Consumers searching for the best sports car for the money want exhilarating performance and great handling dynamic, sexy good looks, comfortable seating, and lots of standard features – all at a come-hither price. There are a handful of really good sports cars available today – some would even qualify as great sports cars – and you can spend anywhere from the low $20,000s to sums approaching $60,000 and still trumpet the fact that you’ve purchased the best sports car for the money.

Given that, it’s tough to narrow the field to a hands-down winner, but we’ll take our chances and single out one:

2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata

You can’t beat the starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $22,960 for the Sport model of the 2010 MX-5 Miata. This soft-top roadster gives you wind-in-your-hair (Mazda calls it “Zoom-Zoom”) performance with the 167 hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and incredibly responsive suspension. In fact, Mazda MX-5 Miata is known for its ultra-responsive handling – both on and off the track. Lightweight body construction helps make the MX-5 Miata one of the lightest cars in its class. Mazda engineers achieved the car’s extraordinary balance by suspending it in the air to find its perfect center point. The seated driver then provides the weight necessary to achieve the car’s near-perfect 50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution.

MX-5 Miata also comes in Touring, Grand Touring, Power Retractable Hard Top (PRHT) Touring, and PRHT Grand Touring, with starting MSRPs of $25,300, $26,560, $27,000, and $28,400, respectively.

Fuel economy is right up there, too, at an EPA-estimated 22 mpg city/28 mpg highway (with standard 5-speed manual transmission on Sport) and just one mpg off city with either 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic. That’s not bad for a sports car, especially one that handles like the MX-5 Miata.

Loaded with standard and available safety features, MX-5 Miata has so much going for it that it’s hard to find fault with the sports car. So, let’s not, other than to say its trunk space is minuscule. Well, it is a sports car, after all, and all of them suffer in this dimension.

Automotive enthusiast magazines and experts sing MX-5 Miata’s praises as well. Car and Driver has named MX-5 Miata to its 10Best list for 11 consecutive years. Commenting on what makes the 2010 MX-5 special, Car and Driver says: “First, the Mazda possesses the essential qualities that separate sporting machinery from the rest of the herd: feline reflexes, crisp shifting, and surgically precise steering – traits that make a car a treat to drive on a winding back road. Second, the Miata’s pricing puts sports-car fun within economic reach of just about anyone.”

Consumer Guide remarks: “This perennial Best Buy delivers as much driving enjoyment – if not outright power – as two-seat sports cars costing thousands more. MX-5 combines open-air driving fun with surprising practicality, including a remarkably well-engineered retractable hard top. Some versions are a bit pricey, but resale values are strong.”

Edmunds comments: “The 2010 Mazda Miata retains its position as one of the all-time greatest roadsters, mixing refinement and excitement in an affordable package.”

Other contenders for Best Sports Car for the Money have to include the Chevrolet Camaro and Corvette (all iterations – this is one incredible super-performing sports car), and Ford Mustang.

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