The world of affordable sports cars is getting a little bit more crowded with each passing year, and although 2016 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.
Photo Credit: Scion
2016 Scion FR-S — MSRP $25,305
The 2016 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 4-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 6-speed automatic transmission and stick with the 6-speed manual that comes standard with the car in order to get the most enjoyment out of the Scion's package. In 2015, Scion tweaked the suspension to more closely match the FR-S’ sibling, the Subaru BRZ.
Photo Credit: Volkswagen
2016 Volkswagen GTI — MSRP $24,995
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 4-cylinder engine. Unlike the FR-S, the VW GTI is equally fun to drive regardless of whether its 6-speed manual or its 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual DSG transmission are specified.
2016 FIAT 500 Abarth — MSRP $22,575
The 2016 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, 4-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 5-speed manual transmission.
2016 Ford Focus ST — MSRP $24,425
The 2016 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 4-cylinder engine between the front fenders. Also capable of generating 270 lb-ft of torque, this motor is mated to a 6-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 exclusive exterior styling. The high-performance RS trim, new for 2016, brings 350 turbocharged horsepower to the table but begins at a price that’s well above our threshold.
Photo Credit: Subaru
2016 Subaru WRX — MSRP $26,595
The 2016 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 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, boosted by a twin-scroll turbocharger, an intercooler, and direct fuel injection. Order up a 2016 WRX with either a 6-speed manual or an optional CVT. The WRX, which starts at $26,595, surges to 60 mph in just 5.4 seconds when equipped with the manual gearbox.
Photo Credit: Benjamin Hunting
2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata — MSRP $24,915
The redesigned 2016 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 155 horsepower provided by its 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. The 2-seat roadster echoes the traditions of British open-air performance driving while introducing the reliability and build quality associated with Japanese design. A 6-speed manual and 6-speed automatic transmission are available with the Mazda convertible.
2016 MINI Cooper S — MSRP $24,100
The 2016 MINI Cooper S has been around for a while, extolling the virtues of turbocharged power for a fun driving experience in a small and lightweight vehicle. The front-wheel drive MINI Cooper S boasts a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 189 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque, and a 6-speed manual transmission helps the subcompact accelerate to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds (a benchmark that takes slightly longer with its optional 6-speed automatic handling the gear-shifting duties).
Photo Credit: Ford
2016 Ford Mustang — MSRP $24,145
Last year, the Ford Mustang celebrated its 50th anniversary and a ton of changes. No longer purely a muscle coupe, the 2016 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 V6 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.
2016 Hyundai Genesis Coupe — MSRP $26,950
The 2016 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 was updated just last year with a more upscale profile. Inside is a 348-horsepower, 3.8-liter V6 carried over from the previous version, paired to a 6-speed manual or 8-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 V8 competition.
2016 Chevrolet Camaro — MSRP $25,700
The fully redesigned 2016 Chevrolet Camaro SS is tempting, but you can still have a blast with the more affordable base version. The 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder puts out a healthy 275 ponies, which, when combined with the Camaro’s rear-wheel drive configuration, offers plenty of driving fun. Transmission options are a 6-speed manual or an 8-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 turbocharged Camaro gets highway fuel mileage of 31 mpg with the automatic transmission.