Buying Guides

5 Fun Vehicles Under $30,000

Don't blow your budget in the name of driving thrills

Jane Ulitskaya, Digital Content Specialist

Car shoppers often look for practical features like cargo space, the latest tech, and good gas mileage. While it's smart to check these features off the list, it's also important to remember that the car you're buying will be the car you're going to drive every day. We believe that driving should be fun, and the good news is that you don't need to go with a high-end sports car to score a thrilling driving experience. There are a handful of mass-market vehicles that bring the fun either on-road or off thanks to their power and acceleration, excellent handling, or off-road capability. These 5 affordable vehicles will put the fun back into driving for under $30,000 MSRP.

2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata

  • PROS: Much-improved 181 horsepower engine, the most fun you can have with a low-output engine, super-slick manual transmission, manual soft top is seriously easy to use.
  • CONS: Tight on space, less horsepower than the competition

The 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata got a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out 181 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. The 26 horsepower bump from the previous model makes the Miata a bit faster with a 0-60 of under 6 seconds. The real fun comes in the agile handling and sharp steering so you can tackle the corners with confidence. This roadster blends driving thrills with practicality thanks to excellent fuel efficiency and an affordable starting price. The 2019 Mazda MX-5 Miata gets 26 mpg city and 34 mpg highway and starts at $25,730 MSRP.

2020 Volkswagen Golf GTI

  • PROS: Nimble handling, near-perfect level of power for urban fun, responsive dual clutch and great available 6-speed manual transmission, clean interior design is easy to use.
  • CONS: Small interior buttons and knobs, interior has cheap plastic bits, rims can take a beating against curbs.

One of the best performance hatchbacks on the market, the 2020 Volkswagen Golf GTI offers a balanced, composed, and agile driving experience that puts the fun back into the driving experience. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine offers up a potent 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The power isn't too much to overwhelm, but enough to make the GTI responsive and quick to accelerate (a 0-60 under 6 seconds). The GTI's steering and handling is so accurate that you'll remember why you love driving when you get behind the wheel. The 2020 Volkswagen Golf GTI slips in under the $30,000 benchmark at $29,515 starting MSRP.

2020 Hyundai Veloster N

  • PROS: Excellent steering feedback and precision, one of the best handling cars for the money, racy hot-hatch style, easy infotainment system.
  • CONS: Clear budget cuts inside, limited visibility, unimpressive gas mileage

A new hot hatch on the scene, the 2020 Hyundai Veloster N delivers serious performance. It's so fun to drive, in fact, that it beat out vehicles like the Corvette and the Supra to get the title of 'Performance Car of the Year from Road and Track. The 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine gives you 275 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. Mated to a 6-speed manual transmission (for the stick shift enthusiasts) the engine provides nimble acceleration with a 0-60 in just over 5 seconds. Add super sharp steering and taut handling to the mix, and you get a recipe for a thrilling driving experience. With an MSRP of $27,400, the 2020 Hyundai Veloster N is a performance bargain.

2020 Jeep Wrangler

  • PROS: Best-in-class off-road capability, powerful engine options include a diesel, excellent tech, so much better on road than its predecessor.
  • CONS: Gets a bit thirsty at the pump, tight back seat, complex roof system, low reliability.

The Jeep Wrangler provides a different kind of fun driving experience since it shines in an off-road environment. For the adventurous soul, it's hard to top the rugged 2020 Wrangler for driving thrills. With a 3.6-liter V6 engine that offers up to 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft. of torque or an optional 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine for 270 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, getting to your off-road destination will feel effortless. Once you hit the trail, you'll get to experience the thrill of adventure thanks to off-road features like solid front and rear axles, a two-speed transfer case with high- and low-range gears, protective skid plates, and at least 9.7 inches of ground clearance. With the Wrangler's starting MSRP of $28,295, off-road fun can be within reach.

2020 Jeep Renegade

  • PROS: Jeep ruggedness in a compact package, maneuverable in tight situations, comfortable ride, great Uconnect infotainment system.
  • CONS: Slow acceleration, tight second row space, poor gas mileage, below-average reliability.

The 2020 Jeep Renegade may be the smallest SUV in the Jeep lineup, but it's big on off-roading fun. The standard 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine produces 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque and is mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission. Although its power and acceleration won't blow you away, the Renegade makes up for it with a comforable ride, solid handling, and off-road capability. To get the most fun out of the Renegade, go with the Trailhawk trim for standard four-wheel-drive, extra ground clearance, hill-descent control, Jeep's Selec-Terrain system (for low traction conditions), all-terrain tires, skid plates and tow hooks. This subcompact SUV will let you adventure on a budget with a starting MSRP of $23,770.

What makes them fun?

  • Excellent handling.
  • Fast acceleration.
  • Off-road capable.