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Five Surprisingly Fun and Affordable Cars For Sale In America

We break down five cars that you can buy, new or used, that are more fun and more affordable than you might imagine.

As car testers, we get to drive a lot of pricey, sporty vehicles. Despite what you may take away from reviews, a number of vehicles that fit this description disappoint us in testing. They are supposed to be fun. They are. They are expected to cost a lot. They do. That could be the four-sentence review summary for a long list of cars. However, if you sift through the vehicles sold today, both new and used, some cars surprise us with how fun they are to drive and how much less they cost than might be expected. 

In hockey, there is an award for players who exceed expectations. It’s called the seventh-player award. The award goes to the team member who rose above expectations, contributed far more than their contract allowance expected, and who the fans love to watch. Based on our own testing, here is our list of the cars we found more fun and more affordable than we expected.

Honda Fit image by John Goreham#1 Honda Fit
The Honda Fit is one of the only cars that deserves to offer a trim labeled “Sport.” Let’s face it: The Fit was Honda’s entry-level car with a low price point for those who needed reliable transportation and didn't want to buy used. However, what owners of the Fit know is that it is a joy to drive. 

Honda Fit EV charging image by John Goreham

The Fit isn’t a stoplight racer. Rather, it is a point-and-shoot urban vehicle that has that special something that drivers all seek. All Fits were easy to call “good handling” cars. We say “were” because Honda opted to cut the Fit out of the U.S. market a few years back when the automakers all got together and decided that entry-level would be a subcompact crossover from now on. The Fit is the only car on our list you have to buy used. The most fun to drive Fit we ever tried was the Fit EV. 

Kia Soul EV image by John Goreham#2 Kia Soul
The Kia Soul is one of the brand’s second-least expensive models to buy and, based on our testing, one of the most enjoyable to drive. Like the Fit, the Kia Soul is a compact urban car with a fantastic greenhouse. It turns out that being able to see where you are going and what’s around you makes driving much more enjoyable. Who knew?

Ironically, the least fun Soul we ever drove was a special sporty one, while the most fun was the electric Soul. If we were shopping, we’d opt for a new mid-trim Soul. These cars can cost under $23K and provide a lot of behind-the-wheel enjoyment. 

Image of Chevy Bolt by John Goreham#3 Chevrolet Bolt
There was a time when you could buy a new Chevy Bolt in New England with no federal tax incentive for under $20K - NEW! Prices rose as the vehicle shortage hit hard, and then because the Bolt was killed off by Chevrolet, who’s least expensive EV on sale today is in the mid-$40ks.

Everyone knows the Bolt is a great city car. Heck, it may be the BEST EVER city car. However, when we drove the Bolt out of the city and into the twisty mountain roads of New Hampshire, we discovered that it was a blast to drive (fast) in that environment as well. Handling is not the same as something like a MINI Cooper, but it is fun nonetheless. And that instant rush of torque whenever you want it? Priceless. The Bolt’s time as a super-affordable fun car has come and gone. Here’s to hoping it someday returns. 

Image of Nissan Sentra by John Goreham#4 Nissan Sentra
The Sentra is the first vehicle on our list that didn't come in an EV form (yet). While most folks may think of the Sentra as a low-priced commuter car, it is much more than that. First of all, the Sentra has a legacy of being offered in special SER trims that were legit Civic Si competitors. Those were awesome cars, but we love the mainstream high-volume Sentras. 

When did our love for the Sentra start? Late February 2022. We remember the test vividly. We had just finished up testing a very, very expensive European compact sedan the same size as the Sentra. The Euro “sports sedan was - fine. Just fine. Not great, not good, not even really special in any way. Fine. The fancy dual-clutch transmission, the special turbocharged engine, and the special “this and that suspension” all conspired to display high-priced mediocrity. 

The next day, a new Sentra SR showed up with a sticker price of $21,400, which was literally half the price of the outgoing European test car. We realized it was the better vehicle from the first moment we drove it. Not only did the Sentra drive better, but it also had better reliability and safety scores than the European badge-mobile we had just tested, plus a longer warranty. 

On paper, the Sentra isn’t that impressive. Give it a try, and maybe you will see the diamond in the rough we do. 

Image of Mazda Miata by John Goreham


#5 Mazda Miata (Any Year, Any Trim)
How did a car that is well-known as a fun car make this list of cars that surprised us? The Miata comes in at number five because people who have never owned a Miata just don't believe how fantastic it really is. As we explain its long list of benefits, their eyes start to glaze over, and they say, “Ok, we get it, you liked it.” Frustrating!

Image of Mazda Miata by John GorehamThe Miata is one of the world’s best dream cars, hiding in the affordable price segment. This is a sports car with a convertible roof starting under $40K in today's wildly inflated dollars. On the used market, Miatas are not exactly cheap, but in our opinion, every one of them is underpriced. The reason is they hold value well and are utterly reliable. When they do have trouble, any mechanic can work on them using widely available, very low-cost parts. The Miata earned a spot on this list because, even though we all know it is fun and affordable, it still blows our minds when we test one and then look at the price. 

Improve Our List - Five Amazingly Fun and Affordable Cars
Our list is not complete. We debated many more models to add to this list. Maybe you can name one in our comments below and plead its case. If you own one of our five, please feel free to share your experiences. 

If you'd like to add a comment under this story, please note that our comments section has returned and is in bold red at the bottom of the page.

John Goreham is an experienced New England Motor Press Association member and expert vehicle tester. John completed an engineering program with a focus on electric vehicles, followed by two decades of work in high-tech, biopharma, and the automotive supply chain before becoming a news contributor. In addition to his eleven years of work at Torque News, John has published thousands of articles and reviews at American news outlets. He is known for offering unfiltered opinions on vehicle topics. You can connect with John on Linkedin and follow his work at our X channel. Please note that stories carrying John's by-line are never AI-generated, but he does employ Grammarly grammar and punctuation software when proofreading. 

All images by John Goreham.


Gerry (not verified)    June 3, 2024 - 5:08PM

The original Sentra SE-R was a surprise hit and boy racer that made many comparisons to the BMW 2002. It was a blast to drive and subsequent editions, like a sequel to a movie, were never the same, tamer and lacked any zip and zeal. Nissan knew it and tried to address it with later SE-R productions but the magic was washed in mediocrity.

The original Miatas went for high bidding on the black market in many colors. The pop up headlights and manual mixer made it the best Japanese version of an MG ever made. A special edition in BRG with spoke wheels and tan interior was a four-wheel time machine.