This is the year of the hot hatchback (and one sedan).
The 2022 CarBuzz Awards are in full swing, and now it's time to reveal the three finalists for one of two enthusiast-minded categories, Affordable Fun. This award was new for last year and aimed at finding the best performance-focused car that buyers on a budget could reasonably purchase and enjoy as an everyday vehicle. Last year's finalists included the Hyundai Kona N, Subaru BRZ/Toyota GR86, and the Volkswagen Golf GTI, with the Toyobaru twins taking home the win.
This year's finalists are (mostly) of the hot hatchback variety, with one exception. This was the most challenging category this year, as the market saw an influx of new and revamped contenders in the affordable sports car, performance sedan, and hot hatch categories. In no particular order, our three finalists are...
The Type R is all-new for 2023, now underpinned by the 11th-generation Civic. Along with the new Civic generation come tremendous quality-of-life upgrades: a longer wheelbase, upgraded technology, a premium audio system, and more mature styling. Performance-focused upgrades are also plentiful, including a higher output from the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine (315 horsepower), improved cooling, a louder engine note, and the single best manual transmission we tested this year.
Honda can tout the most powerful entrant in this category, and the most livable. The Civic boasts the largest trunk and the most spacious back seat of this trio. But it's also the priciest starting at $42,895. If you want an all-around car that can handle daily driver duties and blitz a race track, it's hard to outmatch the Civic Type R.
The only non-hatchback on this list, the Hyundai Elantra N takes the hot hatch spirit and places it into a sedan body. It's the most affordable option on this list, undercutting the Honda and Toyota with a $32,650 starting price. Hyundai is also the only brand of the three to offer its affordable performance car with a choice of a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, broadening the Elantra's appeal.
It may not have the biggest bite on the list, with 276 hp coming from its 2.0-liter four-pot, but the Elantra N easily has the loudest bark. That exhaust sounds like it was ripped off a rally car, and with the N Grin Shift function providing overboost, the engine can produce upwards of 286 hp. Combine the incredible sound, excellent handling characteristics, and bold styling with the bargain pricing, and the Elantra N can easily stand in the same conversation with the Civic and Corolla.
After begging Toyota to sell the critically acclaimed GR Yaris here in the US, the Japanese automaker finally obliged by sticking that car's drivetrain into the larger Corolla. The GR Corolla story is all about the drivetrain; it's powered by a tiny 1.6-liter turbocharged three-cylinder that manages to crank out 300 hp. A manual transmission sends that boosted power down to the ground via a unique GR-Four all-wheel-drive system that can send up to 70% of the power to the rear wheels.
On the track, the GR Corolla feels like you are playing a racing video game with all of the assists turned on. It's infallibly good around corners, especially the hardcore Morizo Edition that's limited to just 200 units for 2023. The Morizo rides on stickier tires, comes with shorter gearing, and deletes the rear seat to save weight. Pricing begins at $35,900 for the base Circuit Edition, while the Morizo tops out at $49,900. With the most special drivetrain on the list, Toyota hopes it can repeat as the Affordable Fun award winner.