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Small cars with big performance

The question isn’t who 'wants' to be a racing car driver, but who doesn’t?

Let’s put aside for a moment the issues of safety and speed limits because this is a boom time for sports cars, and we don’t just mean selfish two-seat coupes.

From hot hatches to sports sedans and convertibles, the line between every day road hack and sports car is fading in terms of both looks, equipment and especially performance.

The expanding sub-$45,000 turbocharged market is just the thing for those who realise sports and performance does not equate to expensive and impractical.

Take Volkswagen’s immensely popular Golf GTI, whose appeal has just been boosted by the announcement of a three-door hatch which joins the existing five-door.

The best news is the deletion of rear doors lowers the price $1500 to a very appealing $38,490.

Running the same 147kW 2.0-litre turbo through a tight, very right six-speed manual or DSG gearbox, the two-door GTI’s aggressive profile now matches that of its more expensive V6 AWD stablemate, the R32.

One of the GTI’s main rivals is HSV’s new Astra VXR Turbo, which aims to put both the VW and the recent Ford Focus XR5 Turbo in their places.

The first ever non-V8 HSV thrusts out 177kW from its 2.0-litre turbo, the three-door hatch’s thick equipment list and $42,990 sticker putting it at the top of the price list of the current crop of turbo hot hatches.

All too dear? Then Holden’s sporty Astra SRi could be the next best thing from the red lion, with a 2.2-litre good for 110kW, and a practical five-door hot hatch now joining the two-door coupe.

Cheaper insurance premiums aren’t the only savings here, with a $29,990 starting price for the SRi five-door hatch.

One spider that’s just swallowed a turbo is the new Mitsubishi Colt Cabriolet Turbo.

Styled by Ferrari-fettling Pininfarina, the Colt’s hard roof extends in a lazy 22 seconds, but with 110kW from its 1.5-litre MIVEC engine everything else about it is fast, and its $37,990 retail makes it the cheapest way to get into topless turbo motoring – unless the new Peugeot 207 CC takes up the cause next year.

There’s also the option of an 80kW non-turbo Cabriolet for $32,990, but our sports performance advisers will quickly slap that skim vanilla latte from your hand and guide you to the more sporty Colt Ralliart.

The Cabriolet’s hardtop sibling, the Colt Ralliart, runs the same 1.5 turbo MIVEC engine but squirts out a little more power for 113kW. With its Evolution Lancer bonnet vent, Tupperware bodykit and rev-happy engine, at $29,990 it targets the likes of VW’s $26,990 Polo GTI turbo.

All too turbo? If the insurance company answers the turbo request with an engaged signal, the Suzuki Swift Sport could be the answer to the P-plate blues.

Reviving the Swift GTi of the 1990s, the new Sport’s 1.6-litre uses variable cam timing to peak out 92kW through its 16-inch alloys, making it a quarter-more powerful than the GTi.

Airbags and ABS tick the safety boxes too.

At $23,990, the Swift Sport has potentially the strongest sports-to-price ratio of the hot hatch heroes - meaning there are now many more reasons for a hot hatch upheaval. Hurrah.

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