Edmunds: The best affordable performance cars
There’s often a point when car enthusiasts are looking to purchase their first new performance car or sports car. Inflation and price creep have pushed many desirable models out of reach, but fortunately, a handful of automakers remain committed to offering thrill-making machines with wallet-friendly price tags. Edmunds’ car experts have rounded up six of the best with starting prices under $33,000. These vehicles have a high Edmunds rating and are listed by the manufacturer’s suggested retail price and include the destination charge.
The Miata has long been the quintessential affordable convertible sports car thanks to its winning formula of rear-wheel drive, low weight and manageable power. The Miata’s 181-horsepower four-cylinder engine won’t impress your muscle car friends, but it’s good enough for a respectable 0 to 60 mph sprint of 6.4 seconds when Edmunds tested it.
In addition to being a smile-making machine, the Miata is fuel-efficient and has ample tech and a decent ride. But as you’d expect, it has a tight interior and a small trunk and lets in lots of wind noise with the convertible top up. If you’re not a fan of the soft top, consider the pricier RF hardtop model, though it will take you above $35,000.
Starting MSRP: $29,215
The GR86 and BRZ are essentially the same cars with subtle differences. These corporate twins are textbook examples of fun-to-drive sport coupes and share many of the Miata’s charming qualities. Compared to the Miata, they provide more passenger and cargo space. A more powerful 228-hp four-cylinder engine also helps these cars accelerate to 60 mph in 6 seconds.
These agile coupes are mostly about delivering a thrilling driving experience. Therefore, their tech is quite basic and their ride quality is firm, especially the GR86’s. The rear seats are a plus, but they are tight and best used for cargo, not passengers.
Starting MSRP: $29,495 for GR86; $29,615 for BRZ
The Civic Si offers a more affordable alternative than its high-performance sibling, the Civic Type R. Its 200-horsepower engine won’t drop any jaws, nor will its 7.2-second 0-60 mph sprint. But as with most affordable performance cars, the Si prioritizes the fun-to-drive factor more than boast-worthy numbers.
Its mandatory six-speed manual transmission is easy to shift, and the Civic Si boasts plenty of grip and precise handling, especially with the optional high-performance summer tires. The Honda also provides the best fuel economy and the most spacious rear seats on the list. Unfortunately, it’s only available as a sedan. Road noise is also abundant, and the front seats aren’t particularly comfortable on long drives.
Starting MSRP: $30,195
Many hot hatches have come and gone since the GTI pioneered the genre. This latest Golf GTI is still immensely entertaining to drive, and its hatchback body style provides plenty of passenger and cargo space. The GTI packs a 241-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder and zipped its way to 60 mph in a brisk 5.9 seconds during Edmunds testing.
Other advantages to picking the GTI include a comfortable ride and a high-quality interior. On the downside, many of the car’s basic and infotainment system controls can be frustrating to use. Also, only the base Golf GTI S fits under our theoretical $33,000 budget.
Starting MSRP: $31,625
The 2024 Ford Mustang has been redesigned with a sharper exterior and a much-improved interior. The engines are the same but updated, including the 315-horsepower turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost engine you get at this price point. That potent engine is unfortunately only paired with an automatic transmission. No manual here unless you opt for the much pricier V8.
This classic pony car will out-accelerate the other sports cars on the list, but don’t expect the heavier Mustang to be as athletic on curvy roads. Inside, you’ll be greeted by a pair of large digital displays, including a new 13.2-inch center touchscreen. The front seats are spacious, but the same can’t be said for the tight rear seats.
Starting MSRP: $32,515
These relatively inexpensive sports cars are becoming a rarity in today’s SUV-heavy market, so if you’re interested in driving one, now’s the time to go out and buy one.
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