Q. I want to to have fun
reasonably priced sporty car and don't care who makes it. Autos such as
a BMW, Mercedes or Audi cost too much. Sports cars are are out because
they're expensive and largely impractical. What vehicles do you
recommend? J.S. (via Internet)
A. Here are reasonably priced sporty cars in the low $20,000 range price range, with a few in the high teens. I'm giving list prices. Trade-ins and price discounts will likely lower them but options will increase prices.
Chevrolet Camaro ($23,705): It looks racy, has capable handling and its standard V-6 has 323 horsepower. You don't need a high-powered sporty car to have driving kicks, but why turn down this bonus?
Chevrolet Sonic RS ($21,945): The wild-looking Sonic RS is a very sporty Chevy subcompact. Get the RS model with its lowered and stiffened suspension, special grille, rear spoiler and turbocharged 138-horsepower four-cylinder. Advanced safety options incude a forward-collision alert and backup camera.
Dodge Dart GT ($20,995): The handsome Dart comes from Chrysler, which is owned by Fiat, which also owns sexy Alfa Romeo. The Dart thus has significant Alfa input, which helps give it agility and taut handling. Get the 2.4-liter, 184-horsepower four-cylinder instead of the smaller 160-horsepower four-cylinder engines because the Dart is more relaxed with the 2.4.
Ford Mustang V-6 ($23,600): Here's another powerful sporty car, thanks to its 300-horsepower V-6. While considerably new, although it still looks like a Mustang, it handles better with its all-independent rear suspension.
Ford Fiesta ST ($21,405): This European-influenced model is a kick to drive with its agile handling and other features. It's got a 197-horsepower four-cylinder, quick steering, sport suspension, upgraded brakes, wider tires and rear spoiler. Thilnk of it as a refined version of a fast, tough European rally car.
Ford Focus ST ($20,945) From its Aston-Martin-style grille that fronts its turbocharged 252 horsepower four-cylinder, the ST shouts "Performance!" It has especially sharp handling with its sport suspension. The interior has Recaro seats, used in exotic cars.
Honda Civic Si ($22,790): The slick Si is the Civic line's hot rod, with its 205-horsepower four-cylinder. The six-speed transmision shifts swiftly and the all-independent suspension with front/rear stabilizer bars help provide a good ride and sharp handling.
Hyundai Veloster Turbo ($22,600): This racy hatchback has three side doors, with two on the right (passenger) side. A 201-horsepower turbocharged engine shoots power through a regular six-speed manual transmission or a sophisticated dual-clutch six-speed automatic manual. The ride is firm, but not punishing, and the Veloster handles confidently with its sport suspension and "speed-tuned" steering.
Kia Rio SX ($18,040): The Rio has a spunky 138 horsepower four-cylinder. It only weighs 2,575 pounds, so performance is lively. The purposeful-looking Rio is agile, with such thingas as a sport suspenion and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Mazda3 Touring ($23,845): Mazda gives its cars a definite European-style feel, with brisk acceleration and sharp handling. This Euro-styled model is flat-out fun. A bonus is sparkling fuel economy. Get this car with the 184-horsepower engine because this engine is superior to its 155 horsepower four-cylinder. Still, For $24,895, you can get the Mazda3 with an automatic.
Mini Cooper ($20,700): This is the base two-door hardtop model. It has go-kart agility and comes with a standard turbocharged 134-horsepower three-cylinder engine, which provides adequate acceleration. However, an available turbocharged 189-horsepower four-cylinder livens things up a lot. The ride has been improved, and the interior is quieter.
Scion tC ($19,980): The tC is a rakish coupe from Toyota's youth-oriented Scion division. Its 179-horsepower engine provides quick in-town and highway acceleration and works with a six-speed manual or revised six-speed automatic transmission, which ups the price to $21,130. Steering is quick, and the 18-inch alloy wheels work well with low-profile tires. The backseat looks cramped, but is surprisingly roomy for adults.