The best, most fun cars under $30,000

Short on cash but looking for cheap thrills? Roadshow's editors have you covered. 

Here are the most entertaining new models you can buy beginning at under $30,000 -- much less than the average price of a new car!

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Steven Ewing's pick: 2019 Subaru WRX

With 268 horsepower, 258 pound-feet of torque and punchy, turbocharged power delivery, the Subaru WRX is an absolute hoot. 

Combine it with a slick six-speed stick and you've got a recipe for one of the most entertaining cars you can buy today, sub-$30K or otherwise.

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Steven Ewing's pick: 2019 Subaru WRX

It might not be offered as a hatchback anymore, but the WRX sedan is still super practical. 

Inside, you've got lots of room for front and rear passengers, and the back seats fold to create a large pass-through to the generous trunk.

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Steven Ewing's pick: 2019 Subaru WRX

Starting at just $27,195 before delivery, the WRX is perfect for all seasons -- especially winter. 

Throw a set of snow tires on this thing, and you've got one of the best cold-weather sports cars around. Get your SnoDrift on around every corner.

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Tim Stevens' pick: 2019 Ford Mustang

This was a tough one, and whether you lean on the side of Mustang or Camaro will depend on your brand loyalty.

However, for $26,120 to start (plus delivery), Ford's EcoBoost Mustang is a great value. Why? Potential.

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Tim Stevens' pick: 2019 Ford Mustang

310 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque are not small figures, but if (read: when) you need a little more, a quick visit to your local tuner can slap on more power with just a few keystrokes. 

Underneath, you'll have a fundamentally great chassis and solid tech offerings, thanks to Ford's Sync 3.

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Tim Stevens' pick: 2019 Ford Mustang

Yes, the 2.3-liter EcoBoost engine is not the most evocative on the planet, but it is powerful and deceptively frugal. 

Plus, its strong midrange torque means you won't have to always be reaching for another gear when you're stuck in traffic, and while we all love driving fun cars, it helps if they're not punishing.

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Chris Paukert's pick: 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Was there ever any doubt? Mazda's evergreen MX-5 Miata is hands-down the most entertaining new car you can buy under $30,000, and it belongs on any "fun" list at any price point. 

Pricing starts at just $25,730 (plus $895 delivery), so you can even add a few options and still stay under $30K, too.

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Chris Paukert's pick: 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata

The Miata may not have a ton of power, but it has received a helpful nudge up to 181 horsepower for 2019, and it's all that you need. 

The little roadster's limits remain wonderfully explorable and exploitable at sane speeds, so you can find real joy every day, whether on a canyon road or a freeway commute. 

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Chris Paukert's pick: 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata

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.

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Robert Weber's pick: 2019 Nissan 370Z

The car with the highest starting price on this list is also the most powerful, with 332 Japanese ponies galloping from its 3.7-liter V6.

The Nissan 370Z is a drivers' car in the purest sense, and if the starting price of $29,990 (before delivery) is too much, know that the Z can be had for under $20,000 on the used market.

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Robert Weber's pick: 2019 Nissan 370Z

While advanced driver aids are nearly nonexistent and overall cabin technology is slim, power and grip are plentiful. 

The 370Z is perfect for a weekend cruise or day-long track day.

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Robert Weber's pick: 2019 Nissan 370Z

Want more from your Z? The aftermarket has any and all parts you will ever need. 

Whether you're ready for a full-on build or modding on a budget, you can make the 370Z truly your own.

The 370Z stands with the Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86 twins among the few new rear-wheel-drive coupes that won't break the bank.

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Kyle Hyatt's pick: 2019 Ford Fiesta ST

2019 represents the last gasp of one of the world's great hot hatches, the Ford Fiesta ST.

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Kyle Hyatt's pick: 2019 Ford Fiesta ST

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).

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Kyle Hyatt's pick: 2019 Ford Fiesta ST

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.

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Manuel Carrillo III's pick: 2019 Fiat 124 Spider

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.

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Manuel Carrillo III's pick: 2019 Fiat 124 Spider

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.

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Manuel Carrillo III's pick: 2019 Fiat 124 Spider

In the end, the Fiat 124 is a Miata, one of the greatest cars of all time, but served al dente with some added Italian herbs and spices.

Plus, it's really easy to dial up this car's character, too, with a muffler delete, because failing to uncork that 1.4's natural Italian mellifluousness is a cardinal sin.

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Jake Holmes' pick: 2019 Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86

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).

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Jake Holmes' pick: 2019 Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86

The 2+2 layout won't really fit your friends, but it can fit a set of four spare wheels and tires for track-day antics. 

While the coupes started life pretty stripped-out, these days, they can be fitted with goodies like navigation, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and more.

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Jake Holmes' pick: 2019 Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86

Want more speed? The aftermarket can offer up nearly everything you need for these cars. 

There are factory performance models, too, like the 86 TRD Special Edition and the BRZ Performance package -- both of which come with an intact factory warranty.

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Andrew Krok's pick: 2019 Volkswagen GTI

The Volkswagen GTI is one of the OG hot hatches, and its staying power is a testament to just how good this car is, and how much it's appreciated.

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Andrew Krok's pick: 2019 Volkswagen GTI

With a starting MSRP of $26,415 (plus $895 delivery), it's pretty darn affordable, and its five-door hatchback shape offers near-crossover levels of versatility.

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Andrew Krok's pick: 2019 Volkswagen GTI

For the 2019 model year, the GTI gets an 8-horsepower bump to 228 horsepower, and its turbocharged 2.0-liter engine provides plenty of torque in any gear. 

It's a riot.

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Jon Wong's pick: 2019 Honda Civic Si Coupe

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.

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Jon Wong's pick: 2019 Honda Civic Si 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.

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Jon Wong's pick: 2019 Honda Civic Si Coupe

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. 

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