Enthusiasts rejoice! There's never been a better time to buy a cheap sports car. If you're looking to cram as much horsepower, handling, and fun into your car-buying budget as you can, the current crop of sporty models delivers sensational value in the $20,000-$30,000 sweet spot. Modern technology has largely leveled the playing field for those seeking a good time behind the wheel, and the broad range of styles and attitudes available on today's market present a comprehensive array of choices for sports car shoppers.
Let's take a quick look at 10 of the best cheap sports cars you can buy in 2015.
The 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata presents an all-new face to roadster fans looking to get a fix of their favorite cheap sports car. Although not as powerful as the previous model - the 2.0-liter Skyactiv four-cylinder found in the Mazda MX-5 Miata is restricted to 155 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque - better gearing from its now-standard six-speed manual transmission and a 200 pound weight reduction see it sprinting to 60-mph a half second quicker than 2015 edition. The lighter chassis also helps improve handling, making the already-potent Miata even more exciting in the corners.
The 2015 Ford Mustang EcoBoost is another completely redesigned cheap sports car that represents an interim step between the entry-level V-6 model and the top-tier GT's 5.0-liter V-8. The Ford Mustang EcoBoost features a 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engine that generates 310 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque, a nice bump over the base coupe for only $1,500 more, which can be paired with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. Other benefits of the Mustang's new platform include an independent rear suspension system for the first time in its history (excluding a brief run of Cobra models in the 90s), which vastly improves the car's corner-carving capability.
The 2015 FIAT 500 Abarth is a noisy handful of a hatchback that tightens up the subcompact car's handling to the point where it becomes a point-and-shoot missile on a road course. The Fiat 500 Abarth also enjoys a substantial jump in output as compared to the entry-level edition of the car thanks to the inclusion of a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 160 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque. You can get a convertible version of the 500 Abarth, too, but we recommend pairing the model's sonorous exhaust note and stiff suspension with the available five-speed manual gearbox and a hardtop, and avoiding both the six-speed automatic and open-roof edition.
The 2015 Scion FR-S is a throwback to the days of early British and Japanese sports cars, vehicles that relied far more on balance, low-mass design, and lively handling than straight-line speed. The Scion FR-S features a rear-drive layout with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder 'boxer' engine that helps keeps the car's center of gravity low. It also offers up 200 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque, which can be managed by either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic gearbox. Although Scion offers a customization program - read "accessories" - there aren't any options to be had with the coupe, making it very much a simple, "what you see is what you get" proposition at the dealership.
Sensing a theme here? The 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI is also new for the current model year, riding on a clean-slate platform that VW calls MQB. While horsepower hasn't changed much for the current version of the Volkswagen Golf GTI (there's an additional 10 ponies for a total of 210), torque has grown mightily, posting as 258 lb-ft from the 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder unit under the hatchback's hood. Available as both a two-door and a four-door, the Golf GTI also lets you upgrade to the Performance package (10 more horses plus bigger brakes and a limited-slip differential up front), as well as choose between a six-speed manual or a six-speed, dual-clutch automated manual transmission.
There was once a time when the Nissan 370Z would not have made it in under the price cap for our list of cheap sports cars, but a recent decision at corporate to drop the starting sticker for the coupe to $29,995 for 2016 allows you to save a whopping $10k over what it cost to get behind the wheel of the Z the previous year. The 2016 Nissan 370Z doesn't skimp on any of the performance offered by the 2015 car, as a 332 horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 is still found between the front fenders (where it also generates 270 lb-ft of torque). The six-speed manual gearbox that comes standard with the Nissan allows it to hit 60-mph in 5.3 seconds, while a seven-speed automatic is available for those who would rather not shift themselves.
The 2015 Hyundai Genesis Coupe might have been whittled down to a single model - the V-6 is now the only available power plant with the car - but that hasn’t hurt its estimation in our eyes. The 3.8-liter mill in the Hyundai Genesis Coupe grinds out 348 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, and you can select either a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic transmission to go with that respectable level of grunt. Step up to the still-affordable R-Spec trim and you'll benefit from track-ready brakes and suspension tuning, as well as a limited-slip rear differential to help keep things under control with the go-pedal down.
The 2015 Mini Cooper John Cooper Works (or JCW) sits at the apex of the tiny car company's line-up, offering as much power and potential as could possible be stuffed inside the hatchback's miniscule package. Power is up to 228 horses and 236 lb-ft of twist thanks to the decision to swap in a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine in place of the standard three-cylinder unit, and the car's suspension, brakes, and aerodynamics have all been cranked up to 11. Manual and automatic six-speed gearboxes are the order of the day with the Mini Cooper John Cooper Works, and the subcompact car happens to be one of the priciest on our list - proving that size and window sticker aren't always related.
The 2015 Subaru WRX joins the crop of newly-minted cheap sports cars, benefiting from a significant overhaul that sees it joining the standard Impreza on the company's most advanced platform. Sedan-only for 2015 - the hatch is history - the Subaru WRX boasts standard all-wheel drive, a brake-based torque vectoring system to help pivot the car through the corners, and a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder motor that provides 268 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. In addition to its revised engine, the WRX also delivers the availability of a continuously-variable automatic transmission for the first time in its history, an option that comes with a launch control feature (a six-speed manual gearbox is included free of charge with the Subaru).
Photo by Subaru
The 2015 Ford Focus ST can be thought of as the hot hatch concept on steroids. Featuring a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine tuned to provide 252 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque, the Ford Focus ST offers prodigious acceleration from a roll, along with an anti-torque steer system that does its best to corral the front wheels off of the line. The Focus ST's suspension has also been upgraded to help the compact hatchback handle at a level the entry-level Focus could only dream about, and purists will be happy to know that Ford sells the ST exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission.