Picture this: you’re taking your peaceful, comfortable ride to work in the morning, thinking about the day ahead. Suddenly, a faint, high-revving roar creeps into the cabin of your car. Pretty soon, the sound is deafening, demanding your attention. Before you can turn around, a red Ferrari whips past your car with a guttural Italian scream, standing the hairs on the back of your neck straight up.
You immediately imagine the feeling, the driver-machine connection that must go into one of those automobiles. You picture yourself cruising the backroads of Modena. No polizei. No speed limits. And then you picture the Ferrari’s $300k plus price tag.
Yes, we’ve all experienced reality setting in. Yes, most of us can’t, and never will be able to, own a supercar of Ferrari’s caliber. But that simply begs the question: Why does it have to be a Ferrari? Why can’t we have a blast in a cheaper, more practical package? Why can’t we carve up the world’s most challenging roads in a bargain sports car?
Well, the short answer is, we can.
2013 Subaru BRZ
Okay, it’s not as sexy as the Pininfarina-styled Ferrari, but the 2013 Subaru BRZ represents just about the most fun you can have in any car under $26,000. Don’t be fooled by its seemingly modest statistics; its 201-hp boxer 4-cylinder delivers plenty of punch for its size, and those skinny 215/45 tires provide gobs of traction for endless track shenanigans.
The winning point on the new BRZ is definitely its handling. A curb weight of a mere 2,762 pounds (with the manual transmission) means that the BRZ simply begs to be thrown around a corner at speed. And an advanced independent 4-wheel suspension system makes this car ride like a true sports car, not some soft Porsche knock-off.
Ferrari killer? Well, I’m not so sure. But critics nationwide have likened the BRZ’s telepathic handling to that of the storied 911, and at about a quarter of the Porsche’s sticker price, this is a must-see for any driver who needs to add a little fun to their daily routine.
2013 Nissan 370z NISMO
The latest in Nissan’s storied “Z-car” lineup, the 370z NISMO basically is a cheaper, more track-ready version of Infiniti’s already impressive G37. The 3.7-liter V6 sees an upgrade to 350 hp, but, most importantly, the NISMO package provides some great track goodies; the oversized wing on the rear provides massive downforce at high speed, the front fascia sees a lower, more aggressive design than on the standard 370z, and suspension stiffens up over the standard car.
What may be most surprising on the 370z is its under $42,000 price tag. For a car that competes in track competency with the BMW 1 series M and Audi TT RS, the Nissan is an absolute bargain. This supple, absolutely thrilling car, however, comes with a few drawbacks; if you want to fit anything other than people in the car, good luck. And rear visibility is so poor that you may have to stick your head out the window to back up, just like in the Lamborghini Countach.
But for someone looking for absolute driving pleasure and an intoxicating exhaust note, none of this should really matter.
2013 Ford Mustang Boss 302
With four seats that are much more usable than the Subaru’s, the Boss 302 may be the most practical fun car here. The car represents a throwback to the Boss 302 of the late 1960′s, and it simply screams American muscle. The GT’s 5.0 V8 coyote engine carries over to the Boss, but now makes an astounding 444 horsepower with a tweaked intake system. A delightful six-speed manual (with a cue ball-inspired shifter) takes the driver right back to the golden age of horsepower, engine growls, and burning rubber that this car was born in.
Boasting an M3-beating time at the Laguna Seca raceway, this car is all about putting a smile on the driver’s face. The car rumbles to a start and sends shivers down your spine before the coyote engine howls up to 6,000 RPM on straightaways. Ford’s track apps also speak to the enthusiast audience for the 302, recording vital stats such as 0-60 times and lateral g-acceleration for the meticulous driver. Most impressive, this car is very usable on a daily basis. You can seat an adult in the passenger seat and a child in the back, all while having decent trunk space for suitcases or golf bags.
And did I mention its $42,000 base price?
Here is a TFLcar video review of the Mustang GT:
2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Clearly, no article with the words “fun” and “drive” in the title would be complete without mentioning the famous Miata. A small, sporty little car that now has a cult following, the Miata is not a machine centered around pure performance, as the Boss 302 is. Rather, this car is appreciated by those who can’t resist throwing around a car that seems to have rails in place of wheels.
On that note, the Miata is heralded as one of the best handling vehicles of all time, understandable because of its hydraulic steering and 2,447 pound curb weight. Its meager 2.0-liter 4-cylinder producing a unimpressive 167 horsepower is no concern, since occupants are too busy being thrown around the cabin or enjoying the drop-top motoring. Unlike the Ford, the Miata takes a stripped-down, minimalist approach to the sports car. A simple six-speed manual captures the driver in the driving experience, and a sparse, no-nonsense interior keeps weight down while reminding the driver that this is an enthusiast’s car. For around $23,000, there are few other cars that can compete with the Miata.
The Bottom Line
Though clearly not comparable to the Ferrari in prestige or style, for the true driver, for the enthusiast who wants to be floored by the sheer joy of driving a vehicle, these cars represent the best alternatives available on today’s auto market. In reality, who wants to shell out nearly $300,000 for a car that will only be expensive to repair and maintain? The reign of the uber-expensive supercar is out; long live the discount sports car!
Frank caught automotive fever early in life. Hailing from a long line of car fanatics, Frank was able to recite the year and model of every car that passed him by age five. His passion and love for the automobile have only grown since then. When not thinking about cars, he is reading, writing, learning, or dreaming about them. His area of expertise comes in the realm of German and Italian cars, of which Porsche is a favorite. Frank currently resides in the heart of NASCAR country in Charlotte, North Carolina, with his family. He thoroughly enjoys driving exotic cars in the beautiful Carolina weather.