At this stage in the game, there’s no shame in buying budget sports cars. After all, given the industry’s ongoing advances in power and efficiency, many of today’s low-cost high performers are able to outrun even yesterday’s so-called “supercars”—often while also featuring higher levels of technology and safety. Just note that if you’re looking for the next-gen Honda Civic Si and Type, you’ll have to look a bit later in the year: Neither is available quite yet.
10 Budget Sports Cars
Photo Credit: FCA Media
2016 Alfa Romeo 4C
There aren’t many budget sports cars with exotic Italian styling and extreme high-performance credentials, but the 2016 Alfa Romeo does stand out as a relative bargain. Consider: Although both the 4C and the Ferrari 488 GTB were born in the north of Italy, boast mid-engine setups and both wear dramatic exterior designs, the price of the latter is north of $242,000. The 4C is “only” $55,900, so for the price of one Prancing Horse, you could buy two coupes, then two 4C Spiders (at $65,900), and have almost $900 left over for gasoline. Not that you’d need much, since the 4C posts an EPA line of 24 mpg city/34 mpg highway/28 mpg combined. Of course, you do get premium performance in the Alfa, including a 0-60 time of just 4.1 seconds and a top speed of 160 mph.
Photo Credit: Chevrolet
2016 Chevrolet Corvette
Well, here’s the thing: If we’re going to open up our list of budget sports cars to vehicles that cost more than $55,000, we have to showcase the 2016 Chevrolet Corvette. No, it doesn’t have an Italian pedigree, but the Corvette is faster, quicker, bigger and more powerful than the just-mentioned Alfa Romeo, and it has a lower starting price, too, with an MSRP of $55,400. Now, Chevy only reveals performance specs for the Corvette with its Z51 upgrade package, which upgrades the cost by $5,000, but at that point, the car can leverage its 6.2-liter V8 for 465 horsepower, 460 lb.-ft. of torque and a sub-four-second 0-60 sprint of 3.8 seconds. And that’s with a standard manual transmission that isn’t offered for the Alfa; meanwhile, the Corvette’s available eight-speed automatic can shave an extra tenth of a second from the car’s 0-60 ability.
Photo Credit: Ford
2016 Ford Focus ST/RS
The Blue Oval actually offers a bevy of budget sports cars, also including the Fiesta ST and V6 Mustang, yet it’s the Focus family that hits the sweet spot for Autobytel experts. The 2016 Focus ST, for instance, serves up a tasty 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine that makes 252 horsepower and 270 lb.-ft. of torque, and that unit is yoked to a six-speed manual transmission for dynamic DIY shifting. Ford’s compact hatch also has a notably nimble suspension and an impressively affordable MSRP of $24,425, providing owners with a spectacular speed-to-spending ratio. True, the Focus RS will raise ye olde bar in all measures, but while it’s $35,900 price tag isn’t much above the industry average, it’s literally more than twice the cost of a starter Focus sedan. Drivers can console themselves, though, with the RS’s 2.3-liter, 350-horsepower EcoBoost engine.
2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata
The classic roadster has been reinvented in the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata, which launched as an all-new fourth-generation entry for the current model year. For this makeover, Mazda engineers specifically looked to the original Miata for the template, with a particular emphasis on reducing the new car’s weight. As a result, the 2016 Miata is about 150 lbs. lighter than the last one and weighs just 2,332 lbs. in its standard trim. The difference in dynamics impacts the entire driving experience, too. Also, because of its easy-open top, the Miata adds an advantage over many of the other best budget sports cars: It’s as fun to cruise in with the top down as it is to fling around the corners, especially when optioned with the available Bose audio system’s headrest speakers. The car’s fresh styling also happens to be just as sharp as its reflexes.
Photo Credit: Volkswagen
2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI
The 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI is a popular pick here, because hot hatches make great budget sports cars and VW makes a great hot hatch. In fact, it makes two of them. The GTI, however, is the more monetarily responsible choice, backed by an MSRP of $25,595 that’s $10K below the starting point of the 292-horsepower Golf R. Further, the GTI is plenty peppy itself, as it packs a 2.0-liter TSI turbo engine that’s good for 210 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. VW also can deliver an optional performance package that puts another 10 horsepower into play along with bigger brakes and a torque-sensing limited-slip differential. To heat up handling, owners can complement that setup with VW’s DCC adaptive damping system, and the GTI caters to the purist as well, courtesy of a standard six-speed manual transmission
Photo Credit: Scion
2016 Scion FR-S
First launched to re-ignite a new generation’s passion for budget sports cars, the 2016 Scion FR-S will continue to ably fulfill that role until the fall, when it will be refreshed and renamed the 2017 Toyota 86—honoring a sporty icon of the 80s from the automaker. But FR-S or 86—or Subaru BRZ—this entry is a hardtop-only rival to the Miata roadster, relying on a similar rear-wheel-drive configuration, a low curb weight and a highly athletic suspension setup. The FR-S also distinguishes itself with 2+2 seating and a standard Torsen limited-slip diff to handle the car’s 200 horsepower and 151 lb.-ft of torque. Nor did Scion stand pat for 2016. Before the numerous enhancements in line for the upcoming 86, the 2016 FR-S garnered a new standard audio system with an integrated rearview camera for the current selling season.
2016 Subaru WRX
Subaru has been building budget sports cars based on its Impreza compact since the early 1990s, creating a long line of rally-influenced road runners in the process. Today—and now that its Evo arch-nemesis has been retired—it’s the 2016 Subaru WRX and WRX STI that dominate that space. Both tout turbocharged boxer-style engines and knockout suspension systems, but we’ll bow to the budgetary benefits of the WRX proper. A corner-carving compact sedan with a wide-body presence, low-profile rear spoiler and specific all-wheel-drive setups for manual and CVT transmissions, the WRX furnishes 268 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque for a practical $26,595. It’s also worth pointing out that WRX models with that CVT can be configured with Subaru’s EyeSight driver-assistance measures—bundling adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking and lane-departure warning—to achieve Top Safety Pick+ recognition from the IIHS.
Photo Credit: Nissan
2016 Nissan 370Z Coupe
Sure, the 2016 Nissan Z Coupe may be a bit rough around the edges. That’s to be expected when a car sits on a platform that hasn’t been significantly changed in more than seven years. But that said, a little lack of refinement isn’t necessarily a problem for budget sports cars. Folks shopping in that segment look to prioritize power, performance and pricing, and the latest Z car still checks off all those boxes with a standard 332-horsepower V6, a double-wishbone front suspension and rear multi-link arrangement, and an MSRP that’s a sawbuck short of $30K. The exterior styling of the 370Z also has aged well, as it remains a racy-looking beast, and engineers are on the job in terms of reducing NVH issues in the cabin. Helping with that is a new-for-2016 Bose audio system with active noise cancellation and active sound enhancement.
2016 Hyundai Veloster
Don’t let its rather busy styling fool you: Beneath the baroque design of the 2016 Hyundai Veloster beats the heart of a budget sports car—at least in the turbo models. Those cars carry a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine that forces out 201 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque, with that unit matched to a standard six-speed manual transmission in three different trims. All are stickered below $24,000, and the range-topping Rally Edition extends the ol’ performance envelope with the Veloster’s sportiest suspension setup, lightweight RAYS wheels, a B&M Racing shifter, and exclusive appearance cues. Shoppers should keep in mind, though, that the Rally Edition will be a limited-run model that caps production at 1,200 units. But the Turbo and Turbo R-Spec trims also can be fitted with the turbocharged engine and athletically oriented suspensions, for additional Veloster value and an MSRP as low as $21,600.
2016 Fiat 500 Abarth
Budget sports cars don’t always come in a track-ready trim, yet the 2016 FIAT 500 Abarth touts exactly that capability despite a starting price of merely $22,495. It’s a minimal outlay that covers performance maximizers like an Abarth-exclusive MacPherson front suspension with Koni frequency selective damping, a high-performance braking package with semi-metallic linings, and a specially tuned electronic stability-control system that can be turned off entirely for expert drivers. Naturally, the 500 Abarth also sports a performance-friendly engine, in this case Fiat’s 1.4-liter MultiAir turbo. And while that tops out at 160 horsepower and 170 lb.-ft. of torque with the car’s standard manual transmission—or 157/183 with a six-speed auto—the 500 Abarth is an ideal example of how it’s more fun to drive a (relatively) slow car fast than it is to drive a fast car slow.