From the moment one can drive, and often long before that, it’s the American Dream for pretty much every guy. It’s the thing that has inspired dudes for generations to save the nickels, quarters, and Hamiltons they collected from newspaper routes, convenience store shifts, and summer camp gigs. It’s the be-all and end-all of status for any American male between the ages of 16-50. I’m talking, of course, about owning a sports car. Yup, that cool, sleek, futuristic-looking machine that always seems to bring bevies of hot girlfriends to hang on your arms and droves of other jealous dudes to gape at your prowess. The right sports car in a guy’s hands can change his life, making him think he’s “The Man” and opening up new fast tracks of opportunity if he knows how to seize them.
Just think about all the famous celebs that made their names (or became infamous) showing off their sports cars, race cars, or driving prowess. There’s Steve McQueen, the legendary Hollywood bad boy who was also quite a racer, Paul Newman, who was known for enjoying a little race here and there, and even Jay Leno, who has quite a collection to envy. Or how about James Dean, who infamously died in a terrible car crash by racing through an intersection in his Porsche on his way to… a car race?
But John Q. Public, meaning plain old you and me, can’t necessarily afford the Porsches, Mercedes-Benz’, and Ferraris of the world. So what do we do? How do we tap into the coolness quotient we so desperately crave? Fortunately, the answer to those questions is easy. You simply read on to discover the 15 sports cars you would kill to have but won’t have to because you and I can actually afford them. I suppose I should note, though — ALL prices in this article are base price. You want more than just a lot of horsepower, you’ll have to pay for it!
15. Chevy Camaro SS
We’ll start off our list with a car that actually makes sense and which the more astute among you will recognize for the true classic it is. Granted, the Camaro, that long-standing workhorse of Chevrolet’s sports-car division, has always been sort of a “poor man’s choice when it comes to fast rides. It really is the redheaded stepchild of Chevy’s own Corvette, which will always get accolades (and by the way, if anyone wants to loan me a ’68 Corvette Stingray, I will gladly take it off your hands). But I digress… The Camaro SS stacks up very nicely indeed for our purposes. First of all, it’s got Brembo brakes, which means you’ll be able to stop the damn thing even when you’re at cruising speed. And cruising speed shouldn’t be an issue in a car that has a 6.2 liter V-8 that tops out at 426 horsepower. That’s right, 426 horses can be yours for slightly under $33,000. So what are you waiting for?
14. Subaru Impreza WRX
Alright, guys… I know what you’re saying — calm down, calm down. You’re saying “Geer, how the hell could you possibly include a Subaru on this list? I’m a cool dude, not some middle-aged mom loading the shopping at Target!” I know it seems more than passing strange to put a model from this classic “economy” automaker on our list, but hear me out. With each passing year, Subaru makes themselves more and more high-end and less and less family-oriented. Now, I’m not saying that their SUVs and station wagons are gonna be competing with BMW and Audi anytime soon or even scaring Infiniti, but there’s definitely something there. The Impreza is a beast off the line for its pedigree, going 0-60mph in 5.9 seconds. It also hits the quarter mile in 14.4 seconds at only 97mph; that’s pretty damn impressive, Impreza! Impressive enough to warrant a look at $26,000; that’s for sure.
13. Mustang GT
Here’s the icon we’ve all been waiting for: Ford’s all-time entry into both the awesome muscle-car market and the “pocket rocket” market. The Mustang is The Man in many circles, and there’s no doubting why. The GT clocks 0-60 at 4.6 seconds. That sounds awesome until you realize it clocks the quarter mile in 12.8 seconds at 114 mph. You heard me right — this beast only gets faster as she picks up steam. 114 mph! Are you kidding me?!!? I think I’m in love. It’s got a 5-liter engine that pumps an incredible 420 horsepower. Like all truly great sports cars, it’s also a classic coupe — two doors, no more. Yeah, I’m definitely in love. I’ll take mine in fire apple red, and sure, I’ll sign my firstborn away to get it. Oh, wait a minute. You say it’s only $31K? Fine, I’ll keep the kid, and he can drive this beauty someday when she’s a classic.
12. Scion FR-S
Ok, now that I’ve calmed down a bit, let’s take a look at a relative newcomer to the race, as it were. The Scion is Toyota’s entry in the coupe sweepstakes, and it’s a mighty good one. Unfortunately, even though the Scion is new to the whole thing, it’s also already saying bye-bye. After 13 mostly inglorious years, the model is being phased out. But… if you can pick up one today, you might want to think about it. First of all, it looks awesome — exactly like what a little roadster should: sleek, stylish, and slightly dangerous. Second, it packs a surprising 200 horsepower into its punch in a car that you could probably pick up with one hand. So it’s got more than a little zip to it. You can actually get the premium model of the FR-S for just under $32,000, which is quite a deal compared to the base packages on some of our other entries.
11. Nissan 370Z Coupe
Well hello, Nissan — where have you been? Nissan has always been a player in the sports car world. If you don’t believe me, just think about the Nissan Skyline GT-R that was featured so prominently in The Fast and the Furious. Yeah, if one of your models is being touted in that franchise as a sportster, you can bet people are gonna sit up and take notice. While the 370Z isn’t quite up to the level of the GT-R, it’s quite a little car. It hits 103 mph in the quarter mile at 13.6 seconds. Not the fastest car on our list, by any means, but certainly no slouch either. It also has a 3.7 liter V6 and rear-wheel drive, so when you drive it (and I suggest you do so immediately), you’re going to know what you’re handling. This is not a car for the weak. It’s just a shade over $33,000, so what are you waiting for?
10. Ford Focus ST
After the Mustang, Ford hasn’t really been known as much of a player in the sports car game. You want a truck — Ford’s your automaker. You want a van — Ford again. Even their SUV division is pretty effective and well-regarded. But little coupes and racers have always been problematic for Ford. Well, not anymore. I’m assuming you’ve heard of the Ford Focus. Everybody has — it’s just your average, little, get-around-town coupe that you see both sorority chicks and grandmas driving. But Ford has a secret. It’s Focus ST (which might stand for “Speed Tiger”) is a totally new ballgame. It goes 0-60 in 5.8 seconds, which is almost completely unbelievable, and has 256 horsepower under its hood. It’s also got a stainless steel exhaust, which will look pretty literally smoking when you drag with Granny down Main Street. You should beat Granny, too, since your ST goes the quarter mile in 14.3 seconds (at 100mph, of course). Base is cheap, cheap, cheap: under $24K.
9. Subaru BRZ
Surprisingly (or maybe not so much if you’ve been paying attention), Subaru is one of only a few automakers to have more than one car on this list. But what a car the BRZ is. Of course, since it’s a Subaru, I know you still have questions. Like, does it have rear-wheel drive? Check. Or, does it carry at least 200 horsepower? Check. How about, does it handle well? Of course it does, guys; it’s a freakin’ Subaru! It will hug those curves like they were Angelina Jolie’s. Its looks are totally slick and modern, totally stylish and almost impossible to recognize as a Subaru. Seriously. If you don’t believe me, look again — that is not your Daddy’s Subaru. On the other hand, if you’re looking to be a playa but won’t have any green once you purchase this baby for about $25K, don’t worry. It gets an amazing 34 mpg on the highway and 25 in the city. That, my friends, is a crazy bonus to one hot car.
8. VW Golf R
And finally, good old VW comes through with one of their own classics, amped up with a modern twist. I’m talking about the Golf R, which many people don’t even know about yet. The Golf R doesn’t have much to do with that old Golf slowly rotting in your grandpa’s garage, but that’s a good thing. Whereas VW may have you stumped with its Golf and Golf GTI models — no, they’re not that great — the Golf R explores new territory. It’s very compact (even more so than a regular Golf) and can do 0-60 in 6.6 seconds, which is very respectable, especially for a VW golf. It’s also turbocharged, something I’ve never heard a single guy ever complain about or say he doesn’t want a turbocharger in his car. Your only drawback here is that the base model comes in at over $34,000. That’s a lot of cash for a Golf now, isn’t it? But this is no ordinary Golf either.
7. Mercedes Benz CLA Class
Now we get to some of them fancy foreign cars, if you know what I mean. Good ‘ol All-American know-how is great, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a certain country that kind of specializes in high-performance motor vehicles. No, I’m not talking about France! You can keep your Renault; I’ll pass. Nor the Swedes nor the Japanese, although both have great automakers in-country. We all know I mean the Germans and their Mercedes are the classiest of the classy, even among German carmakers, so the CLA class is a very pleasant surprise. It’s a scaled down four-door that almost looks like a coupe. One minor problem is that it kind of performs like one too, at times, but it’s still a freakin’ Mercedes at under $33,000. You might not be doing a ton of high-speed racing with this one (definitely, don’t use it as your getaway car), but it sure looks the part. Plus, every chick knows what that symbol on the front of the car means. Money, son — and if you get this car, you can pretend you’ve got boatloads of cash.
6. Mazda MX-5 Miata
Sticking with the theme, we move on to another Japanese automaker that has made some inroads in the sporty market. Now, Mazda, unlike Subaru, has always been a little bit funkier and has offered some variations of the “sportster” coupe for years. So it’s not really a surprise that one of their models would make this list and that it’s the well-known and highly regarded Miata, which has been a convertible lover’s staple for years. What is a surprise is how darn awesome the MX-5 actually is. If I told you that the MX-5 only pushes 155 horsepower beneath its hood, you’d probably laugh in disbelief and tell me to stop pulling your leg. If I told you that the 155hp powers a car that’s barely 2,000 lbs. soaking wet, you might sit up and take more notice. If I told you it was a sleek, classically-designed soft-top that you could get for under $25K, well then, I would be letting you in on one of the car world’s best-kept secrets and would have to kill you. After you hand over the title of your Miata to me, of course.
5. Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 Track
This time, I’m really not screwing around. I know you think I am when you see the word “Hyundai” in the title. This is an automaker that, to a certain group of guys who remember the mid-90s fondly, seemed like they would never make a list like this. Well, never fear; we’re here to shatter illusions today. The Genesis Coupe is a little pricey for our list, coming in at $33,000, but before you storm off in disbelief, you have to understand that we’re talking about the special “Track” edition. This baby hits 103mph on the straightaway quarter-mile test in an unbelievable 13.6 seconds and goes 0-60 in an equally awesome 4.9 seconds. It’s got an incredible 348 horsepower under its tiny hood, which explains the get-up and go. You’d better have grown up with a stick shift, though — this car doesn’t come in any wimpy automatic. It’s an old school beast all the way.
4. Volkswagen CC
Mercedes might have been the first to invent the “four-door coupe” design (I know, it still sounds weird) but Volkswagen was the first to price that innovation into the general market. If you think about it, of course they were. VW was always on the forefront of bringing cars to the masses — perhaps, that’s why their name actually means “people’s wagon.” Am I right or am I right? Anyway, the maker that delighted in bringing bare-bones interiors but high-end engineering to the marketplace has dramatically changed with the times starting with their reintroduction of the Bug 20 years ago. The CC definitely continues that new tradition of Volkswagen trying to match their German counterparts. It’s a hell of a stylish-looking car and offers more of just about everything than you would ever get with an Audi or a BMW. For just $32,500, this sweet ride could be yours.
3. BMW 2-Series
Or you could go all fancy, totally ignore the upstart VW and Japanese imports, and stick with a tried and true classic. The 2-Series is freakin’ awesome if you’re all about looks. The vehicle is stylish as all hell, and, since it’s a BMW, you know you’re also gonna get some fantastic handling. You can definitely take this sweet ride out on the Autobahn without any worries that you’ll get left behind. In fact, some industry observers say it’s actually the nicest BMW currently on the market other than the $80,000 6-series Gran Coupe. It’s also got classic rear-wheel BMW engineering, something a lot of the cars on this list don’t have. I mean, front-wheel drive is fine but… Anyway, if you have $80,000 to spend on a car, by all means, go get the Gran Coupe. On second thought — belay that. Go get two of the 2-series and give me one of them. That’s a much better idea. It’s only $34,000 so you’ll even have change.
2. Mazda Mazdaspeed 3
We go back to one of our classic makers for the next model on our list. Why not? They haven’t steered us wrong yet?!! I’m seriously hoping you all got what I just did there… Anyway, this guy is a little bit weird but firmly in the Mazda tradition of making almost every model they have at least somewhat sporty. OK, the Mazdaspeed is more than a little bit sporty, actually. How about 263 horses sporty? Yeah, that’s my kind of power, especially in a car that claims to seat five (comfortably, though, is another matter). No matter the crazy leg-room claims, the engine is a goer, and the looks are ultra-modern. Think Disney Cars tuners meet Furious 7 modern. Who wouldn’t want to have a shot at driving this puppy, especially when you can hit the quarter mile in 14.7 seconds and, even more importantly, do it all for slightly more than $24,000?
1. Dodge Charger R/T
You know you’ve seen this car before patrolling your local interstate at an easy 0-60 in 6.3 seconds. Or you’ve seen one pull out on a county road straightaway and hit the quarter mile in 14.6 seconds at just under 100 mph. Hopefully, you’ve never seen the inside of one since the Dodge Charger is what they call your classic “pursuit” vehicle. That’s right fellas; the charger has been doing duty for “Staties” and county sheriffs for a long time now and with good reason. How about 370 good reasons, which is how many horses it’s got under its hood. Oh yeah, it also packs a V8 and some damn stylish lines. The best part is that the whole package comes in under $30,000 — barely. Just make sure that the next time you see one, you’re either staring at it in a showroom or in the rearview mirror. Not from the backseat.