The newest generation of Mazda Miata is the best one yet by far. It’s got more power, has a hard top, and those truly modern body lines. They’re fantastic cars, but they’re also pushing $30,000 dollars for the more desirable models!
And don’t even get me started on the RF. Dreamy. But, is it the best sports car you can get for $30,000? I think we’d better dive in and find out!
2020 Chevrolet Camaro 1LT
335 HP | 285 TQ
That’s right, you can get a Camaro for under $30,000, but you’re only getting six cylinders, which isn’t as bad as it sounds! You’re pushing 335 horsepower out of that 3.6-liter V6. But, let’s be real here, why the hell would you get one of these? For that price, you could easily get a used SS and have the roaring V8 powerplant a Camaro was meant to have.
The saving grace is that the new Camaro’s chassis has been refined, and is lighter, and by all accounts a funner car to drive. But, it’s a six-cylinder Camaro. You’d always just wish you had the V8. And for that reason, I’m going to go with the Miata over this one. Next!
Now, what about something that isn’t an underpowered version of a fun car, but the overpowered version of a boring car?
2020 Volkswagen GTI
228 HP | 258 TQ
The 2020 Volkswagen GTI Is the total package. Hot hatches aren’t super popular in the USA, and maybe that’s because the Golf GTI’s kind of dominated the game for so long. No one else wants to compete! And it’s easy to see why, the 2020 GTI comes standard with a six-speed manual, a limited slip differential, respectable horsepower and torque, 18-inch wheels, tons of room thanks to it being a hatchback, and of course, those rad Clark plaid seats. God, I love those.
Now, it is front-wheel drive, which gives the Miata a big leg up on this fight, but for the money, having a hatchback with this much fun and daily driver versatility, I’d say it’s a straight up tie.
Now, a hot contender to any car on this list is the current generation Honda Civic Si Coupe.
2020 Honda Civic Si Coupe
205 HP | 192 TQ
Don’t be fooled by the stats when it comes to the Civic Si. This thing punches well above its weight, and that’s because it doesn’t weigh much at all! The Civic Si is a blast to drive, even if it’s not going to shred your face off with its 200 or so horsepower. It’s kind of like the Miata, it’s got just enough spunk that you’ll be able to use all of it and never really be left wanting more.
A fun-to-throw six-speed, a limited slip differential, adaptive damper suspension that eats curves and crushes highway miles, a weighty and informative steering wheel response, tons of little cubby holes to store things, and as much room in the coupe as some sedans. And speaking of sedans, you can get the Si in either coupe or sedan for the same price! Which would you pick?
Now, I might be swayed into getting the Civic Si, but a fan favorite here at Ideal is always the WRX, and surprisingly, the all-wheel drive turbo rally car for the road is within reach for $30,000.
2020 Subaru WRX Premium
2.0-liter Turbocharged Boxer-4
268 HP | 258 TQ
With the Lancer Evolution out of the picture, the WRX has kind of been in a class of its own for a few years. But, that hasn’t stopped Subaru from refining the WRX, and there are even rumors they’ll be launching the next generation WRX sometime this year. That means the 2020 WRX has all the bugs ironed out from this generation! And by all accounts, the 2020 WRX is one of the most fun to own and drive cars you can get for $30,000!
Sure, it’s not the STi with the giant wing and big power numbers, and these modern generation WRX’s aren’t commanding near the respect of the classics, which, my guess, is due to the lack of competition, but you’re still getting a super capable, all-wheel drive, turbocharged sports car with room in the back and endless tunability.
Just don’t forget that you also get some spotty unreliability, bad gas mileage, and Subaru’s signature cheap interior. Sorry, I’m going with the Miata again.
Next up is the king of performance value, the Ford Mustang! Now, before you get too excited, it’s got the four-cylinder.
2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost Fastback
310 HP | 350 TQ
Now, get excited again, because the EcoBoost Mustang is actually pretty rad. 310 horsepower is nothing to scoff at, and it’s the most powerful platform on this list. Plus, the EcoBoost motors are a great starting point for modification. People push them into the 400’s with bolt-ons and a tune fairly regularly.
But, the real advantage of the EcoStang is having a decent performing pony car with decent gas mileage, a combo you do not get from the V8’s, and definitely not for under $30,000. So, if you can deal with being the guy who brought a knife to a gunfight, rocking half of an engine in your ‘Stang, the EcoBoost fastback is actually a really good idea. Not Miata good, but certainly something to consider.
But if we compare a giant long-nosed Mustang to a tiny little top-down sports car, I mean, pick on someone your own size right? Well, another contender in the featherweight class is the Mini Cooper S Hardtop 2 Door. Man, what a long name for such a short car.
2019 Mini Cooper S Hardtop 2 Door
189 HP | 207 TQ
It’s debatable these days if Mini as a brand really sticks to its namesake, with all their crossovers, large 4-doors and big Mini models. But the Mini Cooper S stays true to what made Mini great. It’s miniscule and packs a big punch, pushing 189 horsepower out of a twin-turbo 2-liter, and has handling that’s closer to a go-kart than a sports car.
The Mini is probably one of the most fun cars on this list to drive, and the easiest to park. The only problem with the Mini? Adding proper options like Apple CarPlay and heated seats will send the price of this little go-kart well over $30,000, meaning to stay on this budget, you’re going to be driving a stripped-down base model.
Now, some may argue this is a hot hatch, not a true sports car. Well then, if you’re that guy, maybe you’re thinking of something more like the Subaru BRZ. For $30,000 you can get yourself a Subaru BRZ Limited this year.
2020 Subaru BRZ Limited
205 HP | 151 TQ
Sadly, the Subaru BRZ Limited is, well, limited. It doesn’t have the fancy Brembo brake package or the upgraded shocks. Still, you get a proper 2-door, rear-wheel drive, a six-speed manual, and a throaty boxer engine coughing out the tailpipe. What’s not to love?
It’s a proper driver’s car with responsive steering feel, nimble agility, and enough fire under the hood to break the tires loose when you need to. And it’s a great starting point for modability. It’s a really strong contender for the ND, but if you ask me, it’s a little overpriced, and underwhelming.
Now, add a few more cylinders and another 100 horsepower we’re talking. And what we’re talking about is the Dodge Challenger SXT.
2020 Dodge Challenger SXT
305 HP | 268 TQ
Now we’re talking, right? Rear-wheel drive, 300 horsepower, big aggressive American styling, and an automatic transmission. Oof. Yeah, you can get a Challenger under $30,000, but you can only get it with an automatic. And you know what, I’m going to just stop there.
I’ll take the Miata. Or literally anything else on this list. Next!
This one has me pretty excited. Hyundai’s really starting to become the underdog in a ton of categories, and their newest entry in the cheap sports car market is no exception.
2020 Hyundai Veloster N Performance Package
2.0-liter Turbo GDI-4
275 HP | 260 TQ
Hyundai now has a performance division, like Nismo for Nissan, or TRD for Toyota, and their first offering is the Veloster N. For 2020, you can get in one with the included performance package for just under $30,000. And by all accounts, this may be the ride to beat.
You’re getting 275 horsepower from a turbo-4, a limited slip differential, an upgraded throaty exhaust, which is the best sounding exhaust note to come out of a four-banger in decades, and an in-car adjustable suspension system that can go from mild to wild with a flick of a switch.
The Veloster N has everything you’d expect from a $40,000 flagship rally fighter, for $10,000 less. Look out Mazda, Hyundai is gunning for you!
Now, one of the easiest comparisons to make to a Miata is a car using the same chassis, the Fiat 124 Spider Lusso.
2020 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso
164 HP | 184 TQ
Now, on paper, the Fiat 124 Spider Lusso is an exciting car. A Miata with Italian styling and powered by a turbo, it’s got to be better, right? Wrong. While it’s true that it has more power, and a more luxurious interior, it’s slower than the Miata, and has unwelcome turbo lag. And if you ask me, the styling of the ND Miata is just way better to look at.
It’s a tarted-up and slowed-down ND for more money, so go with the Miata!
And that about sums up what you can get for $30,000. If you ask me, after that huge list of new cars, the Miata is still top 3. But it ain’t number 1. If I had $30,000, which I do not, my money’s going to the Veloster. That thing rips, it’s got back seats, it’s a hatchback, and it’s got that cool little red stripe on the bottom.