11 Performance Bargains
Sometimes there is a problem when making a top ten list. Sometimes, 10 just won’t cut it. Take this list for example. I wanted to list the top 10 ‘Fun to Drive’ vehicles under $30 000. I had 13 finalists and after making some final cuts, I ended up with 11. Oh well, so what, it’s a top 11 list now. Maybe you can find the car that doesn’t belong on this list.
Before I get to the top 11 “Fun to Drive Under $30 000” cars, I thought I would point out the two vehicles that just missed the cut.
The $23 999 Ford Mustang Coupe missed out for two reasons. The first reason is compared to the Chevrolet Camaro LT, a car with a similar purpose/audience, has nearly an additional 100HP for similar money. Second, the Hyundai Genesis Coupe starts at the same price and features a lot more features, sophistication and comfort. The other near miss was the Dodge Challenger SXT. Similar in size, weight, purpose and price to the Camaro, it lacks over 50 horsepower and a manual transmission choice.
So here they are the top 11 in alphabetical order. All prices are current list price without additional options and/or rebates.
Chevrolet Camaro LT – $27 995 – The Camaro is the cheapest way to get 300HP. With a 3.6L V6 making 304HP, the Camaro is not only more powerful then some recent models, it is also faster then some V8 Camaros of the not too distant past. Add a 6 speed manual transmission attached to a willing chassis and the Camaro is a hard to beat performance bargain. Did I mention it also now features an independent rear suspension? Oh, and there is an even cheaper version of this car, the LS, with the same motor.
Chevrolet Cobalt SS – $25 455 – Ever since the Cobalt SS switched to the 260HP turbocharged motor, it has become something of a giant killer. Although there are some fast new entries such as the Camaro and Genesis, the Cobalt SS is most likely still the fastest car under $30 000 around a race track. Heck, it is faster then many cars twice its price. EVO and STI owners be warned, do not take this car lightly.
Dodge Caliber SRT-4 – $23 995 – Want a 285HP turbocharged ‘tuner’ car, but need a bit more space? Well the Caliber may be the answer for you. With a ton of easily accessible cargo space the Caliber can haul your stuff….fast. Not quite as quick or fun as the Cobalt SS, the Caliber makes a good compromise for those seeking more utility. Plus smoking the 19” front tires with 265lb-ft of torque is always good for a grin.
Honda Civic Si Coupe – $26 680 – Not as fast as some of the other front wheel drive compact rockets listed here, the Civic makes up with for it in refinement. With a rich interior, great ride and sophistication missing in say the Cobalt, the civic is a more grown up performance compact coupe. Don’t be mistaken, it is no slouch and can hold it’s own, just be careful who you challenge at track days.
Hyundai Genesis – $24 495 – This is a new performance bargain from Hyundai and, as in typical Hyundai tradition, is destined to shake things up. Priced just $500 more then the cheapest Ford Mustang V6, the Genesis comes standard with features like 18” wheels, a 2.0L turbocharged and intercooled 4 cylinder making 210HP and 223lb-ft, 6 speed manual transmission, independent rear suspension plus more. For further context on its value, the Genesis undercuts the cheapest Camaro, Cobalt SS, Civic Si, Cooper S, Solstice, GTI, etc.
Mazdaspeed 3 – $29 360 – If you can still find a 2009 Mazdaspeed 3 for sale, you should buy it. With 263HP and an impressive 280lb-ft of torque, the MS3 is fast. In a race, this car and the Cobalt SS Turbo are so close; it really all comes down to the drive. Add to that the cargo carrying capabilities of the hatchback design and this car is tough to beat. The only factor that really hampers the MS3 is its price. It barely snuck in under the $30 000 ceiling. Look out for an all new Mazdaspeed3 later this year.
Mazda MX-5 Miata GX – $28 995 – One of the slower cars here, the Miata is all about visceral feel. There aren’t many cars on the market that can match the Miata’s pure and raw driver feel. It is not like this car is slow. With 167HP driving to the rear wheels in a vehicle weighing only 2458lbs, haste can be achieved. This car is one of the easiest to drive fast and is an absolute blast to take around the racetrack (especially with the top down). So what if the guy in the Cobalt and the Mazdaspeed3 just blew by you? You are probably having a lot more fun in the MX-5.
Mini Cooper S – $29 900 – This car is a perennial favourite with car enthusiasts all over the world. It’s compact, lightweight chassis features go kart reflexes; especially in Cooper S form. Speaking of the Cooper S, it comes standard with a 172HP turbocharged motor, 6 speed manual transmission and low profile tires. The Cooper’s distinctive styling and high build quality make it worth the $29 900 price. If you find that to be a bit too steep, you can pick a base model Mini for $22 800 and still have a lot of fun.
Nissan Sentra Spec V – $22 488 – What we have here is the cheapest way to get a 200HP car. Starting at only $22 488 no other 200HP+ vehicles can match its price. It also doesn’t hurt that the Spec V comes standard with 17” wheels, a close ratio 6 speed manual transmission and weighs in at only 3048lbs. It may not be the most fun car listed here, but it certainly is not boring and is the cheapest.
Pontiac Solstice – $29 095 - The solstice is one of those cars that stands out in a crowd. Its show-car styling still looks unique on the road; especially in the coupe body style. This rear-wheel-drive roadster/coupe is wider and slightly shorter then its main rival, the Miata. The Solstice features a 173HP engine, 18” wheels and low weight (2908lbs). Although it is fun to drive, what this car lacks in speed it makes up for with presence and style.
Volkswagen GTI – $27 995 – The words ‘GTI’ and ‘fun’ have been synonymous with each other since the 1970’s. Although some may argue the GTI was losing its way in the 1990’s, the newest generation (and upcoming 6th generation) have hit the ‘fun’ mark once again. Powered by a torquey 200HP turbo motor, the GTI really shines when pushed hard. The GTI has potentially the best chassis to blend performance, refinement and comfort for any car under $30 000. Smiles abound when driving this car.