Cars that break the 200 mph mark or cost seven figures can be jaw-dropping to both the eye and pocket book, but for most normal folks, a balance of utility and fun must be struck. Below is a collection of vehicles that prove practicality and performance are not necessarily mutually exclusive concepts.
1. 2009 MazdaSpeed3
For some reason, the MazdaSpeed3 slips under many people’s radars when thinking about seriously fast and still inexpensive cars. Depending on who you believe, this hatchback will reach 60 mph in as little as 5.4 seconds, and definitely under 6. The value of the MazdaSpeed3 starts with its highly-attainable base price of $23,410, and continues with its 2.3-liter engine that produces 263 horses and 280 lbs of torque while still providing 26 mpg on the highway. Other goodies include a sport-tuned suspension and brakes.
2. 2009 Subaru Impreza WRX Sedan
If shopping for a new “Sube” it’s tough not to step up to the WRX STi when it is tempting you with its 300+ horses and Rally-injected credentials. But for the money, the tamer WRX delivers much of the same performance for a fraction of the cost. Starting at just a hair over $25-grand, the WRX arrives at 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, about a second faster than last year’s model. While it lacks 40 horses from the STi, its 2.5 cylinder boxer still creates 265 horses and 244 lbs torque while being $10,000 cheaper. As with all Subaru’s, the biggest upside with the WRX may be the Symmetrical AWD.
3. 2009 Dodge Caliber SRT-4
Those that lament the passing of the Neon from the Dodge landscape need to give the Caliber SRT-4 a chance. Not only does it get up to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds, but its turbocharged engine produces 285 horsepower. Plus, unlike the Neon SRT-4, the Caliber has the added utility of a hatchback and available all-wheel-drive. Starting at $25,470, the Caliber SRT-4 is also the right price.
4. 2009 Volkswagen GTI
Surely the winner of the longevity award when it comes to pocket rockets, the 2009 Volkswagen GTI’s ability to go from 0 to 60 mph in just 6 seconds is even more impressive given it’s affordability with a price starting at $23,230. While 200 horsepower may fail to impress in comparison to others in this list, the GTI is famous for providing a large list of standard options, where other companies nickel and dime for every accessory. Despite its fleetness to 60 mph, fuel economy is still over 30 mpg on the highway.
5. 2009 MINI Cooper S
Although MINI Coopers are becoming a dime a dozen on the road, with a “boot” full of options and customization, any potential owner can tweak their MINI to reflect their individuality. For less than $23,000 you can get into a MINI that will reward you not only with a stylish and fuel efficient ride that is capable of 34 mpg on the highway, but a decent turbocharged 172 horsepower that will get up to a top speed of 139 mph. In terms of the fun factor, the MINI Cooper S is about as good as it gets for the money.
6. 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt SS
Chevrolet gets slammed often and thoroughly in automotive circles, mostly for transgressions of the past. But despite the nagging reluctance to accept the Cobalt as a real contender, in “SS” form and with a sticker of around $24,000 it deserves at least mentioning with the rest of these cars. It also comes in both coupe and sedan version offering a little more function for those that can’t manage with just two doors. The turbocharged 2.0 liter engine it shares with the Solstice GXP and Saturn Sky Line is both powerful (260 hp) and fast (0-60 in less than 6 seconds). It also still provides 30 mpg on the highway. Now if they can just get people to buy it.
7. 2009 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS CVT
Despite years of struggling to make an impact in America as Japan’s Fifth biggest automaker, Mitsubishi maintained a focus on providing highly technical (and fun) vehicles to the world. The payoff is cars like the Lancer GTS which shuffles to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds. No it isn’t a Lancer Ralliart or Evo. But those two cars start at over 25 and 33-grand. Even with Variable Valve Timing, stability and traction control, and every other electronic option offered, the Lancer GTS CVT comes in around $23,500. Plus, it has many of the same angular, aggressive lines of the EVO that should be appealing to many buyers who can’t afford its more expensive siblings.
8. 2009 Volvo C30 T5
Volvo followers have been faithful to the brand for decades because of its legendary durability and safety that is the hallmark of the Swedish car maker. With the diminutive C30 they also have an inexpensive model that starts at $24,000 and proof that the companies tank-like toughness can also produce a car that is youthful and a blast to drive. Powering the small hatchback is a turbocharged five cylinder engine that propels the C30 to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds. Best of all? It’s a Volvo.
9. 2009 Honda Civic Si
Arriving in 6.7 seconds (though some report even quicker times), the Honda Civic Si Coupe is almost three seconds faster to 60 mph than the standard Civic coupe, which in automotive terms is a lifetime. Starting at $21,905 the Si not only comes with the newest generation of Honda’s endlessly tunable engines that produces 197 horses, but also receives sport exhaust, rear spoiler and 17-nch wheels. In terms of affordable and attractive coupes, the Si is easily one of the best.
10. 2008 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V
For those that need four doors and don’t care for hatchbacks, the Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V provides comparable performance to more traditionally popular cars in this group. It has a high output version of the Sentra’s 2.3 Liter engine that produces an even 200 horsepower and hauls to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds. With a standard six speed, tuned suspension, larger brakes, and Helical Limited Differential, the Sentra SE-R Spec V offers huge value with a base price of $21,160.