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With gas prices through the roof, the best sports car options are those that can provide both fun and high gas mileage.
Traditionally, sports cars are usually smaller, lighter, and more athletic than ‘normal’ cars, but have a big, powerful engine in the front, middle, or rear. While this has been true for many decades – and still is with some models – the sports car has changed dramatically.
The typical sports car fifty years ago was either a small British roadster, a big American muscle car, or a properly engineered Japanese coupe. As the years went on, these types of vehicles morphed into more compromised versions of themselves. These compromises included adding more seating, a larger trunk, more equipment, and – most importantly – better fuel economy. Engines went from big V8s to supercharged V6s to turbocharged inline-4s to not only save the owner some money at the pumps but also to cut down on the manufacturer’s global emissions. Thanks to the current global political situation and the war in Eastern Europe, the price of fuel has skyrocketed from around $3.40 per gallon in February 2022 to nearly $5 per gallon in July.
This has a major influence on the decision-making process regarding buying a sports car, which means that many potential buyers will look for cars that are both fun and fuel efficient. With that in mind, here are 10 fun cars which are also frugal on fuel.
The Mazda MX-5 is one of the best sports cars out there. It is also one of the few sports cars which still follows the ethos of the traditional sport – engine in the front, drive to the rear, no roof, and not compromised by being practical. That being said, the naturally aspirated 181 hp 2.0-liter inline-4 is quite economical.
While the official figures for the MX-5 state 26 MPG in the city and 35 MPG on the highway, the manual MX-5 RF managed to surpass the claimed figures and achieve an impressive 37 MPG on the highway. This makes a combined 30 MPG entirely possible for this focused sports car.
The Honda Civic Si – while not the full-fat Type R – is a great budget sports car that has ample space and performance to make it fun. The Si is fitted with a 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder powering the front wheels via a 6-speed manual.
Thanks to the small engine, the Civic Si revs for days and returns only 27 MPG in the city and 37 MPG on the highway. This makes the car a bargain lukewarm hatchback, instead of a full-on hot one. The Civic Si is a great car with good technology and great build quality – everything one would expect from the Japanese.
The Hyundai Veloster is one of those weird cars which we cannot help but like. With a relatively unique three-door layout instead of four, the Veloster is quirky and fun. Hyundai spiced up the range even more with an N model, featuring a more powerful engine, ready to take on the VW Golf GTI.
The Veloster N is fitted with a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4, producing 275 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. All the power is sent to the front wheels only via either a 6-speed manual or an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic. While the fuel economy for the auto isn’t all that great (20 MPG city, 27 MPG highway), the manual gets around 22 MPG in the city and 28 MPG on the highway. Not bad for a quirky hot hatch.
The Alpine A110 is one of the best cars currently on sale. Built by Renault and inspired by the original A110 from the 1960s, the modern A110 is a worthy recreation of the original. It is such a good vehicle that James May even bought one of the first ones sold.
The A110 is powered by a 1.8-liter turbocharged inline-4, borrowed from the Renault Megane RS – which itself is a Nissan engine. The normal A110 produces 250 hp and 230 lb-ft of torque, mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, sending power to the rear wheels only. Thanks to the A110’s lightweight – 2,400 lbs – and aerodynamic body, it gets around a combined 33-35 MPG. Absolutely brilliant!
The Volvo S60 may not seem like a particularly fun car, but Volvo has a history of building family-orientated sports cars. The S60 Recharge, for example, is a plug-in hybrid vehicle fitted with a 2.0-liter twin-charged inline-4. It also has an 11.6 kWh battery and an electric motor on the rear axle, which sends a combined 400 hp to all four wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission.
With it being a Volvo, the car’s build quality is exemplary, and it is an extremely efficient vehicle when the hybrid system is used, returning a claimed 74 MPGe. The S60 Recharge can also be driven in electric-only mode for around 35 miles, making it extremely fuel efficient.
While new cars are specifically built to be economical, some older ones can achieve similar fuel economy ratings. One of these cars was the Honda CR-X Si. The CR-X was essentially the sportier and more aerodynamic version of the Ballade sedan.
The second-generation CR-X Si was fitted with a 1.6-liter inline-4 which featured VTEC – the second Honda to do so, just after the Integra XSi. The car produced 160 hp and was mated to a 5-speed manual, with power being sent to the front wheels. While the HF (High-Fuel-Efficiency) models were lighter on fuel, the Si still achieved around 40 MPG – mostly thanks to the VTEC and lightweight.
The Suzuki Jimny is the current iteration of the original Samurai and is the best yet. While the Jimny is available in two distinct versions – Kei-spec and Export-spec – only the Export version is available outside of Japan. Suzuki developed a brand-new 1.5-liter inline-4 engine for the Jimny, which produces 100 hp and 101 lb-ft of torque.
Unlike many cars in its class, the Jimny is fitted as standard with a 4-wheel-drive, a low-range gearbox, and fender flares. A 5-speed manual comes standard, however, a 4-speed automatic is available. The Jimny, despite its underpowered engine and brick-like aerodynamics, returns an impressive 35 MPG combined. It can also embarrass specially built off-roaders thanks to its equipment and lightness.
The Abarth 124 Spider may share a platform with the Mazda MX-5, but it is a completely different animal. Where the MX-5 has a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter, the 124 is fitted with the 1.4-liter turbo from the Fiat 500 Abarth – which sounds like a mini Lamborghini.
The Abarth 124 produces 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, sending power to the rear wheels via either a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic. The fuel economy sits at around a combined 31 MPG – not bad for a proper lightweight sports car.
The VW Golf GTI is not only one of the best sports cars currently on sale, but it’s also one of the best – offering performance, comfort, and practicality. The engine in the GTI may have debuted in 2008, but it is currently in its fourth evolution and is still going strong.
The current Golf GTI produces 241 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque, with power being sent to the front wheels only via either a 6-speed manual or a 7-speed DSG transmission. The GTI returns an acceptable 34 MPG on the highway, with city driving bringing it down to 24 MPG, resulting in a combined 28 MPG.
The Alfa Romeo 4C was the Italian marque’s attempt at making a mid-engine sports car to take on hot hatchbacks and other high-end sports cars. It was a revolutionary engineering design that featured a carbon-fiber monocoque tub, stiffening the chassis and resulting in a lightweight car.
To keep the lightness theme going, Alfa Romeo fitted the brilliant 1.75-liter turbocharged inline-4 engine into the middle of the car. The engine was tuned to 240 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, with power going through a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission to the rear wheels. Even though it is a dedicated sports car, the brilliant engineering and lightness results in a respectable 35 MPG combined.
Michael De Kock is passionate about cars and everything from avocados to particle accelerators. He has studied psychology and knows a little bit about fixing cars (old Land Rovers mostly). He also blogs and has a book, 125 Creative Writing Prompts for Petrolheads, available on Amazon. His philosophy in life: Stop the hate – Adopt a V8.
10 Fun Cars That Are Also Frugal – HotCars
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