The world of affordable sports cars is getting a little bit more crowded with each passing year, and although 2015 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.
1) 2015 Scion FR-S
The 2015 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. For 2015, Scion tweaked the suspension to more closely match the FR-S’ sibling, the Subaru BRZ.
2) 2015 Volkswagen GTI
Freshly redesigned for 2015, the 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 210 horsepower and 258 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.
3) 2015 Fiat 500 Abarth
The 2015 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.
4) 2015 Ford Focus ST
The 2015 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, a revised suspension system, and revised exterior styling.
5) 2015 Subaru WRX
The 2015 Subaru WRX is renowned for its reputation as a fast, affordable car that can cope with plenty of different weather conditions, thanks to the grip provided by its standard all-wheel drive system. Regardless of the terrain, the Subaru WRX enjoys 268 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque thanks to its new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, boosted by a twin-scroll turbocharger, an intercooler, and direct fuel injection. Order up a 2015 WRX with either a six-speed manual or a new CVT option. The WRX, which starts at $26,295, surges to 60 mph in just 5.4 seconds when equipped with the manual gearbox.
6) 2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata
The 2015 Mazda MX-5 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, making the most of the 167 horsepower provided by its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. 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, as well as a six-speed automatic, are available with the Mazda convertible, and we urge you to stay away from the retractable hardtop version of the Miata for maximum lightness. A special 25th Anniversary Edition is available for the 2015 model year, but this collector trim is limited and a hot commodity.
7) 2015 MINI Coupe S
The 2015 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).
8) 2015 Ford Mustang
The 2015 Ford Mustang marks both the 50th anniversary and sixth generation of this beloved model. No longer purely a muscle coupe, the 2015 Mustang positions itself as a luxury option in the higher trim levels. The base model offers plenty under $30k, though, with a 3.7-liter V-6 engine rated at 300 horsepower and 280 ft-lbs of torque. There are plenty of tempting optional features available with the Ford Mustang, and chances are you’ll still come in below our price target.
9) 2015 Hyundai Genesis Coupe
The 2015 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 is a great option for budget-minded performance fans looking for a healthy amount of equipment to go with their affordably-priced sports car. The exterior is new for 2015, with a luxury-like profile. Inside is a 348-horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6 carried over from the previous version, paired to a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission. Also capable of generating 295 lb-ft of torque, the Genesis Coupe 3.8's mill helps it achieve a 0-60 time of 5.3 seconds, right up there with its V-8 competition.
10) 2015 Chevrolet Camaro
The 2015 Chevrolet Camaro SS is tempting, but you can still have a blast with the more affordable base version. The 3.6-liter V-6 puts out a healthy 323 ponies, which, when combined with the Camaro’s rear-wheel drive configuration, offers plenty of driving fun. Transmission options are a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic, and an independent suspension system provides an experience that’s responsive yet comfortable. Owning a sports car doesn’t have to hurt too much at the pump, either, since the V-6 Camaro gets highway fuel mileage of just under 30 mpg.