Some new. Some used. All fantastic performance bargains.
The Volkswagen GTI Clubsport S just smashed the Nurburgring lap record for the fastest front-wheel-drive car, defeating the Honda Civic Type R. Here’s the problem with that: Neither of these cars are sold in the US. Too bad, really, because hot hatches are often performance bargains. And this made us wonder: What are the best hot hatches available in the US for less than $25,000? Believe it or not, there weren’t even five for that price point sold new, so we delved into the used market. Here are our top 5 picks, in no particular order.
For a starting price of only $20,970, the 2016 Ford Fiesta ST comes standard with a turbocharged 1.6-liter four banger with 197 hp and 202 lb-ft of torque. There may not be a finer performance bargain out there. A six-speed manual transmission and 17-inch wheels are also standard fare. Of course you can invest in additional features like the ST Recaro Package, which tacks on partial leather-trimmed and heated front seats, and heated exterior mirrors, but that costs $1,995 extra. Trust us, the Fiesta ST is almost too good to be true.
With a starting price of just $22,495, the Fiat 500 Abarth is certainly no stranger to enthusiasts on a budget. Powered by a turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-four with 160 hp, the 500 Abarth may not have the convenience of being a five-door hatchback like the Fiesta ST, but some people simply don’t need the space. Instead, they’re looking for what’s possibly the closest thing to a street legal go-kart. Combined with a six-speed manual, standard 16-inch wheels (17-inchers are optional), and a track-tuned chassis, the Fiat 500 Abarth provides drivers with responsiveness, maneuverability and a high-performance feel.
Now, if you’re willing to push your budget to just a hair under $25,000, then you ought to consider the Ford Fiesta ST’s big brother. The Focus ST is an excellent choice. With a base price of $24,425 (over $1,000 cheaper than an entry-level Volkswagen Golf GTI), you’ll get a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-pot with 252 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. Once you start tacking on extra features, however, you’re immediately over that $25k mark. Still, if you need something bigger than a Fiesta ST and don’t care about upgraded Recaro seats, then you can’t go wrong with this one.
Now, here’s where things got difficult. America simply doesn’t sell five hot hatches for less than $25k. The solution is the used car market, and we found a couple of incredible bargains out there. The first one is this: a 2003 Mini Cooper S John Cooper Works Edition for sale on eBay. This JCW is from the first generation of the revived Mini brand which, as many say, is still the best. The two subsequent generations only got bigger. But this one comes powered by a supercharged 1.6-liter inline-four with over 210 hp paired to a six-speed manual. There’s only 47,000 miles on the odometer and it has a buy it now price of only $10,700.
Mazda has no plans to bring back its Mazdaspeed3. Too bad, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of high-end used ones out there. Take this 2013 model as an example. For an asking price of $20,991, you’ll get a low mileage (28,917) hot hatch powered by a turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-four, plus leather seats, Bluetooth and various other extras. It can go from 0-60 mph in 5.2 seconds and the quarter-mile is dealt with in 13.9 seconds at 102 mph. Sure, it has its faults (like a lot of torque steer) but you’re still getting a reliable, late-model Japanese-built hot hatch for a great price.