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Best hot hatches under $30,000

And just sometimes, you can get it all and still hear the reassuring sounds of change rattling in your pocket.  Small cars don't have to be cheap and nasty or even perform like an asthmatic snail in a bid to maximise fuel economy. Nor do they have to be cramped or have the visual appeal of a packing crate that instantly identifies you as cheap.  Here are five small cars that will haul you and three friends - and do it on a miserly fuel budget.

The good news is they're all less than $30,000. And that includes comprehensive safety features with electronic stability control and ABS brakes.  But best of all, turn up the wick and these things will give you a decent thrill.  Two are turbocharged and one has a 2.5-litre engine. No need to be red-faced at the traffic lights in these.

Mitsubishi Colt Ralliart

This looks like a small apartment block sitting on a cute set of alloys. In fact, it's a powerhouse that will dust of a lot of cars with twice the engine capacity and has room for four adults, parks in weeny car bays, runs on a sip of fuel - though you'll need premium brand - and is the perfect shopping trolley for people who like their food fast.

Price: $25,740
Engine: 1.5-litre, 4-cyl turbocharged 113kW/210Nm
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Fuel economy: 6.7 l/100km premium
Performance: 0-100km/h in 7.6 sec
Safety: two airbags, ESC, ABS, BA

Volkswagen Polo GTI

This baby sister of the Golf GTI quickly gets off the mark thanks to some component sharing and a 1.8-litre turbo engine. It comes only as a three door so may limit those with heaps of friends, though certainly looks as good as it goes. Solid German construction and versatile interior add to its appeal.

Price: $26,990
Engine: 1.8-litre, 4-cyl turbocharged 110kW/220Nm
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Fuel economy: 7.9 l/100km Premium0-100km/h: 8.2 sec
Safety: 6 airbags, ESC, ABS, diff lock

Ford Fiesta Zetec

You can get this in three and five-door versions (extra money for the five door) and while it's not turbocharged, is a spirited performer with lots of aesthetic charm. It's an easy hatchback to live with and aside from a small fuel thirst, runs on cheaper unleaded petrol. Comprehensive safety features show you care for your friends.

Price: $20,490
Engine: 1.6-litre, 4-cyl 88kW/152Nm
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Fuel economy: 6.1 l/100km Unleaded
0-100km/h: 8.2 sec (estimated)
5 airbags, ESC, ABS, BA

Suzuki Swift Sport

You know the Swift, now meet its more beefed up brother. The Sport is unassuming though gets a bigger engine and tauter suspension to accentuate its handling and acceleration. That makes it as practical and reliable as its less-powerful relations. Also has great features and the full safety package.

Price: $23,990
Engine: 1.6-litre, 4-cyl 92kW/148Nm
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Fuel economy: 7.5 l/100km Unleaded
0-100km/h: 8.8 sec
Safety: 6 airbags, ESC, ABS, BA

Mazda3 SP25

This is a great package at a superb price. The SP25 just takes the refreshed Mazda3 to another level, boosting power and torque yet not crushing attributes such as its fuel economy. The features are also excellent as is the safety equipment. It's physically bigger than its rivals here and that means more cabin and luggage room, so it never feels like a small car.

Price: $29,740
Engine: 2.5-litre, 4-cyl 122kW/227Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Fuel economy: 8.6 l/100km Unleaded
0-100km/h: 7.9 sec (estimated)
Safety: 6 airbags, ESC, ABS, BA

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