Fun New Cars for Less Than $30,000

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceFun on a Budget
Today the U.S. market is awash in new cars that make getting from point A to point B an enjoyable excursion, although many of them will easily require a considerable cash commitment. Vehicle valuation company Kelley Blue Book reports that the average price for a new car in 2021 now exceeds $40,000. However, not all automotive enjoyment has to cause sticker shock — drivers can still have fun behind the wheel of a new car without breaking the bank. Take a quick look at some fun-driving new vehicles — from convertibles to crossovers — with base MSRPs of less than $30,000.

© General MotorsChevrolet Camaro 2LT
Base MSRP: $28,695
For years Chevrolet has been offering the Camaro as a fun, affordable vehicle choice, and for 2021 this formula remains. The Camaro coupe is available with a range of engines, although we would opt for the 2.0-liter turbocharged powerplant that produces 275 horsepower and a plentiful 295 lb-ft of torque when teamed with a TREMEC 6-speed manual transmission.

© General MotorsChevrolet Camaro 2LT
The standard limited-slip rear differential of the Camaro 2LT improves handling on this rear-drive coupe, with a dual exhaust and 18-inch wheels adding to its sporty looks. And fun doesn’t have to be basic nor uncomfortable — the Camaro 2LT features keyless start, heated and cooled seats as well as wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

© FCA US LLC2020 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth
Base MSRP: $29,390
It’s hard to beat a 2-seat open roadster for fun behind the wheel, and the Fiat 124 Spider Abarth could be a near-perfect example. The result of a collaboration between Fiat and Mazda, the Fiat 124 Spider is based on the Mazda MX-5 Miata but with Italian styling and a Fiat drivetrain, suspension and tuning.

© FCA US LLC2020 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth
The rear-wheel-drive 124 Spider Abarth draws power from Fiat’s 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo 4-cylinder engine that offers 164 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed automatic transmission is available, but the 6-speed manual transmission would be a bonus. If the 124 Spider Abarth sounds like it could be a car of choice, move quickly — Fiat has announced that 2021 will be the last year to buy this fun little roadster.

© Ford Motor CompanyFord Bronco Sport Big Bend
Base MSRP: $28,320
The new Ford Bronco is one of the hottest new vehicles of 2021 — although the larger Bronco has not yet come to market, the more affordable Bronco Sport in showrooms now certainly provides a good time behind the wheel. With classic SUV styling, the Bronco Sport Big Bend looks great thanks to LED fog lights and 17-inch carbonized high-gloss aluminum wheels.

© Ford Motor CompanyFord Bronco Sport Big Bend
The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport has four-wheel drive and Ford’s Terrain Management System — both as standard equipment — that allow the driver to properly set up the vehicle for most challenging driving situations. With impressive off-road manners and capability, the Bronco Sport is sure to entertain the adventurous customer.

© Ford Motor CompanyFord Mustang EcoBoost
Base MSRP: $27,155
Easily one of the most recognizable cars on the road, the Ford Mustang has the distinction of continuous design evolution and production since the car’s introduction in 1964. The 2021 Mustang EcoBoost is an apt example of the original pony car’s progression over the decades; the iconic car can now be purchased with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine under the hood.

© Mike Meredith, Automotive Content ExperienceFord Mustang EcoBoost
This Mustang’s 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder turbo generates a hale 310 horsepower and a hearty 350 lb-ft of torque, teamed with a 6-speed manual gearbox with rev matching to make perfect upshifts and downshifts. With the latest in high-tech safety features as well as a stylish interior, the Mustang remains a great option starting less than $30,000.

© American Honda MotorsHonda Civic Sport Touring
Base MSRP: $28,600
Many people mistakenly think of the Honda Civic as basic transportation; however, there are some very entertaining variants in the Civic lineup. Although the $37,895 2021 Civic Type R might be a bit pricey for some, the new Civic Sport Touring provides a pleasant blend of practicality and fun driving dynamics. This fun variant stands out from the rest of the Civic lineup with appropriately sporty treatment including a black decklid spoiler, a center sport exhaust outlet styled after the Civic Si, and unique 18-inch wheels.

© American Honda MotorsHonda Civic Sport Touring
The Civic Sport Touring’s 1.5-liter turbocharged engine creates 180 horsepower and provides excellent response, especially when teamed with the standard 6-speed manual gearbox (shhh — a CVT is available). This Civic’s sporty nature continues inside with red gauges, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, aluminum sport pedals and leather-trimmed seats.

© Hyundai Motor AmericaHyundai Kona N Line AWD
Base MSRP: $26,900
Hyundai’s uniquely styled small crossover, the 2022 Kona gets a fresh look as well as a sportier N Line variant. Powered by a 195-horsepower turbocharged engine matched to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, the Kona N Line delivers a peppy combination of fuel efficiency and snappy acceleration.

© Hyundai Motor AmericaHyundai Kona N Line AWD
The N Line stands out from the rest of the Kona lineup with sportier front- and rear-end designs, body-color cladding, a dual exhaust and unique diamond-cut 18-inch alloy wheels. The roomy interior offers plenty of space for occupants and cargo while maintaining the N Line theme with sport seats, a leather-wrapped shift knob, red stitching, metal pedals and N logos on the seat and steering wheel.

Hyundai Veloster Turbo R-Spec
Base MSRP: $23,450
Hyundai refreshed the Veloster a few years ago, giving this sporty coupe a more aggressively exciting appearance. But the Korean automaker left the Veloster’s unique configuration alone — it remains the only model on the road with two right doors and only one door on the left.

Hyundai Veloster Turbo R-Spec
With a turbocharged 1.6-liter engine producing 201 horsepower, the Veloster Turbo is great fun to drive, and we suggest opting for this least expensive variant. The R-Spec is the only way to get this little sport coupe with a 6-speed manual gearbox. Thanks to a quick-ratio steering rack and torque vectoring control, the Veloster Turbo offers great fun behind the wheel.

© FCA US LLCJeep Wrangler Sport 2-Door
Base MSRP: $28,575
For those with an idea of fun that involves venturing far off the beaten path, the Jeep Wrangler is a great option. With iconic styling and legendary off-road capability, even the base-level Wrangler Sport will take folks most places they would want to go.

© FCA US LLCJeep Wrangler Sport 2-Door
The Wrangler Sport comes with Command-Trac part-time four-wheel drive, standard on- / off-road tires and 9.7 inches of ground clearance to handle the roughest terrain. Big bonus: The Wrangler Sport’s doors and roof can be removed — and even the windshield can be folded down — to add further enjoyment of the great outdoors.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo
Base MSRP: $30,050
As the newest crossover in the Mazda lineup, the CX-30 slots between the CX-3 and CX-5. With seating for five and familiar Mazda styling, the CX-30 blends welcome utility with a fun-to-drive package. Inside, the CX-30 focuses on creating a premium vibe with a cockpit feeling for the driver and an open area for the front passenger. (Yes, the CX-30 2.5 Turbo slightly eclipses this article’s price ceiling.)

© Mazda North American OperationsMazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo
Although the CX-30 start around $22,000, the level of performance increases dramatically when bumping up to the 2.5-liter turbocharged engine, which generates 250 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque driving all four wheels. With quick acceleration and impressive handling, the CX-30 reminds us of Mazda’s “Zoom-Zoom” ad campaign.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMazda Mazda3 Premium
Base MSRP: $27,000
A hot hatch has always been a fun choice among sporty cars, and the Mazda3 certainly falls into this category. Although the Mazda3 is available in a range of trim levels with a more powerful engine and all-wheel drive, the front-drive Premium exists as the only trim available with a manual gearbox, which really adds to the fun factor when piloting this stylish model.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMazda Mazda3 Premium
As an added bonus, the Mazda3 Premium also comes with a beautiful interior including standard leather trim — which looks fantastic in red. The 186-horsepower SKYACTIV-G 4-cylinder engine provides plenty of pep, and with precise steering and great handling the Mazda3 is especially fun on long and winding roads.

© Mazda North American OperationsMazda MX-5 Miata Sport
Base MSRP: $26,830
The MX-5 Miata is a prime example of a sports car that excels because of its light weight and nimble character — rather than voluminous power — and this has been the Miata formula since the sporty convertible’s launch in 1989. The Miata is now in its fourth generation, and with the demise of the Fiat 124 the MX-5 remains the last 2-seat roadster available for less than $30,000.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceMazda MX-5 Miata Sport
Power for the 2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata comes from a SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter engine producing 181 horsepower that sends power to the rear wheels via a 6-speed manual gearbox. The convertible’s soft-top is manually operated and can be easily raised or lowered in a few seconds.

© BMW USAMINI Cooper S
Base MSRP: $26,900
The MINI Cooper S is proof that big fun does come in small packages. With its classic bulldog looks and surprisingly spacious interior, the Cooper S receives updates for the 2022 model year. Looking a bit sportier than the standard Cooper, the Cooper S uses a pronounced piano black grille surround and incorporates two additional air intakes at the lower corners of the grille.

© BMW USAMINI Cooper S
For the new model year, the 2022 MINI Cooper S retains its familiar hood scoop and red S in the grille. Most importantly, the Cooper S has the power to backstop the car’s sporty styling — this potent Cooper variant gets a TwinPower Turbo engine producing 192 horsepower. Combine that power with MINI’s famous go-kart-like handling and the Cooper S brings smiles all around.

© Subaru of AmericaSubaru BRZ Limited
Base MSRP: $28,845
Subaru is well known for its burgeoning family of all-wheel-drive SUVs and crossovers, but there’s a proverbial black sheep in the company’s lineup — the sporty BRZ. The BRZ is a lightweight rear-wheel-drive coupe that offers excellent balance for outstanding handling and performance.

© Subaru of AmericaSubaru BRZ Limited
With 205 horsepower on tap from its 2.0-liter engine that gets teamed with a 6-speed manual gearbox, the BRZ checks all the boxes for a proper sports car. Add in a sport-tuned suspension, a limited-slip rear differential and four-wheel disc brakes, and the BRZ certainly brings a high fun factor any time a thrill seeker slips behind the steering wheel. Look for an all-new 2022 BRZ to arrive later this year.

© Subaru of AmericaSubaru Crosstrek Sport
Base MSRP: $26,495
The Crosstrek is Subaru’s smallest crossover but its peppy demeanor also brings a lot to the party. With plenty of ground clearance and full-time all-wheel drive, this little Subaru feels right at home when the pavement ends, yet it performs all functions of an everyday driver with aplomb.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSubaru Crosstrek Sport
With the Sport trim, Subaru’s Crosstrek enters the fun zone thanks to its 2.5-liter 182 horsepower engine. With precise steering and a solid chassis, the Subaru Crosstrek Sport feels quick and agile when roads get twisty, and the car remains solid and relatively quiet while cruising at highway speeds. Overall, the Crosstrek Sport is plain ol’ good fun.

© Subaru of AmericaSubaru WRX
Base MSRP: $27,495
Offering incredible fun in another small package, the Subaru WRX compact sedan comes with the Japan-based automaker’s legendary all-wheel drive and a turbocharged 268-horsepower engine under that big hood scoop, providing amazing brio behind the wheel no matter what weather and road conditions confront the driver.

© Subaru of AmericaSubaru WRX
In addition to AWD, the Subaru WRX features active torque vectoring and a sport suspension, which make this rally race-bred car even more agile on winding roads. The WRX comes well equipped with sport seats, an HD radio, Bluetooth streaming audio and a rearview camera. The time-honored WRX continues to be an excellent choice for fun behind the wheel.

© Volkswagen of AmericaVolkswagen Golf GTI S
Base MSRP: $28,695
More than 40 years ago, Volkswagen introduced the GTI to America — at that time it was a high-performance version of the Volkswagen Rabbit — and the hot hatch segment was born in the USA. Now in its seventh generation, the GTI still fulfills expectations as an affordable, fun-to-drive, sporty hatchback.

© Volkswagen of AmericaVolkswagen Golf GTI S
With a 2.0-liter turbocharged direct-injection engine generating 228 horsepower, the GTI’s potent motor can be paired with a 6-speed manual gearbox or a quick-shifting 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. With a rigid chassis and lowered sport suspension, the GTI S features a torque-sensing limited-slip differential that reduces torque steer and improves overall handling.

© Volkswagen of AmericaVolkswagen Jetta GLI S
Base MSRP: $26,345
Proving that a family sedan doesn’t have to be boring, Volkswagen offers a high-performance version of its popular Jetta – the GLI S. The Jetta GLI S certainly looks the part of a sport sedan with its black honeycomb grille, LED projector headlights, red brake calipers, 18-inch alloy wheels and a red accent line that ties in nicely with its GTI cousin.

© Volkswagen of AmericaVolkswagen Jetta GLI S
Power for the VW Jetta GLI S comes from the same turbocharged engine found in the GTI, creating 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Thanks to the same sport suspension and handling aids as the Golf GTI, think of the Jetta GLI as a GTI with room for more people or stuff without any reduction of the fun factor.

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