The Top 5 Cheap Speed Thrills from the 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show

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Owning a good sports car doesn't always have to cost the equivalent of a house, as these latest offerings shown at the 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show so well prove. By Jay Traugott, Editor At Large

Too often we're given the impression that it's simply not affordable. No matter how much cash is saved (the kids need shoes, after all), it seems that owning a fast and powerful car will always be out of reach for many of us. This is true if you're thinking of a Porsche or a Ferrari. However, there are still plenty of cheap speed thrills out there that automakers are just dying to sell you.

And unlike my earlier selection of the Top 6 Hottest Sports Cars from the Frankfurt Auto Show, this new list, once again in no specific order, is made up of fast cars that all cost less than $40,000 and pack a serious punch under the hood. While not all of them are coming to the US (for now), it's good knowing they're out there.

2012 Ford Focus ST This has been a long time coming. Hot hatch fans in the US have been screaming for this car to arrive to our shores for some time. And Ford listened. Set to go on sale in the coming months, the 2012 Ford Focus ST may look at first like the standard five-door hatch model, but it's powered to be so much more. With its 2.0-liter four-cylinder EcoBoost engine that's rated at nearly 250 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque, the American automaker's new "range topping" Focus will also come standard with a six-speed manual transmission and a finely tuned sports suspension.

Besides the power boost, the Focus ST has been given a more aggressive and bolder look with a reworked front and rear design to differentiate it from the standard car, such as the reshaped headlights with LEDs and a rear spoiler. Official pricing hasn't been announced, but if you're looking for the best combination of speed and room for the family, the Focus ST is exactly what you've been looking for.

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2012 Opel Astra GTC Unlike the Ford Focus ST, Opel's Astra GTC is not coming to the US, in its present form at least. This three-door hot hatch will be sold in Europe under GM's Opel and Vauxhall brands. Powered by a direct-injected and turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four with 286 horsepower and a limited-slip differential, it comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive. Thanks to its high-tech suspension and enhanced steering technology, the Astra GTC is a true driver's car in every sense.

It also benefits from Opel's fully-adaptive FlexRide chassis control system that enhances driving stability with better cornering behavior and steering response. The low and sleek profile exterior is also finished off with optional 19- or 20-inch wheels. So will it ever be sold in the US? Perhaps, as there's a chance GM will bring it stateside as a future Buick. My advice: Say to GM exactly what Focus ST fans said to Ford. Just look at the fruits of their labor.

2012 Abarth 695 Competizione By now we're all familiar with Fiat's reborn 500. Although it has just recently hit showrooms across the US, long-time Fiat-exclusive tuning partner Abarth has made it even better. Much better. It's now powered by an upgraded 1.4-liter turbo engine with 180 horsepower and mated to a six-speed manual transmission. To emphasize even more of its racing-inspired roots, the 695 Competizione's rear seat has been removed and replaced with a roll bar. Abarth has also added a set of racing front seats complete with their logo and '695' badges stitched into the headrests.

The interior is also adorned with Alcantara and carbon fiber pieces on the dashboard and roof. Exterior upgrades will include a rear diffuser, dual exhaust pipes, even more Abarth Scorpion badges, upgraded alloy wheels, and unique paint colors. Set to be built at Chrysler's plant in Mexico which is already building the 500 for North America, expect the Abarth 695 Competizione to hit dealerships by next summer.

2012 Suzuki Swift Sport For those who remember the old Suzuki Swift sold in the US in 1990s, your recollection of the car most likely doesn't equate it with anything exciting. And you'd be correct, except that Suzuki has an all-new generation model that has nothing in common with that previously boring econobox. Sadly, the new Swift Sport isn't coming to the US anytime soon, if ever. And that's a real shame because it has all of the traits a proper hot hatch should have: compact, powerful, and a manual transmission.

Powered by a high-revving 1.6-liter four-cylinder rated at 134 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque and mated to a six-speed manual, Suzuki also gave the Swift Sport significant chassis and suspension upgrades over the standard model. And even with the added power, fuel economy is still rated at approximately 37 miles per gallon. Official pricing hasn't been announced, but the Swift Sport has always been very reasonably priced. Sadly, Americans won't be able to take advantage of this bargain.


2012 Honda Civic Hatchback Hatchbacks have never found the same popularity in the US as they have in Europe. And that's too bad because it scares automakers away from importing some of their best stuff, like the all-new 2012 Honda Civic hatchback. The newly redesigned Civic coupe and sedan are now on sale across the US, but they have been criticized for their uninspiring design inside and out. When looking at the new Euro Civic hatch compared to its American counterparts, it's hard to believe they share the same name, as the hatch looks fantastic.

Europeans will have a choice of three engines (one of which is a diesel) and all are available with a six-speed manual. But the best auto news is that Honda has just confirmed they have begun work on a new high-performance version called the Type R. Accounting for nearly 15 percent of Honda's total Civic UK sales, the previous Type R had a 198 horsepower inline-four-cylinder and could go from 0 to 60mph in 6.6 seconds. The new one promises to be even better. But how would Americans ever know?

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