drive dynamics round out the performance package. Indeed the 370Z cannot hide its age when it comes to its dated exterior and interior aesthetics, but all is easily forgiven once you hustle the 370Z down your favorite road.
5. 2020 BMW 230i
Priced at $35,300 and up, calling the 2020 BMW 230i Coupe an affordable sports car is a bit of a stretch, but if you have the means, the bite-sized Bimmer rewards drivers with exhilarating driving dynamics. A silky-smooth turbocharged 248 hp four-cylinder provides excellent low and mid-range thrust, but the 230i comes alive when the road gets curvy. Its engaging handling is complemented with high-performance brakes and a slick six-speed manual (an eight-speed automatic transmission is optional). A driver-focused cabin is compromised by sedate styling and tight rear seat room, but it’s a small price to pay for such a pure, well-rounded performance package.