Car Buying Tips

Top 5 Affordable Performance Cars: 2024

With recent manufacturing challenges and the vast majority of Canadians favouring practical trucks and SUVs, not only have average new vehicle prices soared into the mid-$60,000 range, but the list of cars that deliver driving thrills is becoming smaller each year. Plenty of performance and sports car choices exist in the upper price levels, but the number of affordable, driver-focused machines is shrinking.

For driving enthusiasts on a budget, here are five new fun-to-drive cars you can buy for the average price of a used car.

2024 Ford Mustang EcoBoost Fastback – Starting from $37,000*

Born as an affordable alternative to import sports cars nearly five decades ago, today’s Mustang continues that retro theme. Ford’s rear-wheel drive (RWD) 2+2 coupe and convertible have been updated for 2024 with more technology, revised engineering, and styling tweaks. But even the base EcoBoost Fastback hardtop coupe delivers driving thrills for under $40K.

Although it’s attached exclusively to a 10-speed automatic transmission ($48,500 V8 Mustangs come with a standard six-speed manual), the base 2024 Mustang EcoBoost’s 2.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine is lively, making 315 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. A standard limited-slip rear differential helps put that power to the pavement, supported by an agile and stable suspension capable of all-day comfort.

Yes, the Mustang’s rear seats are for smaller humans only, but there’s plenty of room for front passengers. The new-for-2024 digital driver’s display and large centre touchscreen are modern touches that were only science fiction in 1964.

2024 Chevrolet Camaro Coupe 1LT – Starting from $40,299

If you want more than four cylinders and a clutch pedal, the Mustang’s longtime affordable American sports coupe rival has you covered. The current sixth-generation Chevrolet Camaro has been around since 2016, but it’s arguably the most fun-to-drive and capable model ever.

Base 2024 Camaro 1LT trim coupes and convertibles get a 3.6L six-cylinder engine that sends 335 hp and 284 lb-ft to the rear wheels, and a six-speed manual gearbox is standard fare. Even in base form, the Chevy 2+2’s well-sorted suspension makes the car feel confident when tackling a winding road or track.

As a driver-centric car, the Camaro also makes a decent daily driver. Outward visibility isn’t great, however, and its rear seats will feel tight for adults, but unlike the 2024 Mustang’s move to a digital user interface, the Camaro’s retro hard buttons and controls may be more to your liking.

2024 Hyundai Elantra N – Starting from $37,699

As the only car on our list with four doors and real-world room for four adults (or five in a pinch), the 2024 Hyundai Elantra N is a sensible sedan that can play the role of a sports car on the weekends.

Hyundai’s in-house N engineers have created a car for drivers who enjoy an authentic performance driving experience. The Elantra N offers quick throttle response, lively handling, and an exuberant exhaust note. Its 2.0L turbo-four produces a healthy 276 hp (with an overboost feature that can add a 10-hp bump in short spurts) and 289 lb-ft to the front wheels only. An eight-speed automatic is available, but a six-speed manual is thankfully standard.

Coming for 2024, the hottest Elantra gets a styling refresh inside and out, plus revisions to its handling and stability are improved via revised steering and sturdier engine mounts.

2024 Mazda MX-5 Soft Top GS – Starting at $33,900

What cars for cheap thrills list would be complete without a Miata, a.k.a. the MX-5? Especially when knowing that the Mazda’s classic front-engine / rear-drive two-seat roadster layout delivers a sports car driving experience that has zero rivals for the price.

There’s only one engine: a sweet-revving 2.0L four-cylinder making 181 hp and 151 lb-ft. It’s attached to the MX-5’s standard, short-throw six-speed gearbox that remains one of the best manuals on the market, while a six-speed automatic is optional. Although there’s not a lot of power to play with, the MX-5 is at its best when the road twists and turns, revealing how beautifully balanced the chassis is. Its steering is communicative, and its suspension is precise yet still bearable for everyday driving and longer trips.

The softop GS trim is the most affordable new MX-5. For about $10k more, the retractable hardtop RF version is a relatively inexpensive solution to four-season driving protection. If practicality isn’t a priority and you’re comfortable enough in its cozy cabin, the answer is always Miata.

2024 Subaru BRZ / 2024 Toyota GR86 – Starting from $30,495 / $31,490

For the purpose of this list, we’re going to lump the Subaru / Toyota twins together. Except for some suspension tweaks that make the GR86 more tail-happy, these 2+2 RWD sports coupes are mechanically identical. Frugal driving enthusiasts can’t go wrong with either.

Like the MX-5’s formula, the lightweight BRZ / GR86 rear-drive fun machines don’t need gobs of power to deliver cheap driving thrills. Peak power from the Subaru-sourced 2.4L flat-four is 228 hp and 184 lb-ft, ringing at a high 7,000 rpm, allowing for delicate throttle modulations through fast corners – preferably on a track. An automatic is optional, but a six-speed manual transmission is standard.

Although the Subaru / Toyota chassis feels like it can handle more horsepower, the car feels controllable. A mechanical torque-sensing, limited-slip differential delivers optimum traction, and there’s plenty of information coming through the steering wheel. The rear seats of the BRZ / GR86 coupes are restricted to smaller people, but if you’re heading to a track, folding down the rear seats creates enough space under the rear hatch for a proper wheel / tire set, plus a few tools.

*Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Prices not including destination feed in Canadian dollars as of November 1, 2023.