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$35K Sports Car Shootout: BRZ tS vs. Civic Si vs. Elantra N vs. MX-5 Miata

What's the best new performance car you can buy for less than $35,000?

Performance Cars Under $35,000: Subaru BRZ, Hyundai Elantra N,Hyundai, Mazda Miata, Honda Civic Si
  • We want to know: What's the best brand-new performance car you can buy for around $35,000?
  • To find out, we hit our test track in the Honda Civic Si, Hyundai Elantra N, Mazda MX-5 Miata and Subaru BRZ.
  • After accleration, autocross and handling tests, there's one clear winner. Read on to see which budget sports car is best.

It's true: Cars are super stinkin' expensive these days, with the average new vehicle transaction price hovering right around $50,000. But fear not, budget-minded shopper, there are still quite a few ways to get your kicks without breaking the bank. Which leads us to the question: What's the best new sports car you can get for less than $35,000?

To find out, we've lined up four of our favorites: the Honda Civic Si, Hyundai Elantra N, Mazda MX-5 Miata and Subaru BRZ. That's right, we've got front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, coupes, sedans and convertibles here for the pickin'. All of them deliver cheap thrills in their own special ways, but after a day at our test track, one car stands out above the rest.

The contenders

We'll start with the least expensive of the bunch: the 2024 Mazda MX-5 Miata, which comes in at a base price of $30,150 (including destination). Of course, that's for the soft-top Sport model; the version we're testing is the $41,375 Miata Club RF. We're letting it slide, though, since the RF is mechanically identical to its soft-top sibling, and you can get an MX-5 Miata Club roadster for less than $35,000.

Some say "the answer is always Miata," and with good reason: This is one of the most fun cars out there. Its 2.0-liter naturally aspirated inline-four might only make 181 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque, but this flickable little sports car sure knows how to use it, with a slick six-speed manual transmission, rear-wheel drive, and an almost hilarious amount of body roll that gives you a great sense of speed.

Next up is the other rear-wheel-drive contender: Subaru's charming little BRZ. Sure, we could've included its brother from another mother, the Toyota GR86, but inviting Subie to this competition meant we could dig into the BRZ's new tS trim, which adds a few small tweaks for an overall better car.

2024 Subaru BRZ tS front three-quarter

Photo by Ryan Greger

Pricing for the 2024 Subaru BRZ starts at $31,315 including destination, and the tS squeaks in just above our $35K threshold at $36,465.

Slotting just below the BRZ at a base price of $30,195 including destination, the Honda Civic Si offers a nice little dollop of performance in an otherwise well-to-do package. We adore the new Honda Civic, and the Si is no different. Its 1.5-liter turbocharged inline-four is relatively peppy, with 200 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque, and Honda's six-speed manual is one of our favorite transmissions.

But there's a downside: The Civic Si is the only car here that does not come with summer tires from the factory. Honda used to offer these grippier performance tires at a pretty affordable price, but those days are gone. That'll no doubt put the Civic Si at a disadvantage compared to its rivals; you'll have to watch the video to find out.

2024 Honda Civic Si sedan rear three-quarter

Photo by Ryan Greger

Lastly, we've got the Hyundai Elantra N. No, it's not the updated, face-lifted Elantra N, but Hyundai was unable to provide one at the time of our testing, so we settled for a 2023 model, which is pretty much the same as the 2024 version — just a touch uglier. (Seriously, this is not a pretty car.)

The Elantra N punches big with a 2.0-liter turbo I4 engine making 276 hp and 289 lb-ft of torque, and while a dual-clutch automatic transmission is available, we opted to test one with the six-speed stick. Naturally.

The tests

We're judging these four cars in three main areas: acceleration, autocross and overall handling. We'll run 'em down our 0-to-60-mph straightaway, then put them on a timed cone course, and finally, hit the track to see which one just, you know, feels best.

2024 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF front three-quarter

Photo by Ryan Greger

What did we learn from the 0-to-60 test? Well, that these cars are more evenly stacked than you might think. At least, three of them are, with the Hyundai Elantra N, Mazda MX-5 Miata and Subaru BRZ tS all ripping off an identical 6.4-second acceleration time. The Civic Si trailed this trio, and it wasn't even close: Honda's sedan recorded a 7.7-second 0-to-60 run. Ouch.

Now, to the autocross, where once again, the Hyundai, Mazda and Subaru were pretty much neck and neck (and neck). Driven around the same cone course by our director of vehicle testing, the Elantra N had a time of 45.91 seconds, the BRZ came in second at 46.22 seconds and the Miata finished third at 46.66 seconds. The Honda Civic Si needed a much longer time to complete the same course: 49.37 seconds. We have to wonder how much quicker it'd have been with summer tires instead of lousy all-seasons.

Going into the handling section, this puts the Elantra N at the top of our leaderboard, but only just. Around our test track, all four cars offer plenty of fun, and there isn't a dud among 'em. We appreciate the BRZ's awesome balance of playful handling with quick reflexes, the Miata never ceases to make us smile, the Elantra N is so freakin' hilariously rowdy and the Civic Si is the sort of sports car you could truly live with every single day, thanks to its easygoing demeanor and precise manual gearbox.

2023 Hyundai Elantra N rear three-quarter

Photo by Ryan Greger

The winner

There's just something about the Elantra N. It's not the sheer wallop of power, or the advantage that gives this Hyundai over its rivals. The Elantra N is simply the most engaging, most exciting car of the bunch. It's the one that, when the formal tests were over, we all wanted to take for hot laps again and again. No other car packs this much effervescence into a $35K package. We bet it could even hold its own against a more expensive crop of performance cars — but that's another comparison test for another day.