Cheap Thrills With No Spills …hopefully

When it comes to getting cheap thrills in a car for less than $25k, there’s isn’t a whole lot to choose from these days unless you go used. Of course everyone likes that new car smell so we picked our favorite ones from what we would consider the most fun cars for under $25K.

The Ford Fiesta ST is nothing short of a fun fest. Ford has worked some magic with the suspension and the dynamics of this car. Under the hood is the now familiar 1.6 Turbo making 197 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 214 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm. Peak power is made in “overboost” mode, when the turbo is squeezing in 21 psi. The computer cuts pressure after 20 seconds at wide-open throttle, so if you are fleeing the cops back off for a second and it resets. Two gear changes will take you to 60 in around 6.9 seconds. For 2018 the The 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbo is out, replaced by a 1.5-liter three-cylinder turbo probably with the same hp but 36 lb-ft more!

Mazda Miata  – from $24,915

Feel the need to have a permanent grin on your face just running errands………..then get one of these. Power is down yes but the weight is down, too, enough to improve the power-to-weight ratio by a tad.. The 2.0-liter four delivers 155 hp at 6,000 rpm and 148 lb-ft @4,000 and will blast to sixty in 5.9 secs, in fact, it’s one of the few cars that feels fast at 70 mph. Sure you can’t fit your golf clubs in it but on the positive side your mother in law is unlikely going to want to sit in the passenger seat.

Fiat 124 Classic – from $24,995

The sister to the MX5 just make it under our $25K limit……spec it out and you can spend more than $30K. The little Fiat delivers 160 @ 5500 rpm and 184 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm. It’s nothing short of a grin fest at any speed. Once you get past 2,000 rpm there’s a nice surge of turbo boost that you can ride along on all day. It’s a joy to just manually drop a gear and keep the engine in that very satisfying torque band. There’s also very little body roll, turn-in is sharp and you can feel everything through the chassis, you feel part of the car. We strapped on the test gear and recorded a 0-60 time of 6.35 secs, not super fast, a Golf GTI will out accelerate it, but this is not what the Fiat 124 is all about. Take it up to the mountains and seek out some twisty roads because this is where this car comes alive.

Ford Focus ST – from $24,775

Ford’s 2.0-liter turbocharged EcoBoost inline four-cylinder is rated at 252 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque @ 2,500 rpm.  Power is routed through a six-speed manual to the front wheels. The 2.0-liter EcoBoost takes advantage of high-pressure direct injection, a low-inertia turbocharger, and twin-independent variable cam timing to help decrease fuel consumption by a claimed 20 percent compared to the outgoing ST. 0-60 mph is dispatched in 6.3 seconds and even though that’s not blindingly fast it does make the maximum use of its chassis and suspension and power all at the same time.  It also pulls well from almost any gear. The car pitches into corners eagerly and hold its line well, put more power down and it digs in deeper. From a standing start the car does torque steer in first and second and you can feel this through the excellently communicative steering. The Brembo sourced brakes are powerful with good pedal feel and the excellent and slick shifting 6 speed does a great job when you need it.

Golf GTI – from $24,995

Under the hood is the well used and tested 2.0 T DOHC 16-valve inline-4 with direct fuel injection. It puts out a respectable 210 hp @ 4700 rpm and 258 lb-ft @ 1500 rpm. For this price you have to get the manual and it’s a good one, with quick precise shifts and a nice clutch action. With careful use of the right foot we were able to launch it from standstill to 60 in 6 seconds flat.  dead. Even without the trick front diff it resolutely held its line and refused to under-steer. Torque steer has been  virtually eliminated. It simply bites into the corner, gets it’s power down early and powers out, ready for the next one. The chassis is so capable it simply filters all this kind of stuff away so you can drive one of the most well balanced and confidence inspiring cars on the market today. It’s one of our favorites.