Best Affordable Sports Cars For 2022

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It's a great time to be a driving enthusiast.

Despite what the negative Nancy and Normans might say, it's an excellent time to be a car enthusiast right now. Horsepower is cheap, and a well-tuned chassis is even cheaper. Even better, there's a range of styles of enthusiast cars out there for under $40,000 that appeal to all driving styles - whether you're after pure rear-wheel-drive finesse with just the right amount of power, front-wheel-drive bang for your buck in a hatchback body, or an all-wheel-drive sports sedan, we've assembled a list of some of the best options that won't break the bank.

2017-2022 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Coupe Front View Driving Chevrolet

Chevrolet Camaro ($25,000 - $39,095)

Like the Ford Mustang, you're going to have to spend considerably more for a V8. In this case, the Camaro base model offers a 275-horsepower turbo-four, but you can option up to a 335-hp V6 in the 1LT through 3LT trim levels. The last Camaro to slip in under $40k is the 1SS with the 6.2-liter V8 and automatic for $39,095. Either way, the chassis is a delight and complemented by perfectly weighted and responsive steering. It has its faults in cheaper-feeling interior pieces and a small trunk, but it's still with us for a reason. The starting price for a Camaro is, amazingly, less than for a new Mazda MX-5 Miata. You just won't be getting the ZL1 pictured below for anything less than $60,000.

2017-2022 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Coupe Rear View Driving Chevrolet
2017-2022 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Coupe Side View Chevrolet
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Mazda MX-5 Miata ($26,830 - $32,295)

Let's get the inevitability of the MX-5 being on a best sports or enthusiast's car out of the way. If you want your experience to be stripped down to the purest essence of driving you can find from the factory in the 21st century, it's Mazda's little roadster. For your money, you get a beautifully balanced small two-seater chassis with a just as well balanced naturally-aspirated engine making it-doesn't-really-matter horsepower. Despite equipment added to meet modern safety standards, the MX-5 still feels like you're driving an old-school roadster. On a back road, it's a relentless delight, and at the track, it's incredibly rewarding to learn with. It's also just as much of a delight for old hands wanting to embarrass drivers of more expensive and powerful cars.

2017-2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Front Angle View CarBuzz
2017-2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Hard Top CarBuzz
2017-2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Rearward Vision CarBuzz
2017-2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Dashboard CarBuzz

Toyota GR 86 / Subaru BRZ ($27,700 - $32,295)

If the Mazda MX-5 is a little too small and you want some back seats to increase storage, then Toyota and Subaru do that relatively affordably. The highlights since the 86 and BRZ twins first came out have been their chassis, interior, and looks, although the four-cylinder engine was been criticized as underpowered. For 2022, the second generation is now with us, and the engine has been given some extra pep with 228 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, which is a significant improvement over the old model's 205 hp and 156 lb-ft. The torque also comes earlier in the rev range, making the engine more eager to push the car around. Alongside the MX-5, the GR 86 and BRZ are perfect entry-level sports cars and great blank canvasses for building an excellent track car.

Subaru
Subaru
2022 Toyota GR86 Side View Driving Toyota
2022 Toyota GR86 Front-End Bumper Toyota

Ford Mustang ($27,205 - $36,285)

The idea that you need a V8 in a Mustang used to be true. Now, though, the Mustang's base 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine delivers 310 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque - and it only has four cylinders. That makes it more powerful than almost every pre-2005 Mustang, plus it's now a world-class sports car and has a lot less weight over the nose. If you desperately want a V8, you're looking at a minimum of $36,285 for a GT with 460 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque. You certainly don't get double the power with double the cylinders.

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CarBuzz
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CarBuzz

Honda Civic Si ($27,300 - $27,500)

The Civic Si is a more cultured younger enthusiast's car, and the new generation available for 2022 builds on that. The Si comes only with a manual transmission bolted to the 1.5-liter turbocharged engine making 200 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque. While it's down on power compared to competitors, it's a remarkably sophisticated performer as well as a daily driver. There's more grip available than the 2021 model from the balanced chassis, and it's the kind of car that reminds you horsepower isn't everything by a long shot.

2022 Honda Civic Si Front Angle View CarBuzz
2022 Honda Civic Si Rear Angle View CarBuzz
2022 Honda Civic Si Lateral View CarBuzz
2022 Honda Civic Si Dashboard CarBuzz

Subaru WRX (TBC)

If you've been thinking about an all-wheel-drive performance sedan, the new generation of Subaru WRX is likely the last before electrification takes hold. Whether that will be a good or bad thing is to be seen, but it's still all gasoline power for now. The 2022 WRX will arrive stiffer as it's on Subaru's new global platform and it uses Subaru's 2.4-liter turbocharged Boxer engine that makes 271 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 258 lb-ft of torque between 2,000 and 5,200 rpm through all four wheels. A six-speed manual transmission is still available, but Subaru claims its new Subaru Performance Transmission (SPT) makes 30 percent quicker upshifts and 50 percent faster downshifts. We'll be driving one soon, and our expectations are high that it'll be a return to form for the WRX. The 2021 model comes in at $27,495 and we don't expect that to change much.

Subaru
Subaru
Subaru
Subaru

Volkswagen Golf GTI ($29,545 - $38,795)

The hot crossover looks like it's going to replace the hot hatch, a segment that's been dying a long horrible death over the last five years or so. However, the Golf GTI is yet to be shaken loose here in the US. It's not the best performing hot hatch in recent years on paper, but Volkswagen has ensured it remains a driver's car of the highest order while retaining its day-to-day practicality. We even prefer the GTI over the heavier hitting Golf R as the latter doesn't live up to its promise against the Civic Type R but outclasses the not-currently-a-hatchback Civic Si.

For 2022, the Golf GTI gets an aesthetic makeover and more power from the 2.0-liter turbo engine. It now makes 241 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque and can still be had with a manual transmission, despite the quick-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch transmission being the better choice here. If you need a trunk rather than a hatchback, there's also the affordable Volkswagen Jetta GLI.

2018-2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Test Drive Volkswagen
2018-2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Test Drive Volkswagen
2018-2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Test Drive Volkswagen

Toyota GR Corolla (TBC)

Judging by the way Toyota is teasing the GR Corolla, we're expecting it to be a 2023 model released in 2022. Officially, there are few details available, but leaks suggest a four-cylinder turbo engine making a little over 250 hp hooked up to a manual transmission and an all-wheel-drive system with rear-biased torque and limited-slip differentials. It's also going to be hatchback only, and that's a bold move considering the way the hot hatch has been in decline. That leads us to believe Toyota won't be screwing around when it comes to building it for enthusiasts.

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Toyota/Instagram
Toyota/Instagram
Toyota/Instagram

Acura Integra (TBC)

The Acura Integra is coming back in 2022, and like all Integras before, it'll be an upmarket take on the Civic Si with a little more punch and, if Acura is doing its job correctly, an upgrade for the suspension. Given how good the new generation of Si is, that gives us high hopes, and we expect it to land with a starting price of around $30,000. Unfortunately, the inevitable Type S version will likely push over the $40,000 mark.

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CarBuzz

Hyundai Elantra N ($31,900 - $33,400)

Hyundai is now in the performance sedan game with the N-badged Elantra model boasting 276 hp and 289 lb-ft of torque, a special N limited-slip differential, and the starting price of $31,900 is for the manual transmission option. We would put up the extra cash for the eight-speed dual-clutch option at $33,400, but either way, it's a wickedly fun front-wheel-drive car that we wholeheartedly recommend if the styling doesn't offend you.

Hyundai
Hyundai
Hyundai
Hyundai

Hyundai Kona N ($34,200)

The Kona N is going to be dismissed by automotive snobs, but if you want something hilariously fun to drive every day, then take a second look. Hyundai has been poaching talent from BMW's M division, and it's starting to show. The Kona N is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four engine producing 276 hp and 289 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels. It has a bright red N Grin Shift (NGS) button on the steering wheel as a push-to-pass style overboost that delivers an extra ten horsepower. As a result of that power coming on strong and the crazy grip from the chassis and tires, the Kona N is a blast to drive. The little crossover seemingly defies the laws of physics and drives like a manic hot hatch.

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Hyundai
Hyundai
Hyundai

BMW 230i Coupe ($36,350)

"Though it's among the most affordable and humble BMW models in the range," our 2022 review says of the BMW 2 Series, "it best encapsulates the spirit of the E46 M3 era that many enthusiasts say has fallen by the wayside in recent years." You can spend over almost $50,000 on the M240i model, but the 230i is a lot of fun too. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is good for 255 hp and 294 lb-ft of torque and delightfully smooth - which is one hell of a thing when you're comparing it to the classic straight-six engine that used to be found in most BMWs.

BMW
BMW
BMW

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2018-2021 Volkswagen Golf GTI Test Drive
2017-2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Dashboard
2017-2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Front Angle View
2017-2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Rearward Vision
2017-2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Hard Top
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