It’s not all about speed. For many auto consumers, reliability is the key to the vehicle purchase process, and that’s why the Toyota Camry is usually No. 1 in sales when you don’t count trucks.
However, for a significant chunk of the car-buying public, performance remains the top priority when shopping for a new ride. Otherwise, why on earth would you buy a brand-new Mustang or Camaro?
The thing is, speed doesn’t always come cheap, especially with special edition muscle-cars hitting the market every year. If you want a V8 engine and retro styling, you can easily end up spending over $50,000.
That’s no reason to be discouraged, though. If your budget is fixed at $30,000 or less, you can still get superior performance. Here are the fastest new cars you can find at this price point on sale in late 2018. (Note: Listed prices do not include destination charges and are ranked by performance times.)
7. Subaru WRX
- Base price: $27,195
That distinctive, high-pitched sound disrupting your evening is likely the Subaru WRX-STI. It features over 300 horsepower, four-wheel drive, and a starting price of $36,595.
For our purposes, the less-imposing WRX with 268 horsepower is the budget play at just over $27,000. It’s certainly no slouch, as it’s capable of hitting 60 mph in 6.2 seconds and running a quarter mile in 14.5 seconds. Motor Trend tests got the 2018 WRX with manual transmission there in that time. (Earlier models have done better.)
Even with a manual transmission and destination charges, you can still get this gem for under $30,000.
6. Mazda MX-5 Miata Club
- Base price: $29,155
While its sales might fluctuate slightly, the esteem reserved for the Mazda MX-5 Miata has remained virtually unchanged for the past three decades. In the 2018 manual Club model, performance remained more than solid with sprints to 60 mph getting done in 6.1 seconds (Car and Driver test).
Of course, the driving experience (rather than pure acceleration) is the main reason to buy a Miata. No car in this price range does more (14.8 seconds for a quarter mile) with less (155 horsepower). With Mazda upping the power quotient in the 2019 Miata, we’d expect the same thrills and maybe a little better on the quarter mile.
5. Volkswagen GTI
- Base price: $26,415
Volkswagen’s hot hatch has been a performance bargain for decades, and that hasn’t changed for the seventh-generation model on sale in 2018. Its 2.0-liter turbo engine delivers 220 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque at a base price near $26,500 (manual transmission).
In testing on the 2018 model done by Motor Trend, the automatic transmission model ($27,515) was actually the faster of the two. It got to 60 mph in 6.0 seconds and ran a quarter mile in 14.5 seconds at 98.4 mph. Manual models were a few ticks behind, so you know exactly where that extra $1,000 goes.
4. Dodge Challenger SXT
American muscle-cars have always been among the top power and speed bargains. This year’s Dodge Challenger SXT once again delivers on that, offering 305 horsepower at a base price of $27,295.
In performance terms, the base Challenger hit 60 mph in 6.0 seconds flat and ran the quarter mile in 14.5 seconds at 96.9 mph in Motor Trend testing. If you like the Challenger’s throwback look, it offers buyers quite a deal under $30,000.
3. Nissan 370Z
- Base price: $29,990
Though destination charges alone push the Nissan 370z over $31,000, this overall package was too good to exclude. As it has for a full decade, the 370z delivers 332 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque with a 3.7-liter V6 engine for the 2019 model year.
Like several other testers, the gang at Consumer Reports ran the latest 370 Z to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds. Quarter-mile runs took just 13.9 seconds, hitting 104 mph along the way.
2. Chevrolet Camaro V6
- Base price: $27,400
While Ford ditched its V6 Mustang, Chevy kept its speedy Camaro six-cylinder engine and simply added on a turbo four-cylinder model for the most recent redesign. That gives Camaro fans two ways to get high power and serious acceleration on a budget.
The top model is the 2018 Camaro V6 (335 horsepower, 284 pound-feet of torque), which hit 60 mph in 5.2 seconds and ran a quarter mile in 13.8 seconds in Car and Driver tests. For $28,395 (staying under $30,000 with destination fees), it’s a steal.
Meanwhile, the turbo four (275 horsepower, 295 pound-feet of torque) is no slouch, either: This model ran to 60 in 5.4 seconds and did the quarter mile in 14.1 seconds. It costs buyers $26,900 for an ’18 edition, and the price is going down for 2019 models.
1. Ford Mustang EcoBoost
- Base price: $26,120
Since there are always close calls, we may as well call this one a tie: Base Mustangs and Camaros both offer a ton of power and acceleration for less than $30,000. However, there was one Car and Driver test that hit 60 mph in 5.1 seconds in a Mustang EcoBoost (turbo four-cylinder) with manual tranmission.
This model features 310 horsepower and a whopping 350 pound-feet of torque. On the quarter-mile run, it took 13.7 seconds at 102 mph. Even giving a few ticks off this performance, it still looks like the best deal — as long as you’re OK with a turbo model over Camaro’s V6.