10 Best Fun MPG Cars for Under $35,000

Gas here in North Carolina, at least at the beach, is well over 4.27 a gallon for premium. That sucks for a lot of people. I love sports cars, and I love to drive spirited at times. But these days if you drive too spirited you’re just hurting your wallet at the pump a few minutes later. So what do you do if you want something fun, sporty, luxurious, but still easy at the pump? Well, you could possibly try and buy one of the 10 cars I say you should buy. They are in no particular order, so just read the info that I have for you. I included only cars that could have options on them and still cost less than $35,000. As much as I would have loved to include my favorite 135i, it bases out at $34,900. Some people will buy the base model, but you still have to include the documentation fees along with taxes and tags that would put the car well over 35 grand…

BMW 128i: The quintessential small RWD coupe. If you can’t have the 135i, there is nothing wrong with the 128i. Some may see it as the bastard younger brother, but it really isn’t. The 3.0L I-6 is just as crisp. The power is a modest 230hp and 200lb-ft of torque, you can get to 60 in a BMW established time of 6.1s. Expect a roughly 5.8s time once you actually drive the car (BMW says a 5.3s time for the 135i while most get it to 4.7-4.9s). As you know the automakers tend to dumb down their performance numbers for obvious reasons. That’s pretty damn good for a $28,600 coupe. You can always spring for the 128i convertible at $33,600 and still get 18/28. Expect the coupe to get a modest 20/30. Who are you calling bastard child, now?

BMW 328i: So you like something a bit larger and with a bit more room for the family, your dogs, or you just like a bit more space. That’s fine. The 328i has the same subtle, yet energetic, 230hp I-6 as the 128i. And for just $32,700 you too can have a 0-60 time of 6.1s and the sportiness and luxuries most cars don’t provide at $40,000. You can’t go wrong here, not even with gas mileage. On BMW’s website it states 18/28, but I wouldn’t take that too seriously. That’s what my old 330i said on the window sticker and I was still getting over 30mpg on the highway. Don’t forget to keep the standard manual transmission and check the Sport Package box when building this one. A 328i Sport lives to never disappoint, let me tell you that. I’ll take this car over a Cadillac CTS any time of day. Cheaper, faster, more fun and just a tad smaller. It’s The Ultimate Driving Machine for the ultimate price.

Mini Cooper/Cooper S: One of my all-time favorite cars. I’m sure most of you read my article about smaller being bigger these days. The Mini Cooper has always had me star struck. I love driving one every time I get the chance. And their gas mileage is brilliant. You can pick up a Mini Cooper for a nice base price of just $19,200, or you can opt for the more potent, and my personal favorite, the Mini Cooper S at $22,600. Not much of a price hike, but be careful, the options list is long and can get expensive. You can also opt for a convertible Cooper at the same price as an S coupe, or you can get an S converible at $26,050. The Mini Cooper gets an estimated 28mpg city and 37 on the highway, while the Cooper S gets 26 in the city and 34mpg on the highway. The converibles, however, do a tad worse at 23/32 and 21/29, respectively. Hardly a gas guzzler any way that you choose it. Car and Driver even tests the Mini Cooper S at a spright 6.2s to 60.

Honda Civic Si Coupe/Sedan: Priced at a meager 21,110 (coupe) and 21,310 (sedan) dollars, the Honda Civic Si is a dream joy ride. The Civic has been a cult classic for the last decade with the Fast and the Furious crowd. The Si will thrust its tiny frame to 60 in just 6.7s with its 2.0L 4-Cylinder 197hp/139lb-ft of torque motor. The Civic is rather roomy inside. I have driven a couple to know that for a small FWDer, they are kind of fun. I have never driven the Si, I’ve wanted to, but I’ve kind of been afraid to appear in the FnF crowd. The body lines and sculptings are rather modest, though. And the car doesn’t represent something that would be an eye for the police to look for on a friday night street-racing bust. I still like the abilities of the car and the fact that it can return 21/29 city and highway mileage, all while having a 6-spd manual transmission and a Limited-Slip Differential. I say, go check this one out. It could be a winner for you.

Mazda Mazdaspeed 3: This is a car that holds a special spot in my heart. I am selling my Mazdaspeed 6, and I used to work for Mazda, so the MS3 is a great car to me. I’ve driven this car numerous times and love it! It is so quick in a mind blowing way. It really serves up the sports car feel for so little money. You can pick an MS3 up for $23,310 base. I was driving by my old dealership today and saw a fully-equipped MS3 with leather and navigation and all for just $28K. All this and it does a 0-60 of 5.4s, and a 1/4 mile time of 14.0s. The strong 2.3L Turbo-4 with 263hp and 280lb-ft of torque will still return a decent 18/26. Expect the city mileage to be better the better you drive it. Still, even with the ‘decent’ city gas mileage, the Mazdaspeed 3 will always reward those who truly appreciate it and drive it for what it is. Also, don’t call it a 3 Mazdaspeed, or a Mazda Speed 3… It’s a Mazda Mazdaspeed 3, Mazdaspeed 3, or just MS3 for short. The Mazdaspeed crowd gets rather annoyed when you call it the wrong name.

Acura TSX: One of the all time best small luxury sport sedans. You can get a TSX for $28,960 and get 20mpg city and 28mpg highway. That’s rather impressive for a car weighing almost 3400lbs and only having 201hp and 172lb-ft of torque from a 2.4L Inline-4. not to 60 takes just 6.7s according to Car and Driver, and the car handles with ease and swiftness, just like the old one. The all-new design for 2009 has raised a few eyebrows, and while it may not be as visually soft and emotional as the first generation TSX, this new TSX is no slouch or soft car visually. Once you see one in person you will realize that it’s as beautiful as it was. It is a bit more drastic now in its design theme, but I don’t think it really loses much from the original, if anything. Overall, this is a pretty damn good sequel.

Volkswagen GTI MK V: 6.2s 0-60, $22,800, 21/29 mpg city/highway, 2 , 200hp and 207lb-ft of torque. Oh, ya, and I almost forgot, it’s German. It drives like a baby monster. For a small front-wheel drive VW the GTI handles and feels so right. It costs 200 dollars more than the Mini Cooper S, has the same performance and is a tad bigger. Where can you go wrong? The old-school and/or hardcore hatchback people will know what this car is all about. It’s been around for years and its just as much of a classic as the Mini and the Civic Si.

Volkswagen R32: Basically the GTI with more power and an AWD system. Some would say its the cross between the Audi TT and the GTI, says Car and Driver. A 5.5 second 0-60 makes this backroad screamer a hoot and something special to drive. A totally base model will run you $32,990. That’s a bit pricey, but in all reality you get that much car. The 3.2L V6 puts out 250hp and 236lb-ft of torque. Remember, the R32 is a limited production car. And just like every other VW and Audi, the interior is beautiful. It is made of materials that look richer than they are. Not that it’s decieving, it’s quality is second to none on the inside. Don’t forget the 18/23 gas mileage. Not bad. I’ll bet you can get that highway mileage higher, though.

Nissan 350Z: Arguably the most sports car like of all the vehicles here. It is also the only 2-seater. That’s okay, it is better that way. With a coupe 0-60 of 5.2s, it’s the fastest car on this list, hands down. If you are looking to get a 350Z for under $35K you have 3 different choices. You can opt for the absolute base, known as just the 350Z for $$28,510, you can go for the Enthusiast edition starting from $30,210, which you can get in a convertible and standard with an LSD, or you can get the Touring edition at $33,340. Each one comes with a few more options than the prior for the extra price. With 18/25mpg, which I’ve seen far better, it’s a true sports car that lets you drive for cheap. I used to love driving my buddy Tom’s 350Z that he had. They are so fun and so willing. They are a constant thrill. There is no doubt that for the money, there really isn’t a better 2-seat sports car out there, even used ones.

Audi A4 2.0T Quattro: Now we come to the last car. It’s so new you can’t even find a 0-60 time from the magazines. That’s okay. It’s roughly the same engine that’s in the VW GTI. That makes this one good for 200hp and 207lb-ft of torque from its 2.0 Turbo 4-cylinder, just the same ast hte GTI. Audi estimates a 20/28 (20/31 for the FWD) city/highway gas sipper. They also say it takes 7.3s to get to 60. That is probably cut down to about 6.5s. I also picked the all-wheel drive model. Why have the FWD when you can get the AWD for just $31,000? The A4 Turbo has always been a fun and inspiring car to drive and fool around with. The car is so comfortable, too. Audi gives new meaning to premium luxury at a fraction of the cost. The materials that are used in this car are nothing short of fantastic! As soon as you get behind the wheel you love where you are. Sure, it may not be as sporty as the BMW 328i, but it’s got its special moments. Give it a try and you won’t regret ever getting into it. Hell, you may never get out.

All of these cars are great in their own way. I would own each and every one for different reasons. I still can’t help the fact that I wanted to include the 135i in this comparison. So, if you really wanted one, you could always go through European Delivery and get a 135 for around 35,000 dollars, or so. That’s a steal right there.

All the love for the 135i aside, you can have these cars for great money. You can get them relatively cheap, save yourself some cash at the pump and still afford to have all of the fun that you want to. With every car, except for the BMW’s and the Audi, being FWD, I would say you should have no problem in the iffey weather in the mid-west, north-east and north-west. The Audi that I chose has AWD, and we all know that Audi has one of the best all-wheel drive systems in the world, so naturally it’s great for almost anything. The BMW’s, even though they are rear-wheel drive, I would have no hesitations driving them in the snow. You have to remember the amount of technology that is in the traction and stability control of the RWD Bimmers these days. They can tackle that of a FWD car, while still handling better and giving back the same amount of gas mileage, if not more, depending on how you drive.

Well, I hope this has helped you decide what you should look for when going after a gas sipper but still fun and agile car. Remember, you don’t have to buy a Toyota Prius to save on gas. If you drive a Mini right you will reward yourself with similar gas mileage, no doubt.


“Happy Motoring!”

Photos taken from: BMWUSA, AudiUSA, NissanUSA, Car and Driver, Edmunds, Car and Driver, Car and Driver, Car and Driver, Car and Driver