1.The Nissan 370Z was released in 2009, but its predecessor from 2001, the 350Z—and perhaps even further back the Nissan S30, 280ZX and 300ZX—is where its roots are more firmly planted. Nissan knows how to make performance sports cars—of that there’s little doubt.
While the 370Z looks similar to the ever-successful 350Z, it was totally re-engineered from the outside.
The wheelbase is shorter, while width was increased and overall material weight has been reduced significantly. Under the hood is a more powerful 3.7L straight-six, which produces 332 hp and 269 lb-ft of torque. What continues to make the 370Z a great car is its robust V6, its agile handling, and its no-nonsense interior, proving again that Nissan can focus on pure performance as well as anyone.
2.The WRX is essentially a higher-performance Subaru Legacy, which traces its roots back to the early 1990s with the first-generation Legacy. Unlike the more traditional WRX, which was fitted with flat-four engines, the performance STI trims include turbochargers, proving to be a major rival of Mitsubishi’s Lancer Evolution over the generations.
Today’s WRX STI is one of the few compact cars fitted with a much-needed all-wheel-drive system, given the sheer brute power generated by the powertrain. The STI offers a whopping 305 hp turbocharged flat-four, but even the base WRX is no pushover, with a segment-topping 268 horses. If you’re looking for a powerhouse of a compact car with razor-sharp steering and a long history of battling the Lancer Evolution, look no further than the WRX STI.
3.The Honda Civic Type R is essentially the performance version of Honda’s best-selling car, the Civic. The Type R has been around the block since 1997 and is in its fifth-generation. It’s available as a two-door hatchback, a 4-door hatchback, and a 4-door sedan and uses the same front-engine and front-wheel-drive platform shared by the Civic and the mid-range sports-tuned Civic Si.
Powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder, the Type R produces 306 hp, and this propels the compact sports car to 60 mph in just 4.9 seconds.
More than raw performance is its exquisite handling and razor-sharp steering, and it has a high-frills interior with navigation, a 540-watt audio system with a 12-speaker output, and one of the more comfortable seats in the segment. All this for a starting price of just $35,500 is a real bargain.
4.The Volkswagen Golf has been around since 1974, and it was within the Golf’s first-generation that the German automaker introduced a performance version that forever changed the landscape of the segment. The first GTI was introduced in 1976 with a 1.6L engine that was capable of taking the compact car to the 110 mph mark.
Fast forward several years, and with several awards under its belt, the 2018 Golf GTI is in its seventh generation now. It continues to be featured in Car & Driver’s 10 Best Cars category for a 12th straight year. Along with an excellent chassis, drive dynamics, and affordability, the GTI also boasts practicality as an everyday driver. The biggest changes for 2018 are a 10 hp bump, which takes the GTI to 220 hp. The 2018 model also has larger brakes, and a limited-slip front differential is standard in the mid trims.
5.Ford’s Focus ST has been in the market since the late 1990s and, like others in the class, offers an unexpectedly zippy and good overall handling. While most enthusiasts would jump at the more powerful and track-ready Focus RS, it’s really the ST that offers better value for money.
Priced at $26,000, the ST will still manage 0-60 mph in a very respectable 6.3 seconds while providing a firm and sporty ride.
What you get in the ST for that kind of money is great, from optional Recaro seats to pretty decent fuel economy, considering it produces over 250 hp. While it lags in comparison to the Golf GTI and the Civic Type R, you’re paying about $10,000 less
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