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7 Best 2017 Cheap Sports Cars Under $30K

Wanna play? You don’t have to pay that much. These magnificent seven cars focus on pure sports driving and are affordable. Each boasts the handling balance of rear-wheel drive, an intimate cabin, and styling that says, “let’s have fun.”

Five are indeed purebred sports cars. The 2017 Toyota 86, Subaru BRZ, Mazda MX-5 Miata, Fiat 124 Spider, and Nissan 370Z are constructed from the ground up as extensions of your driving will. Crucially, none packs exorbitant muscle. Yes, the 370Z has 332 horsepower, but nowadays that’s not outrageous; heck, you can get a Ford Fusion four-door sedan with 325. The other purebreds have between 155 and 205 horses – but none weighs more than 2800 pounds. That’s a pittance in landscape of three-ton SUVs and pickups. Modest horsepower and minimal weight: it’s the classic sports-car formula.

Which brings us to the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro Coupe 1LT 2.0 Turbo and the ’17 Ford Mustang EcoBoost coupe. Both are built on vehicle architectures that prioritize driving performance. But neither is a purebred sports car. They appeal to a broader audience, from people who order them with automatic transmission and covet sporty looks, to those who choose the rousing V-8s that make them tire-smoking muscle cars.

But a sports car is as a sports car does. And with their six-speed manuals, handling-tuned suspensions, and fat tires, the Ford and Chevy we’ve specified can outrun most anything under $30,000 on road or track. Sure, they have over 300 horsepower. But in this company, they’re relatively heavy; they need it to achieve sports-carlike power to weight ratios. Bottom line, both are grippy, grin-generating hoots.

Speaking of bottom lines, the prices we site include the manufacturer’s destination fee, typically around $850. Only the Nissan violates our $30,000 ceiling, by just $825. Happily, the TrueCar pricing service reports buyers are using factory discounts and showroom negotiating to pay an average of $29,021 for the very 370Z we describe. Of course, there are costlier sports cars with wider performance envelopes than those on this list. But no true enthusiast would be disappointed with the level of involvement provided by any of our picks.

Ranked in ascending order of bang-for-the-buck fun, here are the 7 Best 2017 Cheap Sports Cars under $30K:

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth†

7. Fiat 124 Spider Abarth

Price as tested: $29,190
0-60 mph: 6.3 sec; EPA rating: 30 mpg city-highway combined
Hottest color: Rosso Passione

Kabuki or Puccini? Lay Italian lyrics over the edgy beat of Japan’s Mazda MX-5 Miata and you have Fiat’s new-for-2017 124 Spider. It’s an odd bit of theater, one intended to breathe life into Fiat Chrysler’s moribund car lineup while helping Mazda weather the fickle winds of sports-car sales. But for sports-minded buyers, it’s a variation on a theme worth exploring.

Built on the Miata’s Hiroshima, Japan, assembly line, the MX-5 and 124 share a 90.0-inch-wheelbase chassis, basic suspension, main soft-top body structure, even cabin layout. Fiat costumes its version with a grille, headlamps, side creases, and tail treatment intended to conjure classic cues from the original, Pininfarina-penned 124, produced from 1968 to 1985. It affixes Fiat badges inside and out and lines the cabin with a bit more padding than Mazda uses, and notably more noise insulation.

Instead of the MX-5’s naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque, the 124 pulls a turbocharged 1.4-liter from the little Fiat 500 Abarth. Employed here for the first time mounted longitudinally and with rear-wheel drive, it generates 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque in the 124’s base Classica and tonier Lusso models. In our performance-focused Abarth version, it has 164 horses with the same torque. To stay below $30,000, we’re happy to stick with the slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission, forgoing the $1,350 optional six-speed automatic.

Abarth trim brings the 124 to a crescendo with unique front and rear fasciae, a Bilstein-fortified suspension, mechanical limited-slip differential, front strut tower brace, and a chrome-tipped quad exhaust singing the celebrated Abarth aria. Leather/microfiber buckets offer more support than those in the Miata. Gunmetal 17-inch alloys shod with 205/45R17 Bridgestone Potenza RE-050A three-season tires fill the wheel openings.

Some 5.5-inches of additional bodywork, plus the padding and sound deadening, makes the 124 about 150 pounds heavier than a Miata. Despite its extra power, turbo lag contributes to lazier throttle response, and 0-60-mph takes a half-second longer. The Fiat doesn’t quite match the MX-5’s razor-sharp handling, either. But it’s still an absolute delight on a twisty road, appreciably more civil than its Japanese-branded brother on pocked city streets, and blessedly less frenetic at highway speeds. It’s less expensive than the comparable MX-5 Club Sport model, too. In all, a welcome counterpoint to a beautiful melody.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at chuck.giametta@carpreview.com