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2012 Best Performance Cars Affordable By Mere Mortals

By Edited Apr 5, 2016 4 4

Not for you, the Brand X generic four-doored sedan.  Those Hontoyssan Camcordima appliance-mobiles are just fine if you're looking for a comfortable place to sit in between destinations, but for you, the journey is part of the fun.  Maybe you want a ride that's distinctive on a highway packed with beige and gray.  Perhaps you crave that little thrill when you turn the key and feel a rumble, and it could be that you're occasionally guilty of leaning into a curve just a little, or taking that freeway on-ramp just a tad faster than is strictly necessary.  It could even be that you'd like a car you can take to a local track or drag strip on the weekends to hold the gas pedal a little closer to the floor than would be safe on the street.

The problem is, you've got a mortgage and health insurance premiums to pay, and you've got to save for the kids' college and your own retirement, and so far those lottery tickets haven't done you much good.  Car-magazine photos of expensive supercars or tweaked-out aftermarket tuner vehicles are fun to look at, but you need something with manageable payments, low maintenance costs, and fuel economy that's at least measured in miles per gallon, not gallons per mile.

There are, it turns out, a lot of sporty and performance options on the market today at reasonable prices, some of them exceeding the capabilities of cars that would have been considered top-of-the-line just a few years ago.

The cars listed below are by no means a complete list of what's on the market; they're included not based on any specific features - the primary criteria for inclusion are a sporty look and a lot of reviews that proclaim the car is fun to drive.  The price ranges are based not on the starting price for a stripped-down base model, bu rather, what someone might expect to pay for a reasonably equipped automobile.

Under $20,000

It should come as no surprise that none of the cars in this price will let you experience blistering, pinned-to-your-seat acceleration unless you drive them down a very steep hill.  You won't get high horsepower, massive tire-shredding torque, and you'll probably have to settle for a 4 cylinder with front wheel drive.  What you will get, though, is a good-to-great handling, lightweight car with a sporty look and decent fuel mileage.  Don't write off the low end of the price spectrum as "cheap" - you might be surprised at the quality and performance of even the most inexpensive new cars these days.

Hyundai Veloster sporty compact
Hyundai Veloster:  This new entry into the sport compact market is getting a lot of attention.  At 138 HP, a good number for this price segment, it still manages 29/39 MPG, sportscar looks, and impressive handling.  Reviewers have criticized its steering and back seat space.

 

2012 ford Fiesta
Ford Fiesta:  Though down a few horsepower from the Veloster at 120, the Fiesta has a lower starting price, slightly better gas mileage, and more responsive steering.  Its front cabin area can seem cramped to some, and the optional PowerShift transmission can take some getting used to.

$20,000 - $30,000

This price group is where things start to get interesting; there's a wide range of styling (of the "love it or hate it" variety in many cases), and car makers take a variety of approaches to the fun factor.

2012 Mini Cooper S
Mini Cooper "S" Series:  At 181 horsepower from a turbocharged 4 cylinder it's on the low end of this group in terms of overall power, but its light weight makes it lots of fun behind the wheel.
2012 Mazda Miata MX5
Mazda Miata MX-5:  A modern classic with a classic look.  With 167 HP it's no drag racer, but as a lightweight open-air cruiser it has few rivals.
2012 MazdaSpeed 3
MazdaSpeed 3:  Driven by a 263 horsepower turbo 4 with lots of low end torque - but through the front wheels.
2012 Subaru Impreza WRX(75757)
Subura Impreza WRX:  A favorite among sport-compact enthusiasts for years, the 2012 WRX puts 265 to 305 turbocharged horsepower to the ground through an all-wheel-drive system.
2012 Hyundai Genesis Coupe
Hyundai Genesis Coupe:  Driven by either a 200 HP turbo 4 or a 306 HP 3.8 liter V6, the Genesis doesn't quite match the performance numbers of the highest in this segment, but it's received much praise for its subjective "sportscar feel".
Chevrolet Camaro (V6):  The base model 2012 Camaro has the highest horsepower rating in this group at 323 from its direct-injection 3.6 liter V6, but it's also the largest and heaviest of the bunch.  Some drivers find its low roof line and narrow windows limit road visibility.  (Pictured below.)
Ford Mustang (V6):  The entry level Mustang now makes 305 horsepower from a 3.7 V6 while getting as high as 31 MPG on the highway.  Depending on configuration, it's the performance numbers champion in this group in acceleration and cornering.  Critics point to its "archaic" non-independent rear suspension, but many reviewers have said it's the best "archaic" suspension they've ever tried.  (Pictured below.)

$30,000-$40000

Labeling this price range as "affordable" is, admittedly, a stretch for many people.  But the cars here still fall well under the cost of high-end vehicles while in some cases offering performance that's very close.  Sales figures for these cars show there's still demand, as well.

2012 Mitsubishi Lancer EVO
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo:  This long-time WRX rival is also equipped with a turbo 4 (at 291 HP) and an all-wheel-drive system.
2012 Nissan 370Z
Nissan 370Z:  The latest in the historied "Z Car" line makes 332 or 350 horsepower from a 3.7 liter V6.  It features technological advances like a lightweight carbon fiber driveshaft and a "synchro rev match" transmission feature borrowed from its pricier GT-R sibling.

Audi TT Coupe:  Though it barely eeks its way into the high end this price class and leans toward luxury, the TT's sport looks and 211 HP turbo with all wheel drive give it a place here.

 

2012 Ford Taurus SHO
Ford Taurus SHO:  Yes, it's a big, heavy sedan.  But it's a big, heavy sedan with a 3.5 liter turbocharged, direct-injection twin-turbo motor pushing 365 horsepower and truckish torque (the same motor is used in the best-selling F150 model) through all wheel drive.
2012 Chevy Camaro
Chevrolet Camaro SS:  426 Horsepower from a 6.2L V8 with enough torque that you'll hardly notice the weight of the car when you stomp on the gas pedal.
2012 Ford Mustang GT
Ford Mustang GT:  A 412 HP 5-liter V8 and a weight advantage over its Chevy rival make this, like the V6 in the lower price bracket, the best overall performer in its price range.
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Comments

Jan 10, 2012 1:21am
jimgorde
That's a good lineup! And now you can add a few more AWD hot hatches too..
Jan 11, 2012 9:58am
WebAddict
Great list you've got here. I'm fond of cars. :)
Jan 16, 2012 7:27am
hiraash
Thats a nice list of rides. Personally love the EVO. Not so cheap on this side of the world :)
Jun 10, 2013 8:22pm
MrRooibos
Solid list
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