I strongly recommend the wonderful six-speed manual for maximum fun and engagement, but the automatic certainly isn't bad.
If a hardtop is more your thing, Mazda offers the beautifully styled RF model, but it starts beyond our $30K pricing threshold, and it doesn't deliver quite the same wind-in-your-hair thrills when the top is down.
With a great six-speed manual transmission, hilarious lift-off oversteer and a potent little turbo engine, it's tough to argue with the performance you're getting for well under $30,000. (Pricing starts at $21,340 plus $875 for destination).
Right off the showroom floor, the FiST is a blast to drive, but thanks to a robust aftermarket, including some tuning options straight from Ford, the Fiesta ST can be just about anything you want it to.
If the Mazda MX-5 Miata is the most entertaining new car you can buy for less than $30,000, then the Fiat 124 Spider is a close second, and for good reason: it's rolling on the Miata's unforgettable chassis. They're even built at the same factory in Hiroshima, Japan.
The 2018 124 Spider starts at $24,995 plus $1,295 for destination (2019 pricing has yet to be announced). However, I'd recommend the $28,295 Abarth variant, which offers a slightly sportier character and four extra horsepower compared to other trims.
With 160-164 horsepower (depending on trim) and 184 pound-feet of torque moving a car that weighs less than 2,500 pounds, this Fiat is sprightly in any direction.
The 124 Spider's 1.4-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder offers more low-end torque than its MX-5 cousin, but the Miata's natually aspirated mill still feels snappier. The 124 Spider gets brownie points, however, for feeling a touch more forgiving at the limit.
A near-perfect driving position. A rear-wheel-drive chassis with tight, nimble handling. A boisterous, if unrefined, engine with 205 horsepower.
The Subaru BRZ and its twin, the Toyota 86, deliver all the things car enthusiasts want for way under $30K. Specifically, from $25,795 for the Subie (plus $885 delivery) and $26,445 for the Toyota (plus $920 freight).
It's no secret that I'm a Honda fan and the Civic Type R is the baddest machine available from Soichiro's stable today, but a $35,000 base price isn't the easiest for all bank accounts to absorb. Enter the 2018 Civic Si that wears a $24,995 price tag, including $895 for destination. That gets you a respectable turbocharged four-cylinder engine, slick manual gearbox and lively handling abilities in a sharp-looking coupe.
A two-door that weighs just shy of 2,900 pounds with 205 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque bolting up to stellar six-speed manual transmission is a simple drivetrain recipe for a entertaining ride. Add snappy handling reflexes to the mix and you have a fun car to toss around corners.
Need something a little more practical? You're in luck because the Civic Si is also available as a sedan adding a more spacious backseat and trunk. Best of all, the four-door only weighs 17 pounds more than its coupe counterpart and wears the exact same $24,995 starting price.