When you gotta go fast for not much cash

Although it’s easy to get lost in the deluge of noise surrounding fully self-driving, electron-powered commuter bubbles, there’s still a strong number of gas-powered sports machines out there to enjoy. And we aren’t talking about six-figure unobtanium supercars either - nope, we’re talking about loads of driving goodness to be had in the far more reasonable $20k to $30k price range. As such, we put together the following list of the 10 Most Affordable Sports Cars on the market today.

Looking over the list, some of you out there will undoubtedly point out how several entries aren’t your typical “sports car,” whether it’s the body style, drivetrain layout, or both. Regardless, every single one of these models comes packed with maximum smiles per miles, and for a lightweight price tag to boot. As such, we’ve included a few hot hatchbacks, a rally car, and a few others that fall outside the traditional sports car spectrum. Of course, there’s plenty of RWD coupes in there as well, so fear not and read on.

Continue reading for the full list.

Fiat 500 Abarth

2015 Fiat 500 Abarth High Resolution Exterior
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Expect acceleration to 60 mph in less than 7 seconds. That’s not too shabby, but the car’s bigger strength is in the way it drives.

Kicking off our list is this plucky little Italian hatchback, which takes the tried-and-true Fiat 500 formula to new and ever-quicker heights. We think it looks pretty good, in a bubbly kinda of way. Of course, if you don’t wanna be cutesy about it, you could also get yours in black with red stripes, and it’ll look pretty badass. Maybe paint a big skull on the nose.

Regardless, you can get the Fiat 500 as either a convertible or a hardtop. In the corners, you’ll find 16-inch wheels as standard, but you can upgrade to 17-inchers as well, with both the standard rollers and the optional equipment offering up cool designs and lightweight aluminum construction. And, as an Abarth model, don’t forget an abundance of Scorpion badges as well.

As for the oily bits, the 500 Abarth uses a front-engine, FWD layout. Providing the motivation is a turbocharged 1.4-liter twin-intercooled four-cylinder tuned to produce upwards of 160 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. Those numbers are paired to the five-speed manual transmission, but there’s also a six-speed automatic, and if you go for the slushbox, the four-cylinder’s output is tuned to a maximum of 154 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque.

Either way, expect acceleration to 60 mph in less than 7 seconds. That’s not too shabby, but the car’s bigger strength is in the way it drives. Crucial to that is a low curb weight, with the 500 Abarth tipping the scales at just over 2,500 pounds. Managing the heft is an upgraded suspension system, with performance damper pieces from Koni that offer greater stiffness and a lower ride height as well.

Inside, the 500 Abarth gets a nice interior spec, with well-bolstered sport seats covered in either cloth or leather upholstery.

Car & Driver had this to say: “The Abarth’s attitude problem is arguably its greatest attribute, but the kicky styling, ease of parking, and wake-the-neighbors exhaust note also rank high on our list of likes. The sunroof-like intermediate setting of the Abarth convertible’s roof is a nicety not found on most droptops.”

Price tag: $20,495

Fiat 500 Abarth Drivetrain Specifications

Drivetrain Layout Front-engine, FWD
Engine Turbo 1.4-liter four-cylinder
Transmission Five-speed manual, six-speed automatic
Horsepower 160 hp, 154 hp
Torque 170 lb-ft, 184 lb-ft
0 To 60 MPH 6.9 seconds
Curb Weight 2,512 pounds

Read our full review on the Fiat 500 Abarth

Mini Cooper

2014 Mini Cooper High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
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Basically, the Mini Cooper is a premium sport compact perfectly suited to a buyer that craves individuality and head-turning presence.

There’s loads of different Mini Cooper models out there, but for this list, we’re gonna recommend to the classic two-door hardtop model.

Like the rest of the Mini lineup, the Cooper hardtop comes with tons of customization options, both inside and out, including trim color, roof and mirror color, upholstery color, cabin illumination, and much more. There’s also an optional 8.8-inch media touchscreen.

The standard Copper model comes equipped with a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder gas engine, which is tuned to produce 134 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. Higher in the range, Mini offers a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder tuned to produce either 189 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque in the Cooper S, or 228 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque in the range-topping John Cooper Works model.

The sprint to 60 mph takes 7.4 seconds in the base model, 6.4 seconds in the S, and 6.1 seconds in the Cooper Works. Grab the automatic transmission, and those times get a tenth or two knocked off the top (the S model is a bit slower with the automatic).

On the transmission front, all three come with the option for either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic, while curb weight ranges between 2,625 pounds and 2,885 pounds depending on equipment level. The suspension set-up uses MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link in the rear.

Put it all together, and what do you get?

Basically, the Mini Cooper is a premium sport compact perfectly suited to a buyer that craves individuality and head-turning presence. It’s fun to drive and nimble, and with the right engine, decently quick too. One word of warning - although the base model is just over $20K, the options quickly add up. Get a little heavy-handed, and you could very quickly double the bottom line.

Our friends at The Car Connection had this to say:

“The Mini’s charms are in how it tackles curvy stuff,” later adding, “All Mini Coopers handle tighter than a drum. And it’s standard on every car.”

Price tag: $21,900

Mini Cooper Drivetrain Specifications

Drivetrain Layout Front-engine, FWD
Engine Turbo 1.5-liter three-cylinder, turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder
Transmission Six-speed manual, six-speed automatic
Horsepower 134 hp, 189 hp, 228 hp
Torque 162 lb-ft, 207 lb-ft, 236 lb-ft
0 to 60 mph (manual transmission) 7.4 seconds, 6.4 seconds, 6.1 seconds
Curb Weight (automatic transmission) 2,625 pounds, 2,785 pounds, 2,845 pounds

Read our full review on the 2018 Mini Cooper.

Honda Civic Si Coupe

2018 Honda Civic Si Coupe
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The name stands for “Sport injected,” which means this thing gets a few extra bits and pieces to help it achieve the performance you’d expect.

The Civic is one of those models that’s basically a blank canvas - with the right parts, you can turn it into just about anything, and that includes a fun little sports car. Of course, if you just wanna cut right to the chase, Honda did the work for you with the Si Coupe model variant.

The nomenclature stands for “Sport injected,” which means this thing gets a few extra bits and pieces to help it achieve the levels of performance you’d expect, given the name.

First up, the engine, which is a 1.5-liter inline four-cylinder pumped with more than 20 psi of turbo boost to produce 205 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque. Routing it to the front tires is a six-speed manual transmission, which is the only gearbox option offered. Good, because the stick is a real gem.

Put your foot to the floor, and the Civic Si will claw its way to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds.

Next up is the suspension, which comes standard with MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link in the rear. What’s more, Honda throws in a set of adaptive dampers as standard equipment. The steering is also sharper, and there are bigger brakes as well.

To sweeten the deal, the cabin is decked out with all the good stuff you’d want, like well-bolstered sports seats with a heating function, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, and a large touchscreen in the dash.

Consumer Reports lauded the 2018 model year with praise, describing it as a “Civic that pounded a Red Bull. It’s the choice for shoppers who crave an engaged driving experience but don’t want to break the budget or sacrifice fuel economy,” also adding, “The handling shines, with limited body roll and good grip when pushing through sharp turns. The ride is stiff and edgy but not overly punishing.”

Price tag: $24,100

Honda Civic Si Drivetrain Specifications

Drivetrain Layout Front-engine, FWD
Engine Turbo 1.5-liter four-cylinder
Transmission Six-speed manual
Horsepower 205 hp
Torque 192 lb-ft
0 to 60 mph 6.7 seconds
Curb Weight 2,890 pounds

Read our full review on the 2018 Honda Civic Si Coupe

Mazda MX-5 Miata

2016 Mazda MX-5 High Resolution Exterior
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The MX-5’s real magic shows in the corners, where it offers one of the most engaging, driver-oriented experiences on the market today.

If you have even a passing interest in fun-to-drive, affordable sports cars, then the Mazda MX-5 Miata should be one of the first models to come to mind. Back in 2015, Mazda introduced the fourth-generation ND line, updating the classic two-door with new, sharper styling, less weight, and every ounce of smile-inducing goodness as the previous model.

You can get yours in one of three different trim levels, including the Sport, the Club, and the range-topping Grand Touring. All three come equipped with a front-mounted, naturally aspirated, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which produces as much as 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. Routing it all to the the rear wheels is either a six-speed manual, or a six-speed automatic transmission.

Outside, the ND MX-5 gets a sleeker, more aggressive styling package, with a large central intake in the nose, plus narrow headlight housings equipped with LEDs for forward illumination. Wheel sizing starts at 16 inches, but you can also get 17-inchers if desired.

Put your foot down, and the run to 60 mph takes a little over 6 seconds (6.1 seconds to be exact). Top speed clocks in at 133 mph.

While decently quick, the MX-5’s real magic shows in the corners, where it’s low-weight, aluminum-intensive construction is matched to faultless suspension tuning, making for one of the most engaging, driver-oriented experiences on the market today. Indeed, with just 2,350 pounds to push around, the MX-5 is epic fun.

Motor Trend had this to say about the 2018 Mazda Miata:

“Its light and responsive character makes it a joy to drive on your favorite winding roads and its suspension tuning is well-balanced, so it doesn’t beat you up on rough roads.”

Sounds like a righteous combo, don’t ya think?

Price tag: $25,295

Mazda MX-5 Miata Drivetrain Specifications

Drivetrain Layout Front-engine, RWD
Engine 2.0-liter four-cylinder
Transmission Six-speed manual, six-speed automatic
Horsepower 155 hp
Torque 148 lb-ft
0 to 60 mph 6.1 seconds
Curb Weight 2,350 pounds (est.)

Read our full review on the 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata.

Ford Mustang

2018 Ford Mustang Exterior High Resolution
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The latest sixth-generation ‘Stang certainly looks the part of a rip-snorting all-American muscle car, offering bulging body panels and an attitude that pays homage to the original ‘60s model.

Like apple pie and baseball, the Ford Mustang is indelibly tied to the American character. If ever there was a red-white-and-blue sports car, this would be it.

Offered as both a hardtop Fastback and soft-top convertible, the latest sixth-generation ‘Stang certainly looks the part of a rip-snorting all-American muscle car, offering bulging body panels and an attitude that pays homage to the original ‘60s model. That style is carried over in the interior, where we find a retro three-spoke steering wheel, rounded vents and gauges, and a classic-looking shifter knob, plus all the requisite modern infotainment gear to boot.

Nice stuff, but the main party piece lies under that sinewy hood line. Most buyers will want to get into the big-and-bad V-8-powered GT model, but that’s a whopping ten grand over the base-model four-cylinder turbo EcoBoost. Go for the ‘four, and you’ll still end up with as much as 310 horses, which is good enough for a 5.3-second run to 60 mph and 13.9-second quarter mile time. If you’re feeling saucy, the V-8 will up output to 460 horsepower, slashing acceleration times down to 4.3 seconds in the run to 60 mph and 12.5 seconds in the quarter mile.

Transmission options include a six-speed manual and a new 10-speed automatic. Throw in the newly added independent rear suspension and optional adaptive dampers, and this thing simply oozes performance from every angle.

Indeed, our friends over at The Car Connection found the latest Mustang to be a joy to drive, even in the corners:

“Snag the Performance Package and then add Magnetic Ride Control and you’ll be cruising in the most agile, composed, and capable Mustang available from the factory. In Sport mode, the dampers firm up and deliver sharp, predictable handling, even along rough roads.”

Price tag: $25,845

Ford Mustang Drivetrain Specifications

Drivetrain Layout Front-engine, RWD
Engine Turbo 2.3-liter four-cylinder, 5.0-liter V-8
Transmission Six-speed manual, ten-speed automatic
Horsepower 310 hp, 460 hp
Torque 350 lb-ft, 420 lb-ft
0 to 60 mph 5.3 seconds, 4.3 seconds
Curb Weight 3,550 pounds (est.), 3,705 pounds

Read our full review on the 2018 Ford Mustang

Chevrolet Camaro

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Low, wide, and very mean indeed, the Camaro just entered its latest sixth generation for the 2016 model year, offering a new, lighter platform.

If you’re really feeling the muscle car thing, but prefer Bow Ties over Blue Ovals, then the Camaro is the one for you. Low, wide, and very mean indeed, the Camaro just entered its latest sixth generation for the 2016 model year, offering a new, lighter platform, plus a variety of packages and trim specs to kit yours to taste.

The base model equips a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-banger, but higher in the range, buyers can also get a 3.6-liter V-6, or a 6.2-liter V-8. Output figures look like 275 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque for the ‘four, plus 284 horsepower and 335 pound-feet for the V-6. Meanwhile, the V-8 cranks out as much as 455 horsepower and 455 pound-feet of torque. MacPherson struts up front and a multilink in the rear helps it handle, while a six-speed manual is standard, with an eight-speed automatic offered as an available option. There’s also tons of extra performance options on the table, including magnetic suspension, a high-flow exhaust, and much more.

Motor Trend was so impressed with the new Camaro, the publication awarded it with its 2016 Car of the Year award, saying that “Compared to the fifth-gen car, the new Chevrolet Camaro is small, lighter, and more powerful with the V-6 and V-8 variants. Additionally, the new chassis and suspension setup easily out handled the previous model.”

Price tag: $25,905

Chevrolet Camaro Drivetrain Specifications

Drivetrain Layout Front-engine, RWD
Engine Turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder, 3.6-liter V-6, 6.2-liter V-8
Transmission Six-speed manual, eight-speed automatic
Horsepower 275 hp, 335 hp, 455 hp
Torque 295 lb-ft, 284 lb-ft, 455 lb-ft
0 to 60 mph 5.4 seconds, 5.1 seconds, 4.0 seconds
Curb Weight 3,339 pounds, 3,435 pounds, 3,685 pounds

Read our full review on the 2018 Chevrolet Camaro.

Volkswagen Golf GTI

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The Golf GTI has all the classic trappings of a sporty odd-door - stylish good looks, loads of practicality, and plenty of fun behind the wheel.

Widely considered one of the founding fathers of the ever-popular hot hatch movement, the Golf GTI has all the classic trappings of a sporty odd-door - stylish good looks, loads of practicality, and plenty of fun behind the wheel.

The latest seventh-gen Golf dropped back in 2012, and with it, a hot-to-trot GTI iteration. Standout specs include a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine mounted up front, which sends as much as 220 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque to the front axle by way of of a standard six-speed manual transmission. Extra outlay will net you the six-speed automatic as a replacement. Plant your foot to the carpet, and you’ll hit 60 mph in about 6 seconds dead.

As one of VW’s most iconic models, equipment is plentiful, with three trim levels to choose from. However, even the base model gets some nice gear, including a sporty suspension setup and red-painted brake calipers. Higher up, buyers are offered a VAQ front limited-slip differential.

Car And Driver is a big fan of the Golf GTI, awarding it a spot on the publication’s 10 Best Car list 12 years running. “We’ve been smitten with the GTI for years,” the outlet admits, “and with Volkswagen’s commitment to the continued refinement of this little hot hatch, we expect the bloom to stay on this rose for the foreseeable future.”

Price tag: $26,415

Volkswagen GTI Drivetrain Specifications

Drivetrain Layout Front-engine, FWD
Engine Turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder
Transmission Six-speed manual, six-speed automatic
Horsepower 220 hp
Torque 258 lb-ft
0 to 60 mph 6.0 seconds
Curb Weight 3,031 pounds

Read our full review on the 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI.

Toyota 86

2017 Toyota 86 High Resolution Exterior AutoShow
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The 86 prefers to focus on driver engagement and handling, and in those respects, it’s phenomenal.

There’s a purity to the 86 that’s hard to find in the affordable sports car market, and a lot of that goodness is down to the car’s layout - engine up front, drive at the rear, and very little else in between.

Indeed, the Toyota 86 is a nod to that old-school approach to performance, as the name is a reference to Toyota’s AE86 “Hachi-Roku from the ‘80s and the ’60’s-era Sports 800. As such, both the Sports 800 and modern 86 come with boxer engines, with the latter doling out 200 horsepower from a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder. Routed through either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic, the sprint to 60 mph takes about 7.7 seconds.

Although the straight-line speed isn’t exactly mind-boggling, the 86 prefers to focus on driver engagement and handling, and in those respects, it’s phenomenal. Weighing just 2,774 pounds, the 86 uses MacPherson struts in front and double wishbones in the rear, with optional equipment including new brake pads, lower springs, and stiffer sway bars.

Despite its small size, it still comes with a small +2 rear bench, and a trunk as well. Driver’s will feel supported by the sporty seating, and the steering wheel, pedals, and shifter get the right performance flavoring to do the job properly.

We got a chance to drive the Toyota 86 back in 2016, and had this to say about it:

“The steering is well weighted, with excellent feedback and just enough quickness. The brakes haul it down without protest corner after corner. The chassis rotates smartly, just like a front-engine, RWD layout should. Push it really hard, and the tires let go progressively and without drama.”

Price tag: $26,445

Toyota 86 Drivetrain Specifications

Drivetrain Layout Front-engine, RWD
Engine 2.0-liter four-cylinder
Transmission Six-speed manual, six-speed automatic
Horsepower 205 hp
Torque 156 lb-ft
0 to 60 mph 7.7 seconds
Curb Weight 2,774 pounds

Read our full review on the 2018 Toyota 86

Subaru WRX

2018 Subaru WRX High Resolution Exterior
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The WRX is Subaru’s ever-popular performance offering, mating a high-strung turbocharged engine with nearly endless AWD grip.

Plucked from the gravel-shredding stages of the World Rally Championship, the WRX is Subaru’s ever-popular performance offering, mating a high-strung turbocharged engine with nearly endless AWD grip. Although much of the world has enjoyed the WRX since the early ‘90s, we didn’t get it here in the States until the early 2000’s. However, once it finally did arrive stateside, buyers went bananas, and now it’s one of the brand’s most successful models.

Buyers can get either the base model WRX, which comes with a turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder, 268 horsepower, and 258 pound-feet of torque, or the even-hotter WRX STI, which upgrades the lump to a 2.5-liter ‘four packing even more psi for a peak output of 310 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard on both models, while the non-STI’d WRX is also offered with an optional six-speed automatic. Both models also come with Subaru’s full-time Symmetrical AWD system.

A sport-tuned suspension is standard, but the STI ups the ante with upgraded handling components and a big brake package from Brembo. Outside, look for a mean fascia and flared-out fenders, plus optional 19-inch wheels and the requisite boy racer wing for the STI. Finally, the cabin comes with everything you need, like bolstered performance seats and grippy soft-touch materials for the steering wheel and shift knob.

Edmunds had this to say after a stint behind the wheel:

“Though its acceleration numbers may be hard to duplicate in the real world, the 268-hp WRX provides continual thrills in a straight line or around corners. It doesn’t disappoint in the areas that matter most to enthusiast drivers.”

Price tag: $26,995

Subaru WRX Drivetrain Specifications

Drivetrain Layout Front-engine, AWD
Engine Turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbo 2.5-liter four-cylinder
Transmission Six-speed manual, six-speed automatic
Horsepower 268 hp, 310 hp
Torque 258 lb-ft, 290 lb-ft
0 to 60 mph 5.5 seconds, 4.9 seconds
Curb Weight 3,300 pounds (est.), 3,391 pounds

Read our full review on the 2018 Subaru WRX.

Dodge Challenger

2017 Dodge Challenger GT High Resolution Exterior
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If you’re looking for something with a heavy-hitting spec sheet and in-your-face attitude, this is the one for you.

Taking the final spot on our list as the most expensive (yet still very affordable) entry, we have the Dodge Challenger. If you’re looking for something with a heavy-hitting spec sheet and in-your-face attitude, this is the one for you. Dodge offers the Challenger in a bewildering number of trim levels, starting with the base model SXT, which comes standard with a 3.6-liter V-6 producing as much as 305 horsepower. Further up the food chain, you’ll find a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 making 375 horsepower, while the optional Scat Pack drops in a 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 making 485 horsepower.

All trims route power to the rear wheels exclusively, with a six-speed manual and an eight-speed automatic offered for the cog swaps. Inside, there’s an asymmetric cabin layout, plus loads of optional equipment, including leather seating, Harman Kardon audio, and an 8.4-inch Uconnect display.

Price tag: $27,295

Dodge Challenger Drivetrain Specifications

Drivetrain Layout Front-engine, RWD
Engine 3.6-liter V-6, 5.7-liter V-8, 6.4-liter V-8
Transmission Six-speed manual, eight-speed automatic
Horsepower 305 hp, 375 hp, 485 hp
Torque 268 lb-ft, 410 lb-ft, 475 lb-ft
0 to 60 mph 6.2 seconds seconds, 5.1 seconds, 4.2 seconds
Curb Weight 3,950 pounds (est.), 4,200 pounds (est.)

Read our full review on the 2018 Dodge Challenger

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