Everybody loves a good deal, right? The best sports cars for the money all have one thing in common, they deliver more in the way of driving pleasure than you’d expect given their asking prices. From our perspective the traits of a great sports car are sharp handling, a free winding engine, terrific brakes, and a delightful engine note. Everything a sports car delivers over and above those attributes, we consider gravy. Yes, good looks, a well-crafted interior, and useful comfort and convenience features are on our list of things to appreciate as well. But if the sheer, unalloyed excitement of strong dynamics isn’t there, who cares? And, if you can get them at a great price—that’s even better.
Alfa Romeo 4C
A beautiful mid-engined Italian exotic sports car you can put in your garage for less than $60,000? We’re all ears. With the Alfa Romeo 4C you get a mid-mounted high-winding turbocharged engine, a lightweight carbon fiber tub, sublime handling, resolute braking, and one of the most distinctive exterior treatments seen on the road anywhere in quite some time. What’s more, it has a motorsports pedigree dating all the way back to the earliest days of Formula 1. Power comes from a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 240 horsepower and 258 ft-lbs of torque. A six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission routes power to the rear wheels. Pricing starts at $53,900.
All of the visual attributes of a Lamborghini coupled with a comfortably luxurious interior treatment, all-wheel drive, a down-to-earth driving experience, and a decidedly un-Lamborghini-like price tag. Driving Audi’s R8 is like meeting Penelope Cruz and discovering you both like eating peanut butter on toast while streaming cartoons on a Saturday morning. Offered with a choice of either a 430-horsepower, 4.2-liter V8 capable of generating 317 ft-lbs of torque, or a 5.2-liter V10 generating 525 horsepower and 391 ft-lbs of torque; or a 550-horsepower version of the V10, Audi’s R8 has more than adequate performance to complement its looks. Transmission choices include a six-speed manual, or a seven-speed double clutch automated manual gearbox. Pricing starts at $115,900.
Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
The Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is world class—period. With a 6.2-liter V8 capable of churning out 455 horsepower and 460 ft-lbs of torque, there is no better performance value on this planet than Corvette Stingray. Offered in both Coupe and Convertible formats, the current Chevrolet sports car is more refined than any before it, and yet it gives up none of the outstanding roadholding, brutal acceleration, or head turning style we’ve come to expect from America’s only true sports car. Corvette’s optional dual-mode exhaust system bumps output to 460 horsepower and 465 ft-lbs of torque. Its seven-speed manual transmission automatically matches revs on both upshifts and downshifts. A six-speed automatic transmission is offered as well. Pricing starts at $54,000.
Mazda MX-5 Miata
The eagerly anticipated 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata will be the most aggressive looking Miata ever offered upon its debut later this year. Mazda’s new Kodo styling language gave the car a serious countenance, particularly in the glower of the headlights. The look of this new Miata has left much of the playfulness of its predecessors behind and embraced a more serious attitude. The broad hips enveloping the rear wheels emphasize the rear drive nature of the car, while simultaneously making a power statement. Though still readily identifiable as a Mazda MX-5 Miata, the design has certainly grown up.
Offering the styling, refinement and familial pedigree of its Mercedes-Benz SL sister cars, the Mercedes SLK—despite your initial impression—is something of a bargain. Think about it; the folding hardtop frees buyers from choosing between a convertible and coupe, as they get both in the same car. It also offers the same rock-solid build quality and outstanding comfort at a considerably lower price. The best deal is SLK250, with power coming from a 201-horsepower turbocharged 1.8-liter inline four with 229 ft-lbs of torque. While a six-speed manual transmission is standard equipment, a seven-speed automatic is optional. Other standard features include automatic climate control, automatic wipers, power adjustable seats, and Bluetooth. Pricing starts at $43,950.
When you can get good looks, strong performance, and affordable operation all in one package, that’s a pretty compelling combination. This is exactly what Nissan’s Z car has offered since it was rebooted back in 2002. Agile handling is a given, thanks to its unique front mid-engine/rear drive powertrain layout. What’s more, The Nissan’s interior treatment is one of the nicest you’ll find in a sports car in this price category. Power comes from a 332 horsepower V6 delivering 270 ft-lbs of torque. Manual transmission duties are handled by a six-speed with a rev-matching feature capable of making every driver sound like an expert. A six-speed automatic is offered as an option. Pricing starts at $29,990.
As if being one of the best sports cars offered today isn’t enough, Porsche’s Boxster (and by extension, the Cayman), are credited with being the sports cars that saved Porsche. Leading up to the development of the mid-engined Porsche cars, the company brought in retired executives from Toyota to help introduce new lean production methods in an effort to bring production costs down. The result was the best-handling Porsche ever, offered at $30,000 less than it would have cost before the efficiency improvements. Boxster and Cayman feature flat six-cylinder engines ranging from 265 horsepower to 330. They track like slot cars and are so smooth you’ll wonder if they’re touching the ground. Boxster starts at $51,400, Cayman starts at $52,600.
Pound for pound, dollar for dollar, Porsche sports cars offer an extraordinary degree of performance potential for the price. Finely crafted interiors, beautiful styling, and ongoing development of the same platform since 1964, make Porsche’s 911 a singularly distinctive offering among automobiles, let alone the small universe of sports cars. Here’s the truly amazing part though, anyone who has ever studied physics would tell you the rear-engined 911 should never handle as well as it does. By relentlessly applying continuous evolution to the 911’s platform Porsche’s engineers have crafted one of the most amazing cars ever offered. Porsche offers the 911 with a number of different engines ranging in power from 350 horsepower to 560 horsepower. Pricing starts at $84,300.
Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ
Totally affordable, the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ are also wonderfully enjoyable to drive. Rear drive two-seaters with boxer engines, racing seats, mounting points for roll cages, and ceilings designed to accommodate helmeted crania were totally unexpected from either of these makers a few years ago. Powering them is a 2.0-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine generating 200 horsepower and 151 ft-lbs of torque. Six-speed manual transmissions are standard, while six-speed automatics are optional. Yes, they’re a bit down on power in these 300-horsepower days. But put them on a twisty stretch of asphalt and very few cars are capable of running away from these two coupes. Scion FR-S pricing starts at $25,470, while Subaru BRZ pricing starts at $25,695.