6 Best Sports Cars Under $30,000

Sports cars have evolved over the years. These days, some of the best sports cars are both efficient and affordable.

Subaru BRZSubaru

Article QuickTakes:

The best sports cars under $30,000 prove you don't have to spend luxe bucks to get a car that's fun to drive. Sports cars can mean different things to different people. It's a good bet that most will exclude lumbering trucks and SUVs from the list.

For our purposes, we define a sports car by a few key characteristics. It must have exceptional handling, especially at high speeds. You may only ever drive on the highway at the posted speed limit, but sports cars are also intended to be at home on a track at much higher speeds.

In addition, a sports car must have strong performance. That doesn't mean it needs a stratospheric horsepower figure. Instead, this means strong acceleration and more than enough power to pass other vehicles at highway speeds.

The sports cars on our list met the following criteria as baselines for driver engagement and enjoyment:

  • Horsepower: The vehicle must have a minimum of 175 hp.
  • Fun factor: This criterion cannot be quantified, but it's obvious. With this assortment of automobiles, it's clear athletic handling and muscular design led the design briefs, while cargo space and fuel efficiency took a backseat. That said, half of the cars on this list are remarkably practical, and all of them are reasonably fuel-thrifty, too.

In no particular order, here are some of the best sports cars under $30,000.

Mazda MX-5 Miata Mazda

Mazda MX-5 Miata

It's nearly impossible to create a list of the best sports cars and not include the Mazda MX-5 Miata. This little two-seater convertible has a responsive 2.0L four-cylinder engine with 181 hp and 151 lb.-ft. of torque. This is paired to either a six-speed automatic or a fantastic six-speed manual transmission with a short throw and a light clutch.

It has a near-perfect 50/50 weight distribution that adds to its crisp, engaging handling, and it gets great fuel economy with up to an EPA-estimated 30 mpg combined. The MX-5 Miata is rear-wheel drive only and gets standard high-performance tires along with heavily bolstered seats to hold you in place in the corners.

Toyota GR86Toyota

Toyota GR86 & Subaru BRZ

After a one-year hiatus, the Toyota GR86 and the nearly identical Subaru BRZ return as greatly improved performance coupes. There's technically seating for four, but it's best to think of them as two-seaters for you and a lucky friend. Power comes from a 2.4L four-cylinder engine with 228 hp and 184 lb.-ft. of torque. This is paired to either a six-speed automatic or manual transmission.

They're quick sports cars; Toyota estimates a 0-60 mph time of 6.6 seconds with the automatic transmission or 6.1 seconds with the manual. There are Normal, Sport, and Snow drive modes with a Track mode on models equipped with the manual. No matter which transmission you choose, the GR86 and BRZ are fun and sporty choices.

Mini Cooper SMini

Mini Cooper S

The Mini Cooper S upholds the brand's long history of building rally-inspired cars that are a joy to drive. Power for the base trim comes from a 2.0L turbocharged, four-cylinder engine with 189 hp and 206 lb.-ft of torque paired to either a six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic transmission. This is a highly customizable sports car with a wide range of appearance options for the hood, roof, and side mirrors that let you personalize it to your taste.

The two-door seats up to four people with front seats that are roomy and supportive, but rear-seat space is snug. That said, the high roofline makes the Mini Cooper S more suited to adults than most other sports cars. There's also a four-door variant that seats five with more room in the rear seats so adults can get comfortable.

Volkswagen Golf GTIVolkswagen

Volkswagen Golf GTI

The Volkswagen Golf GTI is a compact, four-door hatchback with seating for up to five people. It's a great choice for those who often plan to have friends along for the ride. Power comes from a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder with 241 hp and 273 lb.-ft. of torque. That's a lot for such a small car, and it makes this a true hot hatchback.

That engine is paired to either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic that offers quick shifts. This is a punchy little car with brisk acceleration and great handling. It tackles corners with ease thanks to responsive steering and confident braking. It also has a smooth ride for passengers.

Ford MustangFord

Ford Mustang

Since 1964, the Ford Mustang has been delighting drivers with an expert blend of zippy performance and eye-catching design. Though looks are subjective, it can be argued that Ford hit it out of the park on day one back in the '60s. If that weren't the case, the 2022 model would have abstained from using so many design cues from the original pony car.

For a starting price around $28,000, the Mustang is a lot of car for the money. The base model packs a powerful 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder churning out 310 hp and 350 lb.-ft. of torque. Though it's one of the heavier cars here at around 3,500 lbs., this 'Stang doesn't feel saddled with dead weight. Rather, it's a rocket when you slam your foot into the firewall, and it handles just about as well as any of this list's lightweights.

2022 Chevrolet Camaro coupe and convertibleChevrolet

Chevrolet Camaro

It's eminently possible the Chevrolet Camaro would have never existed if it weren't for the Mustang. Ford's pony car caused such a stir in '64 that by the 1967 model year, cross-town rival Chevrolet had to go to battle with a pony car of its own. More than a half-century later, these legendary sportsters are still part of the "this or that" compendium, along with "Coke or Pepsi," "window or aisle seat," and "dog or cat".

Both the Mustang and Camaro are esteemed elements of the "best sports cars under $30k" club, but when it comes to pricing, the Camaro is the clear winner. With a roughly $26,000 starting price, the Camaro is about $2,000 less expensive than the Mustang, though Chevy's pony is a little down on power compared with the Ford. The Camaro's standard 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder makes 275 hp and 295 lb.-ft. of torque, though here's something fun to consider—that's the same horsepower figure that V8-powered Camaros were boasting back in the mid-1990s.

The best sports cars under $30,000 deliver plenty of fun without six-figure prices. Whether you want a convertible, a four-door hardtop, or a hot hatchback, these cars may fit the bill. For something just outside this range, check out this review of the 2021 Toyota GR Supra.

This site is for educational purposes only. The third parties listed are not affiliated with Capital One and are solely responsible for their opinions, products and services. Capital One does not provide, endorse or guarantee any third-party product, service, information or recommendation listed above. The information presented in this article is believed to be accurate at the time of publication, but is subject to change. The images shown are for illustration purposes only and may not be an exact representation of the product. The material provided on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the availability or suitability of any Capital One product or service to your unique circumstances. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.
author photo
Nicole Wakelin
I write about cars. A lot. That's because I’ve always loved cars and the fact that they regularly hand me the keys to shiny new automobiles so I can write about them is a constant source of amazement. I cover breaking news, write reviews, and attend auto shows and new vehicle launches across the country. The more winding the road and the more unknown the route, the better.