Finalists: Sporty Car Under $50,000

How much longer do we have left to enjoy that new car smell along with the feel and sound of a wailing internal combustion engine? No one knows for sure. If you’ve decided you’re going to nab something noisy and fast while you still can but you don’t have a wad of cash to spend, this is the list you’re looking for: these are our top five sporty cars priced at less than $50,000, finalists for the 2020 Awards.

After considering the merits and drawbacks of every single affordable sports car (and sporty car) on the market, our jury of more than 20 automotive experts voted for these five vehicles to advance to the final round of evaluations. We’ll go back to work over the coming weeks to deliberate over which of these we consider to be the ideal budget-friendly sporty ride: engaging and powerful, with looks that stand up to the hype, and the most raucous return on outright driving entertainment that your money can buy.

The winners of this and the rest of the Award categories will be announced on January 20, 2020. Many of these nameplates have staunch devotees, so predicting the eventual outcome of this competition is bound to spark some debate. Let the games begin!

Ford Mustang’s Justin Pritchard, while reviewing the 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt, called it “a very pleasing performance car with many strengths and few weaknesses … a definite must-drive in this segment.” That version has the up-tuned 5.0-litre V8, of course, but the regular version is capable enough with its 460 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque. The Mustang is also the only sports car on this list with an engine bigger than four-cylinders available. There’s also the option to start at the $31,080 base price and opt for the four-cylinder EcoBoost, or sift through the myriad performance variants up to the Shelby GT500, for which you’ll drop close to six digits. But given that this category tops out at half that price, the Mustang GT Premium Fastback, priced at $47,025, is where we’ll cap our consideration for the purpose of this competition. With style, performance, and a variety of different configurations for different budgets and tastes, the Mustang is an automotive icon for many good reasons.

Honda Civic Si/Civic Type R

“I like vehicles that let you have fun without having to go full fanboy to get it, and the Civic Si delivers on that,” said Jil McIntosh in her review of this sporty compact sedan, which also comes as a coupe. It also doesn’t break the bank with its base price of $29,090 for the sedan and $29,490 for the coupe – you can’t even option your way out of the manual transmission, but why would you want to? That price gives you the extra power that Honda has squeezed out of its 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder for a total of 205 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque. But if you need more, there’s also the Civic Type R, which for $41,690 gets you plenty of additional accoutrements, including a 2.0-litre mill that makes 306 hp and 295 lb-ft. The Type R is the most capable front-wheel-drive hot hatch around a track and its wild styling certainly stands out.

Hyundai Veloster N

“We live in a world where a Hyundai with three asymmetrical doors attracts more attention than a Jaguar F-Type,” said Brendan McAleer after reviewing the Hyundai Veloster N. Those who have driven the Veloster N have reported this first entry in the Korean brand’s new N performance arm as being the real deal – it’s capable, unique, and will provide endless smiles. Starting from $34,999, the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder produces 275 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque – and a heck of a good time. The Veloster N might not be as capable outright as the Honda Civic Type R, but the Hyundai is approachable and has a ton of personality.

Mazda MX-5

Mazda’s greatest gift to the love of driving just keeps on giving. Whether you choose the soft top convertible from $32,900 or the RF hardtop starting at $39,900, you’ll be powered by the Skyactiv-G 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that received a small power boost for 2019 up to 181 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. Those numbers don’t look impressive on their own until you put them next to the MX-5’s weight, which varies depending on your choice of roof and transmission but never gets higher than 1,135 kg. Add in its classic styling and go-kart-like handling and the rear-wheel-drive MX-5 is a perennial contender. Our experts have loved the purity and focus of this lightweight sports car for the simple fact that it’s a delight to drive no matter what your skill level.

Volkswagen Golf GTI/R

When contributor Greg Wilson last drove the Golf R, he gave it a spectacular score and said he “can’t think of another car that combines this much performance, practicality and good looks in one car – regardless of price.” This top end of Volkswagen’s choose your own hot hatch adventure is priced at $42,065 and delivers 292 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque from its 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It also has the benefit of having all-wheel drive. Take a step back to the Golf GTI, and from $30,845 you’re getting 228 hp and the option of a mid-grade GTI Rabbit trim. Both the GTI and Golf R have been favourites among enthusiasts who value both performance and practicality.