For the first time ever, the Porsche 911 now starts at over $100,000. An Audi R8 can cost $3,000 a year in insurance alone. Despite the announcement of the C8, C7 Corvettes are holding their value well above $40k.
For under-30s with student loans, rent to pay, and corporate ladders to climb, these traditional sports cars may seem frustratingly out of reach. However, mainstream manufacturers have stepped in to fill the void. For a budget of under $30k or a sub-$350/month lease, you can have a thrilling sports car equally capable on the track and the commute.
Here are my top five picks.
Ford Mustang EcoBoost
Pictured: the Mustang BULLITT, featuring styling from the 1968 film. Cardboard Steve McQueen not included (photo courtesy of Grant Lewis Films)
A four-cylinder Mustang!? Isn’t that as brazenly unpatriotic as a gluten-free apple pie? Not so fast. The four-banger ‘Stang packs 310 horsepower, enough to catapult the pony car to 60 in around five seconds, same as a V8 Mustang from 2009. Plus, with independent rear suspension, it handles potholes and corners much better than its predecessor.
By offering V8 power with half the cylinders, the turbocharged Mustang is cheap to buy, cheap to run, and cheap to insure. Blessedly available in a manual, the base ‘Stang starts under $27k.
- Option to splurge on: Equipment Package 101A for $2000, which adds a much-needed infotainment and speaker upgrades.
Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ
Handsome in blue, the Toyota 86 is aging well in my opinion (photo: Wikimedia Commons)
If you have dreams of doing autocross, the Toyota 86 is the car for you. Purpose-built for hooliganism, the 86 comes factory delivered with skinny Prius tires for maximum drift-ability. Plus, the engine bay is a tuner’s playground, ripe for more power and sound.
I have to ding the 86 for its chintzy interior and lack of safety equipment, but for pure, tire-sliding joy, it’s virtually unparalleled. Plus, the Subaru-sourced boxer-four engine well-known for its dependability. Starting under $27k, the 86 defines performance bargain.
- Option to splurge on: the $2100 GT Trim, which adds countless interior and exterior upgrades from an aero kit to leather-trimmed seats.
VW Golf GTI
The sleek Autobahn trim unfortunately doesn’t come with a license to drive 154mph (photo: vw.com)
Europe’s favorite sports car, the holy GTI has been anointed by countless car pundits as the best daily driver of all time. Equal parts pack mule and racehorse, the GTI can haul a family of five and clip apexes like a track monster. Plus, even base GTIs come well-equipped with sleek 18” wheels, a limited-slip differential, heated seats, and more.
While the GTI has a history of questionable reliability, VW now covers all new GTIs with a generous six-year/72,000 bumper-to-bumper warranty.
- Option to splurge on: the Driver Assistance Package, which adds blind-spot monitoring, brake assist, and more essential safety features for just $450.
The MX-5’s manually-operated soft top goes down as fast as you can swing your arm back (photo: Chris Butsch)
What’s the best overall sports car? Affordable convertible? Car to learn manual on? “The answer is always Miata,” writes the Internet. A Miata is like a puppy in car form: adorable, intimidating, and bringing joy wherever it goes. There’s something magical about nailing a gear change with the wind in your hair that only a Miata can fully provide.
Best of all, Miatas are incredibly affordable to own. They get 35mpg highway, are cheaper to insure than a Camry, and boast above-average reliability. Though hardly equipped for families or long-distance driving, Miatas are the ultimate “fun” cars starting under $27k. Even if you can’t drive a manual, buy one anyway; they’re cheaper, more fun, and hold their value better.
- Option to splurge on: The $2100 Club Trim, which adds handsome 17” alloy wheels and a 9-speaker Bose audio system, including speakers in the headrest.
Hyundai Veloster N
Slotting between the GTI’s stateliness and the Civic Type R’s flashiness, the N looks juuust right (photo: Chris Butsch)
What happens when a manufacturer known for good value poaches employees from BMW’s M Division? The result is the best affordable sports car I’ve ever tested, period.
The Veloster N’s quality comes as a complete shock. Hyundai has never made a truly great sports car, and a manufacturer’s first foray typically needs several generations to become competitive. It’s as if Burger King suddenly came out with the world’s best pizza.
The N is fast like a Mustang, handles like an 86, and carries people and cargo like a GTI. Mated to a manual-only transmission, the N’s 275 horses feel like 400; this car just keeps pulling and howling, and you keep smiling. The steering wheel-mounted N button, which instantly toggles the car’s most aggressive exhaust and suspension settings, adds a whole new dimension to driving. You can tighten up just before a corner, and soften up just before a bump.
With nearly 55 cubic feet of cargo space and two rear seats accessible via a quirky third door, the N is reasonably family-friendly. Plus, despite being purpose-built for shenanigans, the N costs less than average to insure, and comes with Hyundai’s generous 10-year/100,000 warranty that even covers track use. Starting at $28k, the Veloster N is the sports bargain of the decade.
- Option to splurge on: the Performance Pack for $2100, which adds 25 horsepower, the delightfully loud exhaust, and performance brakes.
How to find the best price on these five cars
Whenever looking for cars in your area, or just generally checking out the average costs of vehicles, I recommend Edmunds.
You can search by make or model and browse through thousands of cars. To make things easier, here’s Edmund’s inventory of each car mentioned in this post:
Financing your next car purchase
Without loads of cash lying around the bank, if you’re like me, you’ll need help to finance your next car purchase. Be sure to check out and compare the best loans available.
Monevo can help you compare loan rates from 30 lenders, all in one place. The form is short and sweet, and there’s no hard pull on your credit, so no need to worry about seeing a ding on your score! You’ll find rates that range from 1.99% - 35.99% APR.
Thanks to trickle-down technology and a hyper-competitive market, true sports cars have gone from aspirational to attainable. Even for a lease budget under $350/month, you can drive home in something loud, fast, and absolutely thrilling.
Though the N is my top pick, all five cars on this list are sensible choices for the lead-footed driving enthusiast.