Finding the performance you want doesn’t have to break the bank.
For as much as we all love a good Lamborghini or McLaren, today’s supercars can have you thinking top-level driving enjoyment is relegated to the Olympian realm of the ultrarich. On the contrary, in recent years carmakers have been releasing some of their most impressive performance cars ever at totally affordable prices. The reality is, we’re seeing a democratization of speed we haven’t seen since Japan in the 1990s or the muscle car craze of late ‘60s. Below we run down our top ten best affordable new sports cars, and all can be had for $50,000 or less (in some cases, a lot less).
The Ford Mustang offers plenty of performance options from a surprisingly adept turbo-four to a 760-horsepower V8 in the Shelby GT500. Our recommended middle ground is the Mustang GT with a starting price for $37,000, the GT’s V8 makes a healthy 460 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque and allows the GT to run from zero to sixty mph in just four seconds. Though base Mustang makes do with an EcoBoost four-cylinder, that engine might surprise you with its 310-horsepower delivering impressive acceleration. The Mustang also offers a generous list of standard safety features that includes blind spot monitoring and lane keep assist. Cargo and passenger room are superior to a lot of similar options on this list and along with a comfortable street ride make the Mustang a good daily driver.
Sporty and affordable? The answer has consistently been the Mazda Miata MX-5. The lightweight coupe/convertible has served as a consistent reminder that agility and balance can be just or more rewarding than raw power. The Miata makes the most of its modest 2.0L inline-four, which makes 181 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque. Steering is communicative, braking is strong, and the suspension sporty. The fun focused Miata does have one acute Achilles’ heel, interior space. Taller drivers may find the car cramped and storage is on the irksome side of minimal. And yet, should tossing the Miata through a corner not put a smile on your face, we advise checking your pulse.
Most of the headlines surrounding the new generation of WRX have revolved around cosmetic updates that have either matured or watered down the car, depending on your perspective. What hasn’t changed is the WRX’s signature driving experience which leverages an updated suspension and a new turbo 2.4L boxer engine for maximum engagement. The new engine produces nearly identical numbers to the last generation’s at 271 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, but the new engine smooths out torque delivery and reduces rev hang compared to the old 2.0L and therefore feels faster. As an urban runabout or your next rally car platform, the 2022 Subaru WRX should be a top candidate.
The new Mk 8 GTI has been almost as controversial as the new WRX. While the new Volkswagen GTI remains the default hot hatch perfectly blending practicality and sporty driving. The turbo inline-four makes 241 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque and comes with either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. This powertrain is more powerful than the prior generation and provides ample motivation for the spritely VW. The only detraction is a wonky infotainment system that skips on buttons and knobs for distracting touch controls. If you can get past that and focus on the drive, the GTI offers one of the best front-wheel drive experiences out there.
Hyundai’s Veloster N offers just about everything you’d want in a hot hatch. The comfy and well-equipped interior is as stylish as the come at this price range. But the real attraction, however, is the Veloster’s powerful turbo-four making 275 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque. For the diminutive Veloster, this is the kind of power that makes a driver giddy and is best paired with the standard six-speed manual transmission. The Veloster is planted and playful in cornering, but this sporty suspension can be a bit harsh at times. There’s a bevy of standard safety features to be had, along with plenty of modern tech. The Hyundai Veloster is a rollicking hot hatch tailored for the driving obsessed.
The 86/BRZ twins from Toyota and Subaru received a new second generation for the 2022 model year, and the updates have taken an already laudable pair of sports cars and made them perhaps the best dollar-for-dollar performance option on the market today. Like the Miata, the 86 and BRZ trade raw power for athleticism, but this latest generation also sees an increase in power thanks to a new and larger 2.4L flat-four that takes the pair closer to a budget Cayman experience. Comfortable interiors, modern safety tech, and the added practicality of a back seat make the 86 and BRZ as well rounded as it gets under $50,000.
The Chevy Camaro still carries the pony car torch for GM with great performance at an affordable price. A base four-cylinder, while respectably fast, isn’t as capable as the V6 or the throaty 6.2L V8. Despite the healthy array of powertrain options, we’d recommend the V8 and it’s 455 horsepower. The V8’s generous power compliments a firm chassis and well-tuned suspension that offers good cornering while avoiding an overly harsh ride. The Camaro’s one big detraction is its less than stellar outward visibility. But that’s the price you pay to look as cool as the Camaro.
Though Dodge fans are unlikely to be wine aficionados, the venerable Challenger has aged like the finest of Chiantis. This may well be the peak of gas engines, with the coming onslaught of performance EVs, and Dodge is making the most of this last dance with some of the best engines to ever grace a muscle car. While the base V6 is decent enough, the Challenger’s V8 are where it’s at. The R/T and the R/T Scat Pack get a 5.7L V8 and 6.4L V8 respectively. The latter makes 486 horsepower and 475 lb-ft of torque, allowing the Challenger to rocket from zero to sixty in 4.2 seconds. And the best part, the R/T Scat Pack skirts just under our $50,000 affordability cap. Like the Camaro, the Challenger makes sacrifices to its outward visibility in the name of aggressive styling.
Another controversial car when it debuted, the resurrected Toyota Supra might share a little too much with the BMW Z4 for some, but this East meets West collab has proven to be worthy of the Supra legacy. There’s the choice of two turbo engines, the base 2.0L with 255 horsepower and a more robust 3.0L with 382 horsepower. Both offer good acceleration, with the 3.0L providing a thrilling punch. Taut and evenly weighted steering is paired with a suspension that deftly balances sportiness and commuting comfort. The Supra looks the part of a premium sports coupe and delivers on nearly every metric (we’re still waiting on Android Auto, however).