New Car Roundup: Fun Under 30k

2016 Nissan 370Z

Motoring fun can be defined in terms of handling, performance, cheeky dynamics, razor-sharp steering, the blending of high output with high utility, easy access to new adventures, or virtually any combination of the above.

Best thing? Numerous options in “fun” rides are available in today’s market, and many don’t require you to go all Walking Dead and sever an appendage or two when it comes time to pay for them.

In fact, the market is full of options that flaunt big-time fun for $30,000 or less. Here’s a closer look at five rides that should be given your immediate attention when affordable motoring fun is a priority.

Ford Fiesta ST

2017 Ford Fiesta ST

Price

$26,000

The Hardware

This feisty little rocket-hatch packs a 1.6-litre EcoBoost turbo four-cylinder, with 197 horsepower and 202 lb-ft of torque. All units are front-drive with a six-speed stick and a properly grabby clutch. Drivers enjoy the thrifty thrills from a set of partial-leather Recaro seats, and are backed up by targeted chassis upgrades to brakes and suspension. A funky colour palette and standard body-kit upgrade with rear hatch spoiler help give the ST a playful look.

The Sticky

This one’s fast and fun, easy on fuel, has room for your things and pals, and boasts a flexible cargo hold with space for camping gear, groceries, or a set of track-day tires, rims and brake pads. Easy to drive and enjoy every day of the year, Fiesta ST’s enhanced handling doesn’t come at the expense of ride comfort, either. Here’s a car designed to thrill even discerning enthusiasts, with a joyful eagerness-to-please that grows the harder you push it.
2017 Ford Fiesta ST

You know how cling-wrap sticks to your leftover spaghetti when you reheat it the microwave? That’s what the Fiesta ST does to corners. This is some of the most fun you’ll have in an affordable hot-hatch – and good mileage and compelling pricing won’t leave your wallet looking like two dogs just got finished fighting over it. Many shoppers will have plenty of funds remaining for a trip to the accessories catalogue too.

Don’t Miss

The intake sound symposer. A special duct in the intake tract effectively amplifies and projects the little turbo-four’s growl towards the cabin, ensuring that on-throttle sound effects plaster a grin on your kisser.

Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport 5-Door

2017 Subaru Impreza 20i 5-Door

Price

$26,300

The Hardware

This sports-focused variant of the latest 2017 Subaru Impreza runs a 2.0-litre flat-four engine with 152 horsepower, connected to all four wheels via a five-speed manual. Symmetrical AWD enhances grip on all surfaces, and a sharp electric power steering system ensures pleasing responses to steering inputs.

The Sticky

2017 Subaru Impreza 20i 5-Door

Impreza is great to drive on real-world roads, with even rough-road ride quality coming across as top-notch. Traction galore from about the only affordable AWD compact on the road makes this one a total champ in the snow too. With 152 horsepower, Impreza is far from a rocket where acceleration is concerned. But there’s redemption here too: the powerplant is smooth and refined, with thrust and sound effects ramping up nicely as the tachometer approaches redline.

Pleasing handling and a carefully tuned chassis make this one a real joy to drive hard – especially in deep snow. Slips, slides, squirms and other fun sensations dialled out of most compact car playbooks are on full display here, and sporty drivers will love the ability to easily steer the Subaru Impreza with its throttle and brakes. Here’s a machine that works great in all conditions, but proves an absolute riot to drive the pants off of, too.

Don’t Miss

The traction. From virtually the first inch of movement in deep snow, Impreza powers all four wheels – so there’s no waiting or struggle before all-wheel traction engages. The deeper the snow, the better: leaving the two-wheel drive folks behind at slippery intersections never gets old.

Nissan 370Z

2017 Nissan 370Z

Price

$29,998

The Hardware

Plenty of sauce, manually stirred! This performance coupe bargain combines a fast-spinning 3.7-litre V6 and six-speed stick with rear-wheel drive, so you can talk drifting with your pals. With everything you need and little you don’t, the base (and basic) $30k Nissan 370Z targets a purist sports-car enthusiast, and is one of just two models in this highlight with a chassis and platform designed for high-performance use from the get-go. That shows in how the Z drives, and might just make this 332-horsepower coupe the deal of the decade where go-fast bang for the buck is concerned.

The Sticky

2017 Nissan 370Z

As a pure, no-BS sports coupe, the 370Z ticks virtually all of the right boxes. From its award-winning V6 engine to its stubby, short-throw shifter to its precisely tuned steering, handling and brakes, this one feels and responds like an authentic sports car, through and through. A purpose-built compact two-seater, the 370Z poses no compromises to accommodate lots of cargo or a rear-seating row. It’s limited in utility, and features in the base model, in exchange for authentic dynamics and lightweight giggle factor.

Don’t Miss

The engine. The 370Z’s 3.7 litre-V6 is from Nissan’s VQ VHR, or “Very High Revolution” engine range. The 7,500 RPM redline is always within striking distance, and a peaky, provocative power curve is yours for the taking. This is one of the most entertaining-to-flog engines you’ll find on this side of a six-figure price tag.

Jeep Wrangler Sport

2017 Jeep Wrangler Sport

Price

$28,440

The Hardware

The off-road ready Jeep Wrangler Sport offers up the services of a proven four-wheel drive system, an award-winning 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 engine with 285 horsepower, and a six-speed manual transmission. Rugged construction and plenty of ground clearance helps make the Wrangler an ideal option for the fun-seeking shopper after an adventure-ready package.

The Sticky

It’s got four-wheel drive. It’s got the better part of 300 horsepower. It’s got a six-speed manual. It’s a convertible. This combination of attributes typically costs heaps more than $28,445, but with the Jeep Wrangler’s basic “Sport” trim grade, drivers get a vehicle that’s ready for affordable access to adventure. With the ability to tackle trails and challenges that’ll see lesser crossovers playing oil-pan roulette, the Wrangler is considered by many to be an all-access pass to all things outdoorsy.
2017 Jeep Wrangler Sport

Best of all, even on the roughest roads, it feels more robust and durable than Eugene Levy’s eyebrows.

Wrangler is the only vehicle in today’s highlight that you’d probably want to drive down a rocky trail, or use to pluck a boat from a lake. Best of all, unlike a sports coupe, Wrangler’s tall and blocky shape means you probably won’t take an A-pillar to the dome when getting in and out.

Don’t Miss

The accessories. Opting for a Wrangler Sport will leave many shoppers with plenty of funds in reserve for a trip to the Mopar catalogue, where they’ll find a multitude of options for carrying cargo or gear, interior and exterior dress-up, and plenty more. Few machines on the road are so affordably ready for adventure and customization.

Toyota 86 / Subaru BRZ

2017 Subaru BRZ

Price

$29,580 / $27,995

The Hardware

These brothers from different mothers share a rev-happy 2.0-litre flat-four boxer engine with 205 horsepower, a slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission, rear wheel drive, and all of the benefits of a sports-car-from-the-get-go platform. Small, slim, light and balanced, these are some of the best affordable sports cars going.

The Sticky

2017 Toyota 86
With compact sizing, two doors, four seats and no bloat, the Toyota 86 and BRZ are back-to-basics coupes that prove how much fun can be crammed into $30,000 or less. Designed to fit their driver like a glove, proper sports-car seats and instrumentation are on offer, and perfect weight balance enables a feeling of nimble and frisky fun. Don’t miss the precise feel to the steering and brakes, or the great fuel mileage – which won’t see your bank account emptier than Whoville on Christmas morning when it comes time to fill up.

The real joy of driving these machines comes from driving them hard: the flat-four engine works best when spinning fast, and the lightweight construction really shines when you dial up the speed in fast corners. Bigger, fatter sports coupes see excess flubber and weight flying around like a Jerry Springer stage brawl, but the Subaru BRZ and 86 feel trim and lean at all times.

Don’t Miss

The automatic transmission, if that’s the way you’re leaning. Many a driving enthusiast besmirch non-manual transmissions, but the paddle-shift automatic unit in these machines is top notch: instant shifting response and fast gear changes that are perfectly rev-matched in both directions, every single time.

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Justin Pritchard
Justin Pritchard is a native of Windsor, Ontario – though he’s called Sudbury his home for the past 20 years. Justin is a full-time auto writer, consultant and presenter of EastLink TV’s AutoPilot. His work can be seen weekly in numerous outlets across the country. When not writing about the latest new models and industry trends, you’ll probably find him fixing his 1993 Toyota MR2 GTS.
Justin Pritchard

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