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Budget Sports Cars 2010 Review

A little burble from the exhaust system, go-kart-like handling, the wind in your hair and a clean set of heels at the lights... that is what many office-bound men and women live for. What driver has not wished, just once, they could trade the family sedan for a sports car to whip down the coast, carve up the Hills or even try their hand against other amateur Speed Racers at a Mallala track day?

Who has not had their dreams of Porsches, Aston Martins, a fire-red Ferrari or Lambo shattered by the reality that they start at a price equal to twice their annual wage for that office job?  Don't despair. There are sports car options at an affordable price. While it is all about a bit of fun, some even double as family cars.

The choices

Suzuki Swift Sport from $24,990
Ford Focus XR5 from $36,490
Honda Civic TypeR from $39,990
Mini Cooper S from $42,250
Volkswagen Golf GTI from $42,990
Mazda MX-5 from $47,200

The pros and cons

Our six-pack of slim-priced sports cars can have you behind the wheel of something nippy for less than $25,000, with the nifty Suzuki Swift Sport and caps at $47,200 for the Mazda MX-5, for which there once was a race series.

Floating around between those bookends are four pretty cool cars within their own right in the turbo-charged Volkswagen Golf GTI, which is the best bang for the buck as far as power to engine size goes, the spacecraft-like Honda Civic TypeR, the funky Mini Cooper S and Ford Focus XR5 - which is slightly bigger in engine size than the rest of the pack but is the second lowest priced.

The MX-5 offers so much sports car for its price. It is like a go-kart in its handling and is wonderfully balanced. It will not blow you away with power with just 118kW of power from its two-litre engine, it is the Carsguide six-pack's least powerful sports car - but when you can throw it around in the bends and tight turns, as it allows you to, power becomes less important.

There is the added advantage of being able to drop the top and enjoy some open-air driving to really make you feel like a race car driver.  The MX-5 is the sportiest looking of the pack, and the piece of real automotive metal most resembling Speed Racer's Mach 5...which is surely the essence of those race car driving dreams.

If you fall $5000 short of the mark for the Mazda, your performance purse can deliver you the Golf GTI - with 37kW more power and almost 100Nm more torque. It also slips in the DSG gearbox and paddle-shifts on the steering wheel to make the most of that divine transmission.

There is no questioning the Golf GTI's sports car capabilities. This beauty goes hard, is taut and tuned for performance.  Honda's Civic TypeR holds down the title of boy racer in this gathering with its space-age looks and glowing dash treatments. It loves a good rev and hits its peak power output of 148kW at a screaming high of 7800rpm.

The Civic is not as sharp in its handling as the smaller Golf, MX-5, Mini Cooper or Swift Sport but its tight suspension really involves the driver, communicating how the car is responding to the road while also reducing vibrations.  For the rear, a torsion beam design provides sharp steering response and cornering rigidity so there is plenty of traction in tight turns.

The high-revving two-litre engine drinks the premium unleaded fuel recommended for it at a pretty high rate of 9.3L/100km, too.  The Cooper S Cabriolet and the Suzuki Swift Sport are just good fun cars with some sports car appeal. The Swift, at just $24,990, is a great option for injecting sporty fun into the family while the Mini Cooper is drop-top driving with a great look. Both are great options at different ends of a relatively broad price scale, for women looking to sport up their garage, but that's not to say they cannot be a buzz for the blokes, too.

The Ford Focus XR5 is the odd one out in the pack as it has a 2.5-litre turbo-charged five-cylinder engine. It packs the most punch with 166kW of power and a whopping 320Nm of torque.

The XR5 would not have got a look in if Ford was selling the Fiesta XR4, a pocket rocket, but we're not aware of a new version arriving any time soon. The $36,490 price tag for the XR5 makes it worthy for inclusion. There is fun for everyone in this six-pack of sports. Some are so cheap the average couple may consider a matching pair.


Pricing guides

Based on 241 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
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Range and Specs

103 TDI Comfortline 2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP $5,500 – 8,580 2010 Volkswagen Golf 2010 103 TDI Comfortline Pricing and Specs
118 TSI Comfortline 1.4L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $4,600 – 7,370 2010 Volkswagen Golf 2010 118 TSI Comfortline Pricing and Specs
77 TDI Trendline 1.6L, Diesel, 7 SP AUTO $4,600 – 7,480 2010 Volkswagen Golf 2010 77 TDI Trendline Pricing and Specs
77 TSI 1.2L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $3,400 – 5,500 2010 Volkswagen Golf 2010 77 TSI Pricing and Specs