The world of affordable sports cars is getting a little bit more crowded with each passing year, and although 2013 has seen a few models edge their way up past the $30,000 mark there are still a number of hot contenders for the cheap sports car crown. The best sports cars under $30k combine a mix of fun-to-drive suspension setups with good power-to-weight ratios and the availability of performance-oriented packages and gear intended to cut down lap times. They might not feature the same level of luxury as some of their pricier competitors, but that's often not a priority of buyers shopping in this segment of the market.
Let's take a quick look at 10 of the best sports cars under $30k.
Best Sports Cars Under $30k - 01 - 2013 Scion FR-S
The 2013 Scion FR-S is a leading light in the sub-$30k sports car field. The Scion FR-S delivers an unbeatable combination of lightweight design and excellent chassis balance, coupled with a rear-wheel drive layout that makes the most of the low center of gravity afforded by its boxer four-cylinder engine. Some might complain about the 200 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque produced by its 2.0-liter mill, but this is a car that was built for track day shenanigans, not drag race glory. Our recommendation is to avoid the six-speed automatic transmission and stick with the six-speed manual that comes standard with the car in order to get the most enjoyment out of the Scion's package.
Best Sports Cars Under $30k - 02 - 2013 Volkswagen GTI
The 2013 Volkswagen GTI is the elder statesman of the hot hatch segment, and while it might not be the quickest or the most powerful of its colleagues it does present perhaps the best-rounded set of tools for dispatching a rural road in record time. The Volkswagen GTI's suspension system gives the driver excellent confidence when approaching a corner quickly, and its 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque are delivered smoothly via a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Unlike the FR-S, the VW GTI is equally fun to drive regardless of whether its six-speed manual or its six-speed dual-clutch automated manual DSG transmission are specified.
Best Sports Cars Under $30k - 03 - 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth
The 2013 FIAT 500 Abarth makes up for the pokey-ness of the standard 500 by turning up the boost on a turbocharged version of the subcompact hatchback's 1.4-liter, four-cylinder engine. Jumping from 101 horses all the way to 160 will perk up any vehicle's personality, but throw in the small dimensions and low curb weight of the Fiat 500 Abarth and the change becomes even more potent. Along with its additional engine output the Abarth model enjoys more aggressive suspension tuning as well as the availability of larger 17-inch rims and a five-speed manual transmission.
Best Sports Cars Under $30k - 04 - 2013 Ford Focus ST
The 2013 Ford Focus ST imports the Blue Oval's very successful European compact car performance program to the United States. The Ford Focus ST expands on the already popular Focus hatchback by installing a 252 horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine between the front fenders. Also capable of generating 270 lb-ft of torque, this motor is mated to a six-speed manual transmission and launches the compact car to 60-mph in just a tick over six seconds. The Ford Focus ST features an active anti-torque steer system, the availability of Recaro sport seats, as well as a revised suspension system and revised exterior styling.
Best Sports Cars Under $30k - 05 - 2013 Subaru WRX
The 2013 Subaru WRX is a perennial contender when considering the best sports cars under $30k. Available in both hatchback and sedan body styles, the compact Subaru WRX remains in the conversation year after year thanks to its dedication to offering turbocharged power, standard all-wheel drive, and a tunable chassis to match. The WRX delivers an entertaining 265 horsepower and 244 lb-ft from its 2.0-liter, turbo four-cylinder mill, and the grip offered by its all-wheel drive system helps to make it an all-seasons choice for sports car fans who live in winter climates. A five-speed manual gearbox is the only transmission available with the Subaru.
Best Sports Cars Under $30k - 06 - 2013 Mazda Miata
The 2013 Mazda Miata, like the Scion FR-S is a sports car that is designed to appeal to the passions of road course fanatics and country road connoisseurs. The Mazda Miata gets the adrenaline flowing through its fantastic road-holding capabilities, not the 167 horsepower provided by its 2.0-liter engine, and the two-seat roadster echoes the traditions of British open-air performance driving while introducing the reliability and build quality associated with Japanese design. Five and six-speed manual transmissions are available with the Mazda convertible, and we urge you to stay away from the retractable hardtop version of the Miata for maximum lightness.
Best Sports Cars Under $30k - 07 - 2013 MINI Coupe S
The 2013 MINI Coupe S shrinks down the proportions of the MINI Cooper - if such a thing were possible - into an aero-friendly wrapper that trades in its back seat in favor of style. Some might argue that sports cars were never meant to have rear passenger accommodations in the first place, which makes the design of the MINI Coupe S not much of a sacrifice for purists. The front-wheel drive MINI boasts a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 181 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque, and a six-speed manual transmission helps the subcompact accelerate to 60-mph in 6.5 seconds (a benchmark that takes slightly longer with its optional six-speed automatic handling the gear-shifting duties).
Best Sports Cars Under $30k - 08 - 2013 Ford Mustang
The 2013 Ford Mustang makes our cut for the best sports cars under $30k, but not in the version you might expect. With the GT model now priced above the $30,000 mark, it's necessary to select the Ford Mustang V6 with the Performance package instead of the eight-cylinder stand-by. The Performance package adds track-friendly rear axle gearing, a stouter suspension system, heavy-duty brakes, and stickier rubber to the coupe, which helps its 305 horsepower, 3.7-liter six-cylinder connect that much better with the tarmac. A six-speed manual transmission (instead of the optional six-speed auto) rounds out the fun-to-drive factor for the Mustang V6.
Best Sports Cars Under $30k - 09 - 2013 Hyundai Genesis Coupe
The 2013 Hyundai Genesis Coupe offers two sub-$30k options for bargain-hunting sports car enthusiasts, and while the Korean car is not necessarily as refined as some of its competitors it's hard to fault its value proposition. The 2.0T R-Spec version of the Hyundai Genesis Coupe combines a 274 horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with Brembo brakes, a limited-slip differential out back, and a series of suspension upgrades over the base model. The 3.8 R-Spec maintains these performance tweaks but substitutes in a 348 horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6 for the 2.0T's four-cylinder mill. Both versions of the car come with a six-speed manual transmission as its only available gearbox.
Best Sports Cars Under $30k - 10 - 2013 Mazda MAZDASPEED3
The 2013 Mazda MAZDASPEED3 is high horsepower, front-wheel drive hatchback that is in many ways the most direct competitor to the Ford Focus ST. The Mazda MAZDASPEED3 sends a hefty 263 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels thanks to its 2.3-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine. A six-speed manual transmission does its best to corral the MAZDASPEED3's high-revving output, and the vehicle's 6.3-second 0-60-mph time is well in line with its compact competitors. Throw in wild exterior styling and an interior that has been given a full sports car makeover, and it's hard not to like this affordable hatch.