Finding a car that’s exciting to drive but won’t break the bank can be tricky. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean a lower budget means a boring car. Here’s what Edmunds ranked as the best sports cars under $40,000 on the market:
The best muscle cars under $40,000
The Chevrolet Camaro midsize muscle sports car
The big selling point for the Camaro and other muscle cars on this list is the bang you get for your buck. The Camaro 1LS, the least expensive option, packs a 275-horsepower punch. Bump almost all the way to the budget cap, and you get the Camaro SS which offers 455 horsepower.
That kind of power under your right foot makes almost any trip exciting, as Edmunds says the Chevrolet Camaro is the best to drive out of the muscle cars in this group but acknowledges the Camaro does have less visibility compared to the other muscle cars on the list.
According to Chevrolet, the 2022 Chevrolet Camaro has a starting MSRP of $25,000.
The Ford Mustang pony car
Similar to the Camaro, the Ford Mustang offers multiple trim options within the budget and plenty of power to take you anywhere. The basic EcoBoost trim will give you 310 horsepower and slightly better fuel economy than the Camaro (25 combined mpg to the Camaro’s 1LS’s 22 combined mpg).
There are just three trim options under the cap compared to the Camaro’s nine, but the top trim level that still fits within the budget – the Ford Mustang GT – slightly edges out the SS with 460 horsepower from its V8 engine. Edmunds also rates the Mustang better in storage and general outward visibility compared to the Camaro.
According to Ford, the 2021 Ford Mustang has a starting MSRP of $27,205.
The Dodge Challenger full-size muscle coupe
As the third of the big three muscle cars on Edmunds’ list, the Dodge Challenger offers three trim options under the budget cap: the SXT, GT, and R/T.
The baseline Dodge Challenger SXT trim provides a 303-horsepower V6 engine. For the top trim under $40K, the Challenger R/T is similarly underpowered compared to its competitors (375 horsepower to the Mustang GT’s 460 and the Camaro SS’s 455). Fuel economy is also a problem with lower combined mpg ratings than its rivals.
However, although the Challenger is down on power and fuel economy, Edmunds favors its comfort and convenience compared to the Mustang and Camaro. Additionally, its storage shines, with the Challenger’s 16.2-cubic feet of storage space outpacing the Camaro (9.1) and Mustang (13.5).
According to Dodge, the 2022 Dodge Challenger has a starting MSRP of $30,825.
The top hatchbacks under $40,000
The Volkswagen Golf GTI hot hatch
The Volkswagen Golf GTI has been a hot hatchback icon for decades. All trim levels offered for the redesigned 2022 model fit under the cap, and Edmunds chose it for the price range, excitement behind the wheel, and convenience.
Unlike the Camaro, Mustang, and Challenger, the differences in the three Golf GTI trims are not power-based. Instead, the S, SE, and Autobahn trim differences come down to what perks you would like. The Golf GTI S provides perks like I.Q.DRIVE, which includes a host of driver aids and customizable digital displays. The most expensive option – the Autobahn – gives you upgraded leather seats, a heads-up display, and tri-zone auto climate control. Edmunds reviewers admit that the infotainment interface can be frustrating, but the overall driving experience, fuel consumption, and convenience make it one of the best budget sports cars.
According to Volkswagen, the 2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI has a starting MSRP of $29,545.
The Honda Civic Type R performance hatchback
Honda’s sportiest entry to the hot hatchback has only been available in the U.S. since 2017. The Honda Civic Type R edges out the VW Golf GTI in terms of horsepower (306 to 241), and Edmunds gives the Civic Type R higher marks in fuel economy and comfort compared to the Golf GTI. The biggest drawback is availability; Edmunds notes it is a rare commodity to find one on the market.
The Hyundai Veloster N sports car hatchback
Hyundai’s entry into the hot hatchback market caught Edmunds’ eye thanks to its styling and unusual three-door layout. The Hyundai Veloster N gives you 275 horsepower – almost exactly between the Civic Type R and Golf GTI – with a price in the middle of the two other hatchbacks as well.
However, Edmunds marked the Veloster N lowest of the three hatchbacks for overall value and comfort. Noise at high speed was the primary culprit for a lower comfort score, but a relatively bouncy suspension in Sport or Sport+ driving mode and the trouble with the long driver’s door when parking were also noted.
According to Hyundai, the 2022 Hyundai Veloster N has a starting MSRP of $32,500.
The best sports car coupes under $40,000
The Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster
The Mazda MX-5 Miata is one of the most storied sports coupes on the market and remains a budget-friendly sports car. Like the Volkswagen Golf GTI, all three trim options – the Sport, Club, and Grand Touring – all fit under the budget cap and have the same power option (a 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder engine with 181 horsepower).
The Sport and Club trims come with a six-speed manual transmission, but the Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring offers a six-speed automatic transmission. Unlike the baseline Sport trim, the MX-5 Miata Grand Touring also offers a 9-speaker Bose sound system and Apple Carplay.
Edmunds gives the Miata high marks for value, fuel economy (with 29 combined mpg), and reviewers say it has a “purity that’s missing from modern vehicles.” To be expected, it was not rated well on storage or interior options, with the latter exposing how drivers and passengers above six feet may push the boundary on headroom and legroom.
According to Mazda, the 2022 Mazda MX-5 Miata has a starting MSRP of $27,300.
The Subaru BRZ sports car
Redesigned for the 2022 model year with an upgraded engine, the Subaru BRZ offers just two trim options: Premium and Limited. Both are under the budget cap of $40,000 and deliver 228 horsepower, far eclipsing the 181 horsepower of the Mazda MX-5 Miata. However, the BRZ is like the MX-5 Miata in that trim differences are not based on performance, with all carrying the same engine option.
According to CarBuzz, the BRZ Limited has more features for the extra thousands added to the price tag, including a navigation system, heated front seats, blind-spot monitoring, and rear parking aid. Meanwhile, Edmunds noted its lower fuel economy and noisier ride than the MX-5 Miata but gave the BRZ a higher overall score. It was even named the brand’s Top Rated Sports Car of 2022.
According to Subaru, the 2022 Subaru BRZ has a starting MSRP of $27,995.