What's the best fun car? 17 'hot' cars under $60k tested!

We assembled 17 of fittest 'fun cars' under $60k at Sydney Motorsport Park at the recent MotorWorld event and there you, our readers, into the test seats. And we gave the mega test field a spin ourselves. Together, we decide what's hot, what's fun and what is exception value for money

On first impressions, there mightn’t seem much in common between some of the 17 cars pictured above. Turns out that there’s quite a lot. For one thing, they all list for under $60k. For another, each promises some degree of fun factor: be it measured in muscle, sportiness or genuine high performance.

But, crucially, these 17 cars were recently amassed at Sydney Motorsport Park and put through their paces by both you the reader and we here at CarAdvice. In conjunction with our recent 11-way small SUV mega test, we’re keen as hot mustard to find out how similarly – or differently – your experience with this latest and greatest pack compares with ours.

Fifteen of our motley pack were supplied by the manufacturer (in the case of the Commodore SS) or importer (all the others) for the recent MotorWorld Sydney event which centred around providing Joe and Joanne Public hands-on experience with their newest metal which, for our 17 ‘warm car’ field, involved lapping around the extended Brabham Circuit for the first three days of the event and circulating the shorter-if-faster Druitt Circuit (aka North circuit) on its fourth and final day.

Two of the cars on test – the Mazda MX-5 and Volkswagen Golf GTI – are CarAdvice’s own vehicles, each considered the touchstone in their respective affordable sports car and hot hatch segment, and serving as benchmarks of buck-banging driver’s car appraisal.

We we’re there for the four-day Motorworld Sydney circus, picking the brains of readers and the public who got to drive these cars on track.

To compare your findings to ours, CarAdvice elected a five-strong crew – Andrew Beecher, racer Emily Duggan, Dave Zalstein, Rob Margeit and myself – to don helmets and conduct our own red-misted, full-day test session around the tight and twisty Amaroo Circuit (aka South Circuit).

To describe our field as ‘mixed’ is an understatement, but it certainly covers most sub-$60k fun car bases, even on price: the fray enters with the compact-sized Ford Fiesta ST manual (for $25,990) and tops the fiscal scale out (at $59,990) with the Nissan 370Z automatic.

In between those pricing goal posts, the front-driven hot hatches included the Hyundai Veloster SR Turbo+ auto ($36,490), the Ford Focus ST manual ($38,990), the Mini Cooper S auto three-door auto ($41,195), the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce auto ($41,990), and Peugeot 308 GTi 270 manual ($49,990).

Rounding out the hatch brigade were the rear-driven, five-door BMW 125i auto ($48,990) and arguably the hottest small hatch money can buy, the mighty, all-wheel-drive Ford Focus RS ($50,990). Keeping them honest was the aforementioned CarAdvice long-termer Volkswagen Golf GTI DSG ($43,490).

Joining the 370Z and the CarAdvice long-termer Mazda MX-5 2.0 GT manual ($39,550) in the sports car stakes were the Toyota 86 twins: a frills-free base GT manual ($30,790) and a high-spec GTS with an automatic transmission ($38,790). Also flying the Japanese flag and representing the sole wagon of the field was the turbocharged, all-wheel-driven Subaru Levorg 2.0 GT-S auto ($48,890).

The remaining three competitors were loosely lumped under the muscle car banner, though some skepticism hung above the turbo-four-powered Ford Mustang EcoBoost auto’s ($48,490) muscularity credentials.

Flexing more conventional V8 strength was the Mustang GT automatic ($59,990), countered somewhat by nemesis marque Holden’s VF II Commodore SS auto ($46,690) rounding out the field.

So how do you find even ground amongst such a varied field with such different means, aims and agendas? The answer is three-fold…

Firstly, is each car hot enough? By that, does the vehicle meet expectations for performance, sportiness and/or muscle?

Secondly, does the car put a smile on your dial? Regardless of how quick the car is (or isn’t), is it actually fun to drive? And does the car have 'x-factor' in the driving experience?

And lastly, given our field is filled with relative price-busters, how good is the value equation in light of a) how fast, and b) how much fun both we and our surrogate reader-testers have found the car to be?

For the record, Your Honour, Dave was nominated to cut all lap times and, as is his wont, he wasn’t privy to any timing until all testing was compete.

Here’s how they shaped up, in your eyes and ours, in alphabetical order…

Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce auto

Price: $41,990 plus on-roads
Powertrain: 1.75L turbocharged four cylinder, six-speed dual clutch, FWD
Outputs: 177kW/340Nm
Laptime on test: 1:11.72

What we thought

Andrew: It’s sort of hot. The turbo boost is ‘old skool’ – it’s almost like a shot of nitrous oxide. It looks and sounds the part, and the ‘Benzina’ labeling in-cabin is suitably Italian. It does get a bit squirrely under hard braking. It was the first car I drove of the 17 and I was happy to get out of it.

Rob: It’s quite hot… and Italian enough too. The dual-clutch holds on to revs nicely before upshifting (when self shifting) and the paddle-shifters work nicely as well. There’s good fun factor: it pops, cackles and snarls just like an Alfa should. Yep, I’d buy one, maybe!

Emily: Even in Dynamic mode the Alfa is a bit of a letdown – it still allows traction control to cut in driving out of corners and once it does there’s not much punch form the engine. As much as I like to work driving a car there’s little reward from the work you put in. It just doesn’t put a smile on my dial. For that alone, it doesn’t offer much bang for your bucks.

Curt: The engine is a gem once it’s on the boil but the steering is aloof and it’s not terribly happy once you dig into it on a racetrack. While it’s not all that pricey, the amount of bang in return is merely adequate. It’s happier as a road car than a track car, that’s for sure.

Dave: It’s not bad. More sprightly and characterful than the BMW. Can't turn traction control off. It’s quite soft and you do get understeer from the noisy Pirellis quite easily – better tyres might improve its lap times. The engine doesn’t really have enough oomph, particularly on the uphill climbs around the circuit, and the lack of decent steering adjustment is annoying. For a fun street car, though, it’s not too bad.

What you thought

Graeme, Melbourne, Vic: It's fun to drive but it certainly wouldn't be what I'd call a hot hot hatch. But I do think that it's a great little package. The times I really tried to stick it through a corner the handling seems to be really nice. It accelerates well and there's good pulling power down low, though there seems to be a little bit of torque steer. Sometimes the tyres are just about scrabbling for grip. The dual clutch didn't do anything objectionable, but there were a few instances where it didn't change down quite as quickly as I'd expected. If I was buying a new car, it'd definitely be on my list.

Adam, Michigan, USA: I'd call it a warm hatch. Inside, it has the feel of a hot hatch, and the handling's definitely getting there although it's a little on the softer side. You could have good fun in it – it's certainly sporty and I think it'd be comfortable for long drives. I think it's a good price and there's good bang for your buck right there.

BMW 125i auto

Price: $48,900 plus on-roads
Powertrain: 2.0L turbocharged four cylinder, eight-speed automatic, RWD
Outputs: 165kW/310Nm
Laptime on test: 1:10.28

What we thought

Rob: It’s certainly sensitive to drive modes. You really need to engage Sport+ for it to wake up and find some punch from the engine but when you do it really transforms the driving experience. Thus set, it’s a really fun car: tight, engaging, noisy even. The value is questionable though – there are better hatches out there for less money.

Emily: This thing is hot, hot, hot! All smiles for this baby! It’s got nice throttle response and confident brakes and I just want to keep pushing it. I think it’s so much fun in the corners. It’s quite good bang for the bucks given that, for under $50k, you can have that much fun around a track but you also get the luxury badge and a nice on road experience. I’ll take two!

Curt: For what it is – a fairly lowly grade 1 Series – it’s punching above its weight. For a serious performance machine around the $50k mark, though, there are probably hotter offerings out there. What’s most impressive is that inherent driver’s DNA you hope a BMW rear-driver possesses. It is drive mode sensitive, but it’s pleasant in Comfort and amply sharp enough in its most sporting settings. Impressive chassis, playful balance, excellent seats and seating position, and superb steering are real quality highlights.

Dave: It’s not really hot. It’s a bit beige and soft. It’s not really exciting. It’s fun-ish, but didn’t leave me with much of an impression. For the money, it’s not much of a performance car.

Andrew: It’s definitely hot and it more fun than you initially might think. That turbocharged four, the eight-speed and rear drive is a perfect drivetrain combination. The brakes are strong, the M-Sport steering wheel is excellent, and the paddle-shift ZF auto does exactly what you want when you want it. As a value pitch, it’s a semi-premium hatch experience from a premium marque.

What you thought

Jacob, Abbotsbury, NSW: I would say it's warm but it's also warm enough. It's a good daily driver and a great runaround but it's got plenty of fun factor. It's a very engaging car, especially when you have it in its sport drive mode. It's a nice comfortable car so you could go for long drives, but there's nothing boring or too 'cruisey' about it. The BMW is really nicely finished on the inside as well – everything is nicely finished. At $48k, for this kind of car, it's a very fair price.

Phil, Cabarita, NSW: It's actually pretty hot, but in a really refined sort of way. It really feel like a proper BMW. And it doesn't feel like a hot hatch at all, because of the rear-wheel drive and everything. It's more a shrunken 3 Series or something. I love those seats and the steering wheel. In Sport mode, it goes as quick as you'd expect a 135i or a 140i might go. It's not a powerhouse but there's certainly enough heat going on to be a really fun car. So it's quite a surprise.

Ford Fiesta ST manual

Price: $25,990 plus on-roads
Powertrain: 1.6L turbocharged four, six-speed manual, FWD
Outputs: 134kW/240Nm (147kW/290Nm overboost)
Laptime on test: 1:10.82

What we thought

Emily: The Fiesta is all smiles! Bang for buck? Heck yes! It really pushes you back into the seat once you plant the throttle and it’s got really good turn in. However, you really need to brake in a straight line because it likes to move around a lot on you under brakes.

Curt: This car just begs you to thrash it. And when you do, in classic hot hatch style, it just gets better and better you more you dig into it. The Fiesta ST crown jewel is its chassis – it’s so lively and responsive, so reactive to lift-off oversteer and incredibly pointy in the front end for a ‘bum dragger’ (front-wheel driver). It’s not exactly underpowered either, but in the curves you simply lift, point, drill the throttle and fun and quick. As its laptime proves.

Dave: What a good little thing! Why would you buy almost anything else? I know there's a five-door overseas but I’m a three-door fan and this car has pretty much everything I’d want. It’s deceptively fast and it’s got enough poke to scare your mates and all in a car that’s just 26 grand. It’s huge fun. For me, out there on a circuit, it’s only this and the manual Toyota 86 where I just want to spend all day doing lap after lap. It’s performance reflects directly to how it’s being driven. The Peugeot 308 GTi is a nimble car for its size, but the Fiesta ST has it all over the French car.

Andrew: Oh yeah baby! It has a brilliant chassis and is totally confidence inspiring. The lift-off oversteer, in particular, is an absolute dream. That combined with its front-wheel drive allows for awesome control and dynamic positioning in corners. And it’s got so much bang for so little buck.

Rob: It’s certainly hot enough around the tight South Circuit and there’s good power throughout the rev range. And it’s amply fun too. The Fiesta is nicely balanced, has good drive down low and brakes really well, though it is a bit skittish under really hard braking. The value equation is excellent: for $26k you get a ripper little hot hatch.

What you thought

John, Camperdown, NSW: It's brilliant. I got to come through Turn One pretty quickly and it's really throttle adjustable and really enjoyable. Even at high speeds you can play with it and it dances around. The heel-and-toe was a bit... funky, and took a bit of getting used to. But, yeah, it's a pretty hot car. The engine runs out of puff at the top end around 6000rpm but it's got ample low-down torque. As a road car, I think the Fiesta ST would be awesome, because you'd have so much tractability everywhere. And it's great value: you could by a basic Hyundai Tucson or that, and I'd buy that.

Anthony, Manly, NSW: It's like a little go-kart, isn't it? It goes harder than you think – people rave about it and now I know what all the talk has been about. You don't expect that the handling is going to be that sharp or that the engine has that much punch. It's a bit cheap inside apart from the seats but then again it's a cheap car to buy. I wish it had a bodykit and wheels like the Focus RS because it looks a bit like your grandma's car [laughs]. I'd still buy one, though, definitely.

Ford Focus RS manual

Price: $50,990 plus on-roads
Powertrain: 2.3L turbocharged four cylinder, six-speed manual, AWD
Outputs: 257kW/440Nm
Laptime on test: 1:06.76

What we thought

Curt: Just… wow! From the instant you weld yourself into those race-style buckets it promise a motorsport-like experience and boy does it deliver. It has a sharp, fizz and response that pales everything else here by a fair margin. It’s fantastically agile on corner entry, deftly agile in the mid-corner, and you can power it out of curves with drive and precision like no other hatchback I can name. It works those superb Michelin Cup 2s hard and you’d spend a bomb on tyres but, jeez, its capabilities are in another league. You cannot buy another road car that’s essentially a race car with rego plates for anything like its $51k-odd ask. Bargain!

Dave: Ten out of 10 for hotness. All the 'hotness' any of the other cars lack, is all crammed into the Focus RS. It’s an absolute blast to drive. The acceleration doesn’t actually throw you back into the seat hard – it doesn’t have that epic surge – but it takes the best elements of the 86, the Fiesta ST and Focus ST and combines it into one very, very good package. The grip is immense, it just responds exactly to what the driver wants and it's very connected to its driver. It really challenges and encourages you to push and get the best out of it and its capabilities are huge. Its limits are a lot higher than anything else we have here today and, for the price – even with the optional wheel and tyre package – if you want ultimate bang for buck and outright performance, it's hard to beat.

Andrew: The Focus RS is hotter than the sun. For track, at least, this thing would be right at the top of the fun charts. And it’s stupidly good value for the money.

Rob: Hot? It’s a volcano with molten lava spewing forth destroying all before it! It’s got so much grip and so much go. And even at $51k it’s excellent value. Rob your daughter’s piggy bank, put it all on black on the roulette wheel and repeat until you can afford one. It’s well worth it.

Emily: The acceleration is beautiful, it doles out the grunt and it handles corners like a dream. I honestly just didn’t want to get out of the thing. You do have to work a little through the corners and set the car up, which is my style, and the Focus RS rewards handsomely when you get a corner perfectly right. The price is getting right up there, though…

What you thought

Craig, Winston Hills, NSW: I can't stop smiling. Yeah, it really hot... until you hit the speed limit we need to stick to. The engine has tons of power and it's really tight and agile. I drove the (Focus) ST before and it's what you expect a hot hatch to be like but I've not driven anything like this. It's ridiculous. I'd probably lose my licence in this thing but it'd be worth it [laughs]. I'd be at the race track every other weekend in this thing. It's just manic.

Brendan, St Kilda, Vic: It's a bloody weapon isn't it? It gets up to speed so quickly that it's actually a little boring around half of this track, but when you get around the back (South Circuit) it goes around on rails. Nah, I didn't try drift mode. We weren't going quickly enough to really test the handling and those tyres have massive grip. I'd love to try one during a proper track day around somewhere like Winton. It'd be bloody fast!

Ford Focus ST manual

Price: $38,990 plus on-roads
Powertrain: 2.0L turbocharged four cylinder, six-speed manual, FWD
Outputs: 184kW/345Nm (184kW/360Nm overboost)

Laptime on test: 1:11.01

What we thought

Dave: Is it hot enough? Yes and no. That engine is stonkingly good, with heaps of punch and mid-range torque, but it lacks the front differential to tame it like you’ll find in a Peugeot 308 GTi or Megane RS. It’s a nicely balanced car – if you’d give it more power, you’d cock it up – but it is on a knife-edge. There’s a lot of weight moving around on relatively soft springs, too, so it moves around a lot under weight transfer. If you treat it hard, like you can in the Fiesta ST, you just get wheelspin. For me, the chassis can quite match the poke.

Andrew: It’s hot… but cooling. The Focus ST is more mature than the Fiesta ST, though whether that’s a positive or a negative depends on how and where you’re driving it. I’m not in love with this car. Much of that has to do with its little brother Fiesta being slightly faster (1:10.82 versus 1:11.01), cheaper and more capable.

Rob: It’s no Focus RS but, then again, it doesn’t need to be. There’s plenty of performance on tap for many owners. And it is fun. Turn traction control off and it gets its tail out nicely. It’s quite planted and it’s not really left wanting. If your budget doesn’t stretch to a Focus RS, this ST is a realistic alternative (although I'd still plump for the Fiesta ST). It’s more comfy and easier to live with every day.

Emily: I drove this right after the Fiesta ST and I was more blown away by the smaller Ford. It sways under hard braking but that seems to be a Ford hot hatch trait on purpose. And while it does put a smile on your dial and is nicely whippy around the track, I don’t think it’s great value.

Curt: The ‘tank half full’ viewpoint is that the Focus ST is much easier to live with in the balance of most buyers’ ownership experience than the hard-core RS. And you can save a whopping $13k in the process. It’s a hoot when it needs to be, with a punchy engine, lively chassis and sharp steering. For its $39k ask, it’s on the mark. Sure, it doesn’t have Focus RS or Peugeot 308 GTI pace, but it tops the front-drive also-rans for fun factor and heat.

What you thought

Chris, Waverley, NSW: It's warm to hot. You can go pretty quick and it gets up to speed well enough – it'll be interesting to see how it goes against the Peugeot 308 GTI that I'm driving later on. It feels a bit like a Subaru WRX for pace but it's a little more tied down. I'm not much of a fan of what Ford does on the inside – it's a bit cheap with the plastics and stuff. But for under $40k it's a bargain, especially if you can't afford a full-on Focus RS. This is probably nicer to drive every day, too.

Dave, Penrith, NSW: I'm a Ford guy so I'm trying to get a drive in all of them if I can. But this is the only one I'm interested in buying – all the other Fords here are too impractical for me and the family. But it's really good. Good engine, great handling. And there's plenty of drivability so you could drive it every day and then have a thrash on the weekends, too. I haven't driven the RS yet but it must be wild if it's a lot quicker than this thing.

Ford Mustang EcoBoost auto

Price: $48,900 plus on-roads
Powertrain: 2.3L turbocharged four cylinder, six-speed auto, RWD
Outputs: 232kW/432Nm
Laptime on test: 1:08.78

What we thought

Andrew: It was better than I expected but there’s no exhaust note. Compared with the (V8) GT, there’s less weight up front and it feels to have the edge in handling through the tighter stuff. The bang for the money isn’t bad… particularly if you value impressions is of its external styling rather than cabin quality.

Rob: It’s a lot of car for a four-pot – somehow the Focus RS (which shares the 2.3L engine in a different tune) sounds much better. You can tell Ford tried but it’s not really hot enough. And not much fun in this company either. You spend more time keeping its hulking mass on the narrow track than truly enjoying the drive. The Mustang EcoBoost is affordable for what it is, and if your idea of ‘bang’ is cruising hipster streets on a Saturday night then the answer is ‘yes’. Otherwise…

Curt: It drives fine. There’s a decent chassis underneath and grip is good. But as a muscle car, it’s missing a third of its mojo isn’t it? You buy into the looks, the vibe and the driving experience, and the EcoBoost only delivers two out of three. It’s not merely separated from the GT under the bonnet – the V8 version is the more complete all-round muscle car driving experience beyond shove and soundtrack.

Emily: It’s moderately hot, with a nice feel to it. And it’ll probably put a smile on the dial of some buyers given that the tail doesn’t step out suddenly and there’s plenty of grip. But once you compare it to the V8 version…

Dave: Is it hot enough? For $48,900? Probably not. It’s an oddly numb and ambivalent driving experience, but that could also be because I just climbed out of the Toyota 86… It’s like playing a video game, and part of that is because the engine doesn’t sound like a real engine. It’s hard to judge where the front end is, and to be honest, it’s not particularly engaging or very interesting to drive. It does okay but it didn’t excite me.

What you thought

John, Camden, NSW: The sound is pretty boring and the acceleration is quite average. It looks nice so it'd probably be a good cruising vehicle. But it's not really for a car enthusiast. It's maybe something my wife would drive.

Lauren, Marrickville, NSW: My boyfriend doesn't fit in the back [laughs]. I wished it was manual – we own a manual Focus XR5. I ordinarily don't like two-door cars but the '64 Mustang is my dream car. It's got a big boot but if you've got passengers and they're tall it's going to be a problem.

Ford Mustang GT auto

Price: $59,990 plus on-roads
Powertrain: 5.0L V8, six-speed auto, RWD
Outputs: 306kW/542Nm
Laptime on test: 1:08.10

What we thought

Rob: Hot? Holy shit yes! The Mustang GT is surprisingly agile for what it is. I actually think that the (heavier) V8 version is easier to drive quickly than it’s four-pot sister. It gives you big smiles. I didn’t quite ‘get’ the Mustang GT until now, but $60k isn’t a lot of money for something this fun.

Curt: I love this car. I ‘get’ this car. It’s 110 percent muscle car where it matters: looks, soundtrack and driving character. And as a muscle car, it has a surprising amount of performance car under its skin. It’s not the sharpest tool in the shed but so what? Ford offers a perfectly good Focus RS if that’s what you’re after. The engine has mojo, it’s linear, you can power out of corners on opposite lock and I get as big a smile out of this as I do out of its more agile and sharper company here. It’s a better front-engined, rear-driven Ford than anything with a Falcon or FPV badge I can recall. I wish the market had more genuine muscle cars flopped from the Mustang GT’s mould and for this sort of affordable money.

Emily: Ah, the Mustang. I think jumping in the car my expectations might have been a bit high – after all, it’s a Mustang and I’m a huge fan of the classic. As for hotness, well, the ride was quite smooth, it had a moderate point-and-shoot aspect to her and there's some decent grunt under your right foot, but that wasn’t what I was after from the five-litre V8 pony. I almost wanted her to be untameable on the track, fighting through a corner using power, steering and patience to get around the circuit. But I was quickly reminded that she’s designed to be a road car for everyone to enjoy, not just rev-heads.

Dave: The V8 Mustang GT is the only car I’ve spun today [laughs]. Is it hot enough? That’s such a hard question for that car. It really depends on what you want from it. Does it have enough grunt? Yeah. But for me, it’s such an uncomfortable car to drive. I wouldn’t ‘track’ this car. It leans and rolls. It’s nose heavy. It doesn’t love changing directions. It’s not sharp or agile. But it’s got mumbo. For me, ‘hot’ is more about dynamic ability than anything else, and it just lacks a bit in that area. Some might have fun in it, but not me.

Andrew: Yes, it’s hot. Moreso than the four-pot if only due to the noise and soul. And it’s a lot of fun, too. The chassis and dynamics are surprisingly good, and the brakes quite competent. It’s not really my cup of tea but I’m a huge fan of what Ford has achieved with this.

What you thought

Ash, Auckland, NZ: Hot? Well... It's a good road car. It's smooth, it's generally quiet but the engine sounds great, which is important. If you were to drive it seriously, it has got a lot of body roll, even through Turn One at just 110km/h. It's not a race car. It's not a high-performance car. It's got some good power but when you punt it around a circuit you'll find its limits fairly quickly. But it's well finished and for the average punter who's after a muscle car I think it's a 'good wagon'. And, yeah, at $60k it's good value for money.

Dave, Brisbane, Qld: It's pretty hot. It doesn't have the sort of power and torque of a blown (Falcon) XR8 but it feels more like a muscle car, less like a taxi. It sounds great but the exhaust could be bit louder. But, yeah, I love it. It looks awesome, feels like a classic Mustang inside – it's cool how long the bonnet looks from behind the wheel. They won't let you go crazy out there but I hit the traction control more than few times [laughs]. You could just cruise in this thing and it'd give you smiles for miles.

Holden VF II Commodore SS auto

Price: $46,690 plus on-roads
Powertrain: 6.2L V8, six-speed auto, RWD
Outputs: 304kW/570Nm
Laptime on test: 1:10.95

What we thought

Curt: Oh dear. This car has no right to be anywhere near a racetrack. Which is fine – Holden does a Redline version better suited to a track belting. Good energy from the engine but, when the tail slides even when short-shifting and it’s got zero drive out of corners, it’s just a clumsy mess and not much fun at all. So hefty, so little body control, even the innate chassis balance and decent steering can’t save it from the doldrums. The more you push, the worse the SS gets. The brakes, too, are perilously undercooked for its weight and the interia its mass creates. A fun machine if you’re in it for burnouts but not much else.

Emily: It’s not up to par, is it? For a person who doesn’t know how to drive, it might put a smile on their face. Would I buy one? No.

Dave: It’s everything a muscle car is supposed to be. It just shows how good the Australian stuff is compared with the American stuff. Despite the big and heavy engine up front – and some fairly shagged tyres and brakes – it’s planted, it changes direction really well, and it’s got nice turn-in. It’s definitely hot enough. Having paddle-shifters would’ve helped a little bit – sometimes it'd kick down from third to second mid-corner, when you don’t want it to – but it’s fun. It’s just a good all-round package.

Andrew: It’s mildly warm. The SS sounds great, but the transmission lets it down on track. You feel its weight in every corner. That said, it is fun… until you want it to stop, at which point there’s nothing fun about your pale and sweaty complexion.

Rob: The Commodore makes the right noises but it’s a hefty bugger so ‘hot’ doesn’t really apply in this context. It’s grunty, it’s sweaty, it’s big and fat and makes a lot the right noises but it’s not really hot. As for fun factor? It’s more scary than it is fun. All that power and it struggles with all of it. And the auto over-rides my manual selection, which is annoying. It’s cheap enough for a muscle sedan but power and grunt alone is not enough to inject ‘bang’ into the equation.

What you thought

Thomas, Green Valley, NSW: It's really got a lot under the hoot – there's a lot of power. What I like is that the power is so unsuspecting when you look at the car. You think it's just a mild family car and then you put your foot down and it really goes. As for fun factor, it's yes and no. I know the driving we're doing here is limited and between 80-110km/h and it's good, but I don't think that's where the car shines. It would have the best power-to-price value ratio you possibly buy right now. Nothing else in this field has an engine that feels this good for similar money. If you're looking for cheap speed and fun, the SS is hard to beat.

Sharon, Quakers Hill, NSW: We're a bit of a Holden family and this might be my last chance to drive the latest Commodore V8. Yeah... it's sort of hot. It's no HSV Clubsport, though. I was hoping it might be a Redline with the Brembos but the brakes are a bit spongy. But, the big V8 has heaps of power. It's big and soft but we wouldn't normally drive on a race track so the (regular) SS is fine for us. I could drive one of these every day, easy. And it's good value for money. Hopefully it's not the last time I get to drive (a Holden V8).

Hyundai Veloster SR Turbo+ auto

Price: $36,490 plus on-roads
Powertrain: 1.6L turbocharged four cylinder, six-speed dual clutch, FWD
Outputs: 150kW/265Nm
Laptime on test: 1:10.80

What we thought

Emily: There’s not enough power. I really wanted so much more out of this car. It can be fun, though, as it moves around a bit on you in the corners but still holds on tight – you never have the feeling that you ‘lost it’ because it’ll never let you get to that point. But for the money? No, you can get much more for its $37k price tag.

Dave: It’s not really hot, but it did better than I expected. Fun factor is a tough call for this car, especially in this auto version, but essentially no: it’s not all that enjoyable. The gearbox really hampers its outright fun factor because it’s really unresponsive to commands. It’s missing that warm-hatch performance, really, and I think the Veloster is getting a bit long in the tooth to be good value for 37 grand. I get the appeal of it, but it’s not big on bang for buck.

Andrew: Hot? Hmm, tepid is much more like it. The dual-clutch transmission is sort of, erm, poo, with slow gearchanges and a lack of response. As for fun, well, if your idea of fun is watching Friends re-runs than the Veloster SR Turbo is the car for you. And bang for you buck? No, not at all.

Rob: It’s not even warm. It’s safe enough but not terribly fun and, even in Sport mode, it changes gears itself. Value for money? No, not in this company.

Curt: Part of me wants to be sympathetic to the efforts engineers made off a modest base line but, really, the ‘SR-Turbo-Plus’ promises what the experience doesn’t deliver. The engine punch, front-end point and steering are all okay, but it does lack depth in the dynamic addenda that counts: grip, poise, balance, responsiveness, etcetera. It’s fairly unanimous amongst the crew that the DCT lets the team down badly. It’s quirky and there’s definitely appeal in the unique four-door hatchback thing, but it’s out of its depth here on track, especially at that price point.

What you thought

Gary, Richmond, NSW: That's one of the best cars I've ever driven. I currently drive a (Mitsubishi) Lancer VR-X. The Veloster is certainly faster. This will probably be the next car I buy. I imagine that there are hotter hatches out there, like the Focus RS, but this great for a guy like me on my budget. The four-door-hatch arrangement (two kerb side, one driver's side) reminds me a bit of the Mazda RX-8. I reckon this is the best of all of the mid-range hot hatches.

Christian, Glen Waverley, Vic: It's certainly a different kind of hot hatch, if you can call it that. It sort of is, sort of isn't. Yeah, it's pretty hot. Warm to hot. I think there are some nicer cars here for interiors, like the Golf GTI and the BMW 125i. It's very... Korean. But it goes well, handles well. The seats are bit slippery and I'm not a fan of the gearbox. With a normal manual it'd probably be more to my taste. Yeah, I definitely consider one, but the price is getting up there.

Mazda MX-5 2.0 GT manual

Price: $41,990 plus on-roads
Powertrain: 2.0L four, six-speed manual, RWD
Outputs: 118kW/200Nm
Laptime on test: 1:11.31

What we thought

Dave: It’s not really a 'hot' car, per se. I prefer the revvy nature of the 1.5-litre version personally, but it’s fun. It is fun enough, though? Well, that’s a little tricky. It’s a little too soft and tame for my tastes. I know the MX-5 breed has never been hard-edged or overly sporty (outside of the turbocharged SP), but the character of this car is just a little too chilled. It’s more of cruiser and less of a track weapon. It’s very capable, it's just a bit soft and rolly.

Rob: Hot? Sure is. Or is it? It’s not especially fast but it is incredibly engaging to drive. It has a lot of fun factor. You can rev its wringer and it rewards, the power is smooth, and it’s quite assured under braking. And it’s nicely taily. The value for money is excellent and I can’t wait to try the RF hard-top version.

Curt: As a sports car, it delivers large on what it says on the box. It’s not hot under the collar, but drive it really hard and there’s maximum heat in the driver reward. For zen-like driver connection, it’s perhaps the pick of the entire field. And it’s so kind on its brakes and tyres. Sure, it could do with more torque and grip, but of everything in this field, this is one car that I’d happily and confidently thrash all day long. I just didn’t want to return it to pitlane.

Emily: I love this pocket rocket. It really put a massive smile on my face whipping this little thing around a racetrack. And you get so much enjoyment and value in such a small package.

What you thought

Christian, Glen Waverley, Vic: There's nothing else out there quite like it, is there. I've owned a (Subaru) BRZ and there are some similarities: the light weight, the agility, the cool gearbox. It's probably got just the right amount of power and I could't imagine downgrading to the 1.5. It seems to have more torque than a BRZ, too. You can really chuck it around but there's a lot of body roll – a surprising amount for a sports car. I can see why people rave about this new MX-5. It's really, really nice. Yeah, bang for buck is excellent.

Iain, Katoomba, NSW: It's not really hot – more 'sharp' than hot. I'm a bit of an older bloke – this would be good for runs down Bells Line of Road on a Sunday, runs to Bilpin and stuff. A good second car. You'd have to get the manual and this leather is really nice. I drove with the top down around the track and it gets pretty hot in the cabin on a day like today. You don't have to be going fast and it feels quite fast, until you look at the speedo and you're only doing 110km/h.

Mini Cooper S three-door auto

Price: $41,195 plus on-roads
Powertrain: 2.0L turbocharged four, six-speed auto, FWD
Outputs: 141kW/280Nm
Laptime on test: 1:12.22

What we thought

Andrew: You’d only call this ‘hot’ if you like excess lard. It’s down on power and torque. Look, I’m a massive Mini fanboy and this Cooper S is one of the biggest disappointments of the field today. It’s just too heavy. And the value pitch is frankly terrible.

Rob: I found that it pops, crackles, grips and brakes well enough to add up to a reasonably warm package. It sit nicely through the corners and there’s quite good feedback through the steering wheel. You never feel out of control. Value isn’t bad either, but there are better cars here today.

Curt: There some goodness in there, somewhere, but it’s smothered with restraint – got to protect those JCWs – in a spec that affects its hotness and hampers its abilities. First case in point are tyres: those Pirellis are hopeless. Second case in point are the brakes: terribly soft and long. Mini has invested in areas, such as cabin kitch, that might lure some buyers but leaves the Cooper S experience feeling overly bloated, and the harder you dig the quicker its limits arrive and the further it drops out of its sweet zone. It’s not hot hatch by purist definition, and it really doesn’t deliver on the ‘hot’, ‘fun’ or ‘value’ fronts.

Emily: Is it hot? No. It’s too slow, doesn’t have ample power and there’s nowhere enough grip. My smile was upside down. I wouldn’t buy one for a single dollar…

Dave: For its light-car segment and size, it’s quite hot and can still be good fun – there’s legitimate performance there. It mostly sits nice and flat through corners, and there are good noises from the exhaust – in 'Sport' mode you get all the pops you want. The steering wheel and seating position are good too. The brake pedal was starting to get a bit long, but it's a car that can most definitely put a smile on your face. As a road car that could do a couple of track days a year, it’s decent.

What you thought

Luke, Five Dock, NSW: It's good. I like it. I own a Renault Clio RS, which is quite similar in terms of handling, though my car is a manual. Yeah, it did put a smile on my dial. It does feel hot enough but at times the brakes feel a bit sketchy – there's not a lot of stopping power and it needs a lot of pedal pressure. If I had the money, yeah, I'd change up for the Renault to this. Or probably a JCW version.

Matt, Jindalee, Qld: It met my expectations but didn't exceed them. It was a good, fun car to drive. It's very different to any other car. I liked the stop/start switch – it's gimmicky but cool. The infotainment was well laid out and the instruments are great – it's good not to have the old Mini's central speedo. It's a responsive and quick car and the paddle-shifters functioned well. The handling was good and there's maybe slightly more feel through the wheel (over the older Minis). It is kind of cramped inside, though. And outward visibility isn't great with those fat pillars. It's a little overpriced but you do get the Mini badge.

Nissan 370Z auto

Price: $59,930 plus on-roads
Powertrain: 3.7L V6, six-speed auto, RWD
Outputs: 245kW/363Nm
Laptime on test: 1:08.62

What we thought

Rob: It’s warm. And frustrating. Even in manual mode it self-shifts. But it steers well and changes direction nicely. But you do feel like you’re fighting the car too much in corners and that hampers the fun factor. And at $60k, it’s definitely not good value.

Curt: It’s old, but it still charms. It’s got an unapologetic sportscar vibe – it’s loud in cabin on purpose – and that hasn’t waned with time. Sure, the cabin’s aged terribly, but all the key elements, bar perhaps the auto, come together around the South Circuit. I like lifting off to pivot a car on turn in and want a linear throttle to ‘catch’ the slide on, so the Zed’s inherent dynamic character suits me fine. I find it an absolute hoot, whereas I can see why others won’t. But that price? It should be forty grand, not sixty.

Emily: I love this car! She’s got grunt and she goes. It slides through a corner exactly when and where I wanted it to. There’s a little bit of a sense that you’re on the edge of control but that’s how I like my track cars. I didn’t know what to expect from the 370Z but it blew me away and gave me huge smiles. The price tag is too high but I’d have one… in manual.

Dave: Look at the price! Sixty grand! Nobody is going to pay that when you can get a Focus RS for around 10k less. You know, it’s old and it’s not cutting edge in any way at all, but it’s still got mumbo around the track. It’s a big lump of a thing with an engine that sounds so droney, but it’s got pulling power – around the South Circuit it's basically all third gear. There’s not quite enough power to slide it on a whim, instead, it makes you commit to sliding before you hit an apex. It’s fun, but it’s not up there. And it doesn’t have enough new technology or safety gear to warrant its price.

Andrew: Yes, it’s hot. The way (the V6) opens up in the top end makes it pull like a steam train. But the interior? Well, Bo Derek was hot one stage as well, but now she’s just old… It’s a fun car, though, at least apart from the tediously slow auto tranny even using the paddles. But value is terrible. It made me feel old so I hate it [laughs].

What you thought

George, Punchbowl, NSW: It's pretty good. Pretty old but pretty good. There's not a lot of sound insulation going on - you could become deaf from that the V6 after a while. But it's a tough, rugged little car. Why is it an automatic? A sportscar like this needs a manual gearbox, a proper gearbox. Goes great though - you wind it up on the main straight and it's really good, and it's sharp enough in the corners. How much is it? Pfft, yeah, right. It's too old, mate. They need to make it cheaper or build a newer version.

Nicole, Greystanes, NSW: It's really nice. It's pretty hot. You kind of slunk down in the seats and it feels fast in the straight and the corners, too. It doesn't have any flashy stuff inside - it's pretty basic. I wish it had the same looks and drove the same but had an interior like the BMW 125i. It's a lot of money. Nice car, but too much (money) for me.

Peugeot 308 GTi 270 manual

Price: $49,990 plus on-roads
Powertrain: 1.6L turbocharged four, six-speed manual, FWD
Outputs: 200kW/330Nm
Laptime on test: 1:07.36

What we thought

Curt: Yep, she’s a hottie. Screwing 200kW from 1.6 litre is quite amazing, and the inherent lack of flexibility of a small engine doesn’t hamper the Pug around this track. It’s punchy, it’s agile, the seats are great, the brakes are phenomenal. It feels quick by the seat of the pants and I reckon that’ll translate on the stopwatch. Thoroughly enjoyable but, at $50k, it’d want to a particularly hot hatchback.

Emily: Not knowing much on the Peugeot, she was shining the instant I got her out of pitlane. You put your foot down and your head’s back in the seat and it’s only a 1.6L. Wow! The stock brakes are a delight so taking her straight from the dealership to the track you’re ready to set a quick time. For me she’s like the little overachiever of the pack that you just weren’t expecting.

Dave: If you’re cool with the whole 'owning a Peugeot' thing, and like how the company goes about putting its cars together then, yes, it’s certainly hot enough. I do rate this car, though. It’s got awesome tyres, awesome brakes, and it melts my brain to think that it’s just a 1.6-litre engine tucked under the bonnet – it’s a seriously good engine. The gearbox is a bit slack, and the tiny wheel and very sharp steering means you lose a bit of engagement, but it’s certainly potent, and it’s definitely fast. It’s fun, but the naff 'Sport' mode makes it sound like a video game. And you do get some wheelspin before the limited-slip front differential locks.

Andrew: That’s actually pretty hot. Amongst this group of cars, it’s both fun and quite sophisticated. It’s got good steering, the LSD works well, and the brakes are strong.

Rob: It’s warm. There’s plenty of power, the grip is good, the gearbox is actually quite nice, but for sheer fun factor it is just okay. It lacks the aural delights of many of the rest of the field and, dynamically, it errs towards the safe side. Value-wise, there’d be a long cue of alternatives in front of the Peugeot vying for my hard-earned money.

What you thought

Jacob, Abbotsbury, NSW: That's definitely a hot hatch. It's very hot! I drove the BMW 125i earlier and that's a nicer car but the Peugeot is much sportier. I'd certainly have a Peugeot 308 as a fun car. There was plenty of power and it's really aggressive – I love that. Even at $50k it's good value because, if you think about it, you buy a Golf GTI Performance for similar money but I'd have the 308 over it any day of the week. I don't care about the Focus RS, either – I don't like Fords, I like my European cars.

John, Adelaide, SA: That's a cracker. I didn't sign up to drive the Peugeot but I'm glad I got to drive it. It's real surprise. Among the usual hot hatch suspects, this thing is really, really hot. The engine is a firecracker – I can't believe it's just 1.6 litres. The interior, though, that little steering wheel is stupid. I can't see the instruments because it sits right in the way. I think the chassis seems a lot sharper than what we were allowed to test today. This car was right off my radar but now it's right on it. I don't know if I'd pay $50k for it, but it's a real cracker of a thing.

Subaru Levorg 2.0 GT-S auto

Price: $48,890 plus on-roads
Powertrain: 2.0L turbocharged four, CVT, AWD
Outputs: 197kW/350Nm
Laptime on test: 1.10:67

What we thought

Emily: It’s not really hot, mainly because the faster you want to go the smoother you need to drive it. The Subaru is fun for a couple of laps but it’s a car you can easily tire of. And it’s pricey for the modest fun factor it offers.

Dave: Well, that was interesting… It’s not hot. In fact, it’s a frustratingly disappointing package. The potential of what could be is there – a WRX Wagon – but in reality, it’s not. The CVT doesn’t help, but it’s really the whole package that just isn’t in the game. It can be fun, but that really depends on the driver’s personal metrics. It has little moments of fun, but these are teamed with larger moments of disappointment. It’s soft, the traction control won’t switch completely off, and it’s really not great bang for the buck.

Andrew: It not really fun is it? The CVT is a party pooper and refuses to do what the driver asks of it. And it won’t stop f***ing beeping at me!

Rob: For a wagon, it’s reasonably warm and surprisingly reassuring to punt. As for fun factor, it’s okay, and the turbo pick-up is fine, but those brakes are squishy and you do really feel its heft in the corners. It’s also a lot of coin for what it is, though it is one of the nicer warm wagons on the market right now.

Curt: Hot or not? Depends. It certainly has shades of WRX but, a) you’d want to like how WRXs drive and b) it’s a faded photocopy. The CVT lets the team down but, in S# mode, its fake gearchanges are reasonably convincing. It certainly has more pace, drive, torque and balance than an old Liberty RS Turbo I used to own. But once you ignore Subaruland, it soft-edge dynamics, wallowy nature, sense of driver detachment and heft – even though you can swing it to help point Levorg through tighter corners – compounds into an experience that falls short on many hot wagon fronts.

What you thought

Matt, Jindalee, Qld: The Levorg was definitely beyond expectations. The CVT was surprising: it was quick, responds to your inputs really well and there's no hesitation in how it works. The engine had a bit more torque than I was expecting, too. It's was really good to drive, with a lot of punch from the boxer engine. It would've been nice to hear more engine note. It is noisy at speed – you hear quite a bit of tyre roar. The seating position is higher than what I'd ideally like. And there are too many screens in the cabin [laughs]. I'd love a manual version with an STI's EJ25 (2.5-litre boxer four).

Cam, Auburn, NSW: There's not a lot of kick so it's a bit slow to get going, which feels like (it's caused by) the CVT. At least that was in its regular drive mode. But it's certainly fast enough. It's also quite tight in its handling but also it's quite comfortable to drive. A fun car or family wagon? Absolutely. The fit and finish is definitely an improvement over older Subarus – I think they're getting better and better through each generation. They always had fairly crappy interiors, especially the plastics. I don't like the touchscreens, they're too distracting when you're driving. But it's a good car. I like it.

Toyota 86 GT manual

Price: $30,790 plus on-roads
Powertrain: 2.0L four, six-speed manual, RWD
Outputs: 152kW/212Nm
Laptime on test: 1:12.43

What we thought

Dave: For what’s on offer, it’s pretty hot. In the two-door, rear-drive category, what have you got? Mustang? The Ford’s not in the same league if measured as a lightweight driver’s car, though, the latter is certainly not that sort of car. Engine-wise, I can see why people yearn for a turbo, as there’s nothing under 4500rpm, so you've really got to keep on it to get the best out of it. Funnily enough, I think I was smiling more in the auto version too – though, that might’ve had something to do with lower expectation and more sliding than anything else. That said, for me, the manual gearbox makes the 86 just that much better.

Andrew: Well, it’s hotter than the automatic 86, that’s for sure. The manual adds an extra edge to the driving experience and it’s a great gearbox at that – the action is near perfect. This powertrain encourages more sideways action if oversteer is your particular drug of choice.

Rob: It is fun? Yep, yep, yep, yep. It’s dynamic, it’s great to drift, and while there’s no grunt, the 86 makes up for it in so many different ways. Form its squat stance to the cocoon that is the driver’s seat, it feels the proper sports car. The raspy nature of the 2.0-litre four-pot is a delight as you rev it out. It’s good value for money and I’d have the manual over the auto in a heartbeat.

Curt: I’ve spent a lot of time in 86s and I’ll say this because my collegues haven’t: where’s the turbo version. The 86 is starting to feel old but the desire for more torque – matched with more grip – doesn’t wane. Toyota, your sports car, for as much fun as it is au naturale, needs a spruce up. The heat from the car’s launch is cooling over time. Steering, handling, gearbox – they’re all excellent. The engineering teams behind many rivals here could learn big lesson on how to tune sportiness right. But the engine is still Nullabor flat and despite the sharp pricing and sustained value, it’s about time drivers were treated to more.

Emily: For the hotness scale I’d give it a seven out of 10. I’d really like some more power. You can get a pretty good slide on, which is fun, but that’s about all you can really do with it on throttle. And while it’s good value to a degree, I for one, would put the money towards saving for a Focus RS.

What you thought

Matt, Jindalee, Qld: I've not driven an 86 before. But I am a Subaru guy (the 86 is built by FHI) and you definitely feel the Subaru-ness of it, in a good sense. It has a great sound, it has a high-ish 7500rpm redline and it's really fun to rev out. The gearbox is really nice and short. The steering is awesome, it's so direct. And the seats are really comfortable as well. I think the hype around the 86/BRZ is justified to a point – it's great that there's an affordable rear-wheel-drive sports car out there that's accessible and easy to live with.

John, Camperdown, NSW: It's got very low grip... which is good! [laughs]. The engine is quite rough, which is only bad thing about the car. You can feel it right through the car. Other than that, it awesome! Great little fun, toy, track car. You can treat it like shit. In terms of enjoyment, it's a massive bang for your buck. In terms of feel and quality, it's a three and a half out of five sort of prospect.

Toyota 86 GTS auto

Price: $38,790 plus on-roads
Powertrain: 2.0L four, six-speed auto, RWD
Outputs: 147kW/205Nm
Laptime on test: 1:12.81

What we thought

Andrew: This car is mildly hot as the auto pulls down the experience somewhat. The cabin ambience is faux sporty but just manages to pull it off. Fun-wise, the rear-drive characteristics shine through. Interestingly, the auto sounds better than the manual version. The steering is great, encouraging finesse with the inputs.

Rob: The auto 86 is sort of hot, sort of not. While it lacks in straight-line punch and isn’t the quickest thing going around, it makes up for it in dynamics. This is quite the car for the twisty stuff. It’d make a great weekender to go and explore some great roads. But I'd take the manual over the auto.

Curt: The auto doesn’t allow the driver to keep the engine on what little boil there is. And the auto’s engine has less output than the manual, too. Still, there’s something in this GTS auto – tyres, mostly – that gives it a slighter sharper and crisper character than our (GT) manual test car. Still incredibly clever in driver-centric design, and still needs a turbocharger to put a small rocket up the range’s bottom. It’s much pricier than our ‘base’ manual, so nothing like the bargain, comparatively speaking.

Emily: Fun factor-wise, it’s just not there. It holds gears well and I like the paddle-shifters, and the exhaust note sounds good, but it’s just not a fun car to me and it doesn’t make me smile.

Dave: I know Curt’s mentioned turbocharging, but I believe that sticking the turbocharged 2.0-litre WRX engine in would alter the essence of what the 86 or a BRZ is all about. The 86 still needs to function well as a beginner's car – as a solid, standard platform that teaches you about driving – and it does that (even with the auto). So, it’s hot enough for what it is, though, there’ll always be drivers wanting more power. This is the updated 2017 version and it’s still so much fun. The steering is beautiful, and the balance is exceptional – it’s got fun factor in spades.

What you thought

Steve, Gosford, NSW: I actually own an 86 [laughs], a manual. Mine's pretty hot! [laughs]. I just wanted to see what the 2016 update is like. Yeah, the cabin is a little different – it's not a big departure from my car, though. This one sounds good, though. I don't like the auto, especially when the manual is so good, though the synchros can wear in them. Mine's like this one, with the standard 17s and tyres. They're a lot of fun. I don't know if I'd buy another 86, though. Might try something else next car I buy and change things up a bit.

Natalia, Drummoyne, NSW: I really like the 86. The automatic is actually really good. It feels like a real sports car, a proper sports car, but you can tell where (Toyota) has kept costs down. It's got a hot vibe but I wouldn't really call it fast. But it's really fun to drive – nice and tight. I've got a Golf GTI and I do miss the power (of the Volkswagen) though. But this car has got much more of a sporty vibe even when you're not driving fast. Go value? Yeah... it's not bad. About the same as my Golf!

Volkswagen Golf GTI auto

Price: $43,490 plus on-roads
Powertrain: 2.0L turbocharged four, six-speed dual clutch, FWD
Outputs: 162kW/350Nm
Laptime on test: 1:10.36

What we thought

Rob: It’s more than hot, it’s the definition of hot. It’s fast, it’s tactile, it’s smile-inducing and it’s the kind of hatchback most other manufacturers wish they could make. Bang for buck? I’d buy two.

Curt: Our long-termer GTI wasn’t punching as hard as it should. It’s a little more prone to understeer than some front-driven rivals, you can’t completely defeat the ESP system, the DSG won’t hold gears and second-third ratio spread is a bit wide for the South Circuit. It’s got ample grip, fantastic steering, and it’s both willing and fast. But the Golf GTI isn’t flawless and it’s not the most playful or purposeful car of the field. As a value-laden all-rounder, though, it’s solid gold.

Emily: It’s a city car you can take on the race track. She’s zippy through corners, has plenty of stick, turns and shoots and your smile keeps growing with every lap. For being an all-rounder, the car is definitely a type of hot for the person that likes to drive and wants to hit the racetrack once or twice a year.

Dave: Hot enough? It’s really pretty good. It really shines in all-round ability. I drove this car up from Melbourne yesterday and it’s an excellent cruiser, then you throw it on track and it performs really well. It’s punchy and quite a solid unit. The DSG doesn’t hinder it, and does pretty much what it’s told. It doesn’t blow you away with performance, but as a do-all prospect it’s a tough act to beat.

Andrew: Well, honestly… it’s not the hottest car once it gets on a track. The open diff means that it suffers wheelspin out of tight corners and it struggles a little to get its power down, and it pushes into understeer if you go into corners a little too hot. But it’s fun. The engine revs cleanly and the DSG responds crisply, but it’s probably more capable as a road car than as a track car.

What you thought

Tobias, Munich, Germany: I was supposed to drive the Focus RS but I missed my slot and I wanted to drive the Mark VII GTI any way. Back home, I've got an older Golf GTD but this thing... I want to buy one. It's so much better. I need to save my money though [laughs]. The cabin is 300 times better and the engine and gearbox are really good, especially in Race mode. It's really, really good everywhere – a hard car to fault. I didn't drive it so hard but I think this will be fast, yes?

Ken, Chipping Norton, NSW: It's probably not the hottest car out there, but it's really quality through and through. I'm not a fan of DSGs – all my cars have been manuals – but this one is really good and nice with the paddle-shifters. The chassis is nice and it doesn't have massive grip but it's good fun. I'd probably buy a Golf R, really, if I had the money. But if I had to drive one of these I'd be very, very happy.


Quickest? The Focus RS. Best buck-banger? You'd be hard pressed to go past the Fiesta ST. Biggest surprise? The Peugeot 308 GTI 270 dropped more jaws than any other.

Thing is, we – and you – weren't out to sort winners from losers. This test isn't to rank high to low. Instead, it was see how similar or different a crew of CarAdvice testers found each of these 17 cars compared with you the reader, the punter and the buyer. We hope you found it as curious and interesting a read as we most certainly did...

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