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If summer and fine weather has you wanting to enjoy a nice drive along some curvy and picturesque roads or set out on a weekend road trip, you don’t have to break the bank to do so. Here are some of the best fun to drive Summer cars for any budget.
1. Mazda MX-5 Miata
The Mazda MX-5 Miata has been practically synonymous with fun-to-drive car since it first came out in 1990. Wisely, Mazda left well enough alone and hasn’t tampered with the Miata’s winning formula much. Each successive generation, from the first generation NA with its pop-up headlamps, to the current ND with its minimalist styling and ultra economical Skyactiv motor, has bundled in minor improvements and evolutionary updates.
Amazingly, the current generation Mazda Miata weighs about the same as the 1990 original while meeting all modern safety and weatherproofing requirements. With a quarter century of cars available to choose from, there’s a Miata for almost any summer car budget. You can find a well-cared for NA or NB for well under $10,000, while the newest “club” and “grand touring” models as well as the all new Miata RF with its targa-like hardtop will set you back around $30,000.
A special mention goes to the limited production Mazdaspeed Miata of 2004-5. These were factory turbocharged cars with useful interior and handling upgrades to go along with their added power.
2. Chevrolet Corvette
If you like the idea of a two-seat sportscar like the Mazda Miata but crave a little bit more room and a lot more power, the Chevrolet Corvette is another perennial favorite.
America’s sports car, the Corvette has been in production since Eisenhower was president, and modern examples show a brilliant mix of tradition and cutting-edge engineering. All Corvettes made since 1997 offer outstanding performance, with even the early “C5” cars capable of a 13-second quarter mile time. These can be found used for under $15,000, while prices for the updated “C6” generation Corvette from 2005-2013 start in the high teens and go up to the mid $30,000 range for the newest examples.
If price is no object, the 2014-up Corvette Stingray is a world-class high performance car and in ZR-1 trim is among the world’s fastest production cars on a road race course.
3. Porsche Boxster
While the Porsche 911 is an undisputed sportscar icon, the 911’s younger sibling, the Porsche Boxster, is not to be overlooked when it comes to summer fun cars.
This mid-engined roadster, in production since 1997, offers a thrilling blend of top-down fun, balanced handling and sublime road feel. With its superior chassis balance and lower weight, the Boxster is often considered a better handling car than the rear-engined 911. And if you’re interested in all-out driving perfection but not so much about wind-in-the-hair, the Porsche Cayman, made since 2006, is essentially a hardtop version of the Boxster.
The Cayman has the same balanced, lightweight feel but offers a far more rigid frame and slightly more responsive handling. Early Boxsters and Caymans can be found well under $20,000 with the more desirable post-2009 models typically in the mid-$20,000 to low $30,000 range.
4. Ford Mustang
If you’re looking for a summer fun car with more than two seats, there are a range of options among sport coupes, muscle cars, pony cars and even high performance sport sedans.
The Ford Mustang tops the list for affordable four-seat summer fun. While new Mustang GTs start just over $30,000, the previous generation 2011-2014 Mustang GT still packs a screaming 5.0-liter V8 with over 400-horsepower, and sells for around $20,000 for a showroom quality example.
A slick-shifting transmission and a chassis that’s more than the sum of its parts make the Mustang GT a highly capable car on any road, not just a drag strip.
5. The “Toyobaru Twins”
While their back seats are tiny, the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 are technically 4-seat cars, and they offer a level of driving engagement and fun that’s on a par with that of a Mazda Miata or Porsche Boxster while still providing a modicum of practicality and luggage space.
Functionally nearly identical, the two cars are the result of a joint development project at Subaru and Toyota. Powered by small, high-revving flat-4 engines, the “Toyobaru twins,” as they’re often called, may not set any straight-line speed records, but their excellent handling encourages you to drive them harder and become a better driver in the process. Along with Miatas, M3s and Corvettes, the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 are a common sight at track days and HPDE events around the country. The Toyota 86 began life in 2013 as the Scion FR-S, and migrated over to the Toyota brand when Scion closed its doors earlier this year. 2013 models are becoming very affordable, with prices starting to dip below $15,000.
6. BMW M3
The BMW M3 is another top choice for summer fun cars, and has the added bonus of being somewhat practical and aesthetically presentable as well.
While you might have a great time driving a souped-up sport coupe or track-prepped Miata, your friends and significant other might not enjoy riding in one so much. The M3 is one of the rare cars that can handle track days and date nights just as well. Available as a coupe, convertible or, since the 2008 model year, as a 4-door M3 sedan, the M3 is BMW’s brand-defining product for good reason. It offers a beautiful driving experience whether you go for the current generation with its turbocharged inline-6, the previous “E90” series which came with a 4-liter V8, or the 2001-2006 “E46” generation, whose 7800-rpm inline-6 has been called the best-sounding engine in any modern car.
Even a 10-year old M3 can be durable enough to take to the track and, as long as you budget for scheduled maintenance, surprisingly affordable to buy and to run.