A list compiling the 10 fastest cars under any price point is more like a State of the Automotive Union address than an information piece. Fifteen years ago, we could list the 10 fastest cars under $30,000, but they wouldn’t have been this fast. Cars this fast would have cost much, much more.
So what’s changed? The automotive marvel known as the turbocharger. Every car on this list has a smaller displacement engine coupled with a turbo, producing serious power and shedding weight. And they’re all able to do it under $30,000.
This list is full of fast sports cars, coupes, hatchbacks and sedans, and they’re all doing it with four-cylinder powertrains. To get on this list, a new car had to start under $30,000 and excel somewhere when it comes to speed: 0-60, quarter mile, or top speed. Some of these cars excel in one area, and others are great in all these areas.
We won’t be talking specifics about automatic transmissions, six-speed manuals, or interior features. The only specs that matter here are price, 0-60 and quarter mile times, top speeds, engine output, and curb weight. In no particular order, here are our 10 fastest cars under $30,000.
Volkswagen GTI 2019
The Volkswagen GTI has been a favorite among car journalists for years, and the 2019 iteration is no exception. The seventh generation GTI is a four-door hatchback that has a starting price around $27,000. You get a fun front-wheel drive vehicle with a cult following and a history of performance.
The 2.0L turbo engine in the GTI makes 228 horsepower and 258 pounds of torque. Weighing in just north of 3,000 pounds, we like the power-to-weight ratio. The base GTI is capable of making the sprint to 60 miles per hour around 5.7 seconds and chews up a quarter mile in 14.3 seconds, give or take a tenth.
These numbers put the GTI square in the middle of our list. Not too shabby, right? What if we told you the GTI tied for top speed at 155 miles per hour? That probably doesn’t surprise many, considering the GTI is a hot hatch synonymous with Autobahn cruising.
Volkswagen Jetta GLI 2019
Volkswagen’s 2019 Jetta GLI is no slouch either. The sedan cousin of the GTI starts around $26,000 and benefits from sharing a drivetrain with the hatchback. It has the same 228 horsepower and 268 pounds of torque with the addition of a trunk. Adding that trunk space does bump up the weight, so the four-door GLI tips the scales around 3,200 pounds.
Even at that weight, you’re getting a relatively lightweight, well powered, front-wheel drive vehicle that’s fun to drive and keeps up with cars that cost quite a bit more. The GLI’s 0-60 times are around 5.8 seconds, and it runs down a quarter mile of pavement in about 14.4 seconds.
Those are good numbers, but the Jetta doesn’t benefit from the same insane top speed that the GTI does. Sadly, the GLI is governed at 126 miles per hour. Hey, we’re just the messenger.
Subaru WRX 2020
One of the fastest cars on this list is the 2020 Subaru WRX. We’re not even talking WRX STI here—we mean the base model. And this thing is fast. The WRX’s engine is a little powerhouse. The 2.0L turbo produces 268 horsepower and 258 pounds of torque. At around 3,300 pounds, the WRX isn’t the lightest on the list, but Subaru’s beloved all-wheel-drive helps launch this thing to 60 in 5.5 seconds.
Better yet, this beast just keeps churning its way down the road for a 13.7 second quarter mile time. It also ties two cars for the highest top speed on the list at 155 miles per hour. These are wild numbers for a car that starts around $27,500. Oh, and the rally racing heritage is pretty cool too if you like that sort of thing, and we do (we really, really do).
Ford Fiesta ST 2019
This car isn’t super fast, but we think it’s super cool. The 2019 Ford Fiesta ST makes our list of the 10 fastest cars under $30,000 and we’d like to explain why. The front-wheel drive Fiesta is light at around 2,700 pounds. Pretty cool, right? It’s rare to find a sub-3,000 pound car these days.
It’s got a 1.6L Ecoboost powertrain with horsepower and torque numbers both around 200. Got your attention yet? If not, this will get you: you can buy one for around $21,500.
The cheapest car on our list may not check all the boxes with a 0-60 time of 6.5 seconds and a 15-second standing quarter, but there are videos on the internet (of which we do not condone) of these little things doing north of 140 miles per hour.
So no, it probably won’t win many races at your local drag strip, but a 140-miles per hour car that costs less than $22,000 brand new will make our list every time.
Ford Mustang Ecoboost 2020
Our next pick is the 2020 Ford Mustang Ecoboost. If you haven’t familiarized yourself with this car by now, where have you been? The original pony car’s base model comes in just shy of $27,000, so it is far from the most expensive car on the list.
What do you get for $27,000? Ford’s Ecoboost 2.3L four-cylinder engine with 310 horsepower and 350 pounds of torque. We’ll admit that this isn’t your traditional Mustang setup, but this coupe is still rear-wheel drive and does runs to sixty right around the five-second mark, meaning you’ll still get that Mustang driving experience. The top speed for this muscle car is no small thing either, calling it quits at 145 miles per hour.
Chevrolet Camaro 2020
Another American coupe making our list of the 10 fastest cars under $30,000 is the 2020 Chevrolet Camaro. While not quite as fast as the Mustang, this muscle car has serious performance chops too, but costs a little less. The base model Chevy Camaro comes with a 2.0L turbo four-cylinder that churns out 275 horsepower and 295 pounds of torque. And you get all that for less than $26,500.
While those aren’t the biggest numbers on the list, the rear-wheel drive Camaro only weighs about 3,350 pounds. That power-to-weight ratio is pretty good. The Chevy shoots to 60 miles per hour in around five seconds and quarter miles are over with in about 13.8 seconds. Factor in a top speed just south of 150 miles per hour, and you’ve got a seriously fast car for less than $30,000.
Hyundai Veloster N 2020
The Hyundai Veloster N has been making waves in the automotive world recently and for good reason. This front-wheel drive hatchback has the manufacturer’s rally spirit pumping through its cylinders. The Veloster N base price is in the neighborhood of $27,500, and you get a lot for a little.
First, the 2.0L turbo four-cylinder powertrain that pulls the N around is making 250 horsepower and 260 pounds of torque. Second, Hyundai kept the weight down as well, so the base N comes off the lot weighing just 3,036 pounds. Sure it’s not as refined as some other cars in this category, but who needs refined when your 0-60 time is about 5.5 seconds?
It does just fine in the quarter mile as well, hitting the finish line in 14.2 seconds. Keep accelerating past that finish line, and the car won’t stop gaining speed until it hits 155 miles per hour, which ties it for the fastest top speed on this list with the WRX and the GTI. That’s good company to be in.
Mini Cooper S 2020
The Mini Cooper S base model makes our list even if you didn’t expect it to. No one’s going to deny that Minis aren’t as mini as they used to be, but if there’s one thing the base model 2020 Cooper S doesn’t have, it’s a weight problem. The front-wheel drive Cooper S weighs just 2,989 pounds, and that’s the key to this car’s spot on this list.
The numbers from the 2.0L turbo four cylinder won’t blow you away. It only makes 189 horsepower and 207 pounds of torque, but with that curb weight the car shimmies to 60 miles per hour in 6.5 seconds. Far more impressive than that 0-60 time is the top speed of 145 miles per hour.
Are you doubting that you can get a Mini this capable for under $30,000? That’s okay, we were too. We’re pleased to inform you that the starting price for a base Cooper S is just under $28,000.
Mazda Miata MX-5 2019
Would a compilation of reasonably priced performance cars be complete without mentioning the Mazda Miata MX-5? With yet another 2.0L turbocharged engine, the rear-wheel drive Miata MX-5 can claim 181 horsepower and 151 pounds of torque.
Sure, those are modest numbers, but you need to consider the Miata’s greatest asset: curb weight. This sports car is a svelte 2,339 pounds, which makes it the lightest car on this list. Those power numbers mixed with that curb weight combine to allow the Miata to make a 0-60 run in 5.7 seconds. It will cross a quarter mile in 14.4 seconds and keeps going up to 135 miles per hour.
When you consider that you can get this type of performance from a car costing around $27,000, you’ll begin to understand why it’s been on so many top 10 lists in the last 30 years.
Nissan Altima SR VC 2020
The Nissan Altima SR VC surprised us, and we enjoyed making it our final addition to this list. The Altima SR VC has a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder powertrain that makes 248 horsepower and 273 pounds of torque, which puts it right in the middle on this list as far as power numbers go.
However, it does tip the scales at more than 3,400 pounds. Despite its heft, the front-wheel drive Altima sprints from a standstill to 60 in just 5.9 seconds. That’s a pretty exciting number for a well-equipped four-door sedan that starts just under our $30,000 mark.
It will make a quarter mile run last 14.6 seconds, which is no small feat for a car this size. We did struggle to find an established top speed for the SR VC, but that’s okay. We don’t think the beauty of the Altima will be found above 60 miles per hour. This is a reasonably-priced, decently-equipped people mover that does its best work in the first half of its speedometer.
And that’s our list of the 10 Fastest Cars Under $30,000. Gone are the days of heavy V6 engines with poor fuel economy. This list is full of 2.0L turbocharged powertrains and reasonable price tags. It was difficult, but these 10 cars edged some of our favorite cars like the Honda Civic Sport, the Dodge Challenger, and the Toyota 86.
That’s good news, though, because that just means there are plenty of options out there, and there will be more on the way. Manufacturers are spending a lot of time and money to increase the performance of their smaller engines while keeping the cars light and nimble.
We’re on the edge of our seats as we wait to see what else might be coming our way. We do know one thing however: it’s a great time to drive fast cars, even if you’re on a budget.