Fun cars don’t have to guzzle gas. Fuel efficient cars can still be punchy and nimble around corners. Here are five rides that will be nice on your wallet and still deliver thrills.
Since 1989, the MX-5 has been a well balanced zippy drop-top roadster that is endlessly upgradable. It’s the top choice for entry-level racers and weekend cruisers. The 2017 version delivers 35 highway mpg with 155 horsepower and a 50/50 weight distribution on a 2332 pound frame. Look around and you’ll find infinite ways to build a Miata into a beast. Old or new, the Miata is still a great call for a fun drive that won’t kill you at the pump.
2011 Nissan Leaf
It doesn’t have the range for a road trip, but it’s a fun daily driver. With 207 pound-feet of torque available as soon as you stomp the accelerator, it’s great for beating almost anyone off the line. In 2013, Nissan re-geared the Leaf to have more range but only 187 pound-feet, so the original is best. Basically, a battery with wheels at the corners, the center of gravity is very low and the balance is great. This sleeper corners surprisingly well and seats five with a load of groceries in the back.
Fiat 500 Abarth
This Italian pocket rocket has a short footprint but more headroom than you’d expect. And it has a big voice. The exhaust note is reminiscent of an Italian V12. The turbo-charged, 1.4-liter four-cylinder gets 33 highway mpg while providing 160 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque through a five-speed manual. That’s fun in any language, plus they start at under $20,000 while looking like nothing else on the road.
From the 1983 Rabbit GTI to the latest Golf GTI, these three letters have defined the term “hot hatch” for decades. Practical, fun, and very modifiable, VW’s hatchback delivers much bang for the buck. The 2017 version starts at under $25,000, delivering power and drive quality you expect from more expensive German names. The Autobahn version hits 220 horsepower while getting 24 mpg. The DDC Adaptive Chassis Control lets you tune the ride just how you like.
Used BMW i3
Bad news for early adopters but good news for the resale market: electric car values plummet sharply. You can get a three-year-old i3 fresh off a lease with fewer than 20,000 miles for under $16,000. That’s a car that sold new for over $40,000 when new. What you get is a carbon-fiber and aluminum piece of advanced German technology weighing only 2800 pounds. With no center tunnel or motor in front of you, the passenger space is huge. Like the Leaf, you get instant torque with all the weight down low. What’s the fastest machine from zero to thirty that BMW makes? It doesn’t start with an M. It’s the i3.
You don’t need a snorting V8 to enjoy driving. You can find light-weight, spirited, fun-mobiles that sip gas or maybe use none at all.