You probably spend a lot of time driving… and what you drive could make all that time behind the wheel a lot more enjoyable. Just because you have a limited budget, or you need a car with room for the carpool, doesn’t mean you can’t have a car that’s fun to drive! Here are our top picks for cars that will put a smile on your face every day.
Tesla Model 3
People love the Model 3, and it’s no wonder—even in its base configuration it’s pretty quick, and the instant torque, lack of gears, and relative silence of the motor make it seem much faster than a comparable car with a combustion engine. Electric isn’t for everyone, but with the standard Model 3’s range of 263 miles, it’s becoming an option for a lot more people. It can still be a tough proposition if you don’t have access to a charger at home, but as Tesla’s Supercharger infrastructure rapidly increases, it’s getting easier and easier to make an EV fit your daily driving needs.
In addition to the fun and unique driving experience, the Model 3 has some cool features that will delight any tech-minded car enthusiast; it comes standard with Summon (in which your car will move forward or in reverse to allow you to get in, or with the optional Smart Summon, you can call your car to you via the app, if you’re anywhere within 200 feet of it, and it will navigate its way to you. There’s also a game—similar to Mario Kart—where you can drive a simulated course (while in park), using the wheel and pedals of the Tesla. For pet lovers, there’s ‘Dog Mode’, where you can set the climate control system to run and keep your best friend comfortable and safe, even when you’ve parked and locked the car.
If you need a utility vehicle, the Q5 has enough power and agile handling to make mountain roads or just running errands around town lots of fun. If you can find an SQ5 that fits within your budget, the extra features of that trim level bring it to a level of sportiness that you don’t normally associate with a car that can carry the whole family, and dogs or bikes.
Another SUV/crossover that’s practical yet surprisingly fun to drive is the CX-5. This model has been wildly popular for several years now, and it does a lot of things well. Optional all wheel drive makes it very capable in the snow, and its precise handling and responsive throttle will have you smiling through the curves.You can find a relatively recent one (2015 or 2016) for $15k—give or take, depending on miles and options—and its reliable reputation and reasonable maintenance costs are all the more reason to check out the CX-5.
The 3-series is one of the most enduring sporty cars of all time. It’s seen a lot of iterations, and has undergone some significant styling changes, but in its 45-year history it’s always been considered fun, and a driver’s car. A 3-series from any era is going to be sporty, with lively handling and ample power. The E46 generation (produced from 1999 to 2006) is one of the most popular variants among enthusiasts. You can easily find one in good condition for under $10,000. If you want to go newer, you can score a more recent (2012-2016) 3-series for anywhere from $12,000-20,000, depending on mileage, year, and options.
Mini (any model)
They look like they’d be extremely fun to drive, and they absolutely are. Especially if you opt for the manual transmission, all of your Italian Job driving fantasies are within reach at all times. The Cooper’s small size makes it particularly adept at fitting into small parking spots that other cars have to pass by.
If scarce street parking isn’t a concern, the Countryman or Clubman are still a lot of fun, but can comfortably carry more passengers and cargo.
The level of quality is unexpectedly good, and the interior has an appealing retro style and a feel that would not seem out of place in a much higher-priced car.
If you have a penchant for sports cars, it’s hard to beat a 911. The older, air-cooled models have become quite trendy and collectible, so prices are high. And newer ones tend to hold their value, since the current base 911 starts at a cool $100k. But in between, there’s the 996 (that’s the internal model designation for the 911 produced from 1999 to 2004). The first water-cooled Carrera is a little controversial for its styling—especially the ‘fried-egg’ headlights. But it’s still a 911, and it’s got all the performance that goes along with that. A relatively low-mileage example can be found in the mid $20k-range.
Fiat 500 Abarth
These unusual-looking cars can be polarizing, style-wise—you probably either love it or think it’s the ugliest thing on four wheels. But just about everyone who’s driven one can agree: these things are a blast!
Powered by a turbocharged 4 cylinder, the Abarth makes 160 horsepower, and while it’s not an overly fast car, it has a lot of enhancements (like a sport-tuned suspension, tweaked power steering, and a throaty exhaust note) make it feel exceptionally sporty. It’s got a style and a feel all its own, and definitely worth driving if you’re looking for relatively cheap thrills—an Abarth can be found, depending on year, for $5-15k.