A funny thing happened in the automotive industry over the past ten years or so – you no longer have to shell out top dollar to drive a fun car. Stylish, nimble and engaging vehicles used to be restricted to the $30,000 and above segment of the market, attainable only after investing in a premium badge or a special model. Gradually, the cost of quality engineering and vehicle technology has settled to the point where even entry-level automobiles can offer new car buyers some pizzazz.
Let’s take a look at 10 affordable automobiles that offer a sizable dose of fun to go along with their wallet-friendly price tags. yes!
01. 2011 Dodge Nitro
The 2011 Dodge Nitro makes its intentions known right out of the bag. You don’t give a small SUV a name like Nitro unless you are trying to attract the attention of a certain crowd – in this case, drivers who aren’t afraid of extroverted, brawny styling and trim levels named Heat, Detonator and Shock. All versions of the Nitro also come with eyeball-grabbing 20-inch wheels and dark tinted glass.
V-6 power is the name of the game for the 2011 Dodge Nitro, with two available engine choices each offering substantial grunt. The base 3.7-liter V-6 provides 210 ponies and 237 lb-ft of twist, while the top level 4.0-liter unit churns out 260 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque. The former is matched with a four-speed automatic while the larger engine features a five-speed auto. Both drivetrains can be paired with the option of four-wheel drive.
02. 2010 Chrysler Sebring Convertible
The 2010 Chrysler Sebring convertible is a rare beast in the mid-size market: a sleek convertible that doesn’t come with a premium price tag. The Sebring convertible offers the same fun-in-the-sun that one would expect from a more expensive open car, along with the availability of high end features such as a retractable steel hard top, 18-inch wheels, leather seats and a dual exhaust system, but at an MSRP far below the luxury competition.
The 2010 Chrysler Sebring convertible is sold with the choice of three engine options under the hood. First up is a 173 horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder motor that is also good for 166 lb-ft of torque. Next, the Sebring convertible can benefit from an available 2.7-liter V-6 that generates 186 horsepower and 191 lb-ft of torque. Each of these engines is mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. Selecting the Limited trim installs a 3.5-liter V-6 between the Sebring’s front fenders that offers up 235 horsepower and 232 lb-ft of torque, output that is harnessed by a five-speed automatic transmission.
03. 2011 Mazda MX-5 Miata
The 2011 Mazda MX-5 Miata proves that sports cars don’t have to come with eye-popping window stickers or gobs of power to provide drivers with a sublime experience. The Miata’s lightweight design and focus on suspension balance and handling dynamics makes it one of the most pleasurable vehicles on the market when it comes to carving through the corners. Add in the fact that the top goes down – in both soft and retractable hard top models – and it’s easy to see why the MX-5 Miata roadster frequently graces the “best of” lists of automotive journalists around the country.
All versions of the 2011 Mazda MX-5 Miata come with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that is tuned to provide 167 horsepower and 140 lb-ft of torque when the convertible is equipped with either a five-speed (Sport trim) or six-speed (Touring and Grand Touring trims) manual transmission. Those featuring the optional six-speed automatic see the four-cylinder’s output attenuated somewhat, but the auto tranny can be fitted with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters to facilitate manual gear shifts.
04. 2011 Scion xB
The 2011 Scion xB doesn’t count tight handling or stump-pulling torque among its primary qualities. Instead the xB offers entry-level buyers fun of a different sort through its quirky styling and box-like shape. The upright xB has carved out a niche amongst compact crossover drivers looking to get behind the wheel of something more than a little different than the standard hatchback, and the xB delivers with its slab sides and extensive customization options through the Scion accessories program.
The 2011 Scion xB might not set the streets on fire with its acceleration, but it does come with more than adequate power via its 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine. The motor produces 158 horses and 162 lb-ft of torque, and it can be shifted through either a five-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed automatic.
05. 2011 Hyundai Genesis Coupe
The 2011 Hyundai Genesis Coupe makes no bones about undercutting traditional two-door sports cars in price while still delivering when it comes to the qualities that draw performance-hungry drivers to the segment. In addition to its available track-ready suspension packages, the compact 2011 Hyundai Genesis Coupe also presents aftermarket tuners with a turbocharged base engine that can be tweaked to generate big power over stock.
The entry-level 2011 Hyundai Genesis Coupe’s turbo mill displaces 2.0-liters and provides 210 horsepower and 223 lb-ft of torque out of the box. The motor can be had with the choice of either a six-speed manual transmission or a five-speed automatic. The sporty Hyundai can additionally be built with a 306 horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6 engine that also adds 266 lb-ft of torque and the availability of a six-speed automatic transmission to the mix.
06. 2011 Jeep Compass
Restyled for 2011, the Jeep Compass now shares much of its looks with its larger Jeep Grand Cherokee sibling. In the fun department, the Jeep Compass also gains Trail Rated status, which means that it can handle a variety of different off-road driving conditions with relative aplomb. Helping the compact SUV achieve this level of mud-slinging prowess is its available Freedom Drive II four-wheel drive system, which can be combined with low-range gearing and an additional inch of ground clearance on certain models.
The 2011 Jeep Compass is initially offered with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder motor that provides 158 horsepower and 141 lb-ft of torque. This can be replaced on most trim levels with a 172 horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder unit that is also good for 165 lb-ft of torque. Transmissions available with the small SUV include a five-speed manual and a continuously variable automatic.
07. 2011 MINI Cooper
The 2011 MINI Cooper definitely has a certain cachet that has made it a popular choice amongst subcompact shoppers interested in an urban commuter car with style. The MINI Cooper’s small dimensions and low mass have also given it almost go-kart-like handling, which makes the vehicle fun to push hard on highway entrance ramps or along more challenging rural roads.
The 2011 MINI Cooper’s retro looks are backed up by a 121 horsepower, 1.6-liter entry-level four-cylinder engine that also produces 114 lb-ft of torque. The Cooper S model adds a turbocharger to this same motor in order to grind out an appreciable 181 ponies and 177 lb-ft of torque. Each power plant is offered with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearbox.
08. 2011 Honda Civic Si
The 2011 Honda Civic Si – available in either coupe or sedan body styles – provides compact car fans with the chance to step outside the Civic’s traditional role as a value-focused fuel saver and instead embrace the full potential of the automobile’s platform. A tighter chassis, stiffer suspension system and racier trim all help to set the Civic Si apart from the more vanilla members of the inexpensive Honda’s model lineup.
The 2011 Honda Civic Si’s performance also sees a significant shot in the arm in the form of a high-strung, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 197 horsepower and 139 lb-ft of torque. A close-ratio six-speed manual transmission is the only way to shift through the Civic Si’s gears, and the vehicle also comes with a limited-slip front differential to ensure that all of the engine’s power makes it down to the pavement with as little wheel spin as possible.
09. 2011 Nissan Juke
There’s something to be said for taking visual risks in a hotly-contested segment. The 2011 Nissan Juke turns compact crossover expectations on their ear with a design that resembles nothing else on the market. Quirky? Yes, but also a lot of fun for those who prefer to drive something that didn’t emerge from a corporate cookie cutter. The Juke is practical too, offering rear folding seats and a good-size hatch for loading cargo.
The 2011 Nissan Juke also benefits from a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that squeezes 188 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque from its 1.6-liters of displacement. The Juke is available with the choice of either front-wheel or all-wheel drive, with the latter model offered exclusively with a continuously variable automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive Jukes can be had with a six-speed manual gearbox.
10. 2011 Dodge Caliber
The 2011 Dodge Caliber is unique amongst entry-level compacts in the sense that instead of a traditional sedan or hatchback, Dodge has chosen to make a crossover its most affordable automobile. With a tall ride height, commanding seating position and beefy good looks, the Caliber is a welcome break in a segment of the industry more known for its cost-cutting measures than its stylistic indulgences.
The 2011 Dodge Caliber come with a 2.0-liter, 158 horsepower mill as its base engine. Also capable of generating 141 lb-ft of torque, the 2.0-liter Caliber can be equipped with either a five-speed manual or a continuously variable automatic transmission. The Dodge Caliber Rush trim features a more robust 2.4-liter, four-cylinder motor under the hood, one which is good for 172 horsepower and 165 lb-ft of torque. Transmission choices for the Caliber Rush remain the same.