The Most Affordable and Practical Performance Cars in the U.S. in 2024

Affordable and practical performance cars 28 photos
Photo: Acura/Subaru/Hyundai/Mazda/Toyota
Acura Integra Type SAcura Integra Type SAcura Integra Type SAcura Integra Type SAcura Integra Type SHonda Civic Type RHyundai Elantra NHyundai Elantra NHyundai Elantra NHyundai Elantra NHyundai Elantra NMazda 2.5 TurboHyundai Elantra NHyundai Elantra NHyundai Elantra NHyundai Elantra NSubaru WRXSubaru WRXSubaru WRXSubaru WRXSubaru WRXToyota GR CorollaToyota GR CorollaToyota GR CorollaToyota GR CorollaToyota GR CorollaVolkswagen Golf R
We've been accustomed to living in a world where government regulations, lack of practicality, and, last but not least, budget concerns keep cars that offer the thrill of driving away from the garages of many.
This only means that the quest for affordable performance cars has become more relevant than ever, especially with the advent of electric cars and gargantuan SUVs flooding the streets.

That said, gone are the days when cars that offer exhilarating speed and razor-sharp handling were exclusive luxuries afforded only by the elite of the world.

In other words, we're now living in a democracy of driving pleasure, where a 5-door family wagon can outgun a Porsche on the drag strip, and an electric sedan can outhandle a Lotus on the Nurburgring Nordschleife.

There isn't an issue with available performance from the dealership anymore, and purveyors of power and handling are spoiled for choice at almost every price level.

On top of it, a new breed of vehicles has started to bridge the gap between adrenaline-pumping performance and wallet-friendly pricing. We now have examples from almost all categories that prove you don't need to break the bank to own a car that offers driving pleasure in one way or another, all while remaining somewhat practical. From turbocharged hatchbacks to agile coupes and even compact pickup trucks or SUVs, there is a choice of affordable and practical performance vehicles for almost everyone.

Sure, many drivers love performance, but not everyone has the money for a supercar from Lamborghini or Porsche, nor do they have a big enough garage to hold a fast two-seat coupe alongside the practical family car. Fortunately, a wide array of fun-to-drive options are available for people with a reasonably good budget and who want to carry more than their wallets during their spirited drives.

With that in mind, I hand-picked an assortment of the most affordable performance practical cars available in the U.S. in 2024. The price cap has been set at $57,000 for a simple and maybe peculiar reason: you can buy only half a Porsche 911 for that amount of moolah. Don't worry, though, most of them are well below $40k.

2024 Acura Integra Type S - $51,800 MSRP

Acura Integra Type S
Photo: Acura
Launched in North America for the 2023 model year, the current generation of the Integra marks Acura's entry-level proposition in the region. It revives the somewhat legendary Integra nameplate, which had not been used by either Honda or Acura since 2006.

Based on the latest Honda Civic underpinnings, the smallest Acura has a liftback design and is built exclusively in the U.S., unlike its Japanese-built predecessors.  The Type S variant is an even more legendary addendum to the Integra moniker, which was revived last year to critical acclaim as the most powerful Integra ever.

No less than 320 horsepower are sent to the tarmac exclusively through a six-speed manual transmission, with Acura opting not to offer an automatic transmission on the options list.

The model incorporates many internal components from the Honda Civic Type R hot hatch, such as the turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and four-piston Brembo brakes with bigger discs. Additionally, it adopts the broader tracks of the Type R, necessitating the inclusion of fender flares, and the motorsport-inspired Dual-Axis Strut front suspension, which aims to suppress torque-steer on the FWD-only model.

Despite being a technical twin to the Civic Type R, the Acura Integra Type S has a more forgiving ride thanks to different suspension tuning, but the performance and driving fun are nothing to sneeze at, offering a lot of bang for the buck.

With 320 hp and 310 lb-ft (420 Nm) of torque in a premium compact that offers room for five and a 24.3 cu-ft (663 liters) luggage volume, the $51,800 starting price is almost a bargain.

2024 Subaru WRX - $32,735 MSRP

Subaru WRX
Photo: Subaru
Unveiled in 2021 as the second-generation standalone WRX, Subaru's AWD compact sedan actually marks the fifth generation of the WRX nameplate.

The current iteration of the model introduced a turbocharged, 2.4-liter Boxer engine that delivers a healthy 271 HP (275 PS) and 258 lb-ft (350 Nm) of torque, more than its direct rivals such as the Honda Civic Si or the Volkswagen Golf GTI.

The new powertrain uses an electronically controlled wastegate and air bypass valves for less turbo lag, so it's not only more powerful but smarter than its predecessors. Unlike its rivals and in Subaru tradition, the WRX comes with the so-called Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system, which delivers great launches and perfect grip for hard cornering.

Oddly enough, buyers can choose between a six-speed manual and a new CVT, which features a planetary center gear for adjustable torque distribution instead of a viscous center differential with an even torque split for the manual.

The CVT and manual transmission versions come with open differentials at the front and rear axle, so the WRX employs torque vectoring through braking, but it still handles better than all its predecessors.

Even though it's the only AWD compact model on this list and has a reasonable amount of power, the 2024 Subaru WRX probably outshines other cars thanks to its bang-for-buck ratio, since it has a starting price of just $32,735 for the base version.

With five seats and a 12.5 cu-ft (354 liters) trunk volume, not to mention the AWD system, practicality is pretty good too.

Hyundai Elantra N - $32,900 MSRP

Hyundai Elantra N
Photo: Hyundai
Still based on the pre-facelift Hyundai Elantra in the U.S., the high-powered N version is every bit of a hooligan as its other similarly named brethren from the Hyundai stable.

Being a compact sedan, it merges all the practical characteristics of the standard car with the added performance of a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder that delivers a hefty 276 HP and 289 lb-ft (392 Nm) of torque.

All that oomph is sent to the front wheels via a standard six-speed manual transmission, but buyers can also opt for a highly responsive eight-speed dual-clutch, which also makes the Elantra N accelerate quicker.

As one of the most thrilling compact sedans on the market, the model delivers a driving experience that punches well above its segment despite starting at a measly $32,900. Even though Hyundai has revealed a facelifted Elantra N for 2024, the carmaker still hasn't released pricing for that version, but it is expected to remain in the same 33k ballpark.

Never mind the aggressive exterior with front and rear fascias that seem to have been designed with a scalpel, but the dual exhaust tips not only look the part but also produce a sound that might even be illegal in some parts of the U.S. straight from the factory.

As with other N-branded Hyundai models, the coveted letter stands for Nurburgring, where most of their development has taken place.

Mazda3 2.5 Turbo - $32,950 MSRP

Hyundai Elantra N
Photo: Mazda
In the dying world of hot hatches, where the ordinary used to outnumber the extraordinary often until hyper hatches like the Mercedes-AMG A 45 or the Audi RS3 arrived, the Mazda3 2.5 Turbo emerges as a beacon of hope for those who still hold a candle for the art of driving and not paying supercar money for it.

While not exactly a hot hatch in the traditional sense, but more like a warm one, the Mazda3's top spec makes it the most powerful compact car in the U.S. without going all-out road racer. Its 2.5-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder makes a whooping 250 HP and 320 lb-ft (434 Nm) torque with the right persuasion of premium fuel, more than the latest Volkswagen Golf GTI makes.

Keep in mind this is not just power for the sake of power, as all that oomph is delivered to all four wheels thanks to Mazda's i-Active AWD system. Sure, it doesn't have a drift mode, and it doesn't lunge from a dig like a greyhound at the sound of the starting gun, but it can keep up with real hot hatches while offering the most comfort and luxury this side of a premium German compact.

In the same fashion as other Mazda products in recent years, the 2.5 Turbo version of the Mazda3 doesn't shout its intentions. Instead, the Kodo design language keeps things simple, and the model looks like it smirks with subtle aggression at most.

Inside, the story continues with an interior that wouldn't look out of place in a car that costs twice as the $32,950 starting price for the feisty little hatchback.

Unlike a hardcore sportscar, the Mazda3 2.5 Turbo understands life's practicalities and comes with a suspension that doesn't punish its occupants. Yes, it's not the most spacious hatchback on the market, especially regarding the rear passenger room, but the rear hatch hides 20.1 cu-ft (570 liters) of luggage space.

Toyota GR Corolla - $36,500 MSRP

Toyota GR Corolla
Photo: Toyota
Primarily tailored for the North American market, the Toyota GR Corolla was designed as a consolation prize for the region since it is, in many ways, the mechanical counterpart to the rally-inspired GR Yaris, which is not available in the United States.

The opposite is also true, as the GR Corrola is not available in Europe, for example, and it will never be, according to Toyota. Despite being based on entirely different platforms and sold in different markets outside of the land of the rising sun, both the GR Yaris and GR Corolla are built in the same Motomachi plant in Japan.

If that plant's name sounds familiar, it's because that is where the mind-blowingly sounding Lexus LFA supercar was born over a decade ago. Not built on traditional assembly lines but in separate cells, like racing cars, the GR Corollas and GR Yarises mingle together before taking flight to their respective markets.

Compared to its mass-produced brethren, the GR version of the Corolla's bodyshell is reinforced with nine extra feet (almost three meters) of adhesive and 349 additional spot welds. All that rigidity comes in handy when trying to put 300 horsepower and 273 lb-ft (370 Nm) of torque to the ground in an efficient manner.

All that oomph is there thanks to a 1.6-liter, turbocharged 3-cylinder, the smallest engine on this list but also one of the most powerful. The extra 30-odd horsepower over a similar unit in the GR Yaris apparently comes from the larger model's three-pipe exhaust, which provides a lot less back pressure.

Thankfully, the GR Corrolla also shares its innovative and motorsport-inspired all-wheel-drive system with the GR Yaris, which can vary the front-to-rear torque bias from 60:40 to 50:50 and even 30:70, depending on the chosen driving mode.

Speaking of which, the base Toyota GR Corolla Core version comes with open front and rear differentials, but you can get them replaced with Torsen limited-slip diffs if you fork out the extra $8,360 for the Circuit edition.

That rally-inspired wide-body isn't hiding a cramped interior for a family of five, and the 17.8 cu-ft (504 liters) of luggage space is more than ample.

Honorable Mentions:

I'll probably get a lot of flak for not including the following two models on the list above, especially since both are among the poster children of performance and practicality in a compact and not-that-expensive package. Sadly, that last part is no longer true for neither of them, bring their overall score down.

Honda Civic Type R - $44,795 MSRP

Honda Civic Type R
Photo: Honda
The latest Honda Civic Type R is the fastest, most powerful Honda vehicle ever offered in the U.S., no mean feat considering we're still talking about a compact hatchback.

As a mechanical twin to the Acura Integra Type S, only with five less horsepower, the latest Type R is the quickest front-wheel-drive hatch on the Nurburgring and is likely every boy racer's fever dream, with the performance to back up the racing looks.

The only reason it's not part of the main list is that it provides a lot fewer comfort features than the Acura Type S for not as few dollars as you'd expect. In fact, it's the most expensive non-premium FWD car in the U.S.

Volkswagen Golf R - $45,665 MSRP

Volkswagen Golf R
Photo: Volkswagen
Possibly the last generation of the Golf R powered exclusively by an internal combustion engine, the model is already getting a bit long in the tooth in the U.S. and is expected to receive a mid-cycle facelift in 2024.

Mechanically speaking, it's not much different than the Mk7 Golf R, albeit the all-wheel-drive system has received upgrades, including the addition of a torque-vectoring rear differential. Moreover, the Dynamic Chassis Control system was enhanced to integrate with a so-called Vehicle Dynamics Manager, introducing a Drift Mode feature that works a bit wonkier than that of preceding models with a similar system, like the Ford Focus RS or the Mercedes-AMG A 45.

All in all, with 315 HP and 295 lb-ft (400 Nm) of torque, the hyperhatch from VW is nothing to scoff at, especially since it comes as standard with all-wheel-drive and a lot of driver-focused elements without losing the traditional Golf practicality. That said, with a starting price of $45,665 for the base version, it's not exactly a best-buy among its peers.
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About the author: Alex Oagana
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Alex handled his first real steering wheel at the age of five (on a field) and started practicing "Scandinavian Flicks" at 14 (on non-public gravel roads). Following his time at the University of Journalism, he landed his first real job at the local franchise of Top Gear magazine a few years before Mircea (Panait). Not long after, Alex entered the New Media realm with the project.
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