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7 Best 2017 Cheap Sports Cars Under $30K

1. Mazda MX-5 Miata Club

Price as tested: $30,000 (est)
0-60 mph: 5.9 sec; EPA rating: 30 mpg city-highway combined
Hottest color: Arctic White

Less is so much more, proves this minimalist masterpiece from Mazda. At barely more than 2,300 pounds, the MX-5 in Club trim is a ton of unbridled fun. There’s nothing more than absolutely necessary to insure an intoxicating bond with the road and balletic grace in corners. Order yours in white as a striking canvass for the black mirrors, black aero body addenda, and gun-metal alloy wheels unique to the Club model.

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Even the base MX-5 is a compelling distillation of the sports-car experience. Like every Miata, it has a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. The numbers are modest but the results hardly meek. Acceleration is lively and linear, and best savored with the wrist-flick-shiftable six-speed manual transmission. (Mazda hadn’t released 2017 Miata prices in time for this report, but a six-speed automatic should return as an option at around $745.)

The Club Sport is the rebellious middle child here. Slotted below the deluxe Grand Touring trim, it hones the MX-5 to a track-ready edge. You get sticky 205/45R17 Bridgestone Potenza S001 maximum performance summer tires. Show Mazda you’re game by ordering manual transmission and it responds with a standard limited-slip differential, a shock-tower brace, and Bilstein shock absorbers. If you can blow through our thirty-grand ceiling by $3,400 or so, go for the Brembo/BBS package. It gets serious, with lightweight, forged 17-inch gunmetal BBS wheels, Brembo front brakes, red-painted calipers at all four wheels, and a black rear bumper skirt and side sill extensions.

Living with any drop-top Miata is an involving automotive experience, to be sure. These are raw-boned, elemental cars, with little to isolate you from bumps, wind rush, or road noise. The trunk is tiny, interior storage laughably sparse. But the clear gauges, orderly dashboard, and proximity to shifter and controls thrill the true enthusiast. And that convertible body, achingly graceful and artfully proportioned, is a thing of rare beauty.

The previous-generation Miata offered an ingeniously designed retractable hardtop model. Its replacement for 2017 is the RF. Standing for “retractable fastback,” it supplants the easy-folding convertible roof by enclosing the cabin with a glass backlight and a flying-buttress metal roof extension. The powered central section retreats behind the seats to create a targa-type opening. It’ll appeal to some, but it looks ungainly and doesn’t seem the cheapest or best expression of MX-5 magic.

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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 [email protected]