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Thursday Throwdown: Popular Two-Seaters

In today’s Thursday Throwdown, we’re looking at two-seat sports cars and convertibles. We’re keeping them affordable, with prices starting under $30,000 and leaving luxury brands out of the mix. These low-cost two-seaters will provide the fun of small sports car without requiring the investment of your life savings.

Our top picks are chosen for their price, efficiency and on-the-road fun. These 2014 models are beginning to appear as used car and dealer demonstration vehicles now, so be sure to check our Used Car Listings to find one for yourself.

2014 Top Two-Seater Picks

Lowest Entry Price: Honda CR-Z
Best Fuel Economy: Honda CR-Z
Most Refined Overall: Nissan 370Z
Most Fun To Drive: Mazda MX-5 Miata, MINI Cooper Roadster

2014 Honda CR-Z

The Honda CR-Z is the odd man out in our lineup of two-seaters, being the only hybrid on the list and perhaps the only car in existence billed as an “affordable sports hybrid.” It is very much the only two-seat hybrid available without moving into ultra-expensive super car territory. With all of that said, the CR-Z offers sharp handling and great dynamics.

Calling the CR-Z a “sports car” is a bit of a stretch, but it does blur the line between a hybrid compact and a two-seat sports coupe. A fun little car, the Honda CR-Z does have rivals that offer more practicality than two seats would allow, but none lay claim to its fun factor as a hybrid.

[Thursday Throwdown: Most Fuel-Efficient 2014 Cars]

2014 Honda CR-Z
Base price new: $19,995
EPA mpg (city/highway): 31/38
Crash test ratings: IIHS – G/N/G/G/G, NHTSA – 4/4/3/5

2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata

One of the most popular cars on the road today, the Mazda MX-5 Miata is the world’s best-selling roadster and enjoys legions of fans globally. Although it was not crash tested for 2014, it has gotten good ratings in previous years, so we expect that to continue.

With an excellent road presence, a high fun factor and smart handling, the MX-5 may not be the fastest on the road, but it’s surely one of the most fun to drive. One caveat with the Miata is that it is definitely not for those who buy from the big and tall rack.

[Read: Best Used Car Deals for May]

2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Base price new: $23,720
EPA mpg (city/highway): 22/28
Crash test ratings: IIHS – N/A, NHTSA – N/A

2014 Mini Cooper Coupe

With the Mini line, it’s all about style and physique. The Mini Cooper Coupe has a cramped interior, but it’s festooned with fun bling and idiosyncrasies. Without the turbocharged four-cylinder of the Cooper S and John Cooper Works models, however, the Cooper Coupe’s base engine is lackluster.

Beyond its singularly British styling, the high marks of the Mini Cooper Coupe are its nimble handling and the manual transmission’s smooth clutch. The Cooper Coupe and its Roadster brother both take premium fuel, but also get excellent fuel economy for the segment.

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2014 MINI Cooper Coupe
Base price new: $21,450
EPA mpg (city/highway): 29/37
Crash test ratings: IIHS – N/A, NHTSA – N/A

2014 Mini Cooper Roadster

Like its Coupe brother, the Mini Cooper Roadster is a little underpowered with the base four-cylinder engine. Unlike the Coupe, however, that engine in the Roadster, with the top down, gives the impression of more speed and enjoyment.

The six-speed manual transmission that is standard on the Roadster is also a boon to the car’s fun factor. Its short shifts combine with the Roadster’s agility for a lot of road-going enjoyment. If you want a quiet ride, one caveat is that the Mini Cooper Roadster is a very loud car on the highway.

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2014 MINI Cooper Roadster
Base price new: $25,550
EPA mpg (city/highway): 28/35
Crash test ratings: IIHS – N/A, NHTSA – N/A

2014 Nissan 370Z

Continuing the Fairlady tradition of Z-car fun, the Nissan 370Z is the most expensive vehicle on our list here, but the base model also sports more amenities than some of the others on our list, even at their highest fitting. A 3.7-liter V6 and six-speed manual transmission are standard. Of the cars on our list, the 370Z may also be the most track-ready.

The Z is marked by its excellent six-speed manual transmission and athletic cornering. A convertible version is also available if you’re looking for top-down fun. The chief complaints we have with the Z are its high price tag and its greatly restricted rearward visibility. The 370Z is otherwise a superb choice as an affordable two-seater.

[Read: Buying vs. Leasing]

2014 Nissan 370Z
Base price new: $29,990
EPA mpg (city/highway): 18/26
Crash test ratings: IIHS – N/A, NHTSA – N/A

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