Article by Justin Pritchard

Today, automakers are opening the door on more wicked-fun sports-car options at lower prices than ever – meaning shoppers get all of the magic that comes from lots of performance for not a whole lot of money.

Yes – cheap speed and value velocity is the good stuff. And, when it comes to delivering speed and pedigree and thrills on the relative cheap, a few models stand out for their character, fun factor and reputation.

Do you wear gold chains, black socks with sandals, and a golf shirt with fish on it from Costco? If so, stop reading now – because you’re probably going to buy a Corvette or Boxster anyways.

For the rest of us, here’s a look at some sports car models that deliver bang-for-your-buck on par with half-price fireworks. Criteria for this list are simple: be a hoot to drive, offer a high potential on track and autocross days and cost less than $35,000.

Honda Civic Si
Honda Civic Si. Click image to enlarge

Honda Civic Si

The Gist: The ‘Si’ or ‘Sport Injected’ badge has been worn by Honda models with higher-than-average entertainment value for decades. With the promise of fuel-efficient fun factor and bulletproof reliability, the latest Civic Si does the badge proud.

The Good: The snarly K24 engine spins happily to 7,000 rpm, takes a licking, and makes awesome VTEC sounds when the hot-cam kicks in. Also, the latest Si powerplant has more low and mid-range torque for added responsiveness in city driving. The six-speed manual shifter is amongst the most slick and quick on the market, and the i-VTEC gauge is a neato touch, too. You can have the Civic Si in a two- or four-door, and wake up its performance with a few bucks of aftermarket add-ons, if you like.

The Bad: Civic Si comes just one way – as a four-cylinder, front-drive model with a manual gearbox. If you’re after a bigger engine, automatic transmission or AWD, you won’t find it here.

Test Drive If: You want a no-nonsense, fuel-efficient sports-car driving experience that’s ready to go, 365 days a year.

Ford Mustang GT

Ford Mustang GT
Ford Mustang GT. Click image to enlarge

The Gist: Though some sources say this model exceeds our preset pricing limit of thirty-five grand, the boss says we can include it – because at the time of writing, incentives put the price for a V8-powered Mustang GT into the low thirties. For that money, you won’t find a car with more instant recognition, history and built-in nostalgia.

The Good: Limited-slip differential? Standard. Six-speed manual? Standard. Coyote quad-cam 5.0L V8 with a freshly increased 420 horsepower? Oh goodness, yes.
Salivating yet? This is one of the sweetest, most glorious-sounding and free-revving V8 engines on the road and its high-RPM bark is not to be missed. Instant recognition and membership to one of the largest owner communities out there come included in the price. Mustang earns respect, goes like bananas plus it looks and sounds good doing it.

Ford Mustang GTFord Mustang GTFord Mustang GT
Ford Mustang GT. Click image to enlarge

The Bad: The interior is smaller than you’d think, the rear seats aren’t human-being friendly, and at-hand storage is limited. Also, you’ll get plenty of unwanted attention from your local police force if you can’t fight the urge to blast V8 noises from the pipes.

Test Drive If: Performance bang-for-the-buck, a super-slick V8 engine and immense nostalgia are priorities in your next ride.

Connect with